Appro Scorpion WH300
Issue: Volume: 27 Issue: 6 (June 2004)

Appro Scorpion WH300

Appro is a respected name in the server market. The company sells high-end servers for a variety of applications. In addition, it uses its expertise in high-end computing to produce graphics workstations. The Scorpion WH300 workstation is a dual-Opteron machine with plenty of raw horsepower.

The Appro Scorpion is fairly compact and housed in a non-descript black case. On the front of the workstation reside the requisite power switches, two USB ports, a floppy, and two exposed 5-inch bays, one of which is taken up by a DVD drive. Opening a door along the front reveals a bay containing a large fan, which can be removed, and the bay filled with a five-drive, hot-swap SCSI or SATA RAID array. The back of the machine has keyboard and mouse connectors, as well as three USB, FireWire, Serial, Parallel, Gigabit Ethernet, and audio ports. I noticed that the power supply didn't have a separate on/off switch, forcing the user to unplug the system should it ever hang.

Appro has packed a powerful machine, complete with dual Opteron processors, into a compact system.

The Scorpion opens upon removing two screws and sliding off the side panel. The inside of the Appro workstation is very tidy: all the cables are tied down and routed efficiently. The motherboard is a Tyan with one 8x AGP slot and five PCI slots, all but one of which are 64-bit. The motherboard supports both Serial ATA and ATA 133 drives. Inside, there is room for up to six hard drives or the five-drive hot-swap array. The case has two large and powerful fans, and plenty of ventilation.

The workstation booted up just fine, and I must say that it is one of the quieter machines I've reviewed. The reason is probably the oversized case fans, which move plenty of air without the high-pitched whine of the smaller fans that many vendors use. The workstation was a bit misconfigured upon arrival, being loaded with Microsoft Windows Server 2003, rather than XP Professional, which is the preferred OS for high-end graphics. The two OSs are based on the same core, however, and I had no problems running graphics applications on Server 2003, though it may have impacted the benchmarks slightly.

The Appro Scorpion is the first machine I've reviewed to sport Opteron processors. AMD's first 64-bit processor, the Opteron offers a 32-bit instruction set for backward compatibility with 32-bit applications. The 2ghz Opterons installed in this workstation run at a slower clock speed than other chips, but because the data path is doubled, performance is on par with the fastest Intel Xeon chips. Applications ported to 64-bit code should receive another performance boost. As for benchmarks, I used Sandra 2004. CPU Integer speed came in at 18956 Mips, which is excellent. Floating point was at 6159 Whetstones, which is a bit slower than a comparable Xeon.

Accessing memory is quite fast, due to the 64-bit data path. Benchmarks came in with a speed of 4165mb/second, equating to nearly twice that of most top-end Xeon chipsets. Higher memory bandwidth is particularly important when handling large data sets, such as big 3D models or textures. Another advantage of the 64-bit data path is the ability to install more memory. The Appro can accommodate up to 16gb of system RAM, four times that of most 32-bit machines.

The workstation I used came equipped with an Nvidia Quadro 980XGL. Considering that it is the company's previous generation card, it is fast, but by no means the fastest. Running Viewperf 7.1 produced a Pro/E score of 12.66, a UGS score of 19.18, and a 3ds max score of 11.25. These results are a bit slow, but Appro can configure the workstation with current generation cards, such as the Quadro FX series or the ATI FireGL cards. Although it is a fast machine, I recommend installing the better graphics cards, which should more than double the graphics performance of the one I tested.

Application performance was excellent. I tested the machine against 3ds max and some 2D apps, such as Adobe's Photoshop and After Effects. The response time was very good. Given that it was my first time testing a machine with Opteron processors, I was a little worried about application compatibility. Those fears were completely unfounded: All the applications I tried worked flawlessly. I can't wait until all the major applications go 64-bit; this machine will do very well.

Overall, the Appro Scorpion is a very nice workstation. The box is simple, but well designed. The dual Opteron processors provide very good speed and excellent memory bandwidth; and, as applications migrate to 64-bit, the workstation will perform even better. Graphics on this particular system were not stellar due to the older Nvidia card, but configuring the machine with a high-end card should make it an excellent all-around performer.

George Maestri is president of Rubberbug, a Los Angeles-based animation studio specializing in character animation.

Price: $4235 as configured
Minimum System Requirements: Not applicable.