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Capturing the Workstation Speed Crown

It’s been a while since we last reviewed a workstation from BOXX Technologies (DE, January 2012). The Austin, Texas-based company has been building computers since 1996, and its systems have consistently proven to be the fastest commercially available. So it’s no surprise that we were excited when the latest BOXX workstation arrived, the 3DBOXX 8980 XTREME.

8980 XTREME

While all of the company’s 3DBOXX systems come housed in custom-designed aluminum chassis, the 8980 XTREME features a new design. In spite of the changes, the front panel remains similar to past systems. A single front drive bay houses a Plextor 20X dual-layer DVD+/-RW optical drive. Below this is a panel containing four USB ports, but now two of those ports support USB 3.0. That panel also provides headphone and microphone jacks, a round power button and bright-white LED power indicator, a blue hard drive activity light, and a small reset button.

The rear panel offers four additional UBS 2.0 ports, two more USB 3.0 ports, two RJ45 network connections, and a 15-pin VGA port for the Intel CPU’s integrated graphics. There are also five audio connectors, plus an optical in/out connector.

Room for Expansion

Removing the right side panel reveals a spacious, well-organized interior. In addition to the single drive bay with front panel access, there are also eight internal drive bays. In our evaluation unit, one of those bays contained an Intel 240GB SATA solid-state drive (SSD) as the boot drive and a 7,200rpm Seagate Constellation 2TB drive for data, leaving plenty of room to add more storage.

A Seasonic 1,250-watt 80 Plus Gold power supply provides more than enough power for any expansion needs. Power cables are already routed to all of the remaining drive bays, and the system came with an ample supply of additional cables.

The 3DBOXX 8980 XTREME is built around a Super Micro Computer X9DAX-iF motherboard and Intel C602 chipset. Two CPU sockets support Intel Xeon E5-2600-series processors with Intel QuickPath Interconnect links, but all BOXX 8980 XTREME workstations come with a pair of over-clocked eight-core Intel E5-2687W CPUs. Those processors are hidden beneath closed-loop liquid cooling units, each with its own 4-in. fan mounted on the rear of the drive bay. A third fan cools the interior of the case.

The motherboard also provides four memory arrays with four sockets each, for a total of 16 240-pin dual in-line memory module (DIMM) sockets. The base model 8980 XTREME comes with 32GB of 1600MHz DDR3 registered ECC memory, and BOXX over-clocks the memory to 1980MHz. But our evaluation unit had double that amount, installed as eight 8GB DIMMs and adding $846 to the base price. BOXX currently offers configurations with up to 256GB of memory, although the system can support a maximum of 512GB of RAM using 32GB DIMMs.

Although the motherboard extends beneath the power supply, BOXX has made it easy to access hidden areas. We simply had to remove two screws to swing the power supply out of the way.

Optimum over-clocking

In its stock configuration, the Xeon processor has a maximum turbo boost frequency of 3.8GHz while maintaining a maximum thermal design power (TDP) of 150 watts. BOXX then increases performance by over-clocking the CPUs. The system goes through a startup sequence during which it self-calibrates for over-clocking. When we first turned the system on, it started and stopped several times before finally booting Windows 7. Once it was up and running, we found our processors over-clocked to 3.3GHz, yielding a maximum turbo boost frequency of just over 4GHz.

The Super Micro motherboard also provides a pair of PCI-E 3.0 x16 graphics slots. While the base configuration comes with an NVIDIA Quadro K2000 graphics card with 2GB of onboard RAM, our evaluation unit was equipped with a Quadro K5000 with 4GB of video memory. BOXX offers other graphics options, ranging from a Quadro K600 to the Quadro 6000G — as well as AMD FirePro boards ranging from the W5000 to the W9000. If you opt to go with NVIDIA GPUs, the second graphics slot can be equipped with a second matching Quadro board or an NVIDIA Tesla K20.

The motherboard also provides four PCI-E 3.0 x8 slots and a PCI-E 2.0 x4 expansion slot, as well as dual-channel gigabit Ethernet ports.

New Performance Champion

Based on our past experience, we had high expectations for this BOXX workstation — and the 3DBOXX 8980 XTREME definitely lived up to those expectations. On the SPECviewperf test, which focuses solely on graphics performance, the 8980 didn’t just surpass every workstation we’ve ever tested; many of its scores were 1.5 times faster than its nearest dual-CPU competitor and more than 2.5 times faster than the best single-CPU system.

On the SPECapc SolidWorks benchmark, we can’t make any comparisons. The SolidWorks 2005 benchmark we had been using is quite old. We’ve now switched to the new SolidWorks 2013 benchmark. Judging from the performance we experienced when actually running SolidWorks and other CAD software, the 8980 XTREME should power through even the most extreme CAD, CAE and DCC tasks with ease.

On the AutoCAD rendering test, which shows the advantages of CPU speed, multiple CPU cores and hyper-threading, the 3DBOXX 8980 XTREME completed the rendering in 38 seconds. While that’s not a record (the 3DBOXX 8550 XTREME, with the equivalent of 24 cores running at 4.2GHz, completed the task in just 19 seconds) it is the fastest result we’ve seen since.

It’s difficult to make an over-clocked system silent because of all the cooling required. Still, the 3DBOXX 8980 XTREME was very quiet and its fan noise would likely fade into the background.

BOXX Technologies backs the system with a one-year premium support warranty, with 24/7 telephone support and next-business-day onsite service, followed by two additional years of standard warranty service. Premium support can be extended at the time of purchase for an additional charge.

Needless to say, this much power comes with a very hefty price tag. The 3DBOXX 8980 XTREME carries a base cost of $10,029, which gets you two CPUs, 32GB of RAM, an NVIDIA Quadro K2000, a 500GB 7200rpm hard drive, optical drive, OS, keyboard and mouse. As configured, our evaluation unit priced out at $13,454, making this BOXX workstation the most expensive system we’ve ever tested. But, for those who need the absolute fastest performance available, the 3DBOXX 8980 XTREME is now the king of the hill.

David Cohn is the technical publishing manager at 4D Technologies. He also does consulting and technical writing from Bellingham, WA, and has been benchmarking PCs since 1984. Contact him via email at david@dscohn.com or visit his website at DSCohn.com.

More info

BOXX Technologies

3DBOXX 8980 XTREME

Price: $13,454 as tested ($10,029 base price)
Size: 6.825 x 24.65 x 17.815 in. (WxDxH) tower, weight: 34.5 lb.
CPU: two Intel Xeon E5-2687W (8 core) 3.33GHz (over-clocked to 4+ GHz in turbo mode)
Memory: 64GB DDR3 ECC at 1600MHz (up to 512GB)
Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro K5000
Hard Disk: Intel 240GB SATA SSD, Seagate Constellation 2TB SATA 7,200 rpm drive (eight internal drive bays)
Optical: Plextor 20X DVD+/-RW Dual-Layer
Audio: onboard, integrated high-definition audio
Network: integrated 10/100/1000 LAN with two RJ45 sockets
Other two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 on front panel; four USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 on rear panel; integrated VGA video port

Dual-Socket Workstations Single-Socket Workstations
BOXX 8980 XTREME workstation (two 3.1GHz Intel E5-2687W eight-core CPUs over-clocked to 3.82GHz, NVIDIA Quadro K5000, 64GB RAM) HP Z820
workstation (two 3.1GHz Intel Xeon E5-2687W eight-core CPU, NVIDIA Quadro 5000, 32GB RAM)
Lenovo E31 SFF
workstation (one 3.3GHz Intel E3-1230 quad-core CPU ]3.7GHz turbo], NVIDIA Quadro 400, 8GB RAM)
Lenovo S30
workstation (one 3.6GHz Intel Xeon E5-1620 quad-core CPU ]3.8GHz turbo], NVIDIA Quadro 4000, 8GB RAM)
HP Z1
workstation (one 3.5GHz Intel Xeon E3-1280 quad-core CPU ]3.9GHz turbo], NVIDIA Quadro 4000M, 16GB RAM)
Price as tested $13,454 $9,984 $1,093 $2,614 $5,625
Date tested 5/9/13 7/16/12 12/29/12 8/18/12 6/29/12
Operating System Windows 7 Windows 7 Windows 7
SPECview 11 higher
catia-03 78.01 51.69 18.15 48.21 39.46
ensight-04 80.25 44.13 11.08 32.18 26.19
lightwave-01 77.07 59.02 46.79 64.47 60.76
maya-03 125.16 101.67 40.36 84.50 78.65
proe-5 16.14 11.72 10.29 11/93 12.69
sw-02 67.16 57.48 31.54 53.53 47.24
tcvis-02 71.58 44.52 16.53 37.66 30.79
snx-01 81.35 44.86 13.25 33.87 27.70
SPECapc SolidWorks 2013 Higher
Graphics Composite 2.69 2.15 n/a n/a n/a
RealView Graphics Composite 2.86 2.37 n/a n/a n/a
Shadows Composite 2.86 2.36 n/a n/a n/a
Ambient Occlusion Composite 6.26 5.19 n/a n/a n/a
Shaded Mode
Composite
2.62 2.27 n/a n/a n/a
Shaded With Edges Mode Composite 2.77 2.03 n/a n/a n/a
RealView Disabled Composite 2.11 1.45 n/a n/a n/a
CPU Composite 4.84 4.50 n/a n/a n/a
Autodesk Render Test Lower
Time Seconds 38.00 41.00 64.00 63.80 87.92

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.