Armari Gravistar XR review

£3999
Price when reviewed

If you thought the performance of both AMD and Intel’s dual-core CPUs was impressive, you’d be right. But the Gravistar sports not just one but two brand-new dual-core Opterons, making it to all intents and purposes a quad-processor machine. Sitting in each of the 940-pin CPU sockets is a dual-core Opteron 275.

Armari Gravistar XR review

Legendary motherboard company Tyan continues to impress with its Thunder K8WE motherboard. An EATX board, it’s a no-compromise design. Top of the feature list is true 16x SLI support: unlike consumer-level boards, which give eight lanes to each graphics card when running in SLI mode, this board delivers 16 lanes to both cards. Its eight DIMM modules will take up to 16GB registered ECC (error checking and correction) RAM; our machine came configured with a hefty complement of four 1GB PC3200 DIMMS. There’s dual-integrated Gigabit Ethernet as well.

We love the Gravistar’s case too: a Supermicro SC733T. It’s more compact and slimmer than you’d think, standing 431mm high and 177mm wide. The case features a lockable front panel, concealing a hot-swap drive rack supporting up to four drives. It continues the high-end trend that’s gradually abandoning traditional SCSI drives for the incredible price-performance ratio of SATA, and in fact the design doesn’t allow for anything other than SATA disks. For this system, Armari has foregone a RAID array and fitted a single 250GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 – a fast drive and plenty good enough if your work is mostly dependent on the CPU rather than the storage-subsystem, as most CAD and 3D-modelling applications are.

The front panel sports temperature warning lights, as well as standard power and disk-activity indicators, and Armari has installed a slick-looking combination floppy drive and media card reader plus the standard Sony dual-layer DVD writer.

Graphics duties are handled by nVidia’s Quadro FX 3400 chipset aboard a PNY-branded card. This is around the mid-range of nVidia’s workstation cards, but still gives excellent performance. Also bear in mind that the Tyan board is SLI capable, so if the card ever turns out to be overstretched there’s no loss of investment: simply pop in another one.

Despite the power on offer, Armari recognises that workstations are more like desktop systems than servers when it comes to noise. It’s certainly noisier than a standard desktop system, but the rear case fan is a 120mm AcoustiFan, pretty much the quietest fan available. The fan for the 645W power supply is very audible, but is still admirably quiet considering the high power consumption of the system.

Performance-wise, the Gravistar knocked our socks off. If you want a machine for heavyweight workstation applications, this is it. Our 3ds max 7 render test, which takes over two minutes per frame on even the highest-end single-core processor, and around one minute, 20 seconds on a dual-core Pentium or Athlon 64 X2 system, completed in an astonishing 48 seconds. This really brings home the potential performance gains to be had from multicore designs; whereas in the past a new processor has impressed us by being ten or 15 per cent faster than the previous generation, multicore immediately gives you gains approaching 90 per cent. Your application needs to be properly multithreaded, though. Our primarily single-threaded real-world application benchmarks don’t show so much of an improvement, but this is a machine aimed at the kind of professional applications designed from the ground up for multiple processors. Also, it’s worth noting that while brand-new cutting-edge systems often baulk at some stage in our intensive benchmarking process, such as hanging at reboot or midway through a test, the Gravistar was solid throughout.

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