At DEVELOP3D we tend to review standalone workstations, rarely one that comes with a display and certainly not one that comes with multiple screens.
Powered by AMD Eyefinity technology, the FirePro V5900 is one of a handful of AMD professional graphics cards that can support three displays. It uses its two DisplayPort and one DVI outputs to drive
three of Dell’s impressive 24-inch Dell UltraSharp U2410 screens.
UltraSharp is Dell’s professional display brand and all monitors feature Image Plane Switching (IPS) technology, which not only delivers crisp images and excellent colour reproduction, but boasts much wider viewing angles than budget displays.
The U2410 features a resolution of 1,920 x 1,200, slightly bigger than standard HD (1,920 x 1,080).
Apart from quality, one of the best things about the UltraSharp U2410 is that it can operate in landscape or portrait mode. While landscape mode is likely to be the most common use in a three-display array, in portrait mode they combine to form one giant desktop with a colossal 3,600 x 1,920 resolution.
In portrait mode we felt fully immersed in our design, which spanned all three displays. After a while, we even managed to ignore the bezels that surround each display and break up the image.
AMD Eyefinity automatically corrects for the bezelled edge that surrounds each screen. It cuts out a bit of the image so you don’t get a stepping effect when an image spans across multiple displays. It’s a neat feature as it tricks your eyes into thinking you have one continuous display, but can be a little frustrating as from time to time parts of the design are hidden by a bezel.
Bezel correction can be adjusted in the FirePro driver, and it can be turned off so no information is hidden, but we wouldn’t really recommend this as it tends to make images look a bit odd. One way of getting around this is to buy a monitor with a thin bezel. Samsung’s MD230 is a good example.
This is also sold by Scan, but not as a standard option. Spanning a 3D CAD model across three displays and rotating it on screen did have an impact on performance, but not by a huge amount – frame rates were reduced by about 25%. Some CAD applications, where the CPU is the bottleneck, rather than the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit), probably wouldn’t notice any difference.
Landscape mode is likely to be used more day in and day out and here we found the three displays less spectacular. However, there are potentially huge productivity benefits here as it pretty much gives you instant access to all your key software applications and datasets.
Setting aside the centre display for the core design application, the flanking monitors can be used to dip into different datasets, or any combination of email, browser, spreadsheet, rendering, simulation or document management software.
It’s worth spending a little time setting up your workspace to get the most of the technology – you can even move toolbars or model libraries off the main CAD display to maximise the modelling space.
While the three monitor setup is something out of the ordinary, the Scan 3XS i7 Eyefinity workstation itself is much more familiar. The processor, Intel’s Core i7 2700K, is an evolution of the 2600K, a mainstay of workstations last year and a great CPU for general CAD or mainstream rendering or simulation.
There’s a little bit more performance on offer here though, with the 3.5GHz chip, clocked up to 4.6GHz. The CPU is backed up with 16GB DDR3 1600Mhz memory, which means the machine is equipped to handle some pretty sizeable datasets.
For storage, a 128GB Corsair Performance Pro Marvell Solid State Drive (SSD) is for operating system and applications, while a 2TB Seagate Barracuda, 7,200rpm is for data.
Prices of hard drives have gone up in recent months following major flooding in Thailand, the hard drive capital of the world, but not so much to make a big impact on the overall system cost.
Delivery and setup
Being a journalist isn’t the glamorous life you’d imagine, so when someone offers to not only deliver a system, but also unpack it ready to go, you jump at the chance.
This isn’t some veiled attempt on behalf of Scan to win favour with lazy journalists it’s a new service where a trained installer drives down from Bolton and sets everything up for you — and all for no additional charge, just the standard £35 delivery fee.
While this may not interest hardened IT managers, we can attest it was a welcome introduction to setting up a workstation with three displays. We were given an introduction to how to configure AMD Eyefinity, such as how to make sure the right image appears on the right screen.
The Eyefinity software is pretty simple to use, but it was great being given a helping hand to get you started.
It’s easy to forget about monitors when buying a workstation. At DEVELOP3D we certainly update our computers more regularly than our displays.
In order to get three screens running with the Scan 3XS i7 Eyefi nity workstation it’s not mandatory to buy brand new displays.
The FirePro V5900 can connect to a legacy DVI or VGA monitor via adapters, and this is fi ne if you want to run different applications on different screens.
However, in order to span a single CAD model across three displays in portrait mode, it’s important to use identical displays.
The Dell UltraSharp U2410 is an excellent all round monitor, though some may prefer a display that features a smaller bezel. This is less of an issue in landscape mode.
When you first start using three displays side by side it feels like a bit of a luxury — in much the same way as it does when moving from one to two displays — but you soon find an important use for every last pixel. It’s certainly not for everyone, and if you only use one design application, day in day out, plus a bit of email and web browsing, then two monitors should be more than enough.
But when you move into portrait mode, it offers an entirely different experience. It’s perfect for design/review sessions or when you need to see a lot of details at the same time, such as an entire assembly or a detailed 2D drawing.
The real draw of Scan’s system is the price. For just over £2,300 you get a powerful workstation which can also improve productivity by helping enhance workflow.
If you’re considering a new workstation, maybe it’s time to think about updating the whole system.
Moving beyond three displays with Eyefinity
Our review machine featured the AMD FirePro V5900, but this is just one of a whole family of professional graphics cards from AMD that can support three monitors using Eyefinity technology.
The FirePro V4900 is an entry-level card with 1GB GDDR5 memory. It features two DisplayPorts and one dual link DVI. It is ideal for entry level CAD/CAM/CAE software.
The FirePro V7900 (pictured) is a high-end card with 2GB GDDR5 memory. Its four DisplayPorts can drive up to four displays at the same time.
These can be arranged side by side, or in a 2 x 2 array, by mounting them on a wall or on a dedicated stand. This makes it great for design visualisation or design review.
The FirePro V8800 is double height high-end card, which features 2GB GDDR5 memory and four DisplayPorts.
The FirePro V9800 takes things up a notch with 4GB GDDR5 memory and six Mini DisplayPorts. It can drive six displays, typically in a 3 x 2 array.
Scan currently supports this with a six display bundle, complete with stand, based on Samsung’s thin bezel MD230 display.
» Intel Core i7 2700K (clocked to 4.6GHz),(Quad Core)
» 16GB (4x4GB)Corsair Vengeance DDR3 1600Mhz memory
» Asus P8Z68-V PRO/GEN3, Intel Z68 mainboard
» 128GB Corsair Performance Pro Marvell SSD + 2TB Seagate Barracuda,7,200rpm drives
» AMD FirePro V5900 graphics (2GB)
» Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64 Bit
» 3 x 24” Dell U2410 Ultrasharp displayst
» Scan 3XS system delivery and setup
» 3 year warranty – 1st Year onsite, years 2 & 3 return to base
» CPU benchmarks (secs – smaller is better)
CAD (SolidWorks 2010) – 180
CAM (Delcam PowerMill 2010) – 1) 138 2) 209 3) 291
CAE (SolidWorks 2010 Simulation) – 79
Rendering (3ds Max Design 2011) – 223
» Graphics benchmarks (frames per sec – bigger is better)
CAD (SolidWorks 2010) – 48
Intel Core i7 2700K (clocked to 4.6GHz),(Quad Core)
16GB (4x4GB)Corsair Vengeance DDR3 1600Mhz memory
AMD FirePro V5900 graphics (2GB)
Asus P8Z68-V PRO/GEN3, Intel Z68 mainboard
128GB Corsair Performance Pro Marvell SSD + 2TB Seagate Barracuda,7,200rpm drives
3 year warranty – 1st Year onsite, years 2 & 3 return to base