Issue: Volume: 23 Issue: 1 (January 2000)

Reviews: IntelliStation Z Pro

The Windows NT-based IBM IntelliStation Z Pro, aimed at the high-end digital content creation and CAD markets, represents the top of company's IntelliStation line, which also includes the mid-range M Pro series and the entry-level E Pros.

While the Z Pro I tested was the latest version in the series, IBM is planning to release a new Z Pro based on the Intel 840 chipset, formerly codenamed Cascades, that has been optimized for 3D graphics performance. Late last year, Intel an nounced the new chip set, at which time IBM previewed the next version of the IntelliStation Z Pro, which will incorporate the new processor. IBM expects to announce the release date for this unit early this year, as soon as the 840 chips are more widely available.
The Z Pro comes with an optional flat-panel LCD.

The current IntelliStation Z Pro is housed in a black plastic minitower case, and powered by single or twin 550mhz Intel Pentium III Xeon processors, including a 100mhz system bus, 512K L2 cache, and support for up to 2gb of 100mhz SDRAM. With the two processors onboard, the Z Pro should be able to handle most of the intensive number crunching, high end analysis, or complex graphics programs you might care to throw at it.

Video card options, which are considerable, include the IBM Fire GL1, the Matrox Millennium G200, the Matrox Millen nium G400, and the In tense 3D Pro 3400 or In tense3D Wildcat 4000RA/ 4000GA.

Hard drive options in clude a 9.1gb or 18.2gb 10,000 RPM Ultra 2 SCSI drive or a 9.1gb 7,200 RPM Ultra ATA 66.

My review unit was furnished with two 550mhz Pentium Xeon processors (the 440 GX chipset), 256mb of RAM with the Diamond Fire GL1 video card, a 13gb IDE hard drive (yet an other option), a 40X CD-ROM player, a 10/100 Eth er net card, and an Adap tec AHA 2940 SCSI card.

The Diamond Fire GL1 featured in my Z Pro comes with 32mb of video RAM, a 256-bit rendering pipeline, and a 24-bit z-buffer for accurate depth rendering. It offers resolutions up to 1920x1200 and has a refresh rate up to 85Hz. The Fire GL1 has a wealth of capability, including support for full OpenGL, alpha blending, gamma correction, masking, fog, fast window clears, anti-aliasing, gou raud shading, and specular highlighting.

Inside the IntelliStation Z Pro there is plenty of room, with seven full-length slots, including one AGP, five PCI, and one ISA/PCI shared slot. There are also seven expansion bays with up to 91gb of disk drive capacity. The case contains a 330-watt power supply and four fans. One thing I appreciated about the Z Pro was how quiet it was, even with all those fans. Unlike my present computer, the Z Pro hardly emitted any sound at all, even during extensive computations.

I tested the Z Pro using SPECviewperf 6.1.1, a graphics benchmarking suite that consists of six tests that measure 3D animation, layout and visualization, data visualization, 3D lighting and shading, and two tests for 3D modeling. The results, listed at left, compare respectably though not outstandingly with other machines listed on the SPEC/GPC Web site. (Note: At press time, SPEC/GPC posted new versions of its benchmarks, along with new results.)

As part of my testing, I also loaded both Photoshop 5.5 and 3D Studio Max R3. Although 3D Studio Max is a large program, the installation went quickly and smoothly. I tested Studio Max with several large files of up to 100,000 vertices each and was impressed with the workstation's performance and rendering capabilities. Also, the animation capabilities were quite good, with little or no lag-a great improvement over my current platform (a 233mhz Pentium with 128mb of RAM). I tested Photoshop with 18mb files that I've regularly used for stock photography, and these loaded quickly.

In addition to Windows NT 4.0 Workstation, the IntelliStation Z Pro comes with IBM ViaVoice 98 Office and Lotus SmartSuite Millennium. Some of the other software options include the LAN Client Control Manager (LCCM), which provides a user with the option of controlling the system from a remote location.

Overall, I was impressed by the Z Pro. It's a well-designed machine with plenty of processing power that will no doubt please graphics professionals. And that power should only increase with the addition of the new 840 chip.

Nathan Segal is a freelance technology writer based in British Columbia.

Price as reviewed: $5259
Configuration as reviewed:
Dual Pentium 550 Xeon processors; 256MB of RAM; Diamond Fire GL1 video card;13GB IDE hard drive