The 11th Gen Intel Core processor might be a step back in some departments, but in single threaded workflows like CAD and BIM it remains king. Furthermore, coupled wth the right components — as it is in this new tower from Derby-based Workstation Specialists — it can also provide a solid foundation for more demanding workflows.
When Intel launched its ‘Rocket Lake’ processor family earlier this year it came under a lot of flak for having fewer CPU cores than the previous generation. 10th Gen Intel Core maxed out at ten, but the new 11th Gen Intel Core CPUs were limited to eight.
The reality is, this is only an issue if you use software that can take full advantage of that many cores. And for most architects, engineers and product designers, that’s typically only ray trace rendering.
For those that rely solely on CAD or BIM software, it continues to be all about frequency and Instructions Per Clock (IPC). And here, Intel delivers in spades.
The Intel Core i9-11900 CPU, at the heart of this Workstation Specialists desktop tower might have a base clock of 2.50 GHz, but in many of our single threaded CAD tests it hit 5.15 GHz on a single core, just a touch slower than the stated maximum of 5.20 GHz. And this isn’t even Intel’s fastest 11th Intel Core CPU. If you can get hold of one, the Intel Core i9-11900K can go all the way up to 5.3 GHz.
Despite ‘only’ having eight cores, the Core i9-11900 performed very well in some multi-threaded workflows like point cloud processing and reality modelling. Applications like Leica Cyclone Register 360 and Agisoft MetaShape might be multi-threaded but there appears to be little additional benefit (or none at all) to having more than eight cores. It’s only when you get into highly-threaded applications like rendering and geometry optimisation that CPUs with more cores, such as the AMD Ryzen 9 5950X, have an advantage. You can learn more about this in our in-depth AMD Ryzen 9 5000 vs 11th Gen Intel Core comparison.
Our test machine came with 64 GB (2 x 32 GB) of 3,200 MHz dual channel Corsair Vengance RGB Pro DDR4 memory. This is a good amount for an allround BIM-centric workstation.
Those who simply work with average sized models in Revit or other BIM tools should get away with 32 GB. Conversely, those who deal with huge point cloud datasets, would likely be better served with 128 GB — the maximum the Asus PRIME Z590-P motherboard can take in its four memory slots.
The motherboard fits snuggly inside the Fractal Design Define 7 Compact chassis. At 427 x 210 x 474 mm this is a shrunkdown version of the popular workstation case used by many of the UK’s custom workstation manufacturers.
For easy access, there are two USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports up front, but no USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 Type-C. If you have devices that need the more modern USB standard, you’ll probably want to buy a hub to plug into the single USB Type C port at the rear.
The machine has three fans that move air from front to back and, together with the ‘Be Quiet’ CPU air cooler, keep the machine running pretty quietly. For a machine of this type, it offers the perfect combination of size and expandability. In the bottom section of the case, nestled alongside the 750W ATX 80-Plus Platinum Certified Power Supply Unit (PSU), there are two 3.5-inch drive bays.
For most CAD-centric workstations, we’d usually expect one of these bays to be fitted with a Hard Disk Drive (HDD) to give a costeffective mass storage partner to the onboard NVMe SSD. For example, in a budget workstation, a combination of 512 GB Solid State Drive (SSD) and 2 TB HDD is typical. However, for this machine, Workstation Specialists has gone for SSDs throughout.
For the main system drive there’s the high-performance 2 TB Samsung 980 PRO M.2 PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD, which offers up to 7,000 MBps read and 5,100MBps write. But this has been partnered with an 8 TB Samsung 870 QVO 2.5-inch SATA III SSD.
With 560MBps read, and 530MBps write, the 870 QVO offers significantly lower sequential read/write performance than its PCIe 4.0 counterpart, but with a whopping 8 TB to play with, it’s a great alternative to an HDD in I/O intensive workflows like point cloud processing, where collosal datasets are frequently read from / written to disk.
For graphics, there’s the new Nvidia RTX A4000 which comes with a substantial 16 GB of memory. As you see from our in-depth review, this is an impressive all-round GPU for workflows that include GPU rendering, real-time 3D, realtime ray tracing and VR.
For an additional £767 you can upgrade to the Nvidia RTX A5000 (24 GB). But if you’re very much focused on CAD/ BIM and other less demanding 3D applications, you could easily drop down to the Nvidia Quadro P2200, even though this 5 GB pro GPU is now getting a bit long in the tooth.
The 11th Gen Intel Core-based Workstation Specialists WS-184 is an excellent choice for CAD- and BIM-centric workflows. In applications like Revit it delivers where it counts, but also has enough cores to support more processorintensive workflows like point cloud processing and photogrammetry.
For those with a focus on rendering, the fact that the Workstation Specialists WS- 184 would struggle against an AMD Ryzen 9 5950X-based workstation could be a moot point if your software is tuned for GPU. The Nvidia RTX A4000 GPU (or RTX A5000) is more than capable of doing the heavy lifting here.
Conversely, strip out the high-end GPU, drop down to 32 GB of RAM, and pare back on the storage and you should have a very affordable, but fast workstation for bread and butter CAD and BIM work.
Workstation Specialists WS-184 – specifications
- Intel Core i9-11900 processor (2.5 GHz, 5.3 GHz Turbo) (8 cores, 16 threads)
- 64 GB (2 x 32 GB) 3,200 MHz dual channel Corsair Vengance RGB Pro DDR4 memory
- 2 TB Samsung 980 Pro NVMe PCIe 4.0 SSD
- Asus Prime Z590-P motherboard
- Fractal Design Define 7 Compact desktop chassis (427 x 210 x 474 mm)
- Microsoft Windows 10 Professional 64-bit
- 36 Months premium RTB hardware warranty with remote engineer diagnostics by next business day
- £2,414 (Ex VAT)
128 GB memory – add £315
Nvidia RTX A5000 – add £767
8 TB Samsung 870 QVO – add £696
This article is part of AEC Magazine’s 2021 workstation special report. To read the other articles and reviews in this report click on the links below.
Desktop Workstation Buyer’s Guide
Greg Corke goes back to basics with some general advice for those looking to match their machine to architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) workflows
Intel Core vs AMD Ryzen for CAD, BIM & beyond
Which is the best CPU for design-centric workflows – from CAD and BIM to reality modelling and rendering
Workstations for CAD, BIM and viz: 2021
The latest desktop workstations for CAD and BIM-centric workflows
Best lightweight workstation laptops for 2021
Ultra-portable mobile workstations to take CAD, BIM and viz on the road
AMD Radeon Pro Viewport Boost review
Pro driver feature dramatically increases 3D performance by dynamically reducing viewport resolution
Nvidia RTX A4000 / A5000 review
New pro ‘Ampere’ GPUs slice through real-time 3D, ray tracing and VR workflows
Dell UltraSharp U4021QW review
This 5K2K widescreen display gives a bit extra when it comes to screen real estate
Hybrid working for AEC firms
With many firms re-evaluating office space and working from home policies, we asked Adam Jull of IMSCAD about the role that virtual workstations can play
Scan 3XS GWP-ME A132R (AMD Ryzen 9 5000) review
This Ryzen 5000 beast from Scan excels in rendering and extreme multi-tasking
WS-1640A-PRO-G4 [Threadripper Pro] Review
It’s not for everyone, but looks ideal for applications where memory bandwidth is critical
AMD Radeon Pro W6800 review
This 32 GB beast is the first pro GPU from AMD with hardware-based ray tracing built in
The Revit Graphics Boost
New One Graphics System (OGS) will boost viewport performance and add GPU ray tracing