Launched at the start of 2011, Intel’s second-generation Core i7 processor ‘Sandy Bridge’ promised much, not least the ease with which its ‘K’ suffix chips could be overclocked.
The 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 2600K, for example, a fast chip in its own right, was regularly tuned to 4.5GHz. Single threaded CAD software lapped this up.
However, when compared to its predecessor, Nehalem, what Sandy Bridge offered in single threaded performance it lacked in CPU cores. The first wave of Sandy Bridge chips featured two or four cores, whereas Nehalem went up to six.
The six core Nehalem Core i7 980X was perfect for designers or engineers who use rendering or simulation software alongside CAD.
Moving from four cores to six could make a big difference, reducing rendering times by approximately 50%. The good news is Intel has now introduced the Core i7 3930K, which offers all the architectural advantages of Sandy Bridge with all the benefits of six cores.
Like its quad core siblings, the Core i7 3930K can also be overclocked, which is exactly what Scan has done for its new 3XS Core i7 Hex Core workstation, tuning the 3.2GHz chip to run at 4.4GHz.
Diving straight into the benchmarks, our multi-threaded 3ds Max Design rendering test showed what the Core i7 3930K is all about.
It took a mere 148 seconds to render our test scene – 28 seconds faster than the six core Core i7 980X 3DBOXX 4860 Xtreme Edition we reviewed last year and 48 seconds faster than the fastest quad core Core i7 2600K workstation we’ve seen.
With a whopping 32GB of DDR3 memory (8 x 4GB), the 3XS workstation is also capable of handling some colossal datasets.
In the past this would have cost the earth, but prices are currently running at around £4 per GB, no longer making large assembly modelling the reserve of a high-end, dual processor workstation.
That’s not to say Scan’s 3XS shouldn’t be considered high-end. The system comes with a powerful Nvidia Quadro 4000 graphics card, which will be ideal for design visualisation software such as 3ds Max Design and high-end CAD.
With 2GB of GDDR5 memory and 256 CUDA cores the Quadro 4000 also has sufficient power for GPU rendering in iRay-enabled applications including Bunkspeed shot, 3ds Max and Catia (Live rendering).
It’s been a while coming but Intel’s Core i7 3930K looks be an excellent proposition for CAD users looking for more power to accelerate rendering or simulation.
Dual processor Xeon workstations certainly make light work of ray tracing rendering calculations, but still represent a serious investment — we’re talking £3,000 for an entry-level dual Xeon. And even then you take a hit in CAD applications as GHz for GHz, an entry-level Xeon is significantly slower than an overclocked Core i7.
Scan’s 3XS Core i7 Hex Core workstation offers a good balance. Excellent performance for CAD, coupled with a good level of multicore power for rendering and simulation when you need it. And all of this for under £1,900. Greg Corke
» Intel Core i7 3930K (six core) processor overclocked to 4.4GHZ
» 32GB (8x4GB) Corsair DDR3 1600Mhz memory
» Nvidia Quadro 4000 (2GB) GPU
» 128GB Corsair Performance Pro SSD SATA III + 2TB Seagate Barracuda 7,200RPM
» MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) Intel X79 Chipset motherboard
» Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
» 3XS delivery & setup
» 3 Year warranty – 1st year onsite, 2nd/3rd years return to base
(secs – smaller is better)
CAD (SolidWorks) – 196
CAM (Delcam PowerMill)
1) 130 2) 166 3) 223
CAE (SolidWorks Simulation) – 70
Rendering (3ds Max Design 2011) – 148
(frames per sec – bigger is better)
CAD (SolidWorks) – 44
Intel Core i7 3930K (six core) processor overclocked to 4.4GHZ
32GB (8x4GB) Corsair DDR3 1600Mhz memory
Nvidia Quadro 4000 (2GB) GPU
MSI X79A-GD65 (8D) Intel X79 Chipset motherboard
128GB Corsair Performance Pro SSD SATA III + 2TB Seagate Barracuda 7,200RPM
3 Year warranty – 1st year onsite, 2nd/3rd years return to base