SuperMicro’s Dual Xeon Workstation Doesn’t Pull Any Punches

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SuperMicro’s workstation sports a pair of quadcore Intel Xeon (Nehalem) processors and well matched components for major performance at a price you’ll like.

Designing a high-performance workstation takes more than just throwing the latest components together and hoping for the best. To guarantee high performance, it takes engineering, a careful matching of components and precise assembly to bring forth a quality design.

SuperMicro has not forgotten those elements when it comes to building workstations that even the most demanding of users will come to love. The SuperWorkStation 7046A-3 is a behemoth that screams performance and showcases quality while quietly going about its business.

Some vendors think a workstation is little more than a PC on steroids, while others treat any expensive PC as workstation-class systems. SuperMicro takes a more straightforward approach and builds workstations that are not to be confused with any run-of-the-mill PC or other pretenders.

The company’s SuperWorkstations are large, black rectangular boxes which aren’t designed to fit on the typical desktop. Weighing in at a back-straining 60-plus pounds (27 kg), no one from IT is going to confuse a SuperMicro workstation with the typical desktop PC. Installers will need to plan accordingly for the weight and size of these units, which measure 7 x 17.2 x 25.5 inches (18 x 43 x 64 cm).

Why are these workstations so large?

It all comes down to storage, cooling and expansion. SuperWorkstations ship with eight SAS/SATA externally accessible drive bays, making the units a storage junkie’s dream. Large cases provide plenty of pathways for heat exchange and cooling, all without excessively noisy fans. SuperMicro’s Super X8DA3 motherboard also demands a large case; the board’s expansion capabilities are impressive. Those peeking inside the easy-to-open case will find that the Super X8DA3 offers 16 DDR3 memory slots for a maximum of 96 GBs RAM.

Peering deeper into the case reveals a pair of PCI-E x16 slots (PCI express 16 lane), ideal for the latest in high-performance dual SLI (Nvidia) graphics cards; an additional PCI-E (x4) slot and three PCI slots complete the board’s expansion options.

The SuperWorkstation 7046A-3’s case has ample power connectors, a disk drive backplane and a massive power supply, which incorporates large, slow moving fans, which move huge amounts of air, while only generating a barely perceivable level of noise.

Taking a page from the days of Henry Ford, SuperMicro offers the 7046A-3 in any colour that you would like, as long as it’s black.

Our test unit came equipped with Dual Intel Xeon E5520 (2.26 GHz) Processors, 12 GB of DDR3 RAM, Nvidia GeForce 8800 Ultra Video Card and a SAS raid array populated with Maxtor 3036RC SAS hard drives (click here for more detailed specifications).

While SuperWorkstation 7046A-3 uses high-end components, they’re not the bleeding edge. Intel does offer faster Xeon processors and there are more potent video cards on the market. Nevertheless, the workstation as configured offered a Passmark rating of 3249.3 running performance test v6.1 from Passmark Software. The $4,500 (£3000) Hewlett-Packard XW6600 scored 2892.6 on the same test.

It’s obvious that SuperMicro was looking to bring as much value as possible to a high-performance system by selecting less-expensive components, yet giving up very little when it came to overall performance. As configured, the SuperWorkstation 7046A-3 should sell for about $3,200 (£2100), which is both kind to budgets and margins. The workstation should prove a perfect machine for users looking to do CAD/CAM work, high end video editing or any processor and graphics intensive chores.

Conclusion

The launch of the SuperWorkstation 7046A-3 could not come at a better time for SuperMicro; doubt surrounds its primary PC workstation competitor, Sun Microsystems, leaving HP and Lenovo as the only big names in the workstation market to contend with. SuperMicro scores additional points by offering high margins and almost unlimited customisability; two factors the big names are having trouble with at the moment.