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December 2014
Issue: July 1, 2011

Review: Digital Storm's Protus

By: Dariush Derakhshani

PRODUCT: Digital Storm Protus

WEBSITE:www.digitalstormonline. com/dso-ws/#7

PRICING: Protus C20: $2,683; Protus C40: $4,699; Protus CX: $5,448

- Can be outfitted with any Quadro card 

- Application load times are great 

- Easy-to-access components 

Digital Storm is well known for its customizable gaming systems and use of top-tier components in a solid build. Gamers need powerful machines that can push frame rates on the most demanding games out there, and that requires creating a well-oiled machine. So I was curious to see how Digital Storm’s professional workstation would be outfitted when I was sent the Protus.

Digital content producers have similar needs for a solid machine that can push pixels as well as stay responsive in the middle of the multi-tasking bonanza that is a typical workday. As a 3D artist and supervisor, I need reliability and the ability to run multiple apps at once while I slog through my day. From multiple instances of memory intensive RVs or FrameCyclers to at least two Mayas, a Photoshop and a Nuke or After Effects instance, I need to be able to switch apps to suit whatever comes up in running a team on a show. And I hate having to dump into Task Manager to force quit anything if a system becomes unresponsive. 

A LOOK INSIDE

Upon reading the specs for the Protus, I had immediate high hopes for a beefy but agile machine with running endurance. This system I reviewed was built on an Asus motherboard running one hexa-core Intel i7 X980 3.33GHz CPU hooked up to an extremely quiet Corsair H70 self-contained liquid cooler, allowing you to over-clock the system to about 4GHz, but  this system was updated shortly after my review — it now features an Intel i7 990X and costs $5,322. I’m not one for over-clocking, unless it’s stable and doesn’t cause any weird issues; I have enough weird issues through the day to contend with. On the Protus, over-clocking was a non-issue since the supporting hardware configuration was right on the mark, and it was set up for me before shipping. 12GBs of DDR3 RAM (which I now consider the minimum for this type of work) served as the system’s memory, though it supported up to 24GBs.

The graphics sub-system was the Nvidia Quadro FX3800, however you can currently outfit your Protus with any Quadro card you care to, including the FX5800 and FX6000 cards. Having said that, the graphics performance for this machine at the time of review was fair for a workstation of this caliber. My benchmarks returned SPECViewperf results that ranged from middling to good when compared to my home-built customized rig with a comparable AMD FirePro 8750. The addition of a Quadro FX5000 or FX6000 would surely boost that performance considerably.

What struck me the most with this set-up was the storage subsystem. Outfitted with a blazing fast Intel 240GB SSD, the system drive powered through the Windows 7 Ultimate boot time like it was a day at the park. Application load times were magnificent, an order of magnitude faster that mechanical hard drives. This expectation is a must for high-end workstations, and the Protus delivered with aplomb. Rounding out storage needs were a pair of 1TB 7200RPM Hitachi mechanical HDDs in a fast RAID-0 configuration. You could add a number of more drives to the Protus, as the case was ginormous.

THE OUTSIDE

Sporting a striking white glossy paint job and a windowed side panel, the Protus’ tower case was a 55-pound behemoth. Don’t get me wrong, my personal system at home sports a huge Lian Li case with more than a dozen drives in it, so I appreciate a large workable tower for personalizing rigs — but in a professional studio environment, you should never have to get into the guts of your machine to post-customize it. In these cases, I prefer a small quiet box that can tuck out of the way., because when you have several artists working in a small studio, space is an issue. But if you enjoy adding bits and pieces and tinkering with your rig, this case was no less than awesome, with tons of room and easy-to-access components. Most remarkable were the easy-to-use swappable drive bays. That’s tons-handy if you’re prone to having lots of HDDs with varied data around, like me.

And speaking of data, this system shipped with a Blackmagic Design HD Intensity Pro card, allowing for video I/O. Most studios have their our MCR capabilities, so artist workstations don’t really need to in and out. But for very small or home-based shops, the Blackmagic card is great for ingesting basic footage for your work. Since I’m working in a larger studio, I was not in need of this capability, but appreciate it nonetheless.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Since the Protus is just about infinitely customizable, you can tailor make your system for exactly what you need. It is a viable option for those who know exactly what to put in their own systems, but lack the time or energy to build one themselves. At around $5,500 at the time of this writing, this configuration seems priced a bit high, but considering the four-year extended warranty and tech support (which I luckily did not have the need for), the Protus’ premium costs can start to be justified. You could build your own system for less, however you would be your own tech support, and that usually leaves a bad taste considering the time and energy spent troubleshooting and replacing parts to fix any issues.

In all, I think Digital Storm does a good job in outfitting its Protus with high-end quality gear and provides a solid service with their endlessly customizable workstation solutions, especially for small shops and the many one- or two-person studios out there.