Best buys of 2009

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XWorks X2a


Best entry level workstation: AMD’s Phenom II

While Intel dominates the workstation sector, AMD’s Phenom II X4 Quad Core processor offers plenty of “bang-for-buck”, for want of a less clichéd recommendation. The 2.8GHz Phenom II X4 925 at the heart of this back-to-basics workstation offers incredible performance for a machine that at time of reviewcost just over £700.
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Special mention

Workstation Specialists WS1400
Excellent price/performance with Intel’s Core i5 processor
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Performance CAD

Workstation Specialists WSX114



Best performance CAD workstation: WSX114

At time of review we called this the ‘ultimate mid-range CAD machine’, but in hindsight this overclocked beast is probably better described as ‘performance CAD’. With an Intel Core i7 processor running at 4.0GHz most mainstream workstations can’t touch it when it comes to raw CAD performance, and for this alone we can forgive the fact that it’s not as quiet as other WS’ machines.
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Mid range

Scan 3XS X58 WS Core i7

Scan 3XS

Best mid-range workstation:Scan 3XS X58

If you forget, for a minute, the overly elaborate hard drive system, then this mid-range workstation is an excellent all-round CAD workstation. Some clever overclocking means you get a 3.2GHz Core i7 processor for the price of a 2.66GHz model and this is backed up with 6GB RAM and an Nvidia Quadro FX 1800 graphics card.
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Special mention

Lenovo ThinkStation S20
Solid, well built CAD/CAM workstation
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HP Z800

HP Z800

Best high end workstation: HP Z800

HP completely re-thought the desktop workstation when designing the Z800 and it’s in a league of its own when it comes to quality of build and ease of serviceability. With two Intel Xeon 5500 processors at the heart and a maximum capacity of 192GB RAM it’s also a powerhouse for multithreaded CAE, CAM and rendering applications, but this level of quality doesn’t come cheap.
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Professional graphics cards

Entry level

AMD ATI Fire Pro V3750

Ati FirePro

Best professional graphics card: Ati FirePro V3750

It feels a little wrong to brand AMD’s ATI Fire Pro V3750 as an entrylevel graphics card as the 256MB board has enough power to satisfy most mid-range 3D CAD users. But the price tag of £109 doesn’t lie, and means it offers exceptional value for money.
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Nvidia Quadro FX 1800

Nvisia FX 1800

Best mid-range GPU: Nvidia Quadro FX 1800

Representing a marked improvement over its predecessor, the Quadro FX 1700, this card is an excellent all round card for CAD. Under SolidWorks and 3ds Max it delivers some impressive scores and with 768MB of memory plenty of capacity for shaders and geometry.
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Special mention

AMD ATI FirePro V5700
Close competition to the FX1800 and also less expensive.
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Mobile workstations


Lenovo ThinkPad W500

Lenovo W500

Best laptop: Lenovo W500

Powerful enough for a desktop replacement for mainstream CAD, the ThinkPad W500, with its 15-inch screen, still retains its portability and is ideal for an everyday laptop. It sports all the classic ThinkPad features, such as the ThinkLight, trackpoint and an integrated WWAN module, plus it’s nice and solid and built to take knocks.
Read the full review here

Desktop replacement

Dell Precision M6400

Dell M6400

Best desktop replacement: Dell M6400

For true desktop performance in a mobile workstation, albeit a pretty hefty one, Dell has all bases covered with the M6400. Its four DIMM slots make it stand out from the competition and mean it can have 8GB RAM without costing the earth. With its sleek lines and aluminium chassis it also looks the part, but it’s let down a little by its springy keyboard.
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Input devices

3Dconnexion SpacePilot Pro

SpacePilot Pro

Best input device: 3D Connexion SpacePilot Pro

When it comes to manipulating models on screen, the SpacePilot Pro provides ultimate control for a wide range of 3D applications. The new colour LCD screen displays a series of context-sensitive shortcuts, which change according to the modelling task at hand, and the surrounding buttons provide easy access to keyboard shortcuts and preset views.
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