By Neil Bennett | on May 10, 2007
Pros: High performance in 3D, video and graphics suites. Quiet, generally well laid-out case.
Cons: Users may require more powerful chips. Odd forward port placement.
This new workstation from CAD2 is the first we’ve seen to offer nVidia’s just-launched Quadro FX 4600 graphics card, which is also available separately through PNY for £1,128 plus VAT. It’s an undoubtedly powerful board with a substantial price tag. You’d usually expect to see it paired with Xeon processors, but it works brilliantly in this quad-core Core 2 Extreme-powered workstation.
In our base-level Cinebench 9.5 real-time 3D test, the card returned outstanding results – delivering a performance boost that outpaced even ATI’s top-of-the-line FireGL 7350 (which costs £1,175 plus VAT). However, in very complex scenes and in the SPECviewperf9 benchmark test – including both the 3DS Max and Maya tests – ATI’s board was the winner, helped by its 1GB of RAM.
nVidia/PNY offers a more powerful card than the FX 4600, called the FX 5600. This boasts 1.5GB of RAM and a 76.8GBps memory bandwidth (compared to the 4600’s 57.6GBps), but costs a whopping £1,684 plus VAT.
We were very happy with the Imagine QX64’s performance overall. It’s much faster in our Nucleo-powered After Effects test than the first workstation we saw with Intel’s quad-core QX6700 processor, Armari’s Magnetar QS (which we reviewed in November 2006) – though this may be helped by updates to the plug-in.
The extent of its lead over the Magnetar QS in our standard AE, Cinebench, and Photoshop tests was more modest – but it’s a definite improvement.
Drive for success
The QX64’s power is bolstered by a well thought-out system of hard drives, where two smaller fast drives are striped as a RAID 0 array for the system drive, and then you have an additional slower, larger drive for your media. RAID 0 doesn’t give a mirrored back-up like some other RAID numbers, but our tests confirm the performance boost it delivers.
With 4GB of RAM and its sights on the 3D market, the 64-bit version of Windows XP is the right choice for the QX64 – though we had no problems running Adobe’s 32-bit applications. You also get a free upgrade to the 64-bit version
of Vista for when all of your tools are running smoothly on that OS.
This workstation’s chassis is imposingly big and black – though it’s less so than the Bauhaus-inspired case the company also offers. It’s well padded to keep system noise down to a minimum and all of the internal components are easy to get at. Our only quibble with its design is the positioning of the forward USB, FireWire and headphone ports, which are hidden round the side – to keep the design clear we guess – and hard to get at if you have this workstation under your desk.
The QX64 is an excellent workstation – though if you have the budget and real-time needs for the Quadro FX 4600 board, you’ll probably want the processing power of two Xeon processors.
We tested the Imagine QX64 and compared its scores to a dual dual-core Apple Mac Pro and Armari’s Magnetar QS. The CAD2 Imagine QX64 outperformed its two rivals in all of our tests – the table above summarizes the results.
The Mac Pro has two 2.66GHz, dual-core Intel Xeon 5150 processors, 2GB of RAM, a 250GB/7,200rpm hard drive, an nVidia GeForce 7300GT graphics card with 256MB of RAM, and costs £1,618 plus VAT. The Magnetar QS has a 2.66GHz, quad-core Intel QX6700 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 320GB/7,200rpm hard drive, an Asus EN7900GS/2DHT graphics card with 256MB of RAM, and costs £1,599 plus VAT.
For the After Effects and Photoshop tests, shorter bars are better. For the Cinebench tests, longer bars are better. See right for more details on these tests.
Processor: Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 (2.66GHz quad core)
RAM (supplied): 4GB
RAM (max): 8GB
Graphics card: nVidia Quadro FX 4600
Connector: PCI Express
Hard drive type: Serial ATA 3Gbps
Size: 2x 150GB+500GB Speed: 10,000rpm+7,200rpm
Removable media drives: Dual-layer 18x DVD±RW/RAM drive + 8-in-1 media card reader/floppy drive
Soundcard: on board
OS: Windows XP 64-bit
Adobe After Effects 7 Professional
This renders a five-second composition built of three uncompressed 1080i HD layers, each with filters and transforms. The render is run twice, once using GridIron’s Nucleo 1.0.9 plug-in to take full advantage of multiple core processors – and once using AE’s standard rendering engine. Results are in minutes and seconds and smaller bars are better.
Adobe Photoshop CS2/CS3 (beta)
This test performs 20 actions upon a 200MB image – including filters and transformations – within Photoshop CS2. The test was also run in last beta version of Photoshop CS3. Results are in seconds and smaller bars are better.
Cinebench 9.5: rendering
Cinebench is based on Maxon Cinema 4D and provides a processor-based benchmark by rendering a scene, which we’ve included as the software is available in a Universal Binary version for the Mac – providing an indication of how well native versions of creative tools will run on a Mac Pro. Results are in Cinebench’s proprietary units, and longer bars are better. The multiplier indicates how much faster the test runs using all available processors and cores compared to single processor/core.
Cinebench 9.5: real-time 3D
Based on Maxon’s Cinema 4D 9.5 software, Cinebench tests real-time 3D performance by moving a camera through a 3D scene. Results are in Cinebench’s proprietary units, and longer bars are better. The multiplier indicates how much faster the scene runs compared to running the same test without using the 3D card to accelerate performance.