Armari S32T-RD1000G2 review: Move over, Intel

A workstation that shows just how much power you get for your money with AMD’s second-generation Ryzen Threadripper.

Price
£4,995
  • Unparalleled 3D rendering performance for a single-socket system; Excellent 2D modelling abilities; Amazing value for the power; Superb workstation chassis
  • Potent CPU cooling required

AMD's original Threadripper really put the cat amongst the pigeons when it arrived towards the end of 2017. Offering many more cores than the equivalently-priced Intel alternative, it was a true return to form for AMD and great news for the professional market. Less than a year later, AMD is cranking up the pressure to a much greater level with the second Threadripper generation, and particularly the flagship Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX.

With an almost unimaginable 32 cores, this CPU has four more cores than even the Intel Xeon Platinum 8180 processors in PC Specialist's barnstorming Axiom. We got our first look at the new contender in an updated version of the Armari Magnetar S16T0RW1000G2, which shipped with the previous-generation Threadripper 1950X.

Armari S32T-RD1000G2 review: Processor and Memory

The star of the show here is obviously the new AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX. Amazingly, the new CPU is socket-, power- and chipset-compatible with the first Threadripper generation, so in theory you can use the same motherboard with a BIOS update. In fact, Armari's S32T-RD1000G2 uses the same ASRock Taichi X399 motherboard as the S16T-RD1000G2 we looked at a few months ago.

The first stunning piece of news about the 2990WX is its core count - 32 of them, each offering two threads for a whopping 64 virtual cores. This is going to make it fly with software that is efficiently multi-threaded, such as 3D rendering applications. Contrast this with the Intel Xeon Platinum 8180 CPUs from the PC Specialist Axiom, which only offer 56 virtual cores. On top of this, the 2990WX has a faster 3GHz base clock than the 8180's 2.5GHz, and its Boost mode is higher at 4.2GHz compared to the 8180's top Turbo mode of 3.8GHz.

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The true frequencies of processors have gotten very complicated of late, and in fact the 8180 can run all its cores at 3.2GHz and 20 cores at 3.5GHz. However, with some tweaking the 2990WX can run all its 32 cores at 4GHz, although AMD now has a better option via its Ryzen Master software. This now offers a setting called Precision Boost Overclock, which looks at how well your processor is being cooled, as well as electrical and power limits, alongside details of core "quality", to dynamically overclock individual cores as much as possible to provide the best possible frequency and performance for a given task.

Despite the 2990WX offering more threads and a faster clock than the Xeon Platinum 8180, it only costs 1,600 inc VAT where the latter will set you back more like 9,000 inc VAT. In fact, the 2990WX is cheaper than the 18-core Intel Core i9 7980XE, which is a truly amazing feat from AMD.

The 2990WX is a 250W TDP processor, which will mean even cooling that was great for the Threadripper 1950X might be overstretched. For this reason, Armari has eschewed its custom own-brand liquid cooling system in favour of an Enermax Liqtech TR4, which is rated able to cool CPUs up to a 500W TDP. This will be more than enough to keep the 2990WX under control.

Armari has partnered the monster CPU with a very healthy 64GB of Corsair Vengeance LPX 3,600MHz DDR4 SDRAM in four DIMMs, leaving four slots available for upgrade. The 2990WX's memory controller only officially supports 2,933MHz memory, but Armari has been able to run the Corsair modules stably at 3,000MHz, which should give another little bump to performance.

Armari S32T-RD1000G2 review: Graphics Acceleration

Armari keeps things within the AMD camp with regards to graphics acceleration. The accelerator in question is the company's mainstream flagship: the Radeon Pro WX 9100. This is the same GPU generation as AMD's Vega gaming cards, and the quirky Frontier Edition launched last year.

The WX 9100 is based around a Vega GPU with a whopping 4,096 Stream Processors running at a very tidy 1,500MHz. AMD's latest top-end cards also use the new High-Bandwidth Memory system, where a very wide bus but lower clock is employed. In this case, the memory bus is 2,048-bit and the frequency 945MHz, providing a massive 484GB/sec of frame buffer throughput.

As with all of AMD's current high-end cards, you only get one type of interface on the back - Mini DisplayPort. But there are six of them, and you can drive up to two screens at 5K (5,120 x 2,880) and 60Hz, which will be great for high-end content creation work. If you need to add more graphics cards, there are three more PCI Express 16x slots on the motherboard, spaced adequately so that they can all fit dual-width graphics like the WX 9100.

Armari S32T-RD1000G2 review: Storage

Normally, a workstation aimed at the content creation market will opt for a storage setup involving a solid-state disk (SSD) for the operating system and applications alongside a conventional hard disk drive (HDD) for media assets. The custom Armari chassis has plenty of room for the latter, with four fast-swap 3.5in bays and two fast-swap 2.5in bays that are very easily accessed once you take off the side panel.

However, our sample didn't come with any of these bays populated. Instead, one of the three M.2 sots on the motherboard sported a 1TB Samsung PM980 NVMe SDD. This is a hugely quick drive. Using CrystalDiskMark 6, we saw a sustained read throughput of 3,296.7MB/sec and writing at 2,230.6MB/sec. Both of these are close to the fastest we have recorded.

Although 1TB will be ample for your software needs, you will want to add a slower, cheaper, higher-capacity disk or multiple disks in RAID configuration for your media. Fortunately, there's ample space for this. Armari's chassis also includes a slimline DVD rewriter should you need to read or write optical discs. There are no front-accessible 5.25in bays, however.

Armari S32T-RD1000G2 review: Chassis Design

Although Armari is a local UK 'small specialist' PC manufacturer, it still designs its own chassis, and the one supplied with this system is a peach. It's very heavy and robustly constructed of steel, but that's more of a reassurance than a hindrance unless you regularly need to move it around the office.

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Cable management is brilliant in this chassis, with all the wires you might need like SATA and extra power routed to the right place ready for when they're needed. The fast-swap drive bays are extremely convenient, easily sliding out, although you do have to screw the drives into these rather than use clips as found with some chassis designs.

Another novel feature of the Armari chassis is the bracket that sits over the PCI Express slots. This has to be unscrewed to remove or add cards, which is a little involved. However, it also ensures that the adapters won't move around in transit. The water-cooling radiator sits above this with side-venting fans positioned where a grille is located on the chassis panel.

Armari has included a 1000W EVGA SuperNOVA G3 GOLD Modular PSU, which will have plenty of grunt for the hungry CPU and a full complement of graphics cards if you install them. There's even a slide-out filter near the front that keeps dust out of the interior and can be easily removed for cleaning.

The power and reset buttons are on top of the chassis, which is sensible as this large case is likely to sit on the floor. There are four USB ports on the front, with headphone and microphone minijacks in between. Round the back, the ASRock motherboard provides comprehensive connectivity. There are eight USB 3.0 ports, plus USB 3.1 Gen 2 in both Type A and Type C formats. Two Gigabit LAN ports are included, as well as 7.1-channel analog surround outputs, microphone input, and a S/PDIF digital connection. The motherboard even has built-in 802.11ac WiFi, with twin connectors for the antennas.

Armari S32T-RD1000G2 review: Processor Performance

Finally, we reach the point where we reveal the most important thing about this workstation - exactly how fast is that new AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX processor? Well, the answer is that it's amazing. It managed 5,885 in the CPU test from Maxon Cinebench R15, which is an absolutely phenomenal result. To put this in perspective, the PC Specialist Axiom only managed a 22% faster score of 7,170 - and that's with two Intel Xeon Platinum 8180 processors providing 56 cores.

Further hammering this home, the 2990WX achieved 4,856 single-core and 33,692 multi-core in GeekBench 4, both of which are actually faster than the Axiom. The IT Pro media benchmark results were almost as impressive, with an excellent overall score of 430, which is only ten per cent behind the Axiom. This broke down into an excellent 160 in imaging, 411 for video editing, and 532 for multi-tasking.

This CPU's forte is performing tasks like 3D rendering, but it's brilliant in every other area too.

Armari S32T-RD1000G2 review: Graphics Performance

Although AMD's processors are clearly giving Intel something to think about, its professional graphics haven't been such a great match for Nvidia's over the last few years. The WX 9100 managed a respectable 130.9 in the OpenGL portion of Maxon Cinebench R15, but that's behind what the Quadro P4000 or P5000 can produce.

It's more of a mixed bag with SPECviewperf 12.1, with results that are comparable but in some cases better than a Quadro P5000, and in other cases worse. For 3D content creation, the story is quite positive, with 138.23 in 3dsmax-05 and 112.16 in maya-04. However, the catia-04 result of 150.49 and SolidWorks sw-03 score of 134.89 are behind a P5000, which is similarly priced to the WX 9100.

The GFXBench 4 results are considerably better, though, with 7,849.32 onscreen and 11,029.32 offscreen in Car Chase, alongside 7,766.62 onscreen and 9,646.91 offscreen in Manhattan. This is also a powerful accelerator for OpenCL, offering 4,961 with LuxMark 3.1. In other words, this will be a great GPU for renderers that harness OpenCL, such as Blender.

Armari S32T-RD1000G2 review: Verdict

Overall, considering that this workstation is a quarter of the price of the PC Specialist Axiom, and not much slower in any area, you're getting an incredible amount for your money with Armari's S32T-RD1000G2. Particularly if you have multi-threaded tasks like 3D rendering to perform, there really isn't anything that Intel currently produces to touch AMD's Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX in terms of 'bang for buck'. Move over Intel - there's a new workstation processor champion in town.

Verdict

AMD’s Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX is the fastest single-socket workstation processor currently available, and Armari’s S32T-RD1000G2 showcases its abilities extraordinarily well.

Processor:3GHz AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX
RAM:64GB 3,600 Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 SDRAM
Graphics:16GB HBM2 AMD Radeon Pro WX 9100
Storage:1TB Samsung PM981 NVMe SSD
Operating System:Windows 10 Professional 64-bit
Warranty:3 years (1st year onsite, 2nd and 3rd years RTB parts and labour)
Website:http://armari.com
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