Workstation Specialists WS102LE review

£1173
Price when reviewed

Think workstation and the first thing that comes to mind is an ugly, bulky desktop tower, a huge high resolution monitor and an expensive, specialist graphics card. What you don’t expect is a low-profile desktop box that costs around £1,000, but that’s exactly what UK firm Workstation Specialists supplied to us, in the form of its compact WS102LE.

The chassis measures a mere 390 x 410 x 100mm (WDH) – perfect for environments where you need a lot of power but don’t have an awful lot of space to spare. How has this been achieved? The secret is in the choice of graphics subsystem. Rather than specify a pricey, space-hogging, standalone Quadro card, the system’s Asus P5N-VM WS motherboard boasts Nvidia’s integrated entry-level Quadro FX 470 chipset onboard.

While commonplace in consumer systems, it’s the first time we’ve seen a professional workstation-grade graphics processor built in like this, and it reaps impressive performance rewards. With the help of a 3.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 and 8GB of RAM, the WS102LE achieved an overall score of 1.87 in our professional application-based benchmarks.

Of course it helps that the operating system of choice is Windows XP 64-bit rather than Vista, but it’s still impressive – a score, in fact, that wouldn’t look out of place posted next to an Intel Core i7-based machine.

We also ran a workstation-specific benchmark, SPECViewperf 10, which uses a number of high-end CAD/CAM and 3D design packages to test pure professional graphics performance, and this revealed the real advantage of the FX 470 chip. Adding all the various results together, the WS102LE achieved an overall benchmark score of 205.13, only 4% behind an overclocked 3.8GHz Intel Core i7-equipped system with a consumer ATI Radeon HD 4850 card installed.

Elseswhere, it’s a well-put together system. That compact chassis is an Antec NSK1480, and although it’s not very pretty, it’s well designed and well-made. Hard disks are installed at the front of the chassis in a separate compartment (there’s room for two here), each encased in a removable caddy isolated from vibration by rubber grommets. The single 5.25in bay, occupied by a DVD-writer (a Blu-ray writer is available as an optional upgrade) is damped in the same way.

There’s ample airflow through the chassis, with a single fan on the left cooling the hard disk bays, plus two fans to the right rear of the case helping out the processor and its stock Intel cooler. We like the way it’s so easy to get into as well, with a single, lockable thumbscrew providing access to the interior. The system is also quiet enough not to need hiding away under a desk.

The WS102LE is also well stacked in the connectivity stakes. At the front you’ll find two USB ports and a single eSATA socket, while at the rear there are twin DVI-I outputs, dual Gigabit Ethernet ports and a further six USB sockets. The only surprise is the lack of FireWire ports.

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The only downside is that, inevitably in a chassis this compact, there’s not much room for upgrades. You can fit one additional hard disk on top of the 10,000rpm 320GB drive that comes with the machine, plus one PCI Express x16, one x1, one x4 and a single old-style PCI slot. All four DIMM slots are occupied with 2GB DDR2 667MHz modules.

It’s a sound package, ideal for graphics professionals who don’t want a noisy, bulky system whirring away under the desk. We’d perhaps like to have seen more hard disk space supplied as standard – but the limited space is a trade-off against the increased performance a 10,000rpm drive offers and the price compensates for that even further. At around a grand, the WS102LE is very cheap for a full-blown workstation. So, if you need a slimline machine for professional CAD/CAM work and your budget’s tight, it’s certainly one to consider.

Warranty

Warranty 3yr on-site

Basic specifications

Total hard disk capacity 320
RAM capacity 8.00GB
Screen size N/A

Processor

CPU family Intel Core 2 Duo
CPU nominal frequency 3.16GHz
CPU overclocked frequency N/A
Processor socket LGA 775
HSF (heatsink-fan) Intel stock cooler

Motherboard

Motherboard Asus P5N-VM WS
Motherboard chipset Nvidia Quadro FX 470
Conventional PCI slots free 1
Conventional PCI slots total 1
PCI-E x16 slots free 1
PCI-E x16 slots total 1
PCI-E x8 slots free 0
PCI-E x8 slots total 0
PCI-E x4 slots free 1
PCI-E x4 slots total 1
PCI-E x1 slots free 1
PCI-E x1 slots total 1
Internal SATA connectors 6
Internal SAS connectors 0
Internal PATA connectors 0
Internal floppy connectors 0
Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec

Memory

Memory type DDR2
Memory sockets free 0
Memory sockets total 4

Graphics card

Graphics card N/A
Multiple SLI/CrossFire cards? no
3D performance setting N/A
Graphics chipset Nvidia Quadro FX 470
DVI-I outputs 2
HDMI outputs 0
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Hard disk

Capacity 320GB
Internal disk interface SATA 300
Spindle speed 10,000RPM
Hard disk 2 make and model N/A
Hard disk 2 nominal capacity N/A
Hard disk 2 formatted capacity N/A
Hard disk 2 spindle speed N/A
Hard disk 2 cache size N/A
Hard disk 3 make and model N/A
Hard disk 3 nominal capacity N/A
Hard disk 4 make and model N/A
Hard disk 4 nominal capacity N/A

Drives

Optical disc technology DVD writer
Optical disk 2 make and model N/A
Optical disk 3 make and model N/A

Monitor

Monitor make and model N/A
Resolution screen horizontal N/A
Resolution screen vertical N/A
Resolution N/A x N/A
Pixel response time N/A
Contrast ratio N/A
Screen brightness N/A
DVI inputs N/A
HDMI inputs N/A
VGA inputs N/A
DisplayPort inputs N/A

Additional Peripherals

Speakers N/A
Speaker type N/A
Sound card N/A
Peripherals N/A

Case

Chassis Antec NSK1480
Case format Desktop
Dimensions 390 x 410 x 100mm (WDH)

Free drive bays

Free front panel 5.25in bays 0

Rear ports

USB ports (downstream) 8
eSATA ports 1
PS/2 mouse port yes
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 1
Modem no

Front ports

Front panel USB ports 2
Front panel eSATA ports 1
Front panel memory card reader no

Mouse & Keyboard

Mouse and keyboard Logitech wired keyboard and mouse

Operating system and software

OS family Windows XP

Performance tests

Overall application benchmark score 1.87
Office application benchmark score 1.93
2D graphics application benchmark score 1.75
Encoding application benchmark score 1.86
Multitasking application benchmark score 1.95
3D performance (crysis) low settings N/A
3D performance setting N/A

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