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Though the Dream Machine is a mere toy compared to modern supercomputers, it’s not all that far removed from supercomputers of the previous era, which begs the question: Will we be using today’s supercomputers as our home PCs in 20 years? To give you an idea of how far we’ve come, consider Intel’s ASCI Red supercomputer of 1996. It packed 9,298 Pentium II Overdrive processors clocked at 333MHz and filled up 104 fridge-size cabinets. This rig was the first computer to ever achieve one teraflop of performance in the Linpack benchmark, meaning it could perform over 1 trillion calculations per second. In comparison, each Nvidia GTX Titan in the Dream Machine is capable of 4.5 teraflops, so theoretically, you could say we have the power of 16 ASCI Red’s in just the GPU department alone. The crimson supercomputer also had 12TB of storage, just like this year’s Dream Machine.
If all this means we can expect to be using a smaller version of today’s supercomputers in the year 2040, then let’s examine the current No. 1 supercomputer: China’s Tianhe-2. This machine, which was deployed in 2013, two years ahead of schedule, has more than 3.2 million CPU cores, one petabyte of memory, and 12.4 petabytes of storage (a petabyte is 1,000 terabytes), and can throw down 30 petaflops, with a P. That will be one hell of a PC, but then again, that’s the very definition of Dream Machine.
Tribute to yesteryear aside, we wanted to bust benchmark records!
Our beige box wouldn't be complete without iconic relics from a bygone era. Nagel and Netscape Navigator, anyone? Underneath the Retrofukation skin is Windows 8.
This year’s Dream Machine may look like a throwback to 1996, but when it comes to performance, there’s nothing old-school about it.
To test this year’s Dream Machine, we used our standard zeropoint machine, which is no slouch with its overclocked Core i7-3930K and GeForce GTX 690.
The benchmarks themselves are mostly custom workloads using off-the-shelf applications and favor either high clocks, processor efficiency, or core count.
Since our benchmarks haven’t changed in a little over a year now, we have a fairly lengthy record of machines we can use in comparison to Dream Machine 2013.
This year’s Dream Machine buzzes along at 5GHz, but for the most part, it’s still a Sandy Bridge-E CPU, just like the overclocked SNB-E in our zero-point box. Dream Machine’s 5GHz is about 30 percent higher than the 3.8GHz of the zero-point, and the results were pretty predictable. In computing tests, DM2013 enjoyed a 25 to 27 percent performance boost. In gaming, though, we’re not running quite the same GPU. The zero-point sports a GeForce GTX 690, which is pretty much the equivalent of two GeForce GTX 680s in SLI. How much faster is this year’s Dream Machine? Try 134 percent in Batman: Arkham City and 194 percent in 3DMark 11, baby. Not bad.
Of course, the zero-point box isn’t the only rig in town. We’ve been keeping a tally of all the world-class production boxes that have crossed our paths, and in that elite club, two PCs in particular come to mind: the Maingear Shift that we reviewed in August and the Geekbox Ego Maniacal that we reviewed in February. The Geekbox Ego Maniacal uses the same Core i7-3970X, while the Maingear Shift is powered by Intel’s new Haswell Core i7-4770K chip. Both über desktop machines currently hold the bulk of our benchmark records.
The Geekbox Ego Maniacal could be a soul mate to the Dream Machine. It packed the same CPU, albeit clocked down a tad to 4.8GHz, and at its time, its two GeForce GTX 690 cards were as good as it got in GPUs, which allowed it to slice through our benchmarks with abandon. Compared to Dream Machine 2013, CPU performance is pretty close. It’s damn near a tie in Premiere Pro CS6, but DM2013 manages to pull down a 5 to 6 percent advantage in Stitch.Efx and x264 encodes. It’s also very close in ProShow Producer, but the cigar still goes to Dream Machine. Applause, please.
As for how a pair of GeForce GTX 690s does against four Titans, it’s no contest. Dream Machine has a 33 percent boost in Batman: Arkham City and a whopping 42 percent in 3Dmark 11. Buh bam. Yeah, to be fair, an updated Geekbox would likely produce similar results, but until then, we’ll use more sound effects: Zam zing!
Believe it or not, our real concern was actually the Maingear Shift box. With its Haswell clocked at 4.7GHz, we didn’t know if it could be beat. In fact, it couldn’t be beat in everything. Stitch.Efx, for example, is only multithreaded for the last third and ProShow Producer 5.0 tops out at four threads. These scenarios favor the more efficient Haswell microarchitecture over Sandy Bridge-E. Clock for clock, Haswell is about 15 to 18 percent faster than SNBE. Luckily, the higher overclocking capability of Sandy Bridge-E keeps Dream Machine within striking distance and it trails the Maingear Shift by just 5 percent in those two benchmarks. Dream Machine gets payback, though, in the more multithreaded tasks, and we see a 31 percent advantage in Premiere Pro CS6 and an even better 34 percent advantage x264 HD 5.0. Take that, quad-core!
In gaming, it’s a give and take. The Maingear Shift has a tri-SLI Titan setup while Dream Machine has four-way. In Batman: Arkham City, the Shift’s Haswell part again pays off dividends and it wins by 3 percent. In the more GPU-heavy 3DMark 11, though, the additional Titan in DM2013 gives about 24 percent more performance.
In pure benchmark records, Dream Machine 2013 holds three titles, as it unseats the Geekbox in Premiere Pro and x264 and pushes the Maingear Shift into second place in 3DMark 11. Oh, and as of this writing, the Dream Machine would be ranked No. 6 on the 3DMark Hall of Fame leaderboard. Not bad, when you consider the top spot is achieved using liquid nitrogen.
In 4K gaming, we saw amazingly playable performance, with Dream Machine giving up 56.9fps in Hitman: Absolution. When set to Ultimate, DM2013 achieved 113fps in Tomb Raider, and 89.2fps in Heaven 3.0 and 53fps in Heaven 4.0. Some will say quad Titans are overkill, but the 4K gaming results clearly show their advantage.
This article was taken from the September 2013 issue of Maximum PC magazine.