• Price: 2995

  • Company: CAD2

  • Pros: Very powerful graphics card; oodles of RAM that boosts compositing performance.

  • Cons: Expensive; many users may not see benefits of graphics card.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

Our review model of CAD2’s Imagine WS114 workstation sees the debut of nVidia’s Quadro FX 4800 graphics card, which boasts a whopping 1.5GB of graphics RAM. It’s a pricey card – by our estimation it accounts for half of the cost of this workstation – but for users who need vast 3D graphics power, nothing from rival AMD matches up.

The FX 4800 has an impressive set of specifications: 192 parallel processing cores, and GDDR3 RAM with 76.8GBps memory bandwidth. It has two DisplayPort outputs for sending 10-bit-per-colour video to monitors such as Dell’s UltraSharp 2709W or HP’s DreamColor.

However, in our standard Cinebench real-time 3D test, the Imagine WS114 posted a far lower score than Armari’s Magnetar NS+ (reviewed here), which had AMD’s flagship ATI FireGL V8700 graphics card.

The Cinebench test uses a relatively simple scene, and the FX 4800’s performance relative to the V8700 rose dramatically in more complex scenes in Maya. In our standard complex Maya test, the two workstations were neck-and-neck – but when we doubled the complexity, the FX 4800 pulled in front, helped by having an extra half-GB of RAM.

Our concern is that few Digital Arts readers will see the benefits of the FX 4800, as it’s only those working with massive models and scenes, especially those in scientific sectors, who are likely to need it.

The model has an Intel Core i7 940 quad-core chip, which runs at 2.93GHz. The Core i7 platform gets rid of the old front-side bus for faster communication with the motherboard, introduces a three-channel memory interface – hence the WS114 having an odd-looking 12GB of RAM – and brings back Hyper-Threading of faster multi-thread performance. In the Cinebench rendering test, the WS114 was slower than the Magnetar NS+ – which isn’t surprising as Armari’s workstation has a 3GHz chip. Results in Photoshop CS3 were near-identical, but the WS114 pulled ahead in After Effects CS3.

We’ll introduce CS4-based testing from our next workstation group test. The WS114 can’t take advantage of Photoshop CS4’s ability to tap the power of the graphics card, as this isn’t supported under Windows XP
64-bit. This OS is still the best for users of professional 3D applications, and you can buy the WS114 with Vista.
Our review model offers both speed and capacity, having a 300GB 10,000rpm system drive and a 1TB 7,200rpm media drive.