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Benchmark Results: 3D Animation

Boxx Technologies 3DBOXX 4860 Workstation
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Thanks to its extensive use in visual effects for television and feature films, along with its almost complete replacement of 2D animation in animated features, 3D animation is probably the highest-profile and best-recognized use of workstations. It may not necessarily represent the largest market, but when there are companies deploying hundreds and thousands of boxes for this purpose, it can still be considered very influential.

We are using a mix of off-the-shelf workstation tests, and metrics developed in-house, as the in-house tests tend toward more demanding workloads that give us flexibility in adopting newer software versions.

NewTek LightWave 3D 9.6

We have three different custom tests that run in LightWave 3D 9.6. Each test is designed to be repeatable in a specific portion of the software

LightWave Modeling Test

This test uses a plug-in script to clone details onto polygonal sections of the Tom’s Hardware logo object created for workstation evaluation.

The result in this test is somewhat unexpected, as many of the other benchmarks show that the six-core Core i7-980X running at 4.15 GHz can deliver results more than 100% faster. Here we only see a 10% improvement, even though the difference in clock speed alone should give this processor-bound measurement a much wider spread.

Our dual-socket Xeon 5600-series review yielded results very close to these. The theory is that this test is more sensitive to memory performance than some of our other benchmarks, and we’re planning on taking a look at this later.

For reference, the HP Z400 workstation included in most of this review's charts employs a Xeon W3520 CPU running at 2.66 GHz and an AMD FirePro V5700 graphics card. You can find our review of that platform right here.

LightWave OpenGL Preview Test

This test generates an OpenGL Preview in Layout of the entire 600-frame animation. Layout stores this animation in RAM, for real-time playback.  This feature (and features like it in other 3D applications) is used most when the system cannot play back the animation in real time. In many cases, older systems with memory limitations could not store an entire 600-frame animation for playback in memory at full resolution, so animators would preview segments, save the preview in compressed form to disk, or combinations of both.

Through a combination of sheer processing speed and the power of the Quadro 5000 graphics card, the 3DBOXX 4860 Xtreme actually generates the OpenGL preview in faster-than-real-time. The animation is 600 frames at 24 frames per second, so it's run time is 25 seconds. The system takes just over twenty seconds to generate the preview. Also notable on this system is the narrowing of the difference between the Hyper-Threading-enabled and -disabled times (0.6% difference instead of 9%).

LightWave Rendering Test

Four frames were selected from the animation for rendering. Each frame was chosen for its specific properties, representing different load levels. We end up with a simple render involving global illumination, ray-traced and shadow-mapped shadows, and motion blur.

The first frame, for instance, has a minimal amount of geometry visible to the camera, minimal motion blur, and because of the position of the camera on the object, the maximum occlusion of non-visible geometry. The second frame has a fair amount of visible geometry in the scene, far less geometry occlusion, and the maximum motion blur effect. The third frame has the most geometry visible to the camera at the largest size, with motion blur occurring, while the fourth has lots of geometry visible, but at a small size, and almost no motion blur.

This test demonstrates one of the largest difference between this system and the HP machine. The 3DBOXX 4860 XTREME comes in an average of 136% faster than the previously-tested machine, due to its two additional processor cores and the 56% difference in clock rate between the processors.

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  • 1 Hide
    one-shot , March 3, 2011 5:20 AM
    Almost $8000 USD and not even a dual CPU workstation? Hmmm....
  • 1 Hide
    hardcore_gamer , March 3, 2011 6:22 AM
    what a way to waste $8000
  • 0 Hide
    nebun , March 3, 2011 7:23 AM
    what a cheap cpu cooler they have....really...for 8k they could have installed a better cooling system
  • 0 Hide
    razor512 , March 3, 2011 7:32 AM
    major ripoff, the system is worth at most 30% of that price
  • 0 Hide
    sudeshc , March 3, 2011 10:44 AM
    Agreed waste of $$ ....
  • 0 Hide
    vaughn2k , March 3, 2011 11:34 AM
    ridiculous!
  • 2 Hide
    utengineer , March 3, 2011 11:42 AM
    mayankleoboy1though if i were to take each component separately and build our own system, it would be cheaper.

    You forget, the cost of a commercial PC includes service, support, and licensed certifications.
  • 0 Hide
    nforce4max , March 3, 2011 12:08 PM
    I wouldn't purchase this workstation. First you can build a better base machine for the fraction of the cost. Second you can purchase on your own the software you require or pirate. Third there is a flaw, yes there is always the temptation of mounting the hard drives in that manor but isn't recommended due to the uneven wear on the spindle that can lead to early failure.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 3, 2011 12:10 PM
    For this price, I'd go with a workstation from a major player (ex. HP or similar). You could easily build a dual socket workstation with similar (or better) overall performance; remember that many apps that require this level of hardware are optimized for Xeon instruction sets and 8+ threads. Additionally, you're software vendors would actually support their products on a system running within spec. Simply put, this is a toy not an enterprise class product
  • 0 Hide
    wiyosaya , March 3, 2011 12:17 PM
    utengineerYou forget, the cost of a commercial PC includes service, support, and licensed certifications.

    Licensed certifications may be confidence inspiring to some, however, I think they are a waste of money. It is just a different form of branding that can be marketed at what is usually an expensive premium. Think THX certification. It was expensive in consumer audio and video, however, in my opinion, it has had it's 15-minutes of fame.
  • 1 Hide
    Onus , March 3, 2011 12:32 PM
    I found the conclusions about value entirely reasonable. You guys being critical aren't the market for this box, or the services behind it. Someone whose job isn't messing around with workstation hardware and getting specific software configured and working on it may be very happy to pay someone to do those things.
  • 0 Hide
    warezme , March 3, 2011 12:43 PM
    any decent modder can build this at less then half the cost and tweak it further. Not any value to this but for business people who don't know the difference between socket 1366 and widget 1998
  • -1 Hide
    malnute , March 3, 2011 1:09 PM
    All you complaining about prices talk your broke a## home, its a great build and did you see they make their own chasis how cool is that.
  • 2 Hide
    TeraMedia , March 3, 2011 1:39 PM
    Quote:
    I found the conclusions about value entirely reasonable. You guys being critical aren't the market for this box, or the services behind it. Someone whose job isn't messing around with workstation hardware and getting specific software configured and working on it may be very happy to pay someone to do those things.


    I agree with this, and it also points out something else. For all of us who build custom systems for ourselves and our friends / family, this type of product provides a data point for the value of that work. your time is worth money - don't ever forget that. So if you built a custom workstation w/ comparable parts and OCed to 4.2 GHz and supported it for 3 years, then you are providing roughly $4k of value to the recipient.
  • 0 Hide
    cadder , March 3, 2011 2:14 PM
    I think overclocking is almost essential in a workstation. Performance is everything when you have expensive employees waiting on the computer. We run AutoCAD and Revit in my little company, and our manager enforces a very tight budget on us. I built our last 3 CAD workstations myself. I used i5-750 processors, 8GB ram, WD velociraptor drives, FireGL video cards, Antec cases, Win7-64bit, and a good Xigmatek CPU cooler. I also added 2 more fans to the 2 that the Antec cases already had. When I built these over a year ago I wasn't the best overclocker but they would run at 3.9 and pass my stress tests. We run them 24/7 and I set them at 3.5GHz for that. We don't have any temperature problems, the CPU's run very cool. For our software the video card isn't that important, the lowest FireGL will run AutoCAD just as fast as the most expensive one. The reason to even buy the FireGL is to get better drivers that will work with the 64bit OS. I've tried with other brands of cards and they weren't reliable. The only problems we have had with any of these machines has been with the cheaper video card when the FireGL that we wanted to buy was not available. I believe we spent about $1200 each on these machines, I spent about 2 hours each at home building and testing them.

    At the time that I built these, the i5-750 system offered a $300 savings over an i7-920 system. Today it might be a different story, and with the i7-SB we might run them at 4.0GHz.
  • 0 Hide
    sunflier , March 3, 2011 2:36 PM
    malnute...its a great build and did you see they make their own chasis how cool is that.


    Thanks for pointing that out. The case looks like crap.
    For $8000.00 case looks cheap and dull.
  • 1 Hide
    d_kuhn , March 3, 2011 2:38 PM
    I've got an older Boxx machine... their systems are top shelf. Sure they're expensive (I paid 10k for mine) but they're not intended for consumer use but for high end business workstation use.

    I'd buy one again, quality, fit and finish, component selection... all as good as you can get.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 3, 2011 2:39 PM
    interesting article, even more interesting is i have worked extensively with at least 3 of the named blue chip companies mentioned in the intro and i have yet to come across one of these beast, and i have worked in departments which are given the high performance gear. i would be interested in how the companies planned to utilize such raw power

    in reality a 100% boost in performance does not equate to a 100% boost in productivity, you are still limited by the user and his work flow, a faster machine does not mean you can reduce head count, dude A is still going have to finish his job (all be it slightly faster) and dude B still has to finish his job, dude A is not going be doing his and dude B's job just cause he got a faster machine

    where this kind of power becomes useful is if you got big numbers to crunch (3d rendering, FEA) and even then you'll be better served by a high density setup like a blade server. The only real use for such a machine would be for bespoke jobs whereby a person might need to spot check some work his been doing, but that's not a daily occurrence and you dont give everyone a machine like this just in the off chance they need to spot check their work once a while, in reality this would be a single shared machine that would not be creating production data, in which case an overclocked machine makes sense
  • 0 Hide
    Niva , March 3, 2011 2:41 PM
    Sure you can build it, but this is for professionals who don't have time to build systems and would rather buy the product and the support the comes with it. Boxx is a very good company.

    On a sidenote I like their case/chasis. Good performance in the end.
  • 0 Hide
    d_kuhn , March 3, 2011 2:44 PM
    Their chassis is all metal, layout is great, capacity is great. It includes things you don't get in low end cases like dust filters on the fans and room for redundant PS setups.

    Mine has been running 24/7 nearly since I got it (however old Opteron 250's are), maybe 6 or 7 years. It still boots faster than non-SSD systems today (15k SCSI RAID, stupid fast in its day and still very respectable).
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