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.

  • Editors' rating:
    8.5
  • User rating:
    0.0
  • RRP:
    GBP £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.

Topics: PCs, Hardware, Reviews

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