Review: Workstation Specialists WS-1160A

16 January 2018

This Derby-based manufacturer brings together the AMD Ryzen Threadripper CPU and AMD Radeon Vega Frontier Edition GPU to deliver a powerful workstation for CAD, viz and VR, writes Greg Corke

Product WS - 1160A
Company name Workstation Specialists
Price £3,492 + VAT

It has been over 10 years since AMD’s CPU division was a serious contender in the workstation market. In the mid 2000s its Opteron processor had a significant performance advantage over Intel. The lead was so big that it wasn’t just the specialist system builders that offered Opteron workstations. All the major OEMs, apart from Dell, had one too. AMD’s advantage, however, was short lived and in the years that followed the market once again became dominated by Intel.

Things changed in 2017 with the launch of the AMD Ryzen Threadripper CPU. While Threadripper might not have an outright performance lead over Intel, it has already had an impact on the market due to its competitive price / performance. Delivering up to 16 cores at high frequencies for under $1,000, Threadripper was the catalyst for Intel slashing prices on its high core count Core i9 CPUs, which is a win for everyone.

The Workstation Specialists WS-1160A is a new Threadripper-based workstation ideal for CAD users who also rely heavily on ray trace rendering and real-time viz or VR. The machine features a choice of two CPUs. Our test machine came with the top–end Threadripper 1950X which has 16 cores (3.4GHz, 4.0GHz Turbo), but there’s also a cheaper model, the Threadripper 1920X, which has 12 cores (3.5GHz, 4.0GHz Turbo).

As one would expect, the machine shines when rendering, completing our KeyShot test render in 206 seconds, more than three times as fast as a typical quad core CAD workstation like the Fujitsu Celsius W570power+. It doesn’t, however, reach the heights of the Scan 3XS WI6000 Viz, which completed the test in 141 seconds thanks to its 4.2GHz overclocked 18 core Intel Core i9 7980XE CPU.

Product specifications

■ AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X (3.4GHz, 4.0GHz Turbo) (16 cores, 32 threads)
■ 64GB (4 x 16GB) 3,000MHz Quad Channel DDR4
■ AMD Radeon Vega Frontier Edition (16GB) (17.Q3.1 driver)
■ 500GB Samsung 960 EVO M.2 NVMe SSD
■ Asus Prime X399-A
■ 425 x 215 x 464 mm / From 17kg
■ Microsoft Windows 10 Pro
■ 36 months standard hardware warranty with NBD engineer response

CPU benchmarks (single threaded) - Seconds (smaller is better)

SolidWorks 2015 IGES export: 111

CPU benchmarks (multi-threaded) - Seconds (smaller is better)

Luxion KeyShot 6.1 render test: 206
V-Ray CPU rendering benchmark (CPU): 46

GPU compute benchmark - Seconds (smaller is better)

V-Ray render benchmark (GPU): 162

3D graphics benchmarks (3D CAD)  - Score (bigger is better)

SPECapc for SolidWorks 2015 (shaded + edges): 3.05
SPECapc for SolidWorks 2015 (RealView + shadows): 5.39
SPECapc for SolidWorks (RealView + shadows + AO): 16.54
SPECapc for PTC Creo 3.0 (shaded + edges): 7.27
SPECapc for PTC Creo 3.0 (reflection): 11.78

3D graphics benchmarks (design viz) - Frames Per Second (FPS) (bigger is better)

LumenRT (hotel model) (FPS): 40
LumenRT (roundabout model): 28
Autodesk LIVE (Villa Enhanced model): 138
Autodesk VRED Professional (AA off): 60
Autodesk VRED Professional (AA medium): 28
Autodesk VRED Professional (AA ultra high ): 12

3D graphics benchmarks (VR) - Frames Per Second (FPS) (bigger is better)

VR Mark (Orange): 140.33
VR Mark (Blue): 44.31
VR Mark (Cyan): N/A

While the WS-1160A stands out when hammering all 16 cores on a ray trace render, it doesn’t fare as well in single threaded workflows. The 111 seconds it took to export an IGES model from SolidWorks is on par with the Lenovo ThinkStation Tiny P320, which has a low wattage Intel Core i7-7700T CPU. It’s around 18% slower than the Scan 3XS WI6000 Viz.

The machine features 64GB of 3,000MHz DDR4 memory spread over four 16GB DIMMs to get the most out of Threadripper’s quad channel memory architecture. The decision to use 3,000MHz memory, as opposed to the standard 2,400MHz, is important here as memory speed can have a big impact on performance on Threadripper, particularly when rendering. Workstation Specialists told us that it can go even higher than 3,000MHz, depending on demand and availability in the market.

The WS-1160A is not just about its fast multicore CPU. Our test machine also came with the air-cooled version of the powerful AMD Radeon Vega Frontier Edition GPU. This dual height graphics card is a bit of a black sheep in the world of professional graphics. It’s not a fully-fledged member of AMD’s Radeon Pro WX family, but does use the same drivers so should get all the same benefits, including application optimisations, but without the certifications.

On test, it delivered good scores in our game engine design viz applications. It also gave a solid performance when we tested it in VR with the Oculus Rift. Headset connection is straightforward as, unlike most professional GPUs, it has one HDMi port in addition to three DisplayPorts.

In the SPECapc for PTC Creo 3.0 benchmark the scores were impacted by the lower single threaded performance of the CPU, but it should still be more than powerful enough for 3D CAD. If you really need to boost 3D performance, Threadripper has a ‘gaming mode’ that turns off half the CPU cores upon reboot. In Creo, we experienced a 10% increase in 3D performance in shaded with edges mode, but the trade-off is that your CPU render times will almost double.

We did have an issue with the machine not performing properly with SolidWorks 2015 and hence delivering lower scores in the 3D benchmark. However, AMD said users should not experience this performance drop in later releases of SolidWorks and the issue with the 2015 release should be remedied in a future driver release.

With up to 13.1 TFLOPs of peak singleprecision floating-point performance, the Radeon Vega Frontier Edition is also extremely well equipped for GPU rendering — particularly when using Radeon ProRender, AMD’s OpenCLaccelerated ray trace renderer which is available for SolidWorks, Cinema4D, 3ds max, Blender, Rhino (soon) and others.

As Vega is architected for multi-tasking we were able to set a render going in Radeon ProRender and still smoothly manipulate a large CAD assembly in SolidWorks 2017, despite both processes competing for GPU resources. If you want to boost GPU rendering performance further you can also add a second GPU.

The AMD Radeon Vega Frontier Edition is exceedingly power hungry, drawing up to 300W — even more than the ultra-high-end Nvidia Quadro P6000, which is rated at 250W.

Add the 180W Threadripper 1950X CPU into mix and this could present a bit of cooling challenge, but the WS-1160A is equal to the task. With a liquid cooling system for the CPU and large low duty fans to keep air flowing through the machine, noise is kept to a minimum, even under heavy loads.

Overall, the WS-1160A is a powerful, flexible workstation that will deliver in many different workflows, from CPU and GPU rendering, to real time viz and VR. At £3,491 + VAT it’s not a whole lot cheaper than the Scan 3XS WI6000 Viz, which offers faster single threaded and multi-threaded performance with its overclocked Intel Core i9 7980XE CPU.

But if you simply want a CAD machine that delivers fast renders, swap out the powerful AMD Radeon Vega Frontier Edition in favour of a AMD Radeon Pro WX 5100 or Nvidia Quadro P2000 and go down to 32GB of RAM and this should bring the price down to under £3,000.


This article is part of a DEVELOP3D CAD/Viz/VR workstation special report. To read articles and reviews in this report click on the links below.

Choosing a workstation for design and engineering is no longer straightforward
How to future proof your workstation to support new and emerging product development workflows

Desktop Workstation Buyer’s Guide
Essential advice for those looking to buy a workstation for product development

Lenovo ThinkStation P320 Tiny
In a world of shrinking workstations, Lenovo’s ThinkStation P320 Tiny in the smallest yet

Fujitsu Celsius W570POWER+
This compact workstation delivers the goods for 3D CAD, game engine viz and VR

Boxx Apexx S3
The overclocked six core ‘Coffee Lake Core i7 CPU makes this CAD workstation fly

AMD Radeon Vega GPUs
What does AMD’s Vega GPU architecture bring to CAD, VR, viz and GPU rendering?

Scan 3XS WI6000 Viz
An overclocked 18-core Intel Core i9-7980XE CPU makes this a phenomenally fast workstation for CAD and design viz

Armari Magnetar R80 (Pre Production Unit) 
This dual Intel Xeon Gold workstation delivers the goods in single and multi-threaded workflows

Boston Venom EPYC (Pre Production Unit)
Dual 32 core AMD Epyc CPUs make this rendering beast fly, but it’s at the expense of single threaded performance

Iceotope EdgeStation
‘Total liquid cooling’ makes this specialist machine ideal for harsh and dusty environments

Mobile workstation buyer’s guide
A rundown of the things to look out when buying a professional 3D laptop

Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16
Wacom’s legendary pen technology is embedded in a pro 3D tablet

HP ZBook x2 G4 (Pre-Production Unit)
This detachable 2-in-1 combines Wacom pen technology with a Quadro GPU for 3D CAD

PNY PrevailPro P4000
This slimline 15-inch mobile workstation breaks all the rules by putting a powerful ‘VR Ready’ GPU at its heart

Fujitsu Celsius H970
This 17.3-inch mobile workstation offers incredible power for demanding VR and viz but there are some downsides

Dell Precision 7720
With powerful processors, impressive cooling, good serviceability and excellent build quality, this 17” mobile workstation is hard to beat

Samsung Portable SSD T5
This portable drive offers fast, secure solid-state storage in a sleek package

Download a PDF of the 36-page workstation special report, complete with charts

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