Issue: Volume: 23 Issue: 3 (March 2000)

REVIEWS: DTK Grafika 550

By George Maestri

It seems like everyone is getting into the workstation business these days. DTK Computer is one of the latest to jump into the fray. Its Grafika 550 line of workstations uses off-the-shelf components to create workstations that are reasonably powerful and cost-effective.

This is the first machine I've reviewed that uses the new Intel 840 chipset and the new Intel Coppermine processors (which, oddly enough, incorporate aluminum, not the speedier copper, within the chips themselves.) The processor runs at a swift 733mhz, and the system bus speed has been upped from 100mhz to 133mhz. The RDRAM memory runs at 800mhz and is supposed to triple memory throughput. It also means that memory chips must be installed in pairs.
The Grafika 550 comes standard with an ergonomic keyboard.

The first machine I received had some problems, as is often the case when you review the first machine off the assembly line. After a few days of debugging, we uncovered a bad memory chip, which was causing the machine to lock up. DTK promptly sent me a new machine that solved the problem.

The machine I reviewed was housed in a server-type case, which is slightly longer than most standard workstations. Though it may be a bit large for some, I liked this case a lot. The extra size allows for plenty of expansion. There is one 3-inch slot containing the floppy drive as well as slots for nine 5-inch drives, which allow for components like a video raid to be mounted inside the unit. Cooling is managed by three fans, which should be enough to keep everything running at the right temperature.

Access to the innards is through removal of a side panel, which is screwed in plac. It would have been nice to incorporate a more advanced tool-free design for the side panel.

The motherboard is a standard Intel 840 model, which can handle up to two processors and up to 2gb of RDRAM. Audio and ethernet are also included on the motherboard, as well as USB ports and a single serial and parallel port. With only one serial port, I had to choose between my modem and my graphics tablet. This is the trend these days, with more and more peripherals moving toward USB. Another trend is the total elimination of ISA slots. This machine has no ISA slots, but does have five PCI slots and one AGP 4x slot, which should be plenty for most users.

Once the machine was up and running, I threw it into production on my current project, "Karen and Kirby," which appears on the Kid's WB television station. Our standard machines for the show are generic dual 500mhz Pentium IIIs running Discreet's 3D Studio Max. The DTK was noticeably faster than these boxes. In a simple rendering test, shots that were taking 28 to 30 seconds per frame on the dual 50s were rendered in 15 to 16 seconds per frame on the dual 733 DTK.

Graphics in the re view unit were handled by a Diamond Fire GL1 card, which was compatible with both Max and Maya. The 3D performance was good, but not excellent. SPEC/ View perf benchmark res ults for ADWavs were a respect able 29.2, but this was not nearly the top speed for a graphics card (which was hovering between 55 and 60 at the time of this writing). This puts the DTK in the middle of the pack in terms of pure OpenGL performance. The 2D performance was good, with a Winbench score of 410.

Machines using the new Intel chipset are some of the first with the ability to use the new Ultra DMA 66 hard drives. This technology allows for double the disk performance (66mbb/sec) over previous IDE-based hard drives. This speed increase has also been accompanied by faster spinning hard drives. The drive in this machine is a 20gb Seagate spinning at 7200 rpm. While this is fast, it still does not have quite the throughput of an ultrawide SCSI drive. This was apparent in the playback of large QuickTime movies, which tended to stutter. The same movies played back just fine when an UW SCSI adapter and a 10,000 rpm drive were added to the machine, which tells me that, at least for video, Ultra DMA is still not quite up to speed. If you want to do compositing or video editing, be sure to order DTK's SCSI upgrade.

Overall, the DTK Grafika 550 is a reasonably fast and solid machine. While the graphics are not the swiftest, it would make a very good middle-of-the-road 3D animation workstation. Upgrading it to a faster SCSI disk would make it a good compositing and video-editing machine as well.

George Maestri is a writer and animator living in Los Angeles.

Base price: $3580
Base configuration:733MHz processor (on dual motherboard); 128MB of RAM; Matrox Millennium G400 graphics card
Price as reviewed: $5500
Configuration as reviewed: Dual 733MHz processors; 256MB of RAM; Fire GL1 graphics card

DTK Computer
City of Industry, CA