Workstations do not come much smaller than this and kitted out with standard desktop components users do not have to compromise on performance.
You do not realise quite how imposing an ordinary desktop workstation is until you set up one of Scan’s new 3XS Nanu machines. Featuring the Silverstone Sugo SG06B Mini ITX case, the workstation comes in at an incredibly small 220 x 177 x 286mm (W x H x D), but despite its shoebox proportions, most of components are standard workstation fare.
The Nanu is built around the Core i3 550, currently the fastest Core i3 processor from Intel, which has two CPU cores running at 3.2GHz. This is perfect for CAD, though Scan also offers the quad core Intel Core i5 750 (2.66Ghz) for those that place greater emphasis on multi-tasking or accelerating multithreaded applications. Higher specification processors are not available due to the thermal limits of the system – and its 300W power supply.
This conservative power envelope does not stop Scan offering some relatively high-specification graphics cards, topping out at Nvidia’s Quadro FX 3800. Our review machine came with a much more suitable partner for budget CAD — AMD’s brand new 1GB ATI FirePro V4800, which gave a good account of itself under SolidWorks 2010. What is more, with CPU and graphics card running at full pelt, fan noise was barely noticeable.
Despite its diminutive form, the Nanu can actually support two hard drives, though this means either a notebook drive or one of the increasingly popular SSDs (Solid State Drives) coupled with a standard 3.5-inch workstation hard disk. To help keep the price well under £1,000, our review machine came with a single 1TB Western Digital, which is perfectly suited to an entry-level workstation such as this.
One area that is compromised a little by the size of the chassis is the memory. With only 2 DIMM slots on the Mini ITX motherboard, memory needs to be chosen carefully at time of purchase. Our test machine came with 2 x 2GB, leaving no room for future upgrades, but if you think your memory usage will increase in the short term it may be worth going straight for 2 x 4GB, which will cost an additional £140.
A few years back a number of specialist builders were dabbling with small form factor workstations, but I have not seen one for quite a while. For someone who has a pretty hefty workstation obliterating my view of the office I can certainly see the benefits, though admittedly there are times when you do not want to look at your colleagues! Maintaining eye-to-eye contact is one thing, but the Nanu also offers an interesting proposition for CAD on the go. It really is small enough to put under your arm and take to meetings, and with built-in WiFi easy to hook it up to your client’s wireless network ready to go.