Back in March, system builder Scan was first out of the blocks with Nvidia’s brand new Kepler Quadro GPU technology.
Its low-cost 3XS GW-MT15 workstation featured an impressive stack of components ideal for entry-level CAD — and all for an incredible £940.
This month the Bolton-based manufacturer is back with another brand new technology — Intel’s ‘Haswell’ CPU or, to give it its official title, 4th Generation Intel Core.
To the backdrop of Intel’s annual ‘tick-tock’ chip delivery model, Haswell is big news. While last year’s ‘Ivy Bridge’ was a mere ‘tick’, denoting a shrinking of 2011’s ‘Sandy Bridge’ architecture, ‘Haswell’s’ ‘tock’ heralds the arrival of a brand new chip architecture.
Haswell comes with a number of new features, many of which are targeted at reducing power consumption, therefore having the biggest impact on mobile devices where battery life is king.
There have also been some interesting security enhancements co-developed with Intel subsidiary, McAfee.
For desktop CAD, however, performance will always be the critical metric and clock for clock Haswell offers a noticeable performance boost over Ivy Bridge.
The downside comes if you want to overclock the ‘K’ model Haswell chips, as Scan does as a matter of course in most of its 3XS workstations.
Because Haswell generates more heat than Ivy Bridge it can’t be overclocked to the same speeds.
Scan comfortably ramps up its Ivy Bridge Core i5-3570K workstations to 4.4GHz but only achieves 4.2GHz with a Haswell Core i5-4670K.
This means there is very little difference in terms of performance between Scan’s Haswell and Ivy Bridge workstations. Indeed, our SolidWorks Simulation and Delcam PowerMill benchmark results were pretty much identical.
In our 3ds Max Design test, however, we saw something very interesting: the render time with Haswell dropped by 15%. We can’t put our finger on why this is but, as we look at more Haswell machines in the coming months, we hope to shed some light on it.
It’s worth pointing out here that a £70 upgrade to a Core i7 4770K should help cut ray trace rendering times by approximately 15% due to support for Intel Hyper-Threading, which adds four virtual cores to the standard four cores.
Beyond the CPU, Haswell also includes some enhancements to the integrated graphics chip with the introduction of Intel HD Graphics 4600.
While this new GPU is claimed to be up to 60 percent faster than the previous Intel HD Graphics 4000, Intel still has a fair way to go before it can turn the heads of serious 3D CAD users.
As a result, Scan has included an Nvidia Quadro K2000D, a specialist version of the Quadro K2000 graphics card, which features 2 x DVI ports instead of the standard 2 x DisplayPort and 1 x DVI port, saving £20.
The Quadro K2000D is a big step up from the Quadro K600 we tested in Scan’s Ivy Bridge workstation in March, making it a much more powerful all round option for mainstream modelling.
With 2GB GDDR5 memory and double the number of CUDA processing cores it can handle some pretty sizeable assemblies, and still deliver smooth model rotation, even when advanced real time rendering effects are switched on.
This is backed up by the solid graphics composite score of 5.20 in the PTC Creo 2.0 SPECapc test.
We would expect similar results in SolidWorks 2013, but unfortunately the SPECapc benchmark would not run on our test machine’s Windows 8 operating system (an interesting choice of OS from Scan, considering the dominance of Windows 7 in professional design and engineering).
For storage, Scan has opted for a professional Solid State Drive (SSD), the impressive 240GB PNY Prevail Endurance.
In typical Scan style, this has been partnered with a 2TB Seagate Barracuda Hard Disk Drive (HDD), which offers plenty of capacity for hefty CAD datasets.
For those who already own an overclocked ‘Ivy Bridge’ workstation this new 3XS GW-MT15 doesn’t really give a compelling reason to upgrade.
The general performance improvements of the new Haswell architecture are throttled by its limited overclocking speeds.
But if your workstation is a few years old, perhaps sporting one of the 1st generation Intel Core processors, then this is an enviable upgrade for mainstream CAD. And at a price point of just over £1,200, it offers exceptional value.
Haswell: Intel’s fourth gen core family
‘Haswell’ is one big happy family of processors, including desktop, mobile and server.
For desktop CAD, however, there are probably only a handful of suitable options.
Choose Intel Core i5 chips for pure CAD.
Choose Intel Core i7 for CAD plus rendering, (support for Intel Hyper-Threading’ should give a 15% performance boost)
Choose ‘K’ model CPUs if you want to overclock your chip as these are unlocked by Intel specifically to allow users to pump up that all-important GHz.
» Quad Core Intel Core i5 4670K ‘Haswell’ CPU (3.4GHz overclocked to 4.2GHz)
» 16GB (2 x 8GB) Corsair DDR3 (1,600MHz) memory
» 240GB PNY Prevail SSD + 2TB 7,200RPM Seagate Barracuda 6Gb/s SATA HDD
» Nvidia Quadro K2000 (2GB GDDR5) GPU (320.00 driver)
» Microsoft Windows 8 Professional 64-bit (Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit also available)
» Asus Z87-K (Intel Z87 chipset) motherboard
» 3 year warranty – 1st year onsite, 2nd and 3rd year return to base (parts & labour)
» CPU benchmarks (secs – smaller is better)
CAM (Delcam PowerMill) 1) 140 2) 244 3) 351
CAE (SolidWorks Simulation) – 82
Rendering (3ds Max Design 2011) – 215
» Graphics benchmarks (bigger is better)
CAD (SolidWorks 2013 – SPECapc graphics composite) – N/A
CAD (Creo 2.0 – SPECapc graphics composite) – 5.20
Quad Core Intel Core i5 4670K ‘Haswell’ CPU (3.4GHz overclocked to 4.2GHz)
16GB (2 x 8GB) Corsair DDR3 (1,600MHz) memory
240GB PNY Prevail SSD + 2TB 7,200RPM Seagate Barracuda 6Gb/s SATA HDD
Asus Z87-K (Intel Z87 chipset) motherboard
Nvidia Quadro K2000 (2GB GDDR5) GPU (320.00 driver)
3 year warranty – 1st year onsite, 2nd and 3rd year return to base (parts & labour)