Workstations on the Rise (Cadalyst Labs Review)
1 Mar, 2007
Todays's Hottest Dual Cores, and Tomorrow's Quad-Core
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.