Armari Gravistar SR review

£2890
Price when reviewed

Although it’s a relatively small company, Armari can put together very impressive workstations to rival the like of HP or Fujitsu Siemens when it comes to performance and build. The latest Gravistar comes housed in Supermicro’s SC733T chassis – a compact, good-looking case. Open the fascia door and a hot-swap drive panel is revealed, accommodating up to four SATA disks via the Supermicro SATA733 hot-swap-powered backplane.

Armari Gravistar SR review

Aside from the hot-swap-capable chassis design, the processor, RAM and graphics card all raise this machine several notches above a standard desktop PC. The processor comes in the form of an AMD Opteron 185, the latest dual-core variant of the Opteron 100 series. Its specifications are very close to those of an Athlon 64 FX-60, fitting in a 939-pin socket with both cores running at 2.6GHz and fed by 1MB of Level 2 cache per core. The RAM is simply standard PC3200 non-ECC SDRAM, but the difference is the sheer amount, with 4GB being the maximum the motherboard can support across its four DIMM sockets.

The headline news technology-wise is the Gravistar’s graphics subsystem. It’s fitted with the newest ultra high-end ATi FireGL 7350, the only card in the world with a full 1GB of onboard video memory. Proving that, at least for some applications, there’s life in CRT monitors yet, the 7350 also boasts true 10-bit-per-colour output colour depth. That’s simply irrelevant for a TFT display, since even the best panels can handle only eight bits of ‘twist’ per channel for a maximum of 16.7 million colours. But an analog CRT can accept an infinite range of input voltages: in combination with the 7350, that means true 30-bit colour-depth display is possible. The dual DVI-I outputs are Dual Link capable too, catering for ultra high-resolution monitors such as the Dell UltraSharp 3007WFP with its native resolution of 2,560 x 1,600. 3D grunt is provided by eight vertex and 16 pixel pipelines in concert with that 1GB of video memory.

There was just one hard disk in our review system – a Western Digital Raptor 10K with 150GB capacity – but the price above includes a second 300GB Seagate Barracuda data drive. A chat with Armari’s engineers revealed that its workstations don’t come equipped with RAID0 arrays these days unless specifically requested. The transfer rates of around 80MB/sec afforded by the Raptor are more than sufficient for a workstation likely to be bound more by CPU and graphics speed.

Take off the locking side panel to look at build quality and a treat awaits, with all cabling routed as neatly as possible: the internals of this machine are as close to beauty as you’ll ever witness on the inside of a PC. Although there’s only one optical drive in the system, power and IDE cables have been routed to the spare 5.25in bay and sit waiting in exactly the correct positions, so you can simply slide in a second drive and hook it up in seconds.

With all SATA cables pre-routed from the hotswap backplane, it really is a case of just slotting in a new drive from the front, with no internal rearrangement required at all. Once you’ve popped out a spare drive caddy via the button-release mechanism, it only takes a couple of minutes to secure the new drive in the caddy. Slide it back in and lock it off while the system’s running and Windows handles the new device with a total lack of fuss, detecting a new piece of hardware in exactly the same way as if you’d attached a USB flash drive. The only drawback is that while each drive caddy has provision for LED activity and failure indicators, the SATA733 backplane only has activity LEDs fitted, with empty solder pads for the failure indicators. If a drive fails, it might be difficult to identify which one it actually is before you can pull it out.

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