Armari Gravistar BR-850A review: Threadripper and Radeon Pro, together at last
AMD’s processor and graphics combo provides immense power for a surprisingly reasonable price
AMD has been busy recently. The Armari Gravistar BR-850A we're reviewing here includes not one but two brand new components from the company. First, there's the AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X, which is the updated version of the 1950X we first saw in the Armari Magnetar S16T0RW1000G2. But perhaps equally exciting is the AMD Radeon Pro WX 8200 graphics, which promises performance almost as good as the higher-end WX 9100 card for about half the price. The performance both these components offer for the money have allowed Armari to offer this high-end modelling and rendering workstation for well under 3,000 exc VAT, which is actually on the affordable side for a high-end professional system.
Armari Gravistar BR-850A: Processor and Memory
The AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X is the little brother of the 2990WX we saw in the Armari S32T-RD1000G2 ). It's the second generation of Ryzen, and essentially half of a 2990WX, with 16 cores instead of 32. This is the same quantity as the 1950X it replaces, but the tweaked hardware has provided some performance improvements, particularly in single-core clock frequencies.
Whilst the base clock speed has gone up from 3.4GHz to 3.5GHz, the top boost clock has risen from 4GHz to 4.4GHz. This is further assisted by the new version of the Ryzen Master software, which incorporates a Precision Boost Overclock option that can dynamically increase the frequency of individual cores within the detected power and temperature envelopes for optimum performance. Each core presents itself as two virtual cores, too, so you're getting 32 threads of dynamically clocked performance, which will be great for rendering.
Previous Socket TR4 motherboards aimed at the first Threadripper generation should support the new CPUs with just a BIOS update, and our Armari review system includes the same ASRock Taichi X399 motherboard we have seen used with all our Armari Threadripper review systems. In this case, Armari has populated the motherboard with four 8GB 3,000MHz Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 DIMMs, for a total of 32GB of memory, leaving four slots free for upgrade.
Since the 2950X has the same 180W TDP as its predecessor, you don't need such meaty cooling as with the 2990WX, but Armari still uses capable Enermax Liqtech 2 water cooling to ensure CPU thermals are kept under control.
Armari Gravistar BR-850A: Graphics Acceleration
The second exciting newcomer is the AMD Radeon Pro WX 8200 graphics. This isn't exciting because it's based on radical new technology though -- this is still a Vega 10 card like the Radeon Pro Frontier Edition, SSG and WX 9100. However, where the Frontier Edition was a limited edition, and the other two premium-grade options, the WX 8200 aims much more at the content creation mainstream, with a retail price around $1,000. This places it in the same territory as NVIDIA's Quadro P4000, and in fact it's likely to be cheaper in retail.
Despite the much lower cost than the AMD Radeon Pro WX 9100, the WX 8200 isn't that far behind in terms of specification. Where the WX 9100 has 4,096 Stream Processors, the WX 8200 only has 12% fewer at 3,584. The base GPU clock is the same 1,200MHz as the WX 9100, and the boost slightly faster at 1,530MHz compared to 1,500MHz. The big difference is that the WX 8200 only has 8GB of memory compared to the WX 9100's 16GB, but it runs at a slightly faster 1,000MHz compared to 945MHz. It's the same HBM2 format, so has a massively wide 2,048-bit bus, providing a whopping 512GB/sec of frame buffer bandwidth.
Another difference is that there are only four monitor outputs instead of six, but all four are Mini DisplayPort connections, so the screen can still drive up to four Full HD or 4K screens, up to three 5K screens, or one monitor at 7,680 x 4,320. Overall, considering the price, the AMD Radeon Pro WX 8200 is a professional graphics card that offers a lot for the money.
Armari Gravistar BR-850A: Storage
Workstations -- and indeed many mainstream PCs as well -- now generally come with an SSD for operating system and software, plus a larger conventional hard disk for general data storage. However, as this is a workstation on a budget, it only comes with the SSD. Nevertheless, this is a super-fast 500GB Samsung EVO 970, in M.2 NVMe form for optimum performance.
The 970 manages a very impressive 3,567.2MB/sec sustained reading and 2,377.4MB/sec writing when tested with CrystalDiskMark 6. This is right at the top end of current SSD capabilities, so your operating system and apps should load as fast as they possibly can. Although no HDD is included, the BeQuiet! case has caddies for three 3.5in drives, so you will be able to add plenty of HDDs or a RAID array if you need to. These aren't quite hot or cold swap, but they do slide out easily for hassle-free drive installation. There aren't any 5.25in front bays for an optical drive, however.
Armari Gravistar BR-850A: Chassis Design
Armari usually sends us workstations in one of its custom chassis designs, which are truly excellent. They're also very expensive, however, so for this more budget-conscious offering they used a BeQuiet! Silent Base 601 case instead. This is still a great chassis, and chosen due to its support for compatibility with the Enermax Liqtech 2 water cooling radiator.
The Silent Base 601 combines serious black panelling with flashes of orange, which is just about the right balance for a professional design studio. There is good airflow provided by large, quiet fans. The front top edge houses three USB ports, the power button, headphone and microphone minijacks, and a switch to vary the fan speed levels. The front itself is completely smooth. The power supply sits along the bottom, with its own cooling fan and two of the 3.5in drive bays, with a third bay towards the top near the CPU and RAM. Armari has included a 850W EVGA SuperNOVA G3 GOLD PSU, which should be adequate for the processor and a couple of graphics cards.
The rear is home to connectivity provided by the ASRock motherboard. 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 sound 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 Gravistar BR-850A: Processor Performance
Although this workstation, with 'just' 16 cores, was never going to get close to the 32-core AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX, it's still hugely capable whether you're running single- or multi-threaded apps. In fact, its overall score of 427 in our Media Benchmarks is only slightly behind the 2990WX we saw from Armari. The results of 525 in multi-tasking, 409 in video editing and 170 in image editing are also phenomenal. This will be a great all-round media creation workstation.
The Maxon Cinebench R15 rendering score of 3,307 is quite a way behind the 2990WX, as expected, but still absolutely immense for a system at this price. When time comes to render out 3D content creation projects, there's a huge amount of grunt available. This is underlined by the results of 4,981 single-core and 38,838 multi-core in GeekBench 4.
Armari Gravistar BR-850A: Graphics Performance
The AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X processor is a little bit faster than the 1950X predecessor, but nothing too major. The AMD Radeon Pro WX 8200 is a more interesting proposition, due to its greatly reduced price compared to the WX 9100. Picking out some key results from SPECviewperf, it manages 117.57 in 3dsmax-06, which is only 16% behind the WX 9100, and its maya-05 result of 248.59 is actually 7% ahead. The sw-04 result of 146.29 and catia-05 score of 245 are also 10% ahead. So you're actually getting better performance in many areas, for less money. We also ran tests with the Quadro P4000 in the same system, and the WX 8200 was slightly behind in 3dsmax-06, creo-02 and snx-03 but ahead in catia-05, maya-05 and sw-04. Overall, performance is similar between the two, underlining the WX 8200's value.
The story is similar with GFX Bench 4, where the Radeon Pro WX 8200 achieved 8,125.11 onscreen and 11,407 offscreen in Car Chase, alongside 7,703.38 onscreen and 9,921.2 offscreen in Manhattan. These are all on par or slightly better than the WX 9100. The Radeon Pro WX 8200 doesn't quite have as much raw OpenCL grunt as its pricier WX 9100 sibling, however, with 4,749 in LuxMark 3.1, but that's only 4% behind. Nevertheless, it will still be extremely potent for GPU compute tasks such as ProRender in Blender or GPU-enhanced video encoding.
Armari Gravistar BR-850A: Verdict
Overall, the Radeon Pro WX 8200 adds the missing piece of the puzzle AMD needed for a total solution alongside the Ryzen Threadripper. Where the latter offers similar performance to Intel's finest Core i9 for a lot less, the WX 8200 offers similar or better performance than NVIDIA's Quadro P4000 for a bit less too. Put them together, and you have a potent value proposition. The Armari Gravistar BR-850A is just about the most powerful all-round workstation you can buy for under 3,000.
The Armari Gravistar BR-850A’s AMD Radeon Pro WX 8200 alongside the Ryzen Threadripper 2950X proves to be a potent combination
3.5GHz AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X
32GB 3,000MHz Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 SDRAM
8GB HBM2 AMD Radeon Pro WX 8200
512GB Samsung EVO 970 NVMe SSD
Windows 10 Professional 64-bit
2 years (1st year collect and return, 2nd year RTB parts and labour)
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