A Product Review by Michael Anonuevo
In preparing to writing an instructional eBook on how to produce Autodesk Revit renderings and walkthroughs, one of the things I did a few months back was conduct a research on computer systems optimized for these types of Revit tasks. It is a subject matter that I know will occupy a chapter on its own in the eBook. I’ve looked at brand names such as HP, Dell, Lenovo, and Asus. However, I could not find any computer system specifically targeted for Revit modeling. By chance, I ran into a colleague who suggested that I look into BOXX computer workstations (www.boxxtech.com). I had never heard of the company, although I found out later that they had been around for the last 15 years! As a full time Revit modeler who is always busy creating complex families or writing about them, I never really got into the details of a good Revit computer workstation. And so with this new eBook project, I had a chance to look at a workstation made for Revit. After emailing my credentials and review proposal to a BOXX specialist, I was connected to the right channels and eventually was sent a unit for evaluation.
This article is about the 3DBOXX 4920 XTREME workstation. At the BOXX website, this model is referred to as The World’s Fastest Workstation for Autodesk Revit. On the internet, you’ll find great reviews about this workstation, including its technical details and specifications. To avoid being redundant, the main focus of this review is how effective this workstation is for Revit Architecture users. I will, however, highlight certain features worth taking a look at.
Is this really the fastest workstation for Revit? How can we users benefit from this system? What makes this workstation special from the rest of the pack? How does this computer compare to yours or other workstations? These questions (and many more) are tackled in this review. If you are in the process of upgrading your Revit workstations or want to add a dedicated power workstation for generating renderings and walkthroughs, this article will help you decide which system to purchase.
The 3DBOXX 4920 XTREME Workstation
Before the computer was delivered, a representative from BOXX contacted me to find out what programs and tests I’ll be running. Based on my input, they sent me a customized 3D BOXX 4920 XTREME workstation with the following specifications:
- Intel Core i7 Six Core Enhanced Performance Processor (4.5 GHz)
- 32GB DDR3 1600 (8 DIMMS)
- NVIDIA Quadro 4000 2GB
- 180GB & SSD SATA 6Gb/s; second 240 SSD
- 20X Dual Layer DVD±RW Writer
- Microsoft Windows 7 Professional Edition 64−Bit
- Logitech USB Keyboard & M500 Laser Corded Mouse
- BOXX Premium Support 1 Year (Years 2 and 3 Standard) − US and Canada Only
- BOXX 3 Year Limited Warranty
- Price as tested: $6,499.00 (basic configuration price: $2,980.00)
Note: This computer is going to be referred to in this article as the 4920.
To give you an idea of how this system stacks up on a fairly decent workstation, I’ve used my brand name computer with the following specifications:
- Intel Core i7-930 Four Core 2.8 GHz (up to 3.0 GHz turbo)
- 24GB DDR3 (6 DIMMS)
- ATI Radeon HD 5770 1 GB
- 1 TB SATA
- SuperMulti Blue-ray Player with Lightscribe Technology drive
- Microsoft Windows 7 Professional Edition 64−Bit
- USB Keyboard & Wireless Mouse
Note: This computer is going to be referred to in this article as the i7-930.
Miscellaneous equipment used for both systems:
- 3Dconnexion SpaceMouse Pro
- 3Dconnexion SpacePilot Pro
- 32 GB Flash Drive
- 500 GB Western Digital Passport HD
- Two-BENQ EW2420 24″ monitors
- 1-LG Flatron W2486L 24″ monitor
- Alesis 6-track mixer
- 2-KRK Rokit 5 powered speakers
- 1-KRK Rokit 10 powered subwoofer
- 1-name brand laptop w/ Intel Core 2 Duo processor
How the 4920 was Evaluated
On the day the 4920 workstation arrived, I configured it to be almost identical to my i7-930. That meant installing all the programs and utilities I use on a daily basis. The workstation came at a time when I was finishing the Metric versions of my family modeling eBooks (Creating Custom Revit Architecture 2012/2013 Families). By doing so, I was able to observe and record how the 4920 fared in multi-tasking. On any given day, depending on the topic I’m writing about, I could have as much as four to fifteen applications open at the same time.
To find out the Revit capabilities of the 4920, I did some renderings and walkthroughs and timed the results. I then generated the same renderings and walkthroughs on the i7-930 for comparison. I also recorded the time it took to load, save, manipulate and navigate huge Revit files.
To test the 4920 in terms of real-world performance, I used PCMark 7 and Cinebench 11.5 benchmark programs. These are two free benchmarking tools designed to test a computer’s performance (CPU, OpenGL, video, disk access, internet speed, etc). You’ll be able to compare your computer system to the 4920 by running these programs, which you can download from links provided at the end of this review.
Unpacking the Box
The computer was packaged in a 22″ x 24″ x 14″ corrugated box, protected with high density foam. It came with an accessories box containing the following:
- Manuals & DVD pertaining to the motherboard and power supply
- Windows 7 Ultimate DVD and a 4 GB bootable thumb drive containing various drivers
- Spare parts (screws, various cable connectors, extra front grille filter, & a display port adapter)
- Hardware warranty papers
- Black promo T-shirt
Turning the Computer On
The first time the 4920 was turned on, a series of Windows 7 screens flashed on the monitor that configured the computer’s operating system. After shutting it down and turning it back on again, it only took a total 41.84 seconds for the desktop to appear! The i7-930 took 85:36 seconds.
Note: The 4920 has additional startup programs. Passwords were temporarily disabled on both machines.
Windows Experience Index
A good gauge that measures the capability of a computer’s hardware and software configuration is the Windows Experience Index. This is accessed from the Performance Information and Tools window by clicking the Start button>Control Panel. Depending on how your Windows view is setup, you then click System or System and Security where you click the Performance Information and Tools link. The tool assesses the computer’s key components on a scale of 1.0 to 7.9. The score is based on the lowest Subscore. Here are the comparison of the two computers:
Taking a Closer Look at the 4920
From an aesthetic point of view, the 4920 XTREME differentiates itself from other computers with a simple, yet elegant, design. The computer looks and feels solid. The chassis is made mostly of brushed aluminum with a black and gray color theme.
The front panel consists of easily accessible ports, including four USB ports (2-USB 2.0 & 2-USB 3.0), a microphone jack, a speaker/headphone jack, a Firewire port and a power button. On top of these ports are a 5 1/4″ bay and a DVD writer.
- Lightscribe technology enables users to create direct-to-disc labels as opposed to stick-on labels using its optical disc writer (special discs and a compatible disc writer are required).
2. 5 1/4″ bay
3. 2-USB 2.0 ports (distinguished by its black plastic tab)
4. 2-USB 3.0 ports (distinguished by its blue plastic tab)
- Released in 2008, USB 3.0 is ten times faster than USB 2.0 in terms of connectivity bandwidth. It is backwards compatible with USB 2.0.
5. Microphone jack
6. Speaker/ Headphone jack
7. 1394A port (Firewire)
8. Power button
9. Power LED
10. Hard drive LED
11. Reset button
Below the ports is a detachable grille with an air filter attached behind it. The filter is part of the liquid cooling system. It filters the air being sucked in by the two cooling fans behind another grille attached to the computer’s body. The Microsoft Windows product key number can be found at the bottom left of this grille.
The rear panel consists of an array of usable ports including a pair of PS/2 ports, 10 more USB ports (8-USB 2.0 & 2- USB 3.0), audio ports, 2-ethernet ports, monitor ports, another Firewire port and an eSATA port.
1. Power socket
2. Power switch
3. PS/2 ports (keyboard, mouse)
4. USB 2.0 ports (total of eight)
5. USB Bios Flashback button
- This is a button that allows an external update of the firmware from a flash drive. The flash drive is plugged into the USB 2.0 port (with the white plastic tab) above it then this button is pressed. A light flashes during the process and stops when the update is completed.
6. S/PDIF port.
- S/PDIF stands for Sony-Phillips Digital Interface. This is a sound port that enables the 4920 to be connected to an external home theater audio system with the use of a TOSLINK (Toshiba Link) cable. It provides a digital output with the best signal quality.
7. 2-Gigabit Ethernet ports (10/100/1000 Mbits/sec)
8. 1394A port (Firewire)
9. 2-USB 3.0 ports
10. 6-Audio input and output jacks
11. DVI-I connector*
12. 2-DisplayPort connectors*
13. 3-pin mini DIN (stereo 3D connector)
14. eSATA port
*Two out of any of these three connectors can only be used at a time
The chassis that houses the processor is accessed through a detachable metal door secured by permanently attached captive screws.
Inside the chassis is a neatly organized and roomy space that contains the processor, memory sockets, power supply, liquid cooling system, video card, expansion slots, and cooling fans. The graphic card is an NVDIA Quadro 4000, one of the high end professional products at NVIDIA.
1. Seasonic X-series (80 plus Gold) 1050 watts power supply
- 80 plus Gold is a certification that allows consumers to know which power supplies are the most efficient. The certificate guarantees that the power supply is able to present efficiency of 80%, thereby allowing users to save money on electricity bills.
2. Intel Core i7 3960X Extreme Edition processor with Intel X79 Express chipset; six cores and twelve threads; over-clocked at 4.5 GHz
- Over-clocked means the processor was made to run at a faster speed than it was intended for. The advantage of overclocking is higher performance in CPU intensive tasks.
3. 8-DIMM sockets
4. Liquid cooling system
- When a processor is over-clocked, it generates more heat. Liquid cooling is a highly effective way of removing excess heat. The principle used in this system is similar to that used in cars. Liquid is circulated through a block mounted on the CPU and out to the radiator.
5. NVIDIA Quadro 4000 with 2GB GDDR5 frame buffer memory
- This GPU falls under the High-End category of NVIDIA’s line of Professional 3D graphics processors for workstations. It is 8 times faster than previous generations and delivers performance gains in intensive tasks such as ray tracing, video processing, and animation.
- Note: Just recently, I discovered that this product comes with NVIDIA nView Desktop Manager, a neat program that organizes desktops across multiple displays. Had I known about it at the time I received the BOXX workstation, I would have used it to my advantage. For example, it allows the taskbar to span multiple monitors. Therefore, when an application that is open on a second monitor is minimized, it can be restored at the extended taskbar below it without having to go to the first monitor. Watch this YouTube video clip to see the other features of the software demonstrated for AutoCAD (also applicable to Revit): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqswLrXxgBE
6. 6-Expansion slots (x16) consisting of:
- 2-PCIe x 16 slots (at x16) Blue (one occupied by the NVIDIA card)
- 2-PCIe x 16 slots (at x8) Black
- 2-PCIe x 16 slots (at x4) Gray
A BOXX trademark on its line of high end workstation is a separate compartment housing the hard drive and solid state drive (SSD) bays. It is located behind the chassis and accessed through a detachable metal door similar to the chassis’s door.
1. 6-3.5″ Hard Drive or SSD bays
2. 180 GB SSD
- Solid state drive uses flash memory that delivers superior performance. There are no moving parts, hence they are faster and more efficient and durable. SSDs requires less power to operate. They weigh less and very easy to install.
3. 240 GB SSD provided by BOXX for extra storage during the computer’s evaluation period
4. 1-Terabyte hard disk
- This the i7-930′s second hard drive which I installed to compare its performance against the SSDs.
BOXX does not spare any expense in building a high quality workstation. This is evident in the enclosure’s 1/8″ thick metal top and pair of solid metal feet.
Testing & Evaluating the 4920
After a weekend of setting up the 4920, installing programs and transferring files, I continued writing the metric versions of my eBook in the following two weeks. This gave me the opportunity to find out how the computer fared in multitasking. The main program I use for writing and laying out the eBook pages is Indesign CS5. This workflow requires that Revit 2012 and 2013 are open as I am documenting and capturing images of Revit tasks. Here is the list of all open programs in my eBook writing process:
- Adobe InDesign CS5
- Autodesk Revit Architecture 2012
- Autodesk Revit Architecture 2013
- Adobe PhotoShop
- Microsoft Word
- Microsoft Excel
- Adobe Acrobat
- Screen Ruler
- Google Chrome
On a typical eBook writing day, I would also occasionally have the following applications open:
- Microsoft Outlook
- Internet Explorer
- Windows Media Player
It was no surprise that any task I did with the 4920 was faster than my i7-930. However, with the i7-930, I would have to occasionally restart the computer to regain memory for InDesign and PhotoShop. Like a CAD program, InDesign starts to load and save longer as the file size increases. When I reached over 700 pages filled with tons of graphics, switching back and forth with InDesign and other programs became painfully slow with the i7-930. For example, when I was capturing any Revit modeling tasks with Snagit and switching back to InDesign, I had to wait about 7 seconds or more before InDesign became the active application. With the 4920, it only takes two seconds or less. Switching between the two Revit versions or other programs were almost instantaneous with the 4920. I probably could have finished producing my eBook projects in half the time (or less) it took to finish them in my i7-930.
In the following 2:48 minutes video clip, I put together a montage of screen video captures (in split screen) comparing the 4920 with the i7-930 in terms of:
- Copying files from an external hard disk
- Opening applications such as Word, Excel, Acrobat, PhotoShop, Revit Architecture 2012, and Revit Architecture 2013
Revit and the 4920
In Revit’s family editor, I model very fast. By that, I mean sketching fast in sketch mode, switching views, loading groups or nested families, typing values, etc. The 4920 is one computer that can keep up with the speed at which I model complex families. With the i7-930, there was a lot of time wasted in screen redrawing, loading projects and families, saving, opening files and doing common computer tasks.
It only takes 10.2 seconds for Revit 2012 Recent Files Window to appear (10.3 for Revit 2013) after its icon is clicked from the taskbar. The i7-930 takes 22.9 seconds. One thing I noticed with Revit 2013 is that it takes a few fractions of a second more to do the same tasks done in Revit 2012 on both computers. This is a software issue and while the difference is relatively insignificant, I expect new Revit releases to be more efficient and faster. This is not apparent in the 2013 release.
Where the 4920 excels is in rendering. Depending on the render settings, render times are two to three times faster than on the i7-930. I was actually content with the i7-930′s performance, based on the fact that I was using a slower and older Intel Duo Core processor before I jumped on to the i7 bandwagon. After using the 4920 for almost 1 1/2 months, the i7-930 feels like an old, sluggish computer.
In ray trace mode, the rendering passes as the model is being maneuvered are very fast. All views in any visual style redraw fast and smoothly_even when the Anti-Aliasing is enabled. The 4920′s enhanced processor plus the NVIDIA graphics card makes this possible. Rendering times are now reduced to minutes compared to hours. To test its graphics capability, I created a simple residential interior project and populated it with highly detailed and complex families. This resulted in a fairly large 254 MB file. I made sure that the materials assigned to these families contained properties that slow down renderings. These are glossiness, reflections, transparencies, interior lights, etc., as shown in the final rendering below.
This is the rendering setting:
The following video is a split screen showing both computers rendering the same scene shown above. It is a time lapse presentation showing the render results at different times during the entire rendering process. As expected, the 4920 rendered the scene significantly faster than the i7-930 (almost 2.5 times faster).
To test the graphics capability of the 4920 in rendering a large size project (519 MB), I put together several projects with linked Revit files as well as DWG files. I also loaded it with numerous highly detailed families as well as complex families such as curtain walls and landscaping, as shown in the following video clip. The view is an aerial view and the render quality was set to Medium, with the lighting scheme set to Sun only.
It wasn’t a surprise that the 4920 outperformed the i7-930. This time, however, it rendered the complex project almost four times faster than the i7-930!
To put the 4920 to a final test, I created a simple walkthrough of a highly detailed saxophone family containing numerous nested families. The method I used to generate the walkthrough is to render each of the frames as jpeg files. They were then assembled as a movie file using Quicktime Pro. I specified 600 frames and set the render frame at 30 frames per second as shown below:
The result is highly impressive. The 4920 rendered the 600 jpeg frames in five hours. The i7-930 took eleven hours to finish. Similar detailed families I created in 2009 took more than one day to render from my Intel Core Duo-based laptop. Computer processors are exponentially becoming faster and catching up with the demands of animation, renderings and video production. This is evident in the 4920 workstation. The final movie output from both machines are the same in quality as shown in the following 20 second movie clip generated from Quicktime Pro. The difference is that the 4920 rendered the frames more than two times faster than the i7-930.
The 4920 as a Music Workstation
Being a musician, I’ve dabbled with digital sound editing and MIDI on the i7-930 for adding background music to my walkthrough movies. And so I’ve used the 4920 as a music workstation for this purpose too. I’ve also used it for practicing with my saxophone two to three times a week. My practice setup allows me to read the music from a PDF file on one monitor while I have two programs that generate the background music on a second monitor. A mixer is connected to the 4920′s sound port which is hooked up to Rokit powered subwoofer and speakers. A USB MIDI keyboard is also connected, which I use for transcribing notes through a music notation program called Finale. The following are the music and sound editing programs I used with the 4920:
- Mixcraft 6
- Amazing Slow Downer
- WAV to MP3 and MP3 to WAV converters
- Windows Media Player
The sound output on both machines produces high quality digital sound. I did not notice any perceptible difference. The Realtek HD Audio Manager that came with the 4920, however, is very user friendly and easy to configure for customized sound output.
So while both machine function as excellent music workstations, the 4920 excels in common computer task such as copying, opening files and saving, which are almost instantaneous. Converting sound formats and other music software functions are much faster.
How the 4920 and the i7-930 Stacks up with Other Computers
The 4920 has been tested by experienced techies using sophisticated software to test the computer’s CPU and GPU performance. Although the focus of this review is to gauge the 4920′s performance in Revit, I also tested both computers for comparison with other systems using two popular free benchmark programs: PCMark 7 and CINEBENCH 11.5.
PCMark 7 measures the overall performance of a computer in its three passes of seven separate tests. Here are the results:
Note: At the PCMark website, a machine that scores higher than 5000 is considered to be a fast system.
CINEBENCH 11.5 is a benchmark program that evaluates a computer’s performance capabilities. The software is based on the award winning CINEMA 4D animation software. It is an ideal tool for comparing CPU and graphics performance across various systems and platforms. Here are the results on its CPU and OpenGL tests for both machines. The highlighted items below the results are similar computer systems used for comparison.
The OpenGL test scores for both computers are fairly high, with the 4920 edging the i7-930. In the CPU test, the 4920 scores high among the top systems, which also include the Intel Xeon processors. The i7-930, on the other hand, is at the bottom of comparable systems.
As Revit users, we should also be knowledgeable on the computer systems we use. Revit modeling can be tedious and time consuming, but having the right system allows us to be more productive. Aside from the operating system, what matters to us are:
- Graphics processor
There are other faster computer systems in the market, however, these are geared for gaming. The thing to keep in mind is the importance of having the right combination of processor and Autodesk certified graphics card. RAM is cheaper these days, so we can potentially max it out to our advantage. If that doesn’t do it and you’re in the market for a high end Revit workstation, I suggest you do the following:
1. Run a benchmark test on your computer and compare it with the results I got from the 4920 and i7-930. You’ll be surprised to find out how your system compares. Here are links to download these free programs:
- PCMark 7: http://www.pcmark.com/benchmarks/pcmark7/download/index.html
- CINEBENCH 11.5: http://www.maxon.net/products/cinebench/overview.html
2. BOXX offers a 30-day risk free trial. Take them up on it. You don’t have anything to lose (except maybe your computer…because once you experience their workstation, you will want to keep it!). Click on this link for more information:
I highly recommend the 4920. The price is high, but the computer will pay for itself in the long run. You will become more productive, accomplishing more in less time. For now, it is the fastest workstation tailored for Revit. Any model that can outperform this workstation can only come from BOXX…when they come up with a new model based on a newer processor!
- Contact a BOXX Sales Consultant at 1-877-877-BOXX /firstname.lastname@example.org
Founded in 1996, BOXX Technologies has been around for over 15 years. They have produced workstations for media and entertainment industries as well as design, engineering, architectural, visualization, and more. BOXX sales consultants and engineers have intimate knowledge of the professional software applications used in the AEC industry. Unlike top brand name companies that sell one-size fits all models, BOXX configures workstations based on specific workflows.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article.
Revit Architecture Certified Professional