REVIEW: BOXX'S 8500 WORKSTATION
PRODUCT: Boxx 8500 workstation
PRICE: $7,150 for system tested
TEST BOX: Dual Xeon X5550 2.66GHz, 8MB cache, 1333MHz, 6.4 GT/s QPI (Quad-Core), 12GB DDR3-1333 REG ECC (6-2GB DIMMS), Nvidia Quadro
We put this Boxx 8500 through some extreme workouts, and it performed fantastically. When the machine arrived we had just started a new 3D project for Comcast cable (see image on right). Three days before this test machine came we purchased a computer from Lantec systems. This worked out perfectly as we had two brand-new machines side by side in a shootout capacity.
Initially, the Boxx system came with Windows Vista 64-bit. This proved to be problematic right from the start. The computer was perfect, but Vista and Softimage|XSI do not play well together. Some features that our artists were accustomed to using regularly did not function when working in Vista, specifically the materials and curve editor wouldn’t refresh properly. We quickly called up Boxx and they sent over a ready-to-go Windows XP 64-bit professional drive. Once it was in, the machine worked flawlessly.
What stood out the most using the machine was just how much faster it was to run programs, render and to be able to run multiple programs at the same time. In one instance we were amazed to find that while rendering an animation, our artist could continue to work animating in another version of XSI on a different scene file. This allowed for a more productive workflow; it literally was like having two machines in one. Even with two versions of XSI running we could still open Photoshop and After Effects and do what we needed to. This isn’t unique to this machine, but what was unique is that a user has never been able to do that and work as if nothing was going on in the background.
Overall, we found this machine to be about 60 percent faster than our other machines, including the new Lantec. While we had a contract with a renderfarm, we did try the renders on this machine just to see how it would work. Surprisingly the farm — over 32 processors — was only about 25 percent faster than this system. Boxx also makes a model called RenderBoxx, which we will purchase next time instead of a farm.
The technical side of this system is equally as impressive as the user experience. Armed with the latest Intel Xeon 5520 quad-core chipset with liquid cooling, this baby flies. It works virtually silently; the quietest machine I have ever heard... or not heard. Liquid cooling means no fans ramping up all the time. Sometimes we had to make sure it was on, it’s that quiet. Our system had 12GB of RAM, enough memory to run many applications simultaneously, and all with great speed. Storage wise, the system drive was 500GB, while the secondary internal drive was 1TB. This was really useful as we like to work using the secondary drive for caching and rendering so as not to take away from the running system drive. Need more? This machine has six serial ATA ports, allowing the ability to add four 3.5-inch drives, two 5.25-inch drives, plus four PCI-E expansion and one PCI. Interconnectivity-wise it has two Gig-E ports; we used one as a dedicated connection to a LAN share and the other for basic network use. It has two FireWire 400 ports and six USB.
In terms of graphic rendering, the 8500 models use the Nvidia Quadro FX 3800 with 1GB of memory built in. A system can have one or two graphics card installed. This allows for highly anti-aliased imagery and handling high polygon count projects with ease. Working with HD video or a DI (film resolution material) is supported and works as quickly as standard definition, making this a great compositing and visual effects station. If you add a video I/O card this becomes a full-blown workstation. Our model did not have one to test, I wish it had. I can easily see this becoming the next system of choice for the high-end compositing systems to migrate to.
If you are working on timeline-intense projects, this is the machine to have. It is really powerful and more expandable than any other machine I have used. Every Boxx system can be customized to meet your specific requirements. Our system’s price tag was about $7,150 — worth every penny and then some.
I had some help putting this machine through its paces. Stitch artists Kelly Gayara and Jimmy Marrero pitched in.
Fred Ruckel is Owner/Compositor of Stitch (www.stitch.net) in New York City.