• Price: 4385

  • Company: IBM

  • Pros: Obscenely powerful 3D performance. Fast image rendering and processing.

  • Cons: High price. Small, single hard drive. No DVD reader.

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

The last IBM workstation we looked at was rather behind the times – but this is right up-to-date. Dealer Matek’s entry into our last workstation group test was a generation behind much of the competition, but this is the first computer we’ve seen to feature ATI’s top-of-the-line FireGL 7100 graphics card. It’s a superbly powerful machine – with a price to match.

The IntelliStation Z Pro shell is an imposing black box that’s shorter and fatter than the Dell Precision 670 we looked at in Digit 80. It’s rather ugly – especially sat next to an Apple Power Mac G5 – and it doesn’t look as imposing as the Precision either. But it’s what’s inside that counts.

This Z Pro is driven by the fastest Xeon processors available: two 3.6GHz chips with 2MB of Level 2 cache each. These are fed by 2GB of DDR2 RAM across an 800MHz system bus, and connected to a motherboard with an almost full set of PCI-Express, PCI-X, PCI, Ultra360 SCSI and ATA connectors. A FireGL 7100 card, a single 73GB, 10,000rpm Ultra 360 hard drive and a CD-RW drive are all included. But that’s it – leaving a bare-to-the-bone system.

Light work

From the specs you’d expect this IntelliStation to be powerful – and this unit will surpass your expectations. Rendering of the Radiosity_box benchmark scene in LightWave 8 (using four threads with Hyper-threading turned on) was accomplished in 18 minutes and 44 seconds – two minutes quicker than the dual 3.4GHz-driven Precision 670. However, we should mention that the IntelliStation was tested using version 8.2 of LightWave (while the Precision used the then most recent 8.0 version), as it took the upgrade and an ATI graphics driver update to make LightWave open the benchmark scene. This may have given the rendering time an extra boost.

It was our Cinebench tests where this IntelliStation really started showing off. This is the first review machine we’ve seen to get Cinebench scores of over 3,000: achieving a groundbreaking 3,384. Equally importantly, this is over eight-times quicker than without using the graphics card. The NVidia Quadro 3400 used by the Dell Precision 650 could only manage a 6.19x boost – though in itself this is an impressive score. This IntelliStation’s 3D power is due to the V7100 card, which is imbued with 256MB of GDDR3 memory, six geometry engines, 16 pixel pipelines and a throughput of up to 28.8GB per second. It’s also why this workstation costs so much.

The high price is justified by the power of the unit within 3D applications – though you’d need to be working with some very intricate models to make it worthwhile. Some of Matek’s configuration choices are poor – the Precision’s addition of a Serial-ATA system drive (leaving the SCSI system free for media manipulation) is better, and the CD-RW drive is a lame option when almost all pro-level systems come with a DVD±RW as standard. A DVD writer is of limited professional appeal, but the ability to read DVD-ROMs is something everyone needs these days. However, the stonking 3D performance should keep you happy.

specifications

Processor (supplied): 2x Intel Xeon 3.6GHz
Processor (maximum): 2x Intel Xeon 3.6GHz
RAM (supplied): 3GB
RAM (maximum): 8GB
DIMMs/free slots: 2/4
Graphics card (supplied): ATI FireGL V7100
Graphics RAM/AGP port: 256MB/PCI-Express
Hard drive type: Ultra320 SCSI
Hard drive size/speed (supplied): 73GB/10,000rpm
Bays: 2x 5.25-inch ext, 1x 3.5-inch ext, 3x 3.5-inch int
Removable media drive: CD-RW
Slots: 1x PCI Express x16, 1x PCI-X 133MHz, 1x PCI-X 100MHz, 2x 32-bit PCI
Free slots (supplied): 1x PCI-X 133MHz, 1x PCI-X 100MHz, 2x 32-bit PCI*
Dimensions: 470-x-216-x-495mm
Soundcard: On-board Ports: 6x USB 2.0, 2x FireWire, Gigabit ethernet, keyboard, mouse, parallel, 2x serial
OS: Windows XP Professional