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First Look: IBM IntelliStation A Pro

The system is expandable via three 3.5-inch internal drive bays, one 3.5-inch external drive bay, and two 5.25-inch external drive bays. It features one 8X AGP Pro110 graphics slot, one 64-bit 133MHz PCI-X slot, and  four 64-bit 100MHz PCI-X slots. The slots will support full length cards as there is nothing to clutter up and block them. USB 2.0 devices are supported via a pair of ports on the front and three ports at the rear. It also includes a 4-pin IEEE 1394 port in the front and a six-pin in the rear, as well as two serial ports and one parallel port for legacy devices. Networking is achieved via gigabit Ethernet with Wake on LAN, and audio is supported via AC-97 audio with microphone in (front and back), line in, line out, and an integrated speaker. The system ships with your choice of Windows XP Professional or Red Hat Linux WS 3, which is a 64-bit operating system.

The IBM A Pro features a no nonsense case and motherboard design that is very serviceable. The case opens via a lockable side panel button, a design that IBM has used for several years. Every time the case is opened, the system, upon startup, will have a message telling the user that the case has been opened. Once open, most of the internal components are exposed and freely accessible. The A Pro sports four memory slots on each side of the AMD Opteron processors, of which four slots are filled with PC3200 RAM. The system itself can support up to 16GB of RAM. So, when operating systems ship supporting that amount of memory (Certain Linux operating systems support 8GB; the current version of Windows XP Pro supports 4GB), the A Pro will be able to take advantage of it.With this system, the first bank of memory slots are very easy to access, so upgrading these slots with more memory is not a problem. At first glance, the second set of memory slots look impossible to access because the memory tabs are buried under the hard drive cage. Which brings me to another cool IBM feature; the Swing-away hard disk drive cage. When you want to add another hard disk drive, all you need to do is lift up the cage, remove the purple hard drive harness, drop the drive in the harness, and drop the harness back down into the cage.  The hard drive cage supports up to three hard drives. When the drive cage is in the vertical position, you also have full and unfettered access to the memory modules and their slots. The motherboard is a dual CPU-capable motherboard with support for a second CPU via a CPU/RAM daughter card that easily screws into place. So you could purchase a single CPU configuration and then later get the second CPU at a later date. Each CPU features its own cooling fan, and the system overall is cooled by a pair of fans that are strategically located to draw air from over the CPUs and memory.


The IntelliStation A Pro performs remarkably fast and held its own with the previous dual AMD Opteron-based BOXX system we reviewed here at Digital Media Net. As seen in the chart below, the results are very close in almost every test result, with the BOXX edging the IntelliStation by just a few tenths of seconds in several tests, and tying the IBM in other tests. In a Guassian Blur Photoshop test conducted on a single Intel Pentium 4 CPU IBM IntelliStation M Pro, the IBM IntelliStation A Pro performed the Guassian Blur on the 9.51MB image at 15.25 seconds, while the single CPU system performed the test in 51 seconds, more than three times as fast. But with a system such as this, it is expected.

Results in minutes: seconds

Apple Power Mac G4 Dual 1.25GHz with 1GB DDR RAM

Dell Precision Workstation 350
Intel P4 3.06 GHz,
Boxx Technologies 3DBOXX S5s, Dual Xeon 3.06, 4GB PC2100 ECC DDR RAM

Boxx Technologies 3DBOXX R4.2, Dual Opteron 248 (2.21GHz), 2GB 333 ECC DDR RAM

 IBM IntelliStation A Pro Dual Opteron 248 (2.21GHz), 2GB PC3200 RAM
1. After Effects: Simple Animation :14 :07 :07 :03  :03
2. After Effects: Video Composite 1:25 :54 :54 :46  :47
3. After Effects: Data Project 3:47 2:05 1:32 1:23  1:25
4. After Effects: Gambler :43 :29 :25 :21  :21
5. After Effects: Source Shapes 7:06 4:14 2:52 2:58  3:03
6. After Effects: Virtual Set 8:15 4:24 3:22 2:19  2:23
CineBench 2003 Rendering Time (lower is better)   73.3 sec. 46.3 sec. 45.3  45.7
CineBench 2003 Rendering (CB-CPU score -- higher is better) 171 360 569 581  576

If you would like to replicate these tests for yourself, pick up the book After Effects 5.5 Magic (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0735711445/digitalproducer) that includes a CD containing these AE project files (and many more) along with all the media you'll need to exactly reproduce our results. Special thanks to After Effects 5.5 Magic's author Mark Christiansen and the book's editor, Nathan Moody, as well as New Riders Publishing for giving us permission to use materials from this excellent book. Highly recommended.

First Impressions

As configured, at $6,706, this system pretty much rocks. You'll only see better performance when Microsoft ships its 64-bit version of Windows, and the purveyors of creative tools ship their applications natively in 64-bit. As of today, the A pro will run on 64-bit Linux, which is making strides in the creative community. The fact that the system runs 32-bit applications without the need for any emulation trickery is an added bonus, because you can take advantage right now, of applications that support dual CPUs but are still 32-bit native applications. Adobe Photoshop absolutely screams on this system. The full length, PCI-X slots with unobstructed access as well as the hard disk drive cage, although not as flashy as the system's dual CPUs or built in HostRAID capabilities, are very cool engineering feats in themselves.  My only qualm with the system is a lack of a DVD drive/burner of any capacity. IBM offers a DVD-RAM option, but no DVD burning option, so your only solution is a third party drive from Sony or Pioneer or any of the other vendors who offer DVD burners.

The IntelliStation line is certified compatible with a host of digital media and CAD applications, including the following applications:

Digital Media

  • Adobe Premiere, After Effects, InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, GoLive
  • Alias Maya, StudioTools
  • Avid XpressDV
  • Discreet Combustion, 3ds max
  • Apple Shake (Linux)
  • DPS/Leitch dpsReality, dpsVelocity
  • eyeon Digital Fusion
  • Side Effects Houdini
  • Macromedia Dreamweaver, Flash, ShockWave
  • NewTek LightWave
  • Softimage Softimage XSI


  • Autodesk AutoCAD, Inventor
  • IBM Dassault Systemes CATIA v.5
  • PTC Pro Engineer
  • EDS Unigraphics NX, I-deas
  • SolidWorks Corp. SolidWorks
  • ESRI ArcView

One of the ideas behind this system is the fact that it is future proof in the sense that the CPUs are 64-bit, and the system is dual CPU capable. You could purchase a single CPU configuration, and then purchase the second CPU and daughter card at a later date. While there is a 64-bit Linux OS, there isn't a dearth of 64-bit creative Linux applications. There are no creative applications on the Windows side because Windows XP Professional is not yet 64-bit. But, regardless of the lack of 64-bit Windows or 64-bit creative applications, the IntelliStation A Pro runs 32-bit Windows and 32-bit creative applications easily and quickly with no performance degradation. The warranty on this system is three years parts and onsite labor. Some creative workstation manufacturers warranty their products for a scant one year. If you want a three year warranty, they often charge a few hundred dollars extra. IBM offers it with no payment penalty. For more information, visit www.ibm.com/intellistation


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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at jvirata@digitalmedianet.com

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