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Original URL: http://www.cadalyst.com/hardware/workstations-rise-cadalyst-labs-review-9118

Workstations on the Rise (Cadalyst Labs Review)

1 Mar, 2007 By: Ron LaFon

Todays's Hottest Dual Cores, and Tomorrow's Quad-Core Technology


 

Although Cadalyst looked at several workstations with dual-core processors in its November 2006 issue, we opted to take another look at these systems in our first comparative workstation review of 2007. Dual-core technology has become the mainstay of contemporary systems, from workstations through laptops, and it has matured since Cadalyst last examined it.

I've included a sidebar to this article (see "Quad-Core Systems Arrive") that discusses the first quad-core systems to come through Cadalyst Labs. Systems based on the new quad-core technology are available, though not in sufficient numbers to justify a comparative review at this time. We'll look at those systems more closely as 2007 progresses.



 

 

 

Review Standards

 

Cadalyst requested systems with the fastest available single dual-core processors installed, whether Intel or AMD. The choice as to which processor was included in the given systems was, as always, determined by the vendors who submitted them. Each system had to have a minimum of 2GB of system memory and a minimum of 120GB of total hard drive storage capacity, which could be attained with either a single drive or with multiple drives.

The systems had to have a CD-RW drive and a DVD-ROM drive, with combination drives being accepted, as well as a network card and a wheel mouse. A 3D OpenGL graphics card with at least 64MB of onboard RAM was required and had to support at least 1280x1024 resolution with 24/32-bit color at a minimum 85Hz refresh rate.

 Dual-Core Processor Workstation Report Card
Dual-Core Processor Workstation Report Card
 

 

Each system had to be preloaded with Windows XP Professional with the latest service packs installed. Cadalyst mandated that none of the systems include a monitor or speakers and that neither of these components was reflected in the system prices.

As long as these minimum system requirements were met, vendors were permitted to configure their systems however they pleased. However, too many extras usually affect price and the Cadalyst ratings for that category.

Quad-Core Systems Arrive

 

Workstations offer additional processing power—can you take advantage of it?
By Ron LaFon
 

The first quad-core systems have just made their way to Cadalyst Labs—though thus far the only submitted systems have been based on Intel processors, a situation I expect to change as the year goes on. I elected to include the first two quad-core systems in a sidebar to this article to give readers a sneak peek at what can be expected from this new technology.

None of Cadalyst's current benchmarks really give a workout to additional processors, be they additional physical processors or simply more processors incorporated in a single-chip design. But they do indicate how they perform with standard design applications, most of which don't take advantage of the additional processing power at this time. As both applications and the benchmarks evolve, this assessment will most certainly change.

Intel notes that quad-core systems will test slower on some processes, both because of the slower base clock speed of the processor and how the task switching is handled. Obviously, applications that handle multitasking well will show the most perfor-mance benefits. See http://support.intel.com/performance/workstation/xeon/intthru.htm for more information.

I include two systems here, both of which are based on Intel multicore processors. Both differ in their approach and give an indication of potential workstation capabilities based on this new technology.

The Xi MTower PCIe-QX system that Cadalyst received for evaluation is almost identical to the MTower PCIe system discussed in the main body of this article, except for the installed processor. The Xi MTower PCIe-QX system is based on an EVGA NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI motherboard that uses the NVIDIA 680i chipset, which supports a front-side bus speed of 1,066MHz. The processor is an Intel Core2 Extreme QX6700 2.66GHz chip with Thermaltake Silent Water Cooling that is overclocked to 3.20GHz, the first example of an overclocked quad-core system at Cadalyst Labs.

The Xi MTower PCIe-QX has an obvious knack for high AutoCAD and Direct3D performance.
The Xi MTower PCIe-QX has an obvious knack for high AutoCAD and Direct3D performance.
 

 

As I noted in the review of the dual-core system in the main article, the Thermaltake Silent Water Cooling system used in the MTower PCIe-QX system is integrated and sealed, and it requires little to no user maintenance. The only user-accessible control is the fan-speed control at the rear of the system. Aside from the obvious effect of cooling the processor, this subsystem makes for very quiet operation.



 

 

The system arrived with 2GB of DDR2 1,000MHz PC2-8000 RAM installed, with a possible 8GB when the motherboard is fully populated. The XXX version of the XFX GeForce 8800 GTX graphics card provided speedy and economical graphics for this system, and it's based on the NVIDIA GeForce 8800 chipset, which is a new generation of this graphics processor. This graph-ics card is an interesting choice for a system designed for CAD and engineering applications. Although the cards drivers don't have specific optimizations for CAD, design or engineering applications, it's certainly a graphics card to watch thanks to of its 768MB of onboard RAM and obvious knack for high AutoCAD and Direct3D performance.

I ran the Xi MTower PCIe-QX quad-core system through its paces with the usual benchmark suite, starting with the Cadalyst C2006 benchmark running under AutoCAD 2005 with Service Pack 1 installed. Using the default wopengl8 Heidi driver that ships with AutoCAD, I obtained a C2006 total index score of 292, the same as the @Xi dual-core system in the body of the roundup article—tying for the fastest AutoCAD score I've ever tested. I actually had a single iteration of the test show one point higher at 293, but I wasn't able to reproduce this score on sub-sequent tests.

Next up was the MAXBench4 benchmark, which I ran under Autodesk 3ds Max 8 with Service Pack 3 installed. I tested first with Max's OpenGL driver and generated an averaged high/low score of 94.86. NVIDIA's MAXtreme driver 8.00.03 doesn't work with this family of graphics cards, so I wasn't able to test with this accelerated driver. My final test with 3ds Max was with Max's default Direct3D driver, which produced a speedy averaged high/low score of 303.64. The final benchmark test for this system was the ProE-04 Viewset of SPEC ViewPerf 9.03, in which the system produced a weighted geometric mean score of 15.25.

As equipped upon arrival for testing, the Xi MTower PCIe-QX system was priced at a moderate $4,199, which includes 36 months of warranty coverage for both parts and labor and 12 months of onsite service. Other warranty coverage options are available at the time of purchase. The MTower PCIe-QX system carries a 30-day money-back guarantee with no restocking fee. Highly Recommended.