Issue: Volume: 23 Issue: 4 (April 2000)


By George Maestri

Like many of the large PC vendors, Com paq got into the NT workstation business several years ago. But unlike many of its competitors, Compaq has actually become a player in this de manding area and is now producing some high-quality machines for the CAD and digital content-creation markets. The company's latest offering, the SP750, features quality construction and impressively fast graphics performance, especially when combined with Intense3D's Wildcat 4110 Pro graphics accelerator.
Especially when combined with the Intense3D 4110 Pro graphics accelerator (below), the Compaq SP750 offers speedy graphics performance.

As usual for a Compaq workstation, this machine is built like a tank. The all-metal case has plenty of ventilation. Access to the guts is through a sliding panel held in place by four thumbscrews. Inside, the case is relatively roomy, with enough space for three 5 1/4-inch and three 3 1/2-inch drives. The drive bays are easily accessible and well cooled, with the 3 1/2-inch drives sitting directly next to a cooling fan. The case also has a built-in speaker system that actually produces good-quality sound.

Unlike its predecessor, the SP700, which used Compaq's highly parallel chipset, the SP750 uses a stock Intel 840 chipset contained on a standard ATX-type motherboard. This is a departure from previous Com paq workstations, which had highly cus tom motherboards with complex card cages for the expansion cards. Regardless of the form factor, the motherboard is robust, with one ATX and six PCI slots, two of which are the 64-bit PCI standard. This new standard allows for double the bus width and double the clock speed (66mhz), which gives the expansion cards a much higher bandwidth.

The review machine came with dual 733mhz Pentium III Xeon processors. While Xeons are still faster than standard Pentium III chips at the same clock speed, the gap has closed significantly because Pentium III chips now have onboard cache. This means the Xeon chips will give a slight performance boost, but at a premium in price. The system supports both 600mhz and 800mhz ECC RDRAM, and is expandable to up to 4gb of system memory.

The SP750 comes with a dual UltraWide SCSI controller as standard equipment, allowing you to increase your storage and performance options by creating and partitioning a RAID (redundant array of independent disks) without any extra hardware. The system also comes with an Ultra ATA/66 controller, which is used for the CD-ROM drive. While ATA/66 hard drives are certainly fast, SCSI still has the speed ad vantage, so Compaq only ships the machine with 9gb or 18gb 10,000-rpm SCSI system drives. This ensures that disk performance is excellent. Also included on the motherboard are the standard I/O options-two serial, two USB, one parallel, 10/100 Base-T Ether net, and audio.

Compaq provides a number of options for the graphics card, in cluding a Matrox G400, Elsa Synergy, 3Dlabs Ox ygen GVX1, and on the high end, an In tense3D Wild cat 4110 Pro. The machine reviewed came with the Wildcat card, which occupied the AGP slot. The card has a 64mb frame buffer, 64mb of texture memory, and support for a a variety of monitors, including wide format and stereo. One small problem is that the heat sink on the Intense3D card is fairly tall, obstructing the adjoining PCI slot and effectively rendering that slot unusable. This, however, should only be a problem for those who need more than five open PCI slots.

Of course, with any 3D workstation, graphics performance is the main objective. The Wildcat 4110 performs incredibly well in this respect. On the 3D side, the ViewPerf ADWavs benchmark test gave back a stellar score of 75.39, which makes this combination of card and machine just about the fastest NT graphics performer available (at least for the week I tested it). In addition to pure performance, the OpenGL implementation was excellent, including such features as fog. The card also contained advanced real-time, scene-based anti-aliasing, which made for clear, sharp screen imagery.

Completely configured as I reviewed it, the machine rings up at a hefty price of $9,225. While this certainly is expensive, the SP750's quality construction makes up for at least some of the difference. The rest is simply the tariff that power users must pay to get the fastest machines on the market.

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

Base Price: $7,538
Price as Reviewed: $9,225
Configuration as Reviewed: Dual 733MHz Xeon processors; 256MB of RAM; Intense3D Wildcat 4110 graphics card, 18GB hard disk