Off to Work
It’s entirely likely you’ve never heard of Systemax. But you probably have heard of TigerDirect, depending on your geekiness quotient (and there’s nothing wrong with being a geek – it’s a badge many of us at Videomaker wear with much pride). Systemax has its own line of computers, primarily sold through its TigerDirect and Global Computer Supply websites, and it is breaking into the video production-capable workstation fray with the Endeavor BTO 038669, a well-designed and cleanly-assembled system. Let’s take a closer look.
A Big Rig
The case itself is gigantic – one of the deepest (dimensionally-speaking) systems we’ve seen in quite some time. It includes locks for the front and side panels. We see one of the system’s nice touches immediately after opening the case: there’s a storage area for extra drive rails, as well as threaded holes that accommodate extra screws for mounting more drives later. For icing, all of the cables were carefully routed to provide optimum air circulation.
Also inside is a gigantic Supermicro X7DA3+ motherboard, featuring two CPU sockets (one occupied with an Intel Xeon E5310 1.6GHz quad-core CPU), dual Intel gigabit Ethernet ports, eight DDR2 RAM sockets (two occupied with 1GB Kingston fully-buffered 667MHz modules), three PCI-X slots, one standard PCI slot, one PCI-e x16 slot and one PCI-e x4 slot. There’s also an Intelligent Platform Management Interface slot, though this slot will probably not get much use from most of our readers. Unless, of course, you do have managed servers elsewhere in your video production workflow – and if that’s the case, knock yourself out. Rounding out the motherboard features: Realtek HD audio and Adaptec AIC-9410W SAS controller onboard, parallel and serial ports, and plenty of USB ports (two connected to the front panel and four on the rear of the system).
Oddly, this is another workstation that has come through the door recently that omits FireWire. We’re still slightly perplexed as to why any workstation wouldn’t have a FireWire port. Then again, if your video workflow has migrated to AVCHD, P2 or a hard drive-based camcorder, for instance, it doesn’t actually matter in terms of input. Perhaps this is the better way to think of this situation: it’s ready to handle more than just a milquetoast DV or HDV data stream.
You’ll also find in the box: a 750W power supply, a Lite-On DH20A3P DVD burner, an Nvidia Quadro FX 3500-based graphics card w/ dual DVI outputs, and a floppy drive.
The first thing we noticed is that it’s loud. The system takes ventilation seriously: there are two 80mm front fans, a 120mm rear fan, an 80mm fan in the power supply and a CPU cooler fan contributing to the noise generated by the system. After completing the boot cycle and not hearing the system fans slow down a bit, we rebooted and entered the BIOS settings, where we changed the fan speed setting. The system finally got quieter at that point. When our ears stopped ringing, we proceeded on with the tests.
The system is configured with a stripe set of two Seagate 250GB 7200rpm drives as its boot volume, and it includes two mirrored Seagate 500GB 7200rpm drives as its data volume. This is an interesting drive configuration strategy, and it is fully accommodated by the motherboard’s Adaptec hardware. You can also configure the boot drive as a mirror, upgrade to 10K drives, or get both upgrades on the boot and/or storage volumes.
Windows XP Professional (32-bit) booted a bit more slowly than we expected, particularly considering we were looking at a machine with a striped volume. The operating system shipped unactivated, and, when we ran Windows Update, it indicated that 66 critical patches were needed to get the system where it should be.
Once we got the system updated, we ran PerfectDisk 2008 to defragment the boot volume and hopefully breathe some speed into it. That strategy worked out quite well – the system subsequently booted in about half the time previously required.
The system ships with a pretty basic array of software, including Adobe Reader 8 and Nero 7 Essentials (however, both indicated that they needed updates – this indicates that, even though the system is built-to-order, the disk images Systemax is using are pretty mature). Be sure to get an antivirus tool, or be prepared to keep the system off your home network, as the system does not ship with antivirus software.
On the Bench
The stripe set used for booting turned out to be quite sprightly, according to HDTune 2.54. The array’s data transfer rate ranged from 79.6-140.3MB/sec, averaging a very respectable 113.8MB/sec.
Unbeknownst to us, the mirror set arrived having been marked for verification by the controller, so the first time we ran the benchmark, we got some bizarrely slow performance numbers as the disk controller scrubbed through the disk. Upon rebooting the system, we hit Ctrl-A to enter the SAS controller’s BIOS configuration screen and allowed the machine to continue the verify task more quickly (without operating system intervention). Ultimately, the sustained data transfer rate turned out to be a pretty strong 38.8-65.3MB/sec, averaging 58.9MB/sec. The controller can handle burst transfers of up to 93.3MB/sec.
We found Systemax’ Endeavor Xeon Workstation to be a solidly-built unit. It’s ready for pretty much any serious video suite you’re ready to throw at it. We don’t think there’s a lot that this machine wouldn’t be able to do, really.
OS: Microsoft Windows XP Professional
RAM: 2GB, PC2-5300 DDR2 (ECC, fully-buffered, dual-channel)
Processor: Intel Xeon E5310 Quad Core (1.6GHz)
Number of Physical Processors: 1
Hard Drive Capacity: 1TB
Hard Drive Interface: SATA
Video Editing Software Included: Windows Movie Maker
Analog Video Capture Card Included: No
DVD Burner: Lite-On DH20A3P
Software Included: Nero 7 Essentials
Multiple MonitorConnections: Yes
- Well-built, cleanly-assembled.
- Logically-configured, easily-customizable storage.
- Loud out of the box.
- Many software updates required.
- No FireWire port
A straightforward workstation that is ready for practically any video work.
Charles Fulton is Videomaker’s Associate Editor.
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