- Review Price: £3524.00
Evesham’s new Acumen DC10 workstation stands big and tall in a matt black Chieftec DX-01B Dragon case. Inside there’s acres of space for the E-ATX Asus K8N-DL motherboard with its pair of Opteron 275 processors, and taken together the case and motherboard provide plenty of scope for expansion. The case can house a floppy drive and six hard drives plus four optical drives while the K8N-DL (which uses the nForce4 Pro chipset) has the four native SATA and two IDE connectors that you would expect, and in addition there’s a Silicon Image 3114R RAID controller with four more SATA connectors.
Evesham supplied its review model with a pair of WD 250GB SATA drives striped in RAID 0 to offer a single 466GB drive loaded up with Windows XP Pro, just as it would if you ordered this workstation. It had so many options to play with that it installed a second pair of WD drives in RAID 0 with 64-bit XP Pro, so we could switch from one OS to the other by unplugging one pair of SATA cables and plugging in the other. Of course Opteron supports both 32-bit and 64-bit software natively so the transition is effortless, so long as you have software that can take advantage of the latest version of Windows.
When we ran our SYSmark 2004 benchmark on 32-bit Windows it rattled along at a ferocious pace turning in a score of 240 marks but SYSmark wouldn’t run on the 64-bit Windows installation. The reported error related to the Adobe Acrobat element of the test suite, but the fact that there was a problem didn’t come as much of a surprise as SYSmark loads up cut-down versions of a whole host of applications and it is very fussy indeed about the state of the operating system when you install it.
We took advantage of the 32-bit/64-bit Jekyll and Hyde nature of the Evesham to run POV-Ray 3.7 Beta rendering test which supports multi-threading. Using 32-bit Windows XP the test took 16 minutes 30 seconds using only one core, which dropped to four minutes 27 seconds when we used all four cores.
Switching to 64-bit Windows XP, the single core test took 13 minutes 20 seconds and the four core result was three minutes 41 seconds, which confirmed our expectations that this dual processor/dual core Opteron set-up would be as fast as hell, with bags of grunt to spare.
Naturally the PC3200 memory is ECC as Opterons won’t run on non-ECC memory, and the graphics card in this workstation is an ATI branded FireGL V5100 item. This uses the same R423 chip as an X800XT, but is optimised for OpenGL rather than DirectX. The drivers are far simpler than the Catalysts that you’re used to seeing, and once you’ve set up your monitors the only change you’re likely to make in the settings is from one application profile to another as you switch from Photoshop to 3D Studio Max, or whatever. While there’s no denying that the FireGL V5100 is a decent workstation graphics card – just as well as it costs £400 retail – it’s a real surprise to us that Evesham didn’t go the whole hog and install a V7100, which is available as an upgrade when you configure your Acumen for just under £200.
Not only does the V7100 sport 256MB of graphics memory instead of 128MB, as well as 16 pixel pipelines compared to the 12 offered by the V5100, but more importantly the V7100 supports Dual Link. Most graphics cards are limited to a DVI resolution of 1,920 x 1,200 which is no limitation at all for a regular desktop machine running a high-end monitor such as the 23in Viewsonic VP231wb, but if you’re using a 30in Apple Cinema Display then you need something extra to power the 2,560 x 1,600 native resolution, or you may even have designs on the Viewsonic VP2290b with its 3,840×2,400 resolution.
Even if you don’t currently have one of these monster monitors it seems very short-sighted to buy a workstation with a graphics card that has an inherent limitation when a relatively small expenditure will remove that limitation.
So what makes this a workstation rather than a fast gaming PC, apart from the hefty price tag? Hmm, good question. Well the thinking behind the Acumen DC10 seems clear enough. Plug in two devilishly fast dual core Opterons with 2GB of memory and an OpenGL graphics card certified for all the major packages and by definition you’ve got a workstation. While there’s no doubt that the Acumen DC10 could perform any task that you throw at it, we have a real issue when it comes to the data storage side of things.
Cards on the table, this is a personal hobby horse of mine as mentioned here and here, but Riyad, too, is paranoid about the consequences of a borked hard drive, so the idea that the Acumen DC10 was supplied with a RAID 0 array filled us both with horror. If either hard drive or the motherboard controller fails then the array will vanish in a puff of smoke, and as you’re presumably using this £3,523 workstation to earn your living you’ll also kiss goodbye to a chunk of work.
Evesham will happily configure the Acumen any way that you like, so you could choose to use the integrated RAID 1 that is supported by both nForce4 and Sil3114R. That way a hard drive failure is likely to become an annoyance, rather than a disaster but Evesham doesn’t offer the option of a dedicated RAID card with support for three hard drives and proper RAID 5. This is an option if you buy an Evesham SilverEDGE pedestal server or, indeed, an Armari Gravistar XR workstation, but when it comes to the Acumen DC10 it is clear that Evesham takes a different view.
This hugely powerful workstation has massive CPU power, loads of memory and decent graphics but it feels more like a beefed-up PC than a true business workhorse.
Score in detail
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