Review: BOXX renderPRO

Many people make the wrong assumptions that all designers and creative people work on Mac computers – Totally Wrong! Despite their “Pro” name, MacBookPros and MacPros are just good looking consumer grade computers ideal for photographers, graphic designers and home enthusiasts. When it comes to demanding professional work however, we are talking about BOXX, Lenovo ThinkStation, HP Z series and DELL Precision series. Workstations like these are designed to be fast, very reliable and run under heavy loads for many hours, even days! BOXX needs little introduction to the creative professionals. They are computer specialist making some of the finest and fastest workstations for creative professionals.

What is renderPRO then? RenderPRO is a product made from BOXX computers designed to help the creative professionals doing a lot of 3D rendering while simultaneously working on their main workstation, in other words it’s a personal render farm/slave. For more information, please check out the video provided below.

Build & Design
If you’re familiar with certain BOXX products already you will find that the unit is cleverly designed to sits on top of your Apexx 4 or 5 workstation. It comes in the same black grained exterior colour to match your workstation too. It’s really good to look at and it feels solid! Unlike the mainstream computer vendors, all BOXX products feel solid and made with high quality and durable materials so no surprise here.
One thing to consider, this little beast is not meant to be used as a main workstation or stand alone computer, although it can be. The main purpose of this little but powerful unit is to sit on top of your workstation and render large 3D scenes while you’re working on your computer.

Some Useful Info:
For many years Autodesk Showcase was the main Realtime Visualisation software used in the Car Design Studios, however since Autodesk bought RT, VRED has become “the new thing” for realtime visualisations. It’s the software we use in the design studios for reviews, still shots and VR sessions too. I personally use VRED a lot to render my designs, so rendering in VREDis going to be the main topic here.

I have 4 computers that I use for work, but my main workstation is BOXX Apexx 4. The specs are: Intel i7-5960X overclocked to 4 GHz, 64GB DDR4-2133 RAM, NVMe PCIe SSD, NVidia Quadro M4000 etc. Why i7 and not Xeon one may ask? Because most of the applications we use in the design world are still single core/thread hence the highest the clock speed the better. Softwares like Adobe Photoshop, Adobe illustrator and Alias Design still use a single core and spending money on dual processor platform with multi cores will be quite unjustified baring in mind they are all designed to run at lower core speeds and are more expensive. Therefore the extreme i7 is the best option here. Then one might say, but what if you have to process a lot of 3D scenes on your machine, don’t you need a machine with dual processor setup? Yes you do, but if you try to do it all on one machine it’s often a bad idea because regardless of how many processors and cores you may have, they are never enough. Once you start a production rendering in V-Ray/VRED or similar software, the rendering engine will absorb all your cores and cpus and will leave no computer resources for you to continue your creative work. A high-quality image takes on average 2 hours to complete in VRED, therefore it is frustrating and inefficient to stop your work for two hours until your scene is rendered. Fiddling with the affinity on your processor cores is not ideal either as it slows down the rendering times and often makes the software not responding.

And finally to the point. What’s the best solution? Answer: Get the fastest singe processor computer you can get to do all your design work and send the 3D scenes to a render farm/slave! The guys from BOXX realised there is a niche for this kind of product and offered a neat and easy to use solution in the form of renderPRO. It’s portable and compact, yet very powerful computer designed just to do that – render in the background while you work. Those professionals having access to massive render farms probably don’t have to worry about this, but to those of us who don’t, it’s a great help!

Here are the specs of the renderPRO unit:

2 x Intel Xeon E5-2680v4 CPU 2.4 GHz.  14 cores each
64GB (4 x16GB) DDR4 ECC memory
NVidia Quadro K1200 4GB
240 GB 2.5inch SATA SSD
Win 10, 64 Bit
Price: £6,907 (excluding VAT)

The Test:
For the purpose of the test I tried a few different scenes to compare rendering times of the extreme i7-5960X vs dual Xeon renderPRO. Same scenes were rendered on both machines using the same settings, same resolution and same camera angles. Please check the results and times bellow:

Image 1: Lotus 78
1978 Lotus F1 3D Model, VRED Rendering Test
VRED image | Resolution 4K, 4096 x 2160 px | 512 Image Samples.
Local: BOXX Apexx 4, Intel i7-5960X @ 4.0 GHz (8 core): 27:27 min
Cluster: BOXX renderPRO, 2 x Intel Xeon E5-2680v4 CPU 2.4 GHz (28 core): 11:35 min

Image 2: Ultima GTR
Ultima GTR VRED Test Render
VRED image | Resolution 2560 x 1600 px | 512 Image Samples.
Local: BOXX Apexx 4, Intel i7-5960X @ 4.0 GHz (8 core):  15:05 min
Cluster: BOXX renderPRO, 2 x Intel Xeon E5-2680v4 CPU 2.4 GHz (28 core): 6:23 min

Image 3: Ultima GTR
Ultima GTR VRED Test Render
VRED image | Resolution 2560 x 1600 px | 512 Image Samples.
Local: BOXX Apexx 4, Intel i7-5960X @ 4.0 GHz (8 core): 9:55 min
Cluser: BOXX renderPRO, 2 x Intel Xeon E5-2680v4 CPU 2.4 GHz (28 core): 4:11 min

Image 4: Ferrari LaFerrari
Ferrari LaFerrari 3D Model, VRED Rendering Test
VRED image | Resolution 2800 x 1477 px | 512 Image Samples.
Local: BOXX Apexx 4, Intel i7-5960X @ 4.0 GHz (8 core): 36:45 min
Cluser: BOXX renderPRO, 2 x Intel Xeon E5-2680v4 CPU 2.4 GHz (28 core): 15:30 min

Image 5: Porsche 912 Spyder
Porsche 918 Spyder VRED Test Rendering
VRED image | Resolution 2560 x 1340 px | 512 Image Samples.
Local: BOXX Apexx 4, Intel i7-5960X @ 4.0 GHz (8 core): 9:36 min
Cluser: BOXX renderPRO, 2 x Intel Xeon E5-2680v4 CPU 2.4 GHz (28 core): 4:05 min

As good as the i7-5960X is, it’s tough to beat 2 Xeons with 28 cores in total! So on average the renderPRO is ~55-60% quicker than the i7-5960X powered workstation. A few minutes here and there probably sound insignificant, but in real life scenario when you have a massive queue of files to be rendered and if each rendering takes ~1 hour to complete, it will take 10 hours for the workstation and ~4-4.5 hours for the renderPRO…..and very importantly, you’ll be able to continue your work on the main workstation! Recently I completed a customer project involving dozens of VRED rendered scenes and the renderPRO was a great ally in achieving the goal. We all know how it is when the deadline approaches…

Conclusion:
For those creative professionals working for massive companies and having access to big render farms, this very likely isn’t the droid you’re looking for! However, for those of us working in small teams and multitasking all the time, a solution like this is quite a breakthrough. One could probably argue that buying several desktop computers to use as render farms can do the same thing – yes, maybe, but it’s quite a hard work! You have to manage several more PCs, they take much more space and for sure they will be slower. In my own experience this is a very niche product addressing the problem we have working with heavy 3D scenes. It’s also small, portable and if accompanied with an Apexx workstation it makes a great pair for every creative professional out there working on his own or in a small studio.
My only criticism is the noise the renderPRO makes when fully loaded. The fans obviously need to cool down the two processors, but I wouldn’t mind if it was a little bit more quiet. Perhaps water cooling can be introduced for the next models.
So is it worth it? If you’re a casual/hobby 3D Artist then probably it’s too expensive to justify. If you’re working in a small team or studio you should probably know the benefits and value of such and efficient workflow.

Pros:
– Very good solutions for the Creative Professionals.
– 2 processors with multiple cores make a difference when rendering scenes
– Easy to set up, you don’t need to be an IT expert.
– Compact and good looking device.
– Great Customer Support from BOXX.

Cons:
– Noisy when under heavy load.
– Price. At the very top end the unit could cost £15,000.  (My configuration sells for around £7000).

1 Comment

  1. Have you ever tried Visualize to render with? It will use the Nvidia Quadro card you have in your machine and produce renderings quicker than just the CPU. Otherwise the renderings look almost real great job.

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