IBM IntelliStation Z Pro
Issue: Volume: 27 Issue: 1 (Jan 2004)

IBM IntelliStation Z Pro

The IBM IntelliStation has become a popular sight in studios around the world. The machine always has been a sturdy and reliable performer. The IntelliStation Z Pro offers a number of new features, including faster processors, Gigabit Ethernet, and an efficient design.

The review machine came configured with dual 3ghz processors, 2gb of RAM, and a 3Dlabs Wildcat 7110 graphics card. Given its two 80gb, 7200 rpm drives, storage was more than ample; the machine also had a CD-RW drive. At the time of publication, IBM announced the availablity of 3.2ghz processors for even more speed.
Equipped with a high-end graphics accelerator, the IBM Intellistation Z Pro performs well in production.

The IntelliStation's case is reasonably compact, and small enough to be turned on its side and rackmounted. No fancy doors or pastel faceplates exist on this machine. Like a Model T, it is black, utilitarian, and functional. The system has two full-size external drive bays, one of which holds the CD drive. Another external bay holds the floppy drive. The front of the machine has a 4-pin FireWire connector, along with two USB and audio in/out ports. I particularly like having a FireWire connector on the front, as it makes it easy to plug a camcorder into the box without moving the whole machine.

The back of the machine is richly configured with standard serial, parallel, USB, and audio connectors. A 6-pin FireWire connector and a Gigabit Ethernet connector also grace the back of the unit.

Getting to the guts of the machine is easy. The side of the case removes at the flip of a lever, revealing a nicely organized interior. The CPUs are housed underneath two very large, passive heat sinks. Two large external fans and a plastic duct pulls air through the case and over the CPUs to provide cooling. It is a much better solution than the standard remedy, which places the fan on top of the heat sink and simply recirculates the hot air already in the case.

One interesting note is that the motherboard has two SCSI connectors along the front edge. Normally, these are used for internal drives, but an external SCSI connector would have been nice. Those using external RAIDs and other SCSI devices will have to install a third-party cable and connector for external SCSI functionality.

The machine has three internal hard-drive slots. The drive cages are angled so that the drives are inserted and removed over the surface of the motherboard. This is cumbersome, as the drives need to be gently slid out over the memory cards and a couple heat sinks. If the machine was a bit wider, IBM could have turned the drives 90 degrees to face the user, making service much easier.

The unit has one AGP and five PCI slots, allowing for plenty of upgrade room, and an innovative flip-out plastic shield, which holds in the cards without the need for screws. Also inside the case is a reasonably nice speaker, which saves users the head-ache of buying an external speaker system.

The system was bundled with Windows XP Professional, yet it is capable of running Linux. Once powered up, the IntelliStation Z Pro is fairly quiet, although the fans seem to have a slightly higher pitch than other machines. It could get a little annoying if the machine were on a desk right next to me all day. Tucking it under the desk masks the sound completely.

The computer came configured with a 3Dlabs Wildcat 7110, certainly one of the best cards on the market. The card offers 256mb of video memory and supports dual monitors for a maximum resolution of 1920x1080. As with many high-end graphics cards, the Wildcat uses two card slots, effectively taking one PCI slot out of commission. The card has two DVI connectors on the back for driving analog monitors via a supplied adaptor.

I tested graphics performance using Viewperf 7.1. The Wildcat came in with a 3ds max score of 16.4, a Pro/E score of 19.2, and a UGS score of 18.5—all very close to the results posted on the Viewperf Web site. For those wanting faster graphics, the Nvidia GeForce FX 2000 and FX 3000 are available with the IntelliStation.

Testing CPU performance with SiSoft's Sandra benchmark suite, I got a CPU score of 11967 mips, which I expected for a dual 3ghz system. Memory was very fast at 1.4gb/sec. The drives were fairly fast and, upon inspection, I noticed they were striped as RAID 0 for additional speed. For those who work with large files, such as video, IBM offers SCSI drives for additional performance.

Overall, I.really liked the IntelliStation Z Pro. At a price of $7195, it's certainly not cheap, but the machine is very high quality and configured with a fairly expensive graphics card. With a base price is $1989, the system has plenty of options for customization. It is very well designed and would fit well in just about any studio or production environment.

George Maestri is president of Rubber-bug, a Los Angeles-based animation stu-dio specializing in character animation.


Price: $7195 as tested, $1989 base
Minimum System Requirements: Not applicable