A racer for rendering

The IBM IntelliStation M Pro is IBM's latest and greatest 3-D Windows NT workstation. Darth Vader would have loved this computer, with its imposing offset black case, rigid lines, and semidomed top. I like the workstation because it performs superbly.

The system I tested came loaded with dual 400MHz Pentium II processors with 512KB of Level 2 cache, 256MB Error-Correcting Code (ECC) Synchronous DRAM (SDRAM), Adaptec's 7895 RAIDport II-based dual-channel Ultra Wide SCSI card, and the Intergraph Intense 3D Pro 3400GA graphics solution. The system also included integrated 10/100 Ethernet, integrated 16-bit Sound Blaster Pro-compatible audio, a 32X CD-ROM drive, three 9.1GB 7200rpm hard disks, two Universal Serial Bus (USB) ports, and two COM ports.

To test the workstation's performance, I ran AIM Technology's WNT workstation benchmark. (For information about AIM's benchmark tests, go to http://www.aim.com.) I fitted the workstation with a Matrox Millenium II graphics card, which is a standard for all system-level performance tests in the Windows NT Magazine Lab. The IntelliStation scored 1146.5 on the AIM WNT Peak Performance metric and 263.9 on the AIM WNT Sustained Performance metric. These scores are comparable to those I've seen on similarly equipped, high-end systems using faster hard disks than the IntelliStation uses.

I wanted to test the system's OpenGL 3-D rendering capabilities, so I reinstalled the Intergraph graphics solution. This solution is primarily for high-end CAD or computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) applications and animation renderings. The Intergraph solution consists of two full-length PCI cards bridged together with a ribbon cable. I used three viewsets from the Viewperf benchmark to evaluate the graphics performance: CDRS, which measures the modeling and rendering abilities used for CAD applications; Data Explorer (DX), which measures scientific data-visualization capabilities; and Lightscape, which tests radiosity visualization, or a system's ability to realistically reproduce light waves. (For more information about the Viewperf benchmark, go to http://www.specbench.org.) The IntelliStation scored 138.723 frames per second (fps) on the CDRS portion of the benchmark, 20.402fps on the DX portion, and 2.199fps on the Lightscape portion. The CDRS score is important because it comprises half of the total Viewperf score. The IntelliStation's CDRS score is slightly better than any system I've tested.

One problem I encountered was that my test system's integrated Ethernet was unreliable. The IntelliStation lost its Ethernet connection repeatedly. An error message informed me that no Ethernet adapter was found and that I should reseat the adapter and try again. Reseating a device that is integrated on the motherboard is difficult. Each time the system lost the Ethernet connection, I had to repeatedly reboot the machine. IBM is aware of this problem and is working on a solution.

Like many workstations, the IntelliStation has a tool-less access case. To access the workstation's internal components, simply pull out and forward on the tab on the left side of the back of the case. One good tug gives you access to the motherboard, hard disks, processors, and card backplane. Taking the cover off is easy, but replacing it is difficult. I had trouble lining up all the tabs and catches to get the cover securely seated. IBM needs to improve the fit of the workstation's cover.

With the IntelliStation's cover off, I discovered that the three-hard-disk configuration limits you to one additional internal or external device. Expansion slots include one PCI slot, one shared PCI/ISA slot, and one Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP). IBM placed the RAIDport directly under the AGP, which resides at the top of the backplane. Most systems' AGPs are next to a PCI slot, to accommodate dual-card graphics solutions that use one PCI slot and one AGP. To incorporate an AGP/PCI video solution into the IntelliStation, you need additional cabling.

The IntelliStation includes IBM's voice-recognition software, ViaVoice Gold. This software works well but takes time to learn. The system BIOS has a built-in antivirus solution you can enable.

Despite the Ethernet problem, I liked the IntelliStation. The workstation is powerful and amazingly fast.

IBM IntelliStation M Pro
Contact: IBM * 770-863-1234 or 800-426-4968
Web: http://www.ibm.com
Price: $12,350
System Configuration: Dual 400MHz Pentium II processors with 512MB of Level 2 cache, 256MB Error-Correcting Code Synchronous DRAM, Dual-channel Adaptec 7895 Ultra Wide SCSI, Intergraph Intense 3D Pro 3400GA, Integrated 10/100 Ethernet, Integrated 16-bit audio, 32X CD-ROM drive, Three 9.1GB 7200rpm hard disks