Boston Venom 1800-0T review: A highly capable small-form-factor workstation

Boston Venom 1800-0T review: A highly capable small-form-factor workstation

Summary: Boston's new Venom 1800-0T workstation crams a lot of processing power into a tiny desktop case. Video editors, animators, modellers and other professionals — particularly those with limited space and modest budgets — should investigate.

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TOPICS: PCs, Hardware, Reviews
11
  • Editors' rating:
    8.5
  • User rating:
    6.6
  • RRP:
    £1,999.00

Pros

  • Compact and quiet
  • Fourth-generation (Haswell) Intel Core i7 CPU
  • Nvidia Quadro K4000 graphics card
  • SSD boot disk and 2TB enterprise-class hard drive

Cons

  • Single processor
  • Maximum 16GB of RAM
  • Limited expansion options

Boston likes to refer to the latest member of its Venom workstation family, the 1800-0T as its 'Baby', not because it's cute and cuddly, but because it's so small — at least for a workstation. In fact it's smaller than some ordinary desktop PCs and, unlike most real babies, is also incredibly quiet. Despite its retiring nature, the Venom 1800-0T packs enough punch to handle professional CAD/CAM, video editing, animation and other demanding applications — and at a remarkably affordable price.

Size isn't everything

It's not until you see the new Venom in the flesh that you appreciate just how tiny it is. Measuring in at just 22.2cm wide by 19cm high and 35.1cm deep, the best description is 'petite' — especially when compared to the kind of massive towers more normally associated with the professional workstation market. In fact it's small enough to sit on the desktop, although this 'black box' does lack the design flair of, say, Apple's new cylindrical Mac Pro.

Another bonus is the lack of noise. Power comes from a 600-watt 80Plus-Bronze-rated PSU with a small fan on the processor to keep it cool. Most of the airflow, however, is directed by a single 180mm-diameter fan mounted in the top of the unit that really is whisper quiet. Unusually, there's also a switch at the back to slow it down should it prove too noisy, although we can't see many users needing to do this. We turned it on in an empty room and had to get up close just to make sure it was running!

boston-venom-main
Boston's small-form-factor enclosure accommodates a SuperMicro Mini-ITX motherboard and an Nvidia Quadro K4000 graphics card. (Images: Boston)

More inside

Remove the top of the Venom and towards the back you find a suitably tiny mini-ITX SuperMicro motherboard nestling beneath the large cooling fan. Towards the middle of this is where you'll find the single processor socket, capable of accommodating most 4th-generation (Haswell) Core i3/i5 and i7 processors. You can specify any of these, but the most buyers are expected to go for a top-end Core i7, like the quad-core Core i7-4770K on the model we tested. Clocked at 3.5GHz (3.9GHz with Turbo Boost), this 22nm CPU features 8MB of L3 cache plus support for Intel Hyper-Threading to give 8 processor threads in total.

In theory the Core-i7 can also handle up to 32GB of memory, but the two SODIMM slots on the SuperMicro motherboard only let you go up to 16GB, our review machine shipping with a pair of 1600MHz 8GB DDR3 modules in place. That, however, should be more than enough, given that there's only a single processor. Also, the CPU's integrated Intel HD Graphics 4600 controller isn't used and is normally disabled because workstation customers usually require a more capable graphics adapter.

Quadro power

That 'more capable graphics adapter' turns out to be an Nvidia Quadro K4000. Not the fastest of the Quadro range, admittedly, and there's only one, but it does sport a Kepler GPU with 768 CUDA cores coupled with 3GB of dedicated RAM, which makes for a pretty impressive combination.

Moreover, the K4000 can be married to up to three monitors (1 x DVI, 2 x DisplayPort) and with a retail price tag around the £600 (ex. VAT) mark, it's a serious bit of kit. It's also a big card and not what you might expect in such a small chassis. However, Boston has managed to fit it into the single PCI Express slot on the motherboard, next to a movable grille that's exactly aligned with the on-board fan.

With only one processor and a mid-range Quadro K4000, you can't expect the performance of a high-end workstation, some of which can set you back £10K or more. That said, it's surprising just what the diminutive Venom 1800-0T does deliver.

We tested using Maxon's Cinebench 11.5 benchmark, the single Core i7 earning 8.13 points in the CPU test and the Quadro K4000 managing 98.72 frames per second (fps) in the OpenGL test. These figures compare well with other workstations we've looked at and easily surpass the HP Z1 Workstation all-in-one we reviewed last year, which only managed 6.97 points from its Intel Xeon E3-1280 processor and 26.17fps from its Quadro 1000M GPU.

The Venom 1800-0T also compares well with the Eurocom Panther 5D. This clamshell-format workstation performed slightly better in the CPU test, its 8-core Xeon E5-2687W getting 11.6 points, but only managed 42.1fps in the OpenGL test, even with two NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780M adapters at its disposal. Plus at a shade under £2K, the Venom is a lot more affordable than the Panther 5D, which falls in the £5K+ bracket.

Storage and more

When it comes to storage, the Venom chassis accommodates three disks altogether (two 2.5in. and one 3.5in.), although the standard complement is just two. In our review system, a 2.5in. 240GB Crucial M500 SSD accommodated the operating system and applications, with an enterprise-class 2TB Western Digital SE hard disk in the 3.5in. bay for data.

boston-venom-atto

Neither drive is the fastest available, but at the price they perform well. The Crucial M500 delivered a highly respectable 535.7 MB/s for reads when tested using the ATTO Disk Benchmark and 277.3MB/s for writes. The 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive is naturally a lot slower, but with its 6GB/s SATA interface the it still managed 175.9MB/s for reads and 163.3MB/s for writes — again, using the default ATTO test parameters.

A slot-loading LiteOn DVD-RW drive is also included as part of the base specification, while for network attachment there are two Gigabit Ethernet ports.

On the downside there are no free PCI Express slots for internal expansion, which means having to rely on USB — there are two USB (2.0) ports on the front and four at the back (2 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0).

The only other option is an mSATA connector on the motherboard for additional flash storage.

Conclusion

So who would want a tiny workstation like the Venom 1800-0T? Quite a lot of people it seems, including professionals in disciplines ranging from product design to complex simulation and modelling (where the Quadro K4000 is a positive asset), and also professional video editors — particularly those working on low-budget projects who are unable to justify more powerful hardware.

Specifications

General
Case form factor small form-factor desktop
Dimensions (W x H x D) 22.2x35.1x19 cm
Chipset & memory
RAM installed 16384 MB
Number of memory slots 2
RAM capacity 16 GB
Video
Graphics RAM 3072 MB
GPU type discrete
Graphics card Nvidia Quadro K4000
Maximum monitors supported 3
Video connections 1 x DisplayPort, 1 x HDMI, 1 x DVI-I
GPU acceleration CUDA
Connections
USB 4 x USB 2.0, 2 x USB 3.0
Flash card via mSATA port on motherboard
Networking
Ethernet 2 x Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45)
Ethernet controller Intel i217 + Intel i210AT
Audio
Audio processor 7.1 HD audio header
Miscellaneous
Other 600W 80 Plus Bronze PSU
Cabinet (chassis)
Front-accessible bays optical drive
Internal bays 1 x 3.5in., 2 x 2.5in.
Hard drive
Form factor 3.5in.
Rotation speed 7200 rpm
Hard drive interface SATA III
Hard drive type standard
Hard drive capacity 2000 GB
Number of hard drives installed 1
Optical storage
CD / DVD type DVD-RW
Processor & memory
Clock speed 3.5 GHz
Number of processors installed 1
Number of processors supported 1
Processor manufacturer Intel
Processor model Core i7-4770K
Solid-state drive
Form factor 2.5in.
Interface SATA III
Capacity 240 GB
Number of SSDs installed 1
Expand

Prices

Price
Price GBP 1999

Topics: PCs, Hardware, Reviews

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Talkback

11 comments
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  • USB ports?

    You say there are two front USB ports and four on the back, which you then divide into 2 x USB 3.0 and 2x USB 3.0. Is that what you meant to write, or are two of them USB 2.0?
    kidtree
  • GovComm

    4.0

    I thought you said "powerful"
    NSAagent666
  • For a third of the price

    3.0

    I built the same for my living room.

    There is nothing special about this system.
    mheartwood
  • £2000 0_o

    4.0

    If you are interested in this... Build it. None of this is particularly stand out - there's a host of mini itx cases out there (recommend cooler master, tho prodigy are quite nice too) and asus makes a very sweet mini itx series board around £150... You'd be looking at about a £600 saving plus the bonus of choosing he right card for your intended use.

    I did a mini itx rig last year for our tv - wanted he ability to play games managed to get a double height, full length graphics card and i7 oc cooling into a case 25x20x40cm and it runs like a dream.

    Literally the only compromise with mini itx nowadays is the lack of crossfire and the two memory slots maxing out at 16gb RAM, tho if you get something like the z87-i pro, you can oc the ram too.

    Only two challenges i had building this form factor were finding the right heatsink and planning airflow.

    Of course, if you build you can make all the choices - like to take it easy on the board and cpu this year and wait for 8core haswell E chips and ddr4 wellsburg chipsets this time next year without having to worry about any proprietary connections.
    MarknWill
  • Quality

    8.0

    What really needs to be remembered for systems like this is the quality and service one gets when buying a fully built, tested (etc) workstation of this nature.

    No one is claiming it isn't cheaper to build yourself (as most things in life are) but for a professional workstation the cost is about right? With a Quadro K4000 graphics card (around £600+) and onsite warranty as part of the service I think it's pretty good value for money!
    Al1986
  • Quality

    8.0

    What really needs to be remembered for systems like this is the quality and service one gets when buying a fully built, tested (etc) workstation of this nature.

    No one is claiming it isn't cheaper to build yourself (as most things in life are) but for a professional workstation the cost is about right? With a Quadro K4000 graphics card (around £600+) and onsite warranty as part of the service I think it's pretty good value for money!
    Al1986
  • Quality

    8.0

    What really needs to be remembered for systems like this is the quality and service one gets when buying a fully built, tested (etc) workstation of this nature.

    No one is claiming it isn't cheaper to build yourself (as most things in life are) but for a professional workstation the cost is about right? With a Quadro K4000 graphics card (around £600+) and onsite warranty as part of the service I think it's pretty good value for money!
    Al1986
  • Great

    8.0

    I would definitely consider the Venom 1800-0T purely because of the storage capacity and size!
    Dave1964
  • Great

    8.0

    I would definitely consider the Venom 1800-0T purely because of the storage capacity and size!
    Dave1964
  • Great

    8.0

    I would definitely consider the Venom 1800-0T purely because of the storage capacity and size!
    Dave1964
  • Wouldn't mind trying it out!

    7.0

    Don't usually like commenting until I've actually had some hands on time. But this is something I'd want to test out for work.

    As for building something yourself and saving a few bucks. Sure, if you've the time and inclination. Caterham will sell you a kit to build one of their cars but there's still something to be said for the peace of mind from someone else doing the building so you don't end up with an expensive paperweight!! Sometimes it's better that the headache of cable management, airflow and cooling in a mini-system to someone else maybe :-)

    £2k definitely a fair bunch of cash (would rather the boss picks up the tab!), but as the reviewer says this is towards the pro end so fair play.

    Anyway, nice to see pro-level top end systems doing something a little different like this mini system and that weird clamshell/laptop thing referenced in the review.

    -RF
    robafettv71