Virtualization has enabled companies to host multiple users running business office applications on a single server. But until recently, these virtual machines lacked the power to meet the graphics-intensive needs of designers and engineers.
Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is a recent variation on the client-server computing model. It hosts a desktop operating system – such as Microsoft Windows – on a centralized server. That desktop image is then delivered over a network to an end-point device, most often a traditional PC. The user then interacts with the OS and its applications as if they were running locally.
This approach can have many benefits. Because little actual computing takes place at the endpoint, you no longer need a powerful workstation at your desk. With the applications and user files all residing on a central server, data is stored securely in the data center. You can login remotely from anywhere with a LAN or internet connection. And because everything stays in the server room and runs on the server, users don’t need to transfer large files – only keyboard and mouse input is sent to the server and pixels streamed back to the user.
BOXX Breaks New Ground
BOXX has been quite active in the VDI arena for many years, having previously released both PCoIP- and GRID- (GPU virtualization) based solutions. Last fall, BOXX introduced its ProVDI 8401R-V, the world’s first overclocked VDI system. BOXX claimed that its new ProVDI solution provided enough power to fully support graphics-intensive 3D modeling applications. By overclocking the CPU, the BOXX ProVDI hardware significantly boosts performance over that of competing VDI systems. And by relying on individual professional-grade NVIDIA graphics cards rather than GRID technology, the BOXX ProVDI solution delivers faster frame rates on the endpoint device while eliminating the licensing costs associated with GRID software.
At least, that’s the promise. To see for ourselves, we undertook one of the most intensive hands-on reviews ever conducted at DE, extending over several months. BOXX initially configured a ProVDI system for our use at their headquarters in Austin, TX. We logged on to this system remotely and ran an extensive suite of tests, including industry-standard benchmarks as well as several mainstream CAD applications. BOXX then shipped the hardware to our offices where we repeated all of those tests a second time to compare the difference in performance caused by latency. We reasoned – quite logically – that performance would improve when accessing the virtual machines over a LAN with the server sitting a few feet from the clients rather tha over the internet to a server located more than 2,000 miles away. The results surprised us.
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We have reviewed quite a few workstations from BOXX Technologies over the years, most recently the BOXX APEXX 2 2401 and 2402. But we have never reviewed anything like the APEXX 1 1401. In photos, it resembles a typical tower, yet this new system — billed as the world’s smallest workstation — is less than 9-in. tall and weighs just 7.6 lbs.
Our BOXX APEXX 1 came housed in a white case with black plastic strips along its four angled corners that serve as feet so it can be positioned horizontally. The system measured a mere 4.7×9.6×8.8 in. (WxDxH), 75% smaller than the APEXX 2. The APEXX 1 requires an external power brick, similar to a laptop computer. The 300-watt power supply included with the APEXX 1 is quite large, however, measuring 7.7×3.9×2 in. and weighing more than 2 lbs. That power supply connects to the rear of the case via a square 6-pin connector similar to those typically used to route power inside a conventional workstation.
An angled panel along the top front edge of the case provides headphone and microphone jacks, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, and a round power button along with a reset switch and indicator lights for power and hard drive activity. In addition to the power connector, the rear panel houses six more USB 3.0 ports, a USB 3.1 Type A port, a USB 3.1 Type C port, an RJ45 network jack, two HDMI ports and a DisplayPort for the CPU’s integrated graphics, a PS/2 mouse/keyboard port, S/PDIF out port, and three audio jacks for microphone, line-in, and audio-out.
The APEXX 1 includes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The rear panel includes two screw-on connectors for a small external antenna. The antenna provided a fast, wireless connection to our LAN on either 2.4 or 5GHz bands in lieu of the gigabit Ethernet port.
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After testing the diminutive APEXX 1 from BOXX Technologies, it seemed only fitting that we follow up with a look at an updated version of the more conventional BOXX APEXX 2. When we reviewed the original APEXX 2 last year, it proved to be one of the fastest single-socket workstations we had ever reviewed — not a big surprise because the company has consistently delivered some of the fastest over-clocked workstations.
Our original APEXX 2 2401 came with a 4th generation Intel “Devil’s Canyon” CPU, a processor featuring 22nm lithography and improvements in thermal efficiency compared to the previous Haswell and Broadwell processors. The new APEXX 2 2402 is based on a 6th generation Skylake CPU. The new APEXX 2 gave us a chance to compare two nearly identical workstations to see for ourselves whether Skylake lived up to Intel’s performance improvement claims.
The BOXX APEXX 2 2402 came housed in a custom-designed aluminum chassis measuring 6.85×16.6×14.6 in. (WxDxH) and weighing 19.75 lbs. As in previous BOXX workstations, the front grille conceals a pair of 4-in. diameter cooling fans and holds a filter to trap dust before it can enter the interior of the case. On the APEXX 2, one of those fans is actually part of the CPU liquid cooling system.
A single 5.25-in. drive bay above the front grille housed a 20x dual-layer DVD+/-RW optical drive as well as a panel containing two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, audio jacks for headphone and microphone, a round power button with bright-white LED power indicator, a blue hard drive activity light, and a small reset button. A Blu-Ray R/W drive is a $212 option.
The rear panel provides four additional USB 3.0 ports, a USB 3.1 Type A port, a USB 3.1 Type C port, an RJ45 network jack, HDMI and DVI ports for the CPU’s integrated graphics, a PS/2 mouse/keyboard port, an S/PDIF out port and five audio connectors (microphone, line-in, line-out/front speaker, center/subwoofer, and rear speaker).
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