Intel Xeon used to be the only CPU brand for those serious about ray trace rendering. But with the new 18-core Intel Core i9-7980XE and some overclocking wizardry, Bolton-based Scan is rewriting the rulebook with a phenomenally fast workstation for both CAD and design viz, writes Greg Corke
Buying a workstation for design viz has always been a bit of a balancing act. You ideally want a processor with lots of cores to crunch through ray trace renders, but CPUs with a high core count typically have a much lower clock speed. And if clock speed falls too low, then general system and application performance suffer.
The sweet spot has traditionally come in the form of a special ‘workstation-class’ Intel Xeon E5-2600 series CPU – a model denoted by a ‘W’ suffix. The Xeon E5-2687W V4, for example, features 12 cores that run at 3.00 GHz, while one core can Turbo up to 3.50 GHz to accelerate single-threaded applications like CAD. In the new Intel Xeon Scalable family, the processor of choice appears to be the Intel Xeon Gold 6154 (18 cores at 3.0 GHz with a 3.70 GHz Turbo).
With up to two CPUs per workstation and an extremely strong bond with the Tier One manufacturers (HP, Dell and so on), Intel Xeon will likely remain the high-end design viz processor of choice for years to come. However, it is now starting to see some extremely strong competition from so-called consumer CPUs, and specialist workstation system builders like Bolton-based Scan are poised to take advantage.
Over the summer, we have seen the number of cores on consumer CPUs rise dramatically. The AMD Ryzen Threadripper, for example, boasts up to 16 cores per CPU, while the new Intel Core X-Series processor family goes up to 18. Most importantly, clock speeds remain high as one of the key target markets for these new CPUs are gamers, who also want to stream or edit videos. In addition, as the CPUs are ‘unlocked’, they can be overclocked, unlike all Intel Xeons which can only really run at standard clock speeds.
Scan has sensed a big opportunity for the CAD and design viz market with the 18-core Intel Core i9 7980XE processor, which officially launched on September 25, 2017. The company’s brand-new Scan 3XS WI6000 Viz workstation is designed to offer the best of both worlds – high clock speed, combined with high core count. And from what we have seen, you really can now have your cake and eat it too.
Out of the box, the Intel Core i9 7980XE has a base clock speed of 2.60 GHz and a Max Turbo of 4.20 GHz, which can also rise to 4.40 GHz with Intel Turbo Boost Max 3.0. Going above 4.0 GHz on one or two CPU cores is quite an achievement in itself but, incredibly, Scan has gone one step further and used its overclocking expertise to allow all cores to run at 4.20 GHz.
The result is like nothing we have seen before — a workstation that offers incredible performance for both single-threaded CAD and multi-threaded ray trace rendering operations. There really is little compromise.
To put this in perspective, this single CPU machine rendered our KeyShot scene 7% quicker than the dual Intel Xeon E5-2687W v4 workstation (2 x 12 cores) that we reviewed back in January.
What’s more, according to Scan, the overclock gives a massive 22% speed up in the multi-threaded Cinebench R15 benchmark, compared to the same Intel CPU running at stock clock speeds.
But the Scan 3XS WI6000 Viz is also no slouch when it comes to CAD.
In the notoriously CPU-limited ‘shaded with edges’ display mode in SolidWorks 2015, where 3D performance is largely dictated by the speed of a single CPU core, it was only a touch slower than a workstation with the CAD favourite Intel Core i7-7700K CPU.
The powerful Nvidia Quadro P4000 GPU that Scan has chosen for this machine becomes much more relevant in demanding graphics workflows. With realistic lighting and materials enabled in SolidWorks through RealView and Ambient Occlusion, the workstation kept pace with the best we’ve seen before, including the ultra-high-end Quadro P6000. In short, it’s hard to imagine any 3D CAD workflow that it won’t be able to handle from a graphics standpoint, even at 4K resolution.
Moving on to more demanding 3D applications, performance in advanced visualisation tool Autodesk VRED 2018 Professional was good, but the machine did start to show its limitations when Anti-Aliasing was set to ultra-high at FHD (1,920 x 1,080) resolution. With jagged edges smoothed, it slowed to 14 frames per second (FPS), which is a little lower than the ideal minimum of 25 FPS. Viewing the same automotive test model at 4K resolution would almost certainly slow things down to a jumpy sub-10 FPS.
In our architectural-focused game engine benchmarks, the machine performed excellently at FHD resolution. However, as with VRED Professional, when viewing more complex datasets at 4K, you may need the Quadro P5000 to get the desired frame rates.
We didn’t test the machine in VR, but our past experiences with the Quadro P4000 have shown it to be an impressive GPU for entry-level professional VR workflows. But for more demanding VR experiences, particularly when anti-aliasing needs to be enabled to aid aesthetic decision making, one or two Quadro P5000 or P6000 GPUs will likely be better suited. To read more about using the Quadro P4000 for VR, check out our review.
With the GPU rated at 105W and the CPU rated at 165W (and rising higher due to overclocking), the Scan 3XS WI6000 Viz draws significantly more power than your average CAD workstation. But this doesn’t mean it’s louder. In fact, the machine is remarkably quiet in operation, even under heavy loads.
This is thanks in part to the Noctua NH-D15S CPU cooler, which features dual radiators with a low-duty 140mm fan sandwiched in between them. But the noise-absorbing Corsair Carbide 330R case, which boasts sound-damped doors and panels, also plays an important part.
The case itself is roomy inside, with the Asus Prime X299 Deluxe motherboard taking up relatively little space. Scan has populated all eight DIMM slots with 64GB of Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 memory running at 3,000MHz. This is a decent amount of memory for typical CAD/viz workflows, but the machine can take up to 128GB, if required. Those who need more memory to work with huge datasets will need to go down the Intel Xeon route.
The system drive, a super-fast 500GB Samsung 960 Evo M.2 NVMe PCIe SSD, is tucked away on the motherboard, covered by a heatsink which Asus reckons can reduce SSD temperatures by up to 20°C. With a single 2TB Seagate drive reserved for data storage, this leaves the seven internal drive bays relatively unused, so there’s plenty of scope for expansion. There’s also room for a second NVMe SSD.
Conclusion To say we were impressed with the performance of Scan’s new viz-focused workstation would be a bit of an understatement. Overclocking an 18-core Intel CPU to 4.2GHz is quite remarkable and puts an incredible amount of power on the desktop.
With the Scan 3XS WI6000 Viz, you really don’t have to accept a trade-off between cores and GHz. It’s the kind of machine that viz-focused product designers and architects dream of – one that not only delivers in CAD software but also can rival dual Xeons when ray trace rendering.
Best of all, it doesn’t cost a bomb. You can buy this incredible machine for £3,750 + VAT, whereas an equivalent dual Xeon would typically cost between £2,000 and £3,000 more and still be left behind in single-threaded workflows.
■ Intel Core i9 7980XE CPU overclocked to 4.2GHz (18 cores)
■ 64GB (8 x 8GB) Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 3000MHz memory
■ 500GB Samsung 960 Evo NVMe M.2 PCIe SSD + 2TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.14
■ Nvidia Quadro P4000 GPU (8GB)
■ Asus Prime X299 Deluxe motherboard
■ 495mm x 210mm x 484mm (h) x (w) x (d)
■ Microsoft Windows 10 Pro 64-Bit
■ 3 Years – 1st Year Onsite, 2nd and 3rd Year RTB (Parts and Labour)
■ £3,750 + VAT
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