In May 2012, when Bill and I reviewed the 3DBOXX 3970 XTREME workstation, I talked about how excited we were to get the opportunity to play with it. As I'm sure you can imagine, we were as giddy as schoolboys the day the 3DBOXX 8920 landed in our office. This is more than a desktop PC. This BOXX workstation system pretty much falls into the category of super computer. It is a dual Intel® Xeon® system that can be loaded up with enough RAM and hard drive space to make even the most hardcore techie smile with delight.
So what do you do with all that power?
A question we are asked weekly is, "Should I buy a dual Xeon system as an Autodesk® Revit® or CAD workstation?" Like many things in the tech world, the answer is highly dependent on how you intend to use the system. Yes, a dual Xeon system will make Revit or AutoCAD run faster, but the details surrounding this answer come down to one simple question: Is the software you intend to use multi-threaded? Simply put, software that is multi-threaded is able to use more than one CPU or core for a single process. The more multi-threaded operations your software is capable of, the more impact this dual Xeon system will have on performance.
Okay, now that we know about multithreading, the big question becomes, Is Revit multi-threaded?
Here is what Autodesk has to say in its Revit Wiki Support:
The following tools in Revit (all disciplines) take advantage of multiple processors and multiple core processors for calculations which increase the performance of the tool in Revit.
2D Vector Export such as DWG and DWF
Rendering (4 Core Limitation lifted in Revit 2011)
Wall Join representation in plans and sections
Element Loading. Loading elements into memory is multi-threaded, reducing view open times when elements are displayed for the first time in the session.
Parallel computation of silhouette edges (outlines of curved surfaces) in perspective 3D views. Engaged when opening views, changing view properties, and navigating the view and will be more noticeable as the number and complexity of curved surfaces increases.
Translation of high level graphical representation of model elements and annotations into display lists optimized for given video card. Engaged when opening views, changing view properties and will be more noticeable as the number and complexity of model elements increases.
Point Cloud Data Overlay
With each release of Revit, Autodesk adds more multi-threaded processes to the list. We've been told that the goal is to make Revit 100 percent multi-threaded, but as you can see from the list, most of the big, heavy processes in Revit already are.
Now that you know more about multi-threaded software than you ever really wanted to know, let’s get into the nuts and bolts of this 3DBOXX 8920 super computer. Here are
the specs of the BOXX system we tested:
Dual Xeon E5−2687W 3.1GHz, 20 MB cache, 8.00 QPI (Eight−Core)
128 GB DDR3−1600 REG ECC (16 − 8GB DIMMS)
NVIDIA Quadro 2000 1GB
250GB SSD SATA 6Gb/s (during the PBC test we added 3 additional 250 SSDs)
20X Dual Layer DVD±RW Writer
Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
Microsoft Windows 7 Professional Edition, 64−bit
Logitech M500 laser corded mouse
BOXX 3-year limited warranty
First, let’s talk about just how fast the Intel Xeon E5-2687W processors are. When you consider that according to www.cpubenchmark.net CPU comparisons, the Intel Xeon E5-2687W scores a 16,304 and ranks second on their high-end CPU list, fast might be a bit of an understatement. And remember, the 3DBOXX 8920 we tested comes with two of these! Even our biggest rendering tests, which normally take 15 to 20 minutes to finish on other systems, pop out of the 8920 in fewer than five. It is amazing how quickly this system rips through rendering, or any other multithreaded process, when you task all 16 cores with a single operation. Without question, the processing power of this BOXX workstation is unmatched by any other dual processor system we've tested.
Backing up the processing power, our test machine came loaded with 128GB DDR3−1600 REG ECC RAM (expandable to 512GBs). Then to make sure the storage can keep up, they put in 250GB SSD SATA drives running at 6Gb/s. With the combination of these three parts, this workstation achieved incredible results across all of our standard tests. A quick look at the Windows experience ratings and you will see all areas receive the highest possible marks (7.9) with the exception of video, which gets a 7.0.
As usual, we also used the AUBench tool to test the performance of Revit—but this time we added a new trick. We call it the AUBench Loop. Basically, the new test runs the AUBench script over and over until we stop it. After twelve hours of continuously running AUbench and generating more than 250 results, we can state that the 3DBOXX 8920 scores a 177.
If you recall, the 3DBOXX 3970 XTREME system previously tested scored an unbelievable 133 on the AUBench, but that was before we developed the looping test. Although we didn't have the 3970 workstation available to test with the looping AUBench, we know it would have had an impact on performance. A score of 177 is very impressive considering most of the systems we test with this new looping AUBench test score in the 230s and higher range.
As we conducted our not-so-standard tests, we saw some very impressive results. Our 500MB Revit file, with three 200MB attachments, loaded in under one minute. We actually did this test several times, simply because we could not believe how fast it was at loading the files. As we noted before, file loading is one of the operations in Revit that is multi-threaded and where those 16 cores really come in handy. Working with massive files like these helps you understand how those extra cores really pay off. Also, all of our rendering tests were “off the charts” fast with both Autodesk Revit and Autodesk 3ds Max. If you use 3ds Max every day, you really need to look at one of these workstations. Images render in a fraction of the time it takes other systems we've tested. In render speeds alone, you could easily increase your rendering output by 8 to 10 times.
With regard to expandability, this system can be built with a number of different configurations. Here are the standard and optional configurations available:
Intel Xeon E5-2600 Series Six or Eight Core Processor with Intel C600 Chipset
Sixteen 240-pin (DIMM) sockets Support for DDR3 1600 MHz Registered ECC Memory Expandable up to 512 GB*
Based on 1GB, 2GB, 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, and 32GB* DDR3 ECC Reg Modules
Six 3.5” internal drive bays and one external 5.25” drive bays
SATA 3.5 7200 RPM 250GB to 2TB
SATA 3.5 10000 RPM 300GB to 600GB
SATA 2.5 SSD 80GB to 600GB
SAS 3.5 15000 RPM 300GB to 600GB (Optional SAS Controller)
Front: Two USB 2.0, two USB 3.0, one IEEE 1394a, one Headphone and one Microphone
Rear: One Line In, one Speaker, Three Surround Channel, four USB 2.0, two USB 3.0, one 9-pin Serial Port, PS/2 Mouse/Keyboard combo port, and two RJ-45 Integrated Intel Gigabit LANport
Three PCI-E x16, two PCI-E x8, and one PCI-E x8(x4)
1050 Watt 80 Plus Gold Power Supply
USB Floppy Drive, DVD +/- R/W DL Writer, or Blu-ray RW Drive
Up to three NVIDIA Quadro, NVIDIA GeForce, NVIDIA Tesla, or ATI FirePro graphics cards
6.875” W x 17.375” H x 19.125” D (17.5 cm x 44 cm x 48.7 cm)
Microsoft® Windows™ 32-bit or 64-bit
Linux Operating System option available
Conﬁgurable up to four monitors
USB Mouse and Keyboard
Service & Support
Three-year standard warranty
Of course, Bill and I just wouldn't feel right if we didn't also test this system as a private BIM cloud. As you may recall from our 3DBOXX 3970 XTREME review, when configured as a private BIM cloud, five users were able to access it at one time while maintaining 95 percent of the performance of a single user. Even though the configuration of our 8920 gave us a bit more room to play with, we did add a couple more SSDs to support additional users. In the end, we were able to support 25 Revit users on just one 8920 machine. Yes, you read that correctly, 25 Revit users at the same time on one 3DBOXX 8920 running at the same super fast speed!
We tested this private BIM cloud configuration a few different ways: first, as a classroom environment where we ran two, 10-student classrooms for several Revit classes. We accessed the 8920 private BIM cloud from old HP laptops that could barley run Revit running locally. At the end of the class, we explained to the students how the system was configured and several of them said they'd wondered how we enabled Revit to run so well on those old laptops.
We also took the 8920 on the road to both the Revit Technology Conference (RTC) in Atlanta and the Central States Revit Workshop (CSRW) where that one workstation ran anywhere from 10 to 25 users at once. We accessed the 8920 from iPads, Mac laptops, netbooks, old laptops, and even old desktop systems. In every situation, Revit users were amazed by how the systems (which should not have been able to run Revit at all) managed to perform so well. Of course, when we explained that the 8920 was not only running that session but 20 additional sessions simultaneously, they were truly amazed.
The only actual complaint we had about the system, if you can even call it that, is the hard drives are mounted underneath the metal plate that holds the motherboard—allowing access by opening the back cover. At first, we really liked this design and thought it to be very smart. Unfortunately, as we swapped hard drives in and out for our various tests, we found the wiring in that configuration to be less than easy to work with. We even broke a couple of the plugs on the wires in the process of adding and removing the additional hard drives. For the normal user, however, this would most likely never become an issue. I doubt a typical user would add and remove SSDs nearly as much as we did.
The 3DBOXX 8920 is clearly a super computer. At a price tag of $17,000 for our test system, it may not be the most cost-effective workstation for the average Revit user, but it clearly has its place in the industry. If you work with large Revit models or do serious rendering, this system will pay for itself in short order—just in time savings alone. When working on mega projects, this type of system could be the difference between opening the Revit model or not. We also found that on standard workstations running the Building Design Suite, transferring large project data from Revit to 3ds Max or Autodesk® Showcase® with the workflow tools can be very overwhelming. The 8920 performed these operations without hesitation. Of course, if you're looking at this system for a private BIM cloud, a cost of $680 per user to run 25 Revit users simultaneously looks very attractive. All said and done, we are happy to give the 3DBOXX 8920 9.5 out of 10 stars.
Bill Debevc and Lonnie Cumpton together have more than 40 years experience working in the design and IT industries. They use this experience to evaluate technology from both an IT and design perspective. Currently, they are using that expertise to help companies develop and deploy BIM9 private BIM clouds. You can find them on LinkedIn and at www.bim9.com.