NEC WA2510 review

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Taken at face value, a workstation PC shouldn’t be too different from a standard high-end consumer-level desktop. Workstation buyers have different priorities, though, and the hardware is often subtly different.

NEC WA2510 review

It isn’t too hard to see the WA2510’s workstation aspirations, courtesy of the fact that there are two CPUs nestling in the motherboard and that the board itself comes from Tyan, in the form an S2927. The motherboard aficionados among you will know that the S2927 is otherwise known as the Tyan Thunder n3600B, and that the CPUs are therefore AMD series 2000 Opterons, sitting in 1207-pin Socket F connectors.

The Opterons in the review machine are a pair of 2214s; in comparison to the latest Xeons, their paper specifications are looking behind the times, with just 2MB of L2 cache and a clock speed of 2.2GHz to Intel’s 3GHz. However, being Rev F parts, the soon-to-be-released quad-core Barcelona parts will be drop-in replacements for the 2214s, being both pin-compatible and operating in the same thermal envelope of 95W TDP.

Performance is helped by a pair of Western Digital Raptor hard disks, configured in a RAID0 array via the RAID controller integrated into the Tyan board’s Nvidia nForce Pro 3600 chipset. As it is, the four cores on offer – two per socket – power the machine to an overall benchmark score of 1.41. Not the fastest PC we’ve ever seen, but certainly no slouch.

Graphics capability is relatively modest, with a single Nvidia Quadro FX 3500 card fitted to one of two PCI-E graphics slots. This is the mid-range of Nvidia’s current Quadro line-up and raw graphics power isn’t its forte, but what Quadro primarily delivers is ISV-certified driver support for all industry-standard applications, from SketchUp through 3ds Max and up to super high-end apps such as CATIA (which is what the likes of Boeing uses to design its aeroplanes). The 3500 is more than capable of throwing enough pixels around to maintain decent frame rates at standard workstation resolutions, and its SLI ability in conjunction with the second PCI-E graphics slot means an easy upgrade path if your chosen apps support it.

Where the WA2510 really scores over consumer-level hardware, aside from the imminent ability to upgrade it to a total of eight cores, is its memory configuration. Not only do Opterons use higher reliability ECC (error-checking and correction) RAM, but for high-end applications the maximum memory support outstrips any consumer offering. The machine as reviewed was supplied with 2GB of RAM in the form of a pair of 1GB ECC DDR2 modules, but with eight DIMM sockets on offer you can upgrade to a maximum of 32GB, provided you’re running a 64-bit operating system. While that might seem like overkill, there are now plenty of design applications around that can easily start nudging into that level of memory capacity.

Looking at the chassis design, it’s clear the WA2510 isn’t a workstation for large-scale rollouts. Its internal layout doesn’t have the level of simplified quick-remove drives or clever swing-out internals you might expect from a corporate machine. Pull off the side panel and you’ll be greeted by a spartan, standard-looking grey steel chassis. There are at least some measures to make upgrades and replacements easier: a couple of levers make for quick release of the fascia and, once the fascia is removed, swapping out hard disks is facilitated by a drive cage that slides out through the front; there’s no hot-swap on offer, though. If you do want to add extra drives, you’ll fit another two in the cage, plus there are two 5.25in front-panel bays. A question mark initially hung over the machine’s anonymous power supply, which wasn’t even marked with its rated output, but NEC assures us it’s a 670W unit and should be able to cope with upgrades without too many difficulties.

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