Magnetar QX: the first eight-core workstation review

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

  • Price When Reviewed: 4595

  • Pros: 30-50 per cent performance boost over models with one quad-core or two dual-core chips.

  • Cons: Very expensive. Large case.

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Armari's Magnetar QX is the first workstation we've seen to include Intel's brand new quad-core Xeon processor, the X5355.

This processor has a clock speed of 2.66GHz, which is the same as the most common version of the previous range -- the dual-core Xeon 5150 (as seen in the Mac Pro). It's also the same speed as recently released quad-core Core 2 Extreme QX6700, as seen in Armari's own Magnetar QS last issue. This is the final proof -- if you needed it -- that the 'Megahertz Myth' has been chucked in the dustbin of history.

The Xeon X5355 combines the best of both chip lines: it packs the QX6700's four processor cores and the Xeon's fast 1.33GHz front-side bus speed. Plus, you can pack two into one computer. The end result is a whopping eight cores of processing power.

Geekish drooling aside, what this translates to on a day-to-day basis is a big boost to high-end 3D, video, and motion graphics applications. Rendering our 3D test scene in Cinebench was over 50 per cent quicker than using Intel's Xeon 5150 or Core Duo Extreme QX6700.

Rendering an HD project in After Effects was over 30 per cent faster that using a single QX6700 chip (AE isn't supported natively on Macs yet). To achieve this required GridIron's Nucleo multi-core plug-in and without it there was little difference, stressing the importance of multi-core processor support in creative applications. Luckily, all of the major 3D, video, and compositing tools support multi-core processors - using plug-ins in some cases.

Photoshop drop

Photoshop actually ran slower on the two X5355s than on the single QX6700. This isn't surprising as Photoshop is RAM driven, capable of dealing with only 3.5GB of RAM at a time on Windows XP x64 -- only 512MB more than under XP Pro. Photoshop is optimized more for the 32-bit version of Windows. However, if you're using Photoshop alongside another heavy-duty application - or while rendering 3D, edits or compositions in the background - you'll see benefits from eight cores and 8GB of RAM.

The rest of the Magnetar QX's is as we'd expect from a top-of-the-line 3D workstation. The ATI FireGL 7350 graphics card was the first model to offer 1GB of on-board RAM, and it's still a very powerful card. Its Cinebench score was very impressive, but it's with highly intricate scenes that it really shows it mettle.

This workstation's case is enormous - too big for some desks - to accommodate the cooling required for eight cores. It's not too noisy, but it's not as quiet as the Magnetar QS or the Mac Pro. Armari says that it will be offering the chips in a smaller case, and for a workstation at this price, we'd recommend spending a few extra hundred pounds on water cooling if you value a quiet work environment.

The Magnetar QX's only real flaw is the price. Even considering expensive components such as the £1,000-plus ATI graphics card, you're paying more than twice the price of a single QX6700 for two X5355s -- and getting a 30-50 per cent performance benefit. If the timesavings involved make business sense for your work, the Magentar QX is a great option, but most creatives will want to wait for the price to come down before investing in eight-core technology.

Test results

This Magnetar QX was benchmarked against Armari's Best Buy-winning Magnetar QS and Apple's Mac Pro laptop. 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. The Apple Mac Pro has two 2.66GHz, dual-core Intel Xeon 5150 T7600 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.

Adobe After Effects 7 Professional
Apple Mac Pro: 13mins 50s (24mins 50s)
Armari Magnetar QS: 4mins 22s (10mins 56s)
Armari Magnetar QX: 3mins 0s (10mins 52s)

This renders a five-second composition built of three uncompressed 1080i HD layers, each with filters and transforms. The first result uses GridIron's Nucleo 1.0.8 software to take full advantage of multiple core processors, while the second uses AE's standard rendering engine. Results are in minutes and seconds and lower times are better.

Cinebench 9.5 -- rendering
Apple Mac Pro: 1381 (3.15x)
Armari Magnetar QS: 1334 (3.0x)
Armari Magnetar QX: 2137 (4.71x)

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 large numbers 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
Apple Mac Pro: 4433 (8.41x)
Armari Magnetar QS - 3781 (7.16x)
Armari Magnetar QX - 5117 (9.77x)

Cinebench also tests real-time 3D performance by moving a camera through a 3D scene. Results are in Cinebench's proprietary units, and larger numbers 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.

Adobe Photoshop CS2
Apple Mac Pro: 2mins 39s
Armari Magnetar QS: 1mins 48s
Armari Magnetar QX: 1mins 55s

This test performs 20 actions upon a 200MB image -- including filters and transformations -- within Photoshop CS 2. Results are in seconds and lower times are better.


Processor (supplied): 2x Intel Xeon X5355 (2.66GHz quad core)
Processor (max): 2x Intel Xeon X5355 (2.66GHz quad core)
RAM (supplied): 8GB
RAM (max): 32GB
Graphics card: ATI FireGL 7350
Connector: PCI Express
Hard drive type: Serial ATA 150Mbps+3Gbps
Size: 150GB+500GB
Speed: 10,000rpm+7,200rpm
Removable media drives: Sony DRU-830A dual-layer DVD±RW/RAM drive + floppy drive
Soundcard: on board
OS: Windows XP 64-bit
Keyboard: Logitech Deluxe 250
Mouse: Logitech Scroll Optical Wheel Mouse

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