Best Buy
  • Price: 1599

  • Company: Armari

  • Pros: Much more powerful than Core 2 Duo systems. Lower cost than DDC Xeon-based workstations.

  • Cons: Slightly slower overall than Xeon-based systems. Single hard drive.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10 We rate this 9 out of 10

Armari’s latest graphics workstation is the first to feature one of Intel’s brand new quad-core chips, which were announced today. The Intel Core 2 Duo QX6700 doesn’t just boast four cores, it has 8MB of Level 2 cache – think really short-term memory – which is the same as two Xeon 5000 series processors.

In many ways the QX6700 is the same as the two Xeon 5150s used by high-end workstations as Dell’s Precision 690, Apple’s Mac Pro and Armari’s own Magnetar CX line. It has a slower front-size bus (1.066GHz to the Xeon’s 1.33GHz) for data to flow to and from the motherboard – and a much lower price tag. This makes it ideal for graphic designers, illustrators, motion graphics artists, video editors and the like.

We measured the Magnetar QS’s performance against both workstations with dual-core Core 2 Duo processors and models with dual Xeon 5000 series chips. Apple’s Mac Pro is the nearest competitor in the latter group, as its standard configuration plus the almost mandatory extra GB of RAM costs almost exactly the same as Armari’s workstation.

Cinebench is a benchmarking suite based on Maxon’s Cinema 4D suite. Its rendering test provides an excellent indication of processing performance, and it has been released as a Universal Binary, running natively on the Mac Pro.

The Mac Pro was only 3.5 per cent faster than the Magnetar QS – and Armari’s workstation isn’t held back from using Adobe’s software like Apple’s is. Against Core 2 Duo Windows workstations, the power of the quad core chip over its dual core rivals is evident – with the Magnetar QS being over 60 per cent faster than models with Intel ‘s 2.67GHz Core 2 Duo E6700.

In full effect

We also ran an After Effects 7 Professional test, which renders a five-second composition built of three uncompressed 1080i HD layers, each with filters and transforms. The test was run using GridIron’s Nucleo 1.0.6 plug-in to take full advantage of multiple core processors, and then again AE’s standard rendering

In After Effects, the Magnetar QS was almost 40 per cent faster than workstations with the E6700 chip when using the Nucleo multi-core plug-in, but slightly slower without it – proving that you need to ensure that your applications are multi-threaded to make the quad core chip worthwhile. Fortunately, most professional creative applications have been optimized for multiple processors since multi-processor, single-core Xeons and PowerPC chips were the norm for workstations.

After Effects hasn’t been updated to run natively on the Mac Pro’s Intel chips, so the Magnetar QS was almost three times as fast at rendering than the Mac Pro. Running the test on a Windows workstation with two Xeon 5150 processors, the Magnetar QS was only slightly slower too.

4GB of RAM helps the Magnetar QS to power through our Photoshop test, though achieving this took some fiddling as Armari’s branded splash screen prevented us using the ‘/3GB switch’ to give Photoshop access to the maximum amount of memory – until it was uninstalled.

The modestly-powered Asus EN7900GS/2DHT graphics card means that this model performed relatively poorly Cinebench real-time 3D test, though it’s still powerful enough for most users of video editing, compositing and motion graphics software. It’s not a workstation-class card, but these are not a requirement for applications such as Photoshop, QuarkXPress, After Effects or Premiere Pro.

The single 320GB hard drive is the Magnetar QS’s one weakness, as workstations at this price usually have multiple drives, which would have boosted performance farther. If you want to add drives later though, there’s three slots left for drives inside, and an eSATA port too.

The Magnetar QS shows that most creative professionals are going to reap great rewards from Intel’s quad-core processors – benefits denied to users of the majority of office applications and games, which are not optimized for multi-threaded systems. It may even tempt some long-term Mac users tired of waiting for Adobe to update its applications for the Mac Pro.

Specifications

Processor (supplied): Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 (2.66GHz)
Processor (maximum): Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 (2.66GHz)
FSB: 1,066MHz
RAM (supplied): 4GB
RAM (maximum): 8GB
DIMMs/free slots: 4/0
Graphics card (supplied): Asus EN7900GS/2DHT
Graphics RAM: 256MB
Port: PCI Express
Hard drive type: Serial ATA (3Gbps)
Hard drive size: 320GB
Hard drive speed: 7,200rpm
Bays: 3x 5.25-inch ext, 3.5-inch ext, 4x 3.5-inch int
Free bays: 2x 5.25-inch ext, 3x 3.5-inch int
Removable media drive: DVD±RW (16x/dual layer) + 7-in-1 multi-format
Slots: PCI Express x16 (double wide), 3x PCI Express x16 4x PCI Express x16, 2x PCI
Free slots: 3x PCI Express x16 2x PCI Express x16, 2x PCI
Dimensions (H-x-W-x-D mm): 445-x-206-x-470mm
Soundcard: On-board 7.1
Ports: 8x USB 2.0, FireWire, eSATA, 2x gigabit ethernet, keyboard, mouse, serial, S/PDIF
OS: Windows XP Professional
Keyboard: Logitech Media Keyboard Black
Mouse:: Logitech Scroll Optical Wheel Mouse