By Neil Bennett | on August 04, 2008
Pros: Powerful workstation for high-end VFX; whisper-quiet; excellent graphics card.
Cons: Expensive; card has single DisplayPort; stability problems when overclocked.
The Magnetar SDX is a whopper of a workstation. Measuring 62cm-x-22cm-x-425cm and weighing only slightly less than a baby elephant, Armari’s latest workstation requires a lot of desk (or under-desk) space. It has a sci-fi-styled design that’s either great or ugly, depending on your tastes. If you think that Apple’s Mac Pro is too girly, then this is the workstation for you.
Aimed at freelancers and home studio owners who want to use 3DS Max by day and play Crysis by night, the SDX is equally appealing to high-end visual-effects and animation professionals who work with audio.
The huge shell hides a high-spec liquid-cooling system that replaces the fans on the SDX’s two 3.2GHz quad-core Xeon processors, and keeps the chipsets cool too. This not only helps to keep operation almost silent – it’s so quiet that it could easily be used as an audio-production workstation – but allows the chips to be overclocked up to 4GHz.
We saw some stability problems at 4GHz, as our After Effects test caused the workstation to crash and reboot every time. We reduced the overclocking to 3.6GHz and found the workstation to be very stable – and very fast. In our Cinebench R10 rendering test, the SDX was the fastest performer we’ve ever seen, achieving a score of 29,314 – around 25 per cent faster than two models with standard 3.16GHz chips we looked at back in our February and March issues.
The SDX also sees the debut of AMD’s ATI Fire GL V7700 graphics card, which is the first workstation-class graphics card to offer a DisplayPort output (it has a DVI output too). This is HDMI’s rival for the title of successor to DVI, and supports output colour depths of up to 16-bit per colour (DVI goes up to 8-bit). The V7700 supports 10-bit throughout its processing pipeline, so can work with four times the colour information of DVI boards. 10-bit monitors are generally pricey, but the HP’s DreamColor LP2480zx is due out soon for £1,760 plus VAT.
The V7700 is a first-generation card, and has only a single DisplayPort output, so video editors couldn’t connect two LP2480zx screens. It may have the same amount of RAM as its V7600 cousin, but its memory bandwidth is higher (72GBps to the V7600’s 52GBps). It delivered much higher scores in our low-end Cinebench test and noticeably better frame rates in our Maya test.
With a great result in our Photoshop test too, the SDX is a very powerful – if pricey – workstation.