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And the New Speed Champ Is…

We recently received a new workstation from a company we had never reviewed before. Ciara Technologies, a division of Hypertec Group, has been around since 1984. Based in a suburb of Montreal, the Canadian company sells systems ranging from mobile devices to high-end supercomputers. The company sent us a Kronos 800S based on a single over-clocked Intel CPU.

Kronos
The interior of the Kronos 800S. Note the liquid cooling system, as well as the two USB cables routed to rear USB ports to activate the USB 3.0 ports in the front panel. Image courtesy of David Cohn.

The Kronos 800S comes housed in a large tower case — and had a number of features we’ve never seen before. The all-black case measures 9 x 21.5 x 20.5 in., and weighs in at 39 lbs. Four accessible drive bays are centered in the upper portion of the front panel, with a removable air intake grille below covering an 8-in. fan. The grille also includes a small Ciara logo.

The top-most bay contains a DVD+/-RW drive. Above this, a space equivalent to another bay houses a large round power button, a smaller reset switch, and a hidden panel that hinges open to expose two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, headphone and microphone jacks, and an IEEE 1394 FireWire port. Curiously, when I first attempted to use the front-panel USB 3.0 ports, they didn’t work.

Because of the lack of any type of product manual, a small panel on the top of the system also puzzled me. This panel can be slid open, to expose what turned out to be a hot-swappable plug-and-play hard drive port. The top of the case also has a large grille over a pair of 4.5-in. cooling fans — part of the CPU cooling system.

The rear panel offers an abundance of ports, including eight USB 3.0 ports, two eSATA ports, a PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port, six audio jacks (line-in, front, center/subwoofer, side and rear speakers) plus an S/PDIF out port, two RJ45 network connections, and one USB 2.0 port that can also be switched to become a Republic of Gamers (ROG) Connect port that can then be used to connect the system to another PC from which you can tweak the speed of the system. There are also buttons for clearing CMOS, toggling the ROG Connect port, and turning the Bluetooth module on and off.

There was also a pair of USB cables extending out from a small hole near the top of the rear panel. After puzzling over these cables for a while, we finally contacted Ciara and learned that they extend from the two front-panel USB 3.0 ports. They are meant to be plugged into rear-panel USB ports if you want to be able to use the two front-panel ports.

Bring on the Power

Removing the side panel reveals a spacious, well-organized interior. In addition to the four front-panel drive bays, there are also six internal drive bays. In our evaluation unit, two of those bays contained identical 250GB Samsung solid-state drives (SSDs) configured as a redundant array of independent disks (RAID) 0, so that the two drives appeared as a single 500GB hard drive. Had these been standard mechanical hard drives, we would have reminded readers that although a RAID 0 can improve hard drive performance, it also doubles the risk of data loss (the failure of either drive results in a total drive failure). But with the mean time between failures (MBTF) of SSDs measured in millions of hours, that’s probably not an issue here.

The system also supports RAID 1, 5 and 10, and Ciara offers other hard drives ranging from 500GB to 2TB. A Seasonic 1,250-watt 80 Plus Gold power supply, located in the bottom rear of the case, provides more than enough power for any expansion needs.

The Ciara Kronos 800S is built around an ASUS Maximus IV Extreme-Z motherboard and an Intel Z68 chipset. A single CPU socket supports Intel second-generation Core i7 and Core i3 processors, but Ciara doesn’t offer any choices. All Kronos 800S systems come with an Intel Core i7-2700K CPU. While Intel specs this quad-core processor at 3.5GHz, Ciara over-clocks its systems to 5.0GHz. The processor rests beneath a liquid cooling system, with its hoses routed to a large radiator located at the top of the case. The fans in that radiator can be seen below the grille on the top of the case.

The motherboard provides four dual in-line memory module (DIMM) sockets, all of which were filled with 4GB DDR3 modules, for a total of 16GB of RAM. The Ciara website indicates that this is the standard Kronos 800S configuration, and does not list any other memory options.

The motherboard also provides a total of six expansion slots: four PCIe 2.0 x16 slots (three of which can house graphics cards) plus a PCIe 2.0 x4 and a PCIe 2.0 x1 slot. One of the x16 slots in our evaluation unit contained an NVIDIA Quadro K5000 GPU, offering two DVI and two display ports, plus a stereo 3D connector routed to an adjacent expansion port back panel bracket. According to the Kronos 800S spec sheet, Ciara also offers other GPU options, including the Quadro 2000, 4000, or 6000, as well as up to two NVIDIA Tesla cards.

Bring on the Noise

With its CPU over-clocked by nearly 43%, we certainly weren’t all that surprised when the Kronos 800S turned in the fastest benchmark results we’ve ever recorded. But on the SPECviewperf test, which focuses solely on graphics performance, the Kronos 800S wasn’t just faster, it was nearly twice as fast as the fastest single-socket workstation we’ve tested to-date — and 18% faster than the fastest dual-socket system.

For our SolidWorks test, we recently switched to the new SPECapc SolidWorks 2013 benchmark. As a result, we don’t have that many systems yet with which the Kronos 800S can be compared. But stacked up against those systems we have been able to test thus far, the over-clocked CPU boosted the Ciara workstation’s SolidWorks performance by approximately 43%, as expected.

It was only on the AutoCAD rendering test, which clearly shows the advantages of multiple fast CPU cores, that the Kronos 800S didn’t beat the field. It was still the fastest single-socket workstation we’ve ever tested, however, completing the rendering in 58.33 seconds.

Curiously, when the Kronos 800S arrived, Ciara had configured it with hyper-threading disabled. We were able change that in the basic input-output system (BIOS), but it was a strange aspect of this workstation. The system also arrived without a keyboard or mouse — and indeed, Ciara only offers these as extra-cost options. However, the Ciara website does not actually list options. Apparently, customers are supposed to use an email link to request price quotes.

We were also curious about Ciara’s claim that the 800S has an “ultra-quiet noise level.” When we powered on the Kronos workstation, those two fans on the top of the system — plus the other fans on the rear panel, front panel, GPU and power supply — caused the noise level in our lab to go from around 34dB to 64dB, an increase of 3X. For comparison, consider that conversation in a restaurant averages around 60dB; the sound of a vacuum cleaner or standing 50 ft. from a busy freeway would be around 70dB. Quiet? No.

Ciara quoted a price of $5,983 when it first shipped us the Kronos 800S. By the time we reviewed it, however, the price had been reduced to $5,714. That cost includes Windows 7 64-bit Professional, but no input devices. Ciara’s warranty covers all parts for three years and provides support Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Eastern Time.

It may not yet be a household name, but Ciara certainly knows how to build an incredibly fast workstation.

David Cohn is the technical publishing manager at 4D Technologies. He also does consulting and technical writing from his home in Bellingham, WA, and has been benchmarking PCs since 1984. He’s a contributing editor to DE and the author of more than a dozen books. Contact him via email at david@dscohn.com or visit his website at DSCohn.com.

More Info

Ciara Technologies

Ciara Kronos 800S

Price: $5,714 as tested
Size: 9.0 x 21.5 x 20.5-in. (WxDxH) tower
Weight: 39 lbs.
CPU: Intel Core i7-2700K (quad-core) 3.5GHz (over-clocked to 5.0GHz)
Memory: 16GB DDR3 at 2,133MHz
Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro K5000
Hard Disk: Two 256GB Samsung 840 PRO SSD (configured as RAID 0), six internal drive bays
Optical: DVD+/-RW Dual-Layer
Audio: Integrated Realtek ALC898 7.1 channel high-definition audio (microphone and headphone on front panel with jack re-tasking; microphone, line-in, front, center/subwoofer, side, and rear speakers, plus S/PDIF out on rear panel)
Network: integrated 10/100/1000 LAN with two RJ45 sockets
Other: Two USB 2.0, two USB 3.0, one IEEE 1394 (FireWire) on front panel; eight USB 3.0, one USB 2.0 (switchable to ROG Connect), two eSATA, and PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port on rear panel; Bluetooth module; hot plug-and-play hard drive port on top panel
Keyboard: none
Pointing device: none

 

Workstation
Workstations Compared
Single-Socket Workstations Dual-Socket Workstations
Ciara Kronos 800S

one 3.5GHz Intel Core i7-2700K quad-core CPU

over-clocked to 5.0GHz, NVIDIA Quadro K5000, 16GB RAM

Lenovo E31 SFF
one 3.3GHz Intel E3-1230 quad-core CPU, NVIDIA Quadro 400, 8GB RAM
Lenovo S30
one 3.6GHz Intel Xeon E5-1620

quad-core CPU, NVIDIA Quadro 4000, 8GB RAM

HP Z1
one 3.5GHz Intel Xeon E3-1280

quad-core CPU, NVIDIA Quadro 4000M, 16GB RAM

BOXX 8980 XTREME

two 3.1GHz Intel

E5-2687W eight-core CPUs over-clocked to 3.82GHz, NVIDIA Quadro K5000, 64GB RAM

HP Z820
two 3.1GHz Intel Xeon E5-2687W eight-core CPU, NVIDIA Quadro 5000, 32GB RAM
Price as tested $5,714 $1,093 $2,614 $5,625 $13,454 $9,984
Date tested 5/31/13 12/29/12 8/18/12 6/29/12 5/9/13 7/16/12
Operating System Windows 7 Windows 7 Windows 7 Windows 7 Windows 7 Windows 7
SPECview 11 higher
catia-03 96.39 18.15 48.21 39.46 78.01 51.69
ensight-04 83.26 11.08 32.18 26.19 80.25 44.13
lightwave-01 103.15 46.79 64.47 60.76 77.07 59.02
maya-03 153.01 40.36 84.50 78.65 125.16 101.67
proe-5 22.87 10.29 11.93 12.69 16.14 11.72
sw-02 84.51 31.54 53.53 47.24 67.16 57.48
tcvis-02 77.82 16.53 37.66 30.79 71.58 44.52
snx-01 83.21 13.25 33.87 27.70 81.35 44.86
SPECapc SolidWorks 2013 Higher
Graphics Composite 3.89 n/a n/a n/a 2.69 2.15
RealView Graphics Composite 4.1 n/a n/a n/a 2.86 2.37
Shadows Composite 4.1 n/a n/a n/a 2.86 2.36
Ambient Occlusion Composite 8.37 n/a n/a n/a 6.16 5.19
Shaded Mode
Composite
3.79 n/a n/a n/a 2.62 2.27
Shaded With Edges Mode Composite 3.98 n/a n/a n/a 2.77 2.03
RealView Disabled Composite 3.15 n/a n/a n/a 2.11 1.45
CPU Composite 4.92 n/a n/a n/a 4.84 4.50
Autodesk Render Test Lower
Time Seconds 58.33 64.00 63.80 87.92 38.00 41.00
Battery Test Higher
Hours:min n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a

Numbers in blue indicate best recorded results. Numbers in red indicate worst recorded results. Results are shown separately for single- and dual-socket workstations.

About David Cohn

David Cohn has been using AutoCAD for more than 25 years and is the author of more than a dozen books on the subject. He’s the technical publishing manager at 4D Technologies, a contributing editor to Desktop Engineering, and also does consulting and technical writing from his home in Bellingham, WA. Watch for his latest CADLearning eBooks on AutoCAD 2015 on the Apple iBookstore, at Amazon, and on the CADLearning website. You can contact him via email at david@dscohn.com or visit his website at www.dscohn.com.