By Neil Bennett | on August 14, 2003
Price When Reviewed: £3,349 plus VAT
The Acumen range includes two base designs: the Acumen Xeon 3.06GHz and the Acumen Dual Xeon 3.06GHz. We looked at the latter, higher-end system, which includes a two 3.06GHz Xeon chips, 1GB of PC2100 ECC DDR RAM, two 120GB serial ATA hard drives with a two channel RAID controller, and an NVidia Quadro 4 980 XGL graphics card with 128MB of DDR RAM. The former system has a single chip and hard drive, plus replaces the graphics card with an ATI Radeon 9700, and costs from £2,399 plus VAT. The Acumen Dual Xeon 3.06GHz is the first unit we’ve seen that features Intel’s fastest workstation processor so far, and is the first we’ve tested to feature Serial ATA drives. Serial ATA is designed to replace standard ATA hard drive connections, giving speed without the high cost of swift data-transfer systems such as SCSI. In its first iteration – as seen here – it’s only marginally faster than standard ATA (150MBps to ATA’s 133MBps), but should grow as fast as 600MBps in the next few years. The combination of the chips and drives allow this workstation to deliver some impressive results. It rendered our test LightWave scene in 15 minutes and 35 seconds – about two minutes faster than standard 2.8GHz Xeon-driven workstations, and around 90 seconds faster than the six grand Dell Precision 650 behemoth we looked at in April – more of a boost than we’d expected from the 266MHz speed increase. This workstation did equally well in our Photoshop test, completing an intense series of filters on a 75MB image in a 55 seconds, which has been only beaten by machines with 2GB of RAM. The Cinebench were also as impressive as we expected, beaten only by much more expensive machines with top-end graphics cards such as NVidia’s Quadro FX 2000. The Acumen Dual Xeon 3.06GHz sits in a large beige case that conceals a generally well organized interior, though the RAM is hidden away. Serial ATA uses thin cables that allow air to flow easier around the unit’s interiors, so the Acumen uses only one large fan – though it still chucks out a lot of noise. The technology is also supposed to allow smaller cases, but this Acumen is of standard workstation size. Ivory tower The rest of the specs are good, but not great. The unit ships as standard with Panasonic’s MultiDrive DVD-RW/RAM drive, which has the same specifications as the LF-D521E (reviewed as part of a group test in Digit 62, page 116). This is a robust drive if you like the DVD-RAM format, but we’d have preferred a 4x DVD –RW, +RW or dual format drive. A faster-reading LG DVD-ROM drive is also included. This Acumen features Creative’s excellent Audigy2 sound card (reviewed here) as standard, which features 6.1 sound, a 106dB SNR (signal-to-noise ratio) and 24-bit/96kHz sound recording. Unfortunately, it only ships with 2.1 speakers, but as these don’t add to the price, they’re a bonus. It also ships with a 17-inch LG LCD monitor as standard, though you’ll probably want to drop this and save £230 – or add another for £319, which is quite a bargain if two 17-inchers is enough for you. The Acumen can be configured on Evesham’s Web site, though the amount of options is less than you’d get from a specialized dealer. It’s nearer to the level of choice you get on the Apple store. Apple’s recently announced G5 provides clear competition to this machine, though we’ll have to wait until next month to see how it measures up. A top-spec G5 with two 2GHz processors, 1GB of PC3200 DDR 400 RAM, a single 250GB Serial ATA drive, DVD-R/CD-RW SuperDrive, an ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB graphics card and optical audio in/outputs costs just over £2,400, over £700 cheaper than this Acumen – even getting rid of the Evesham unit’s monitor. If you’re locked to your PC, the Acumen is an option well worth looking at. If not, wait to see what we make of the G5.