A powerful workstation for gamification, simulation apps
- By John Breeden II
- Jun 05, 2013
Agencies are deploying new technology tactics such as gamification and simulations to get the most out of training time.
But for some of these new applications, everyday PCs just won't get the job done. Any desktop can process spreadsheets, but to provide powerful number-crunching, support robust artificial intelligence or deliver the shutter-free 60-frames per second required of most detailed simulations, a dedicated workstation is needed.
So we put one such workstation, the Chronos Pro from Origin PC, through its paces to see how it stacked up against the most demanding applications.
The first thing we noticed was that the machine is not very big, especially for a workstation. It's about 14 inches deep, 10 inches wide and 10 inches tall. But that's not the whole story. The actual case is a good bit smaller than that, but it's set inside what looks like a hard plastic roll bar, with the cube of the system suspended two inches off the surface and a two-inch space on top framed by the roll bars.
There are a couple reasons for this unique design. The first and most important is that it’s an ingenious way to help keep the Chronos Pro cool. The actual hardware isn't touching anything other than the plastic frame at the corners, and that allows great airflow all around. One of the intakes is actually on the bottom of the PC, so it draws in cool air from the desktop or table, just like a server rack in a data center.
The second reason the design works is that it provides a level of shock absorption. Anything that bumps the Chronos Pro will cause the unit to wobble slightly. But it won't tip over, and most of the shock is going to be absorbed by the plastic frame. Finally, the frame provides a convenient way to carry the system, as the casing is more than sturdy enough to support the considerable weight (about 10 pounds) of the workstation.
The Chronos Pro models can be configured in a variety of different ways, but we asked that our test system be designed with rigorous government applications such as gamificaiton in mind, yet without breaking the bank. Our test system came in at $2,788 as configured, which we felt was a good price when compared to the performance it offered. But the Chronos Pro also can be configured a bit more modestly and still pack a punch. Configurations start at $1,124.
In terms of performance, the Chronos Pro is the fastest workstation GCN has ever tested, which is saying a lot given the sub-$3,000 price tag and the modest size of the unit minus the roll bar. It scored 6,131.7 on the Passmark Performance Benchmarks. It achieved that score by having good components throughout the system, not by having one area, like a graphics card, skew the test.
Our test system had an Intel Core i7 3770K Quad-Core processor, which really should not have been that fast. The i7 3770Ks should have a clock speed of 3.4 GHz, which is fast, but not enough to get over 6,000 on the Passmark test. However, Origin PC professionally overclocked the chip so that it runs at a constant 4.7 GHz. This works because the chip is cooled with a Frostbyte 120 Sealed Liquid Cooling System. We pushed the processor to the limit for an extended period of time, but even after running for hours at full throttle, the internal chip temperature remained stable, with no drop in performance.
System memory, another important component for overall speed and performance, was provided by 8G of Corsair Vengeance DDR3 running at 1,866 MHz. This was broken up into two 4G sticks. The Chronos Pro can have up to 16G of memory if it’s broken into two 8G sticks.
The graphics card was a 4G EVGA Nvidia GeForce GTX 680. There are options for dual graphics cards, but we couldn't find any application that that the GTX 680 couldn't handle. The 680s are currently the darling of amateur system builders and gamers alike, and for good reason. They provide some of the best single-card performance available, yet their price is surprisingly reasonable. The only slight negative we can say is that the GTX 680 tends to draw in a lot of cooling air, and often. Of course we expected this during performance testing, but at times the 680 would power up its fans even if the system was mostly idling. This was no big deal, but it did shatter the "quiet" system illusion that is the norm with the Chronos Pro.
As with most high-end workstations, storage space was a combination of traditional hard drives for storage and solid state drives to support the operating system and any applications that need even more speed with read and write times. The SSD side of that was provided by dual 256GB OCZ Vectors which worked like one continuous drive because of its RAID 0 configuration. The slower, if you can call it that, storage drive was a 2T 7200RPM SATA model with a 32M Cache. It was capable of sustained transfer speeds of 3 gigabits/sec.
The single optical drive wasn't anything special, other than it was a top-of-the-line unit that did well on the diskmark benchmark. We've seen optical drive performance drag down some systems in the past, but not the Chronos Pro. Specifically, it was a 24X CD/DVD Burner (DVD+/-RW) with double layer write capability.
The motherboard that keeps this entire lot of high-end hardware running is an ASUS P8Z77-I DELUXE. It includes an easy to reach USB 3.0 port on the right side of the system, which is great because it can provide extra speed for external storage devices or charging for wireless devices like headphones, even if the main system is powered down. It also has onboard WiFi, an increasing and somewhat surprising trend with high-end desktops and workstations. This makes integrating the Chronos Pro onto a network easy, even if it's out of reach of a network cable, so long as it's within range of a wireless signal. And there is plenty of power to expand the workstation, thanks to the 500 Watt Corsair CX500 power supply.
We are often impressed by Origin PC, and this latest creation is no exception. The company cut its teeth in the gaming realm, and the lessons it learned there on how to build stable, high-performing and reliable systems carry over for government buyers who now need that level of system. Nothing we've seen can match the Chronos Pro in terms of performance and value. It's qualified to enlist in government service.
John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.