By Neil Bennett | on September 10, 2013
Price When Reviewed: £9,999 plus VAT
Pros: The most powerful workstation we've ever seen.
Cons: How much!
We check out the most powerful workstation we've ever seen – and the first to feature Intel Ivy Bridge-based Xeon E5 processors.
Intel has taken the wraps off its new Xeon E5 2600 V2 series processors, which means new lines of workstations that offer them from vendors both big and small. We've seen new ranges from the likes of Dell and HP – though no new Mac Pro from Apple – but the first we've got our hands on for review in Boston's Venom 2401-7T.
As you'd expect from a showcase machine, the Venom 2401-7T is not exactly what you'd call affordable unless you're in a part of the creative industries where performance is much more important than price – in which case you're going to love this ten grand beast. What your money would be going on is two 3.4GHz 8-core Xeon E5 2687W V2 processors, a Supermicro X9DAI motherboard, 64GB of 1,866MHz RAM, two mirrored 120GB SSDs for Windows and your apps, and two striped 2TB 7,200rpm hard drives for your projects.
For graphics there's a Nvidia Quadro K5000 gcard with 4GB of its own RAM, backed up with a Tesla K20 with 5GB of RAM, which massively accelerates rendering in supported applications (though currently none of our standard set of test applications including After Effects, Cinema 4D or Maya support this). You also get a SilverStone Fortress chassis that's imposingly Brutalist in design, but which has a front that gracefully slides open to reveal two very large white fan structures that are more like something from one of Zaha Hadid's buildings.
Architectural references aside – the most important question is 'how does it perform?'. Well, in short it's the most powerful workstation we've ever seen.
Xeon E5 2600W V2 benchmarks
The key components for this review are the Xeon E5 2687W V2 chips, so the most important benchmark we can run is Cinebench's 3D rendering task, where it renders a complex 3D scene. Here we saw a score of 27.68 points (a score that relates to nothing outside of Cinebench. Boston kindly swapped out the chips for first generation E5 2687W processors – which also have 8 cores but run at 3.1GHz – and we re-ran the tests getting a score of 25.46. This means you'll get an 8.2 per cent performance boost from the new chips, which – while it might not sound a lot – could make a big difference to how long you have to wait for a heavy duty render to complete.
The reason for the speed boost is that the Xeon E5 2600 V2 series chips are the first to be based on the Ivy Bridge architecture. This uses transistors created at a size of 22nm rather than the 32nm of the previous Sandy Bridge chips, so Intel can cram even more on for better performance in your creative apps.
In this Venom 2401-7T, these were hidden behind a seriously heavy-duty liquid cooling system, which kept the system whisper quiet. In the first image below you can see one of Xeon E5 2687W V2 processors in place in the motherboard (top), with the second behind the heatsink with its connected pipes to the cooling unit itself (bottom).
Apple's forthcoming, redesigned, 'bin-shaped' Mac Pro has garnered a lot of interest from creatives, but has only a single E5 2600 V2 series chip. To get an idea of how this would shape up, Boston removed one of the new processors from this workstation so we could benchmark a single-processor config. We know from running Cinebench over the year that it's cross-platform results are directly comparable, and the single-chip set up delivered a rendering score of 14.04 – so this workstation delivers 97% better rendering performance than an 8-core Mac Pro 2013. How they match up on price has yet to be discovered.
The Xeon E5 2600 V2 series chips also support 1,866MHz ECC RAM, which is faster than the max 1,600GHz supported by V2. We haven't had time to run the Venom 2401-7T through the rest of our standard tests – we wanted to publish this as soon as Intel's embargo on the processors lifted – but we'll complete this tomorrow and update the review with its performance in After Effects (which tests CPU, RAM, storage and graphics performance), Specbench Specviewperf (which tests real-time 3D performance) and more. We'll also rate this workstation at that point.
Big thanks to Matt from Boston for reconfiguring the machine multiple times live in the Digital Arts labs to allow us to do this review.