REVIEW: Fujitsu Celsius M720

The latest generation of desktop PCs are all very capable, even laptops, but when it comes to Computer Aided Design (CAD), Digital Content Creation (DCC) and other demanding professional applications something more powerful is called for. And that something is generally a workstation, a class of product available from all the leading vendors including Fujitsu which has several in its Celsius line-up.

Celsius workstations are available in a range of configurations to suit a wide variety of processing needs and budgets. For our review, however, Fujitsu sent us what it describes as an “advanced” workstation—the M720—from its single-processor Celsius M series.

A PC in looks only

From the outside the Celsius M720 looks much like an ordinary tower PC. Housed in a smart black case, little bigger than an ordinary desk-side system, power comes from a single 500-Watt supply while cooling is handled by a couple of large diameter fans making it whisper quiet. It can also be rack-mounted, for buyers wanting the ultimate in desktop security.

Access is via a full-width side panel and on the inside it’s quite un-pc like, as workstations are, in many ways, much like servers, at least as far as the processor and memory are concerned.

The processor in the Celsius M720, for example, is a 32nm Intel Sandy Bridge Xeon which can be chosen from either the E5-1600 or E5-2600 families, just as in the latest generation of industry-standard servers. That means up to eight cores (up to 16 with multithreading) plus large amounts of L3 cache and high clock speeds to cope with CAD, DCC and other processor-intensive applications.

Open up the case and you’ll find much of the space taken over by the processor, which sits in a single socket with a large heatsink and special ducting on top. There’s room too for quite a bit of memory with eight DIMM slots mounted equally either side of the CPU socket with a limit of 128GB. The latest 1600MHz DDR3 RAM is employed with ECC support as standard, again, just like on a server.

Naturally performance and price are both very much dependent on the processor and memory configuration chosen with lots of options available. A number or pre-configured models are also to be had, including our review system which came with an E5-1650 processor (3.2GHz, 6 cores/16 threads) supported by 16GB of memory on four DIMMs. A specification that compares well against what the competition has to offer and which carries a recommended price tag of £1,703 (ex. VAT).

To the screen(s)

Of course when it comes to graphics, workstations differ hugely from servers, most of which get by with just a basic integrated video controller, a little bit of RAM and a basic monitor. Workstation users demand a lot more than that, so the Celsius M720 can be ordered with one or two PCI-Express graphics cards, capable of 2D/3D graphics processing across up to four high-resolution displays.

Ours came with an nVidia Quadro 2000 graphics controller with connectors to cable it to two displays at resolutions of up to 2,560 x 1,600 pixels. Fujitsu describes this as a mid-range configuration which, with 256 GPU cores and 2GB of memory, it claims is suitable for everyday CAD and DCC work.

Customers looking to support additional monitors will either have to invest in a second card or go for other options. Faster graphics adapters will also be needed to cope with more demanding 3D animation and video workloads with most of the nVidia Quadro range available here, including the Quadro 6000, plus AMD equivalents from the FirePro range. Remote graphics cards are another option for when workstations are securely locked away with support too for nVidia GPUs.

Storage and more

Storage is similarly server-like with, as well as room for externally-accessible DVD and Blu-ray writers, a choice of internal setups to accommodate a mix of 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch drives. SATA and SAS disks can both be specified plus solid state drives, if you can afford them. The review system came with two drives. A 1TB magnetic SATA disk for data and a 128GB SATA SSD used to boot the 64-bit Windows 7 Ultimate operating system supplied pre-installed on this model.

The SATA storage is managed by an on-board 4-port controller which, given sufficient disks, includes support for RAID levels 0,1,10 and 5. A plug-in adapter is required to support SAS, but that’s not a problem with four Gen 3.0 PCI Express slots provided for expansion (two x4 and two x16) plus one Gen 2.0 (x4) slot. At least one of the PCIe slots has to be used for graphics, but that still leaves plenty free.

Two ordinary PCI expansion slots are also to be found plus lots of USB ports. Four of the USB ports are at the front, including two that support the latest 3.0 standard, plus six at the back. Yet another USB connector can be found tucked away inside on the motherboard. Also on the motherboard is an integrated Intel Gigabit Ethernet controller with just one interface, although other LAN cards can be added if needed.

Summary

The workstation market is competitive, with the likes of IBM, HP, Dell and others all offering alternatives to the Fujitsu Celsius products. That said, the Celsius line-up is both comprehensive and impressive with lots of options to make it easy to come up with an appropriate configuration. Fujitsu workstations are also sold through resellers which helps when it comes to cutting a deal, backed by a 3-year warranty.

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