The Boxx Technologies 4860 Xtreme demonstrates what a single-processor workstation can do given today's processor technology landscape. It is, at this point, the fastest retail workstation we've tested.
Looking at the price/performance versus HP's single-socket workstation, you’re looking at just over twice the price for, in most tests, just over two times the performance. Note that this machine also has twice the memory and an SSD as its boot drive. Yes, there’s a notable price premium. But that extra cost also makes a profound impact in a majority of our tests. Moreover, adopting the Nvidia card adds Mercury Playback Engine support in Premiere, for those of you who put a value on performance in Adobe's software.
Buying a configuration like this puts you on the cutting edge of workstation-class performance (for a while, at least; we expect Intel's next generation of single-socket Xeon CPUs based on Sandy Bridge to emerge within the next couple of months). Will those Sandy Bridge-based chips be less expensive? Very likely so. Will they be faster? That's harder to say. While we've seen some very incredible performance increases on the desktop, from Core i3, i5, and i7, it's less clear whether the threaded apps more typical in the workstation space will favor the 6C/12T parallelism available here or the architectural improvements made to Sandy Bridge, which currently tops out with four cores and eight threads. And it looks like we'll have to wait for that question to get answered, as the same SATA-oriented issues plaguing Cougar Point on the desktop also affect the company's server and workstation group.
Another consideration, at least for effects houses looking at workstations, is that the artists working on these machines earn more than $1500 a week. If you have a job that needs a dozen guys and is going to last three months, and buying the more expensive higher-performance workstation allows you to bring on two fewer artists, or hire them all for two weeks less, it suddenly might very well be cost effective to spend a little more on your workstations.
One reason to look at an entirely workstation-oriented vendor like Boxx would be to leverage the experience in your market segment, which translates (ideally) to more timely answers when you have specific questions. In the case of Boxx, the specialty is visual effects. Other vendors specialize in CAD and engineering, financial markets, and so on. If you call in to tech support, you want the person on the other end of the line to know what you're talking about and hopefully have a solution available. Buy from a smaller or less-specialized shop and you won't get that. Go the do-it-yourself route, and you're at the mercy of Google and online forums.
Our test build from Boxx was well-built to the point that we didn't run into any problems with the overclocked configuration. It's confidence-inspiring to work with a vendor oriented toward a very specific market, especially if your comfort level revolves around software, and not the hardware you plan to use. If you’re an artist striking out on his own or hired by a non-media company that doesn't understand the fundamentals of graphics workstations, Boxx is willing to help configure your workstation to suit. You pay a premium for the company's expertise, but it's an investment able to pay for itself in productivity gains.