‘Sandy Bridge’ has finally arrived on Intel’s Xeon platform. AEC Magazine finds out what this means for design viz users by putting Workstation Specialists’ new dual Xeon through its paces.
The dual processor Xeon workstation has become a mainstay for the design visualisation specialist. Rendering software thrives on CPU cores and a single processor Core i7 simply cannot match a dual Xeon machine for numbers.
But anyone who has invested in a powerful Xeon workstation in the last 12 months has had to accept a trade off. ‘Westmere’, Intel’s Xeon platform for 2011 was a generation behind ‘Sandy Bridge. While the dual processor ‘Westmere’ Xeon 5600 series workstation absolutely flew in heavily threaded operations like rendering, under most other tasks it came in second best to the single processor ‘Sandy Bridge’ Core i7 workstation.
This all changed with the long-awaited launch of Intel’s ‘Sandy Bridge’ Xeon E5-2600 series this month. The new Xeon platform combines the raw performance of ‘Sandy Bridge’ with up to 16 cores and 32 threads, which is 33% more cores than were available on ‘Westmere’.
Workstation Specialists is bringing the ‘Sandy Bridge’ Xeon to market in its new WS2850 ultra high-end desktop 3D graphics workstation. The Derby firm gave AEC Magazine a preview of this new Intel technology inside a pre-production machine, which featured a pair of Intel Xeon E5-2687W CPUs, a specialist workstation chip from the new E5-2600 series. We went straight to our suite of application benchmarks to see how it performed.
It came as no surprise to find that the WS2850 set a new record in our 3ds Max Design rendering benchmark. With a total of 16 cores and 32 threads, we have never thrown so much processing power at this task and the Intel Xeon E5-2687W did not disappoint.
The WS2850 also raised the stakes in our multi-tasking benchmark where, incredibly, there was virtually no slow down in performance when we ran two or three tests at the same time.
Unfortunately, the WS2850 did not impress as much in our other benchmarks, where GHz plays a much more important role than the number of CPU cores. Here the overclocked Core i7 workstations we regularly see at AEC Magazine, which run at speeds of up to 4.5GHz, have a clear advantage. While the Xeon E5-2687W clocks up from 3.1GHz to 3.8GHz with Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0, permanent overclocking is not possible with any of Intel’s new Xeon E5-2600 series chips.
The WS2850 is certainly not short of memory. Our test machine was kitted out with 32GB (8 x 4GB) of 1600MHz memory, which makes full use of the Xeon E5-2600’s quad channel memory controller. While this should be plenty for most power users, there are still eight free memory slots available for future upgrades and when using 32GB DIMMS capacity for an incredible 512GB.
Storage in the WS2850 is all about performance, with a 120GB Intel 520 Series Solid State Drive (550MB/s read / 520MB/s write) for system and two 1TB 7,200RPM SATA-2 drives configured in RAID 0 for fast access to large datasets.
The 2GB Nvidia Quadro 4000 graphics card gives a good balance between performance and cost. Design viz specialists may look to boost 3D performance with an upgrade to a Quadro 5000.
With three additional PCI Express slots, the Quadro 4000 can also be supplemented by one or more Tesla GPUs to boost rendering performance in iRay enabled software, such as 3ds Max Design or Bunkspeed Shot, or simulation performance in GPU-enabled analysis applications, including Simulia Abaqus and Ansys.
It has been a long time coming, but Intel’s new Xeon E5-2600 will certainly be welcomed with open arms by those who run applications with a thirst for processor cores. For rendering, there is currently no faster CPU out there and with eight cores per chip and increased memory bandwidth through a quad channel controller we expect a similar response from most simulation software.
Workstation Specialists has done an excellent job of integrating this into its standard workstation chassis and while our prototype machine was not particularly quiet we expect WS to work its trademark acoustic magic as it brings the product to market.
Of course, like most dual processor workstations, the burden of two high-end Xeons weighs heavy with the overall cost of the machine coming in at £5,620. It is a hefty price to pay, but not out of the ordinary for those that require instant access to buckets of processing power.