Heavy Duty Workstations Seen at GEOINT

By Hal Reid

_MaxVision Corp.
495 Production Ave.
Madison, AL 35758
Phone: 256.772.3058
FAX: 256.772.3078

Every year at the GEOINT Symposium you get to see many fabulous gadgets and gizmos from companies large and small. One of the coolest technologies I saw was a set of portable workstations from MaxVision. These are "hardened" devices designed for use in the field without sacrificing power, speed or reliability.

These workstations are designed to work in very harsh environments, be set up quickly and provide the kind of robust computing power required for the intense graphics and database processing of GEOINT applications. They can be used for any application in which a fragile computer would be a liability. My favorite was a three-screen model. It featured dual-processor dual-core Xeons, up to 12GB of RAM and up to 3TB of RAID 5 hard drive space in a removable magazine. If you need more horsepower, these computers can also be customized and focused toward specific applications. These workstations were so amazing in both appearance and function that most of us would dream of having this kind of horsepower on our desks. And you can, for just a few dollars more. (Well, okay, maybe more than a few dollars – the lowest powered single screen models start at less then $5K and run to about $25K for my favorite model with three monitors.) To give you an idea of how harsh an environment these computers will operate in, the company displayed one of them in a temperature-controlled container running intense graphics. The temperature was over 50°C (122°F). This was hot enough to drive people away but the computer kept working. The MaxVision products also have an advanced air filtration system for very harsh, dusty environments and are certified to operate from 0°C to 50°C.

The hard drive setup is an interesting feature. In addition to being RAID 5 and hot swappable (i.e. the hard drives mirror each other so that if a hard drive goes bad, it can be pulled out and replaced with a good one, and the system automatically reformats it and replaces the data), the entire hard drive magazine can be removed in less than 10 seconds, leaving the computer with no data or trace of the purpose for which it was being used.

You can watch the computer unfold on this MaxVision movie.

(Click for larger image)

While these computers come in various configurations, from a single screen to the triple screen in the image above, my favorite has three 20.1" 1600 x 1200 pixel screens. It even has 2GB ethernet network connections and can support a fourth remote monitor.

The power supplies are designed to use almost any type of AC power, from 90 to 264 volts (50 to 60 cycles) and even 115 volts at 400 cycles or 28 volts DC. They include a UPS so if the power fails you can shut it down without losing data.

Here are the specs from the company’s website for my three-screen favorite, the MaxPac8230XRA3.
MaxPac®8230XRA3 Dual-Processor/Dual-Core Intel® Xeon® 5100 Series Rugged Portable Briefcase Computer Workstation –incorporates Intel's new workstation chipset for the Dual-Core Intel® Xeon® processor 5000 series which enables Intel® dual-processor/dual-core quad CPU technology and is ideal for intense computing environments for both 32 and 64 bit critical applications for high-end workstations utilizing fully buffered DIMM (FBDIMM) technology and up to 1333MHz FSB with multiple displays, and a removable RAID-5 hard disk array.

MaxPac®8230XRA3 provides three fully integrated fold out 1600 x 1200 20.1" LCD displays. A variety of PCI slots are provided. 1 (x16) & 1 (x4 in x16) PCI-Express slots support 3 displays. In systems with three displays, a fourth video DVI-I port is available for driving remote high-resolution displays.

MaxPac®8230XRA models provide a single 4 hard drive removable data magazine supporting hot-swap of the entire magazine or individual drives. 320GB, 400GB, 500GB, and 750GB capacities @ 7200rpm . A 3ware 4 channel 9550SX PCI-X to SATA II RAID controller delivers optimum R/W Raid 5 performance, Redundant RAID 5 storage of over 2.2TB is supported with a maximum of four 750GB SATA hard drives.

Dual Gbit Ethernet, 4x USB 2.0/1.1 compliant rear ports and 1x USB internal header (for 2 ports), PS2 ports for keyboard and mouse, and support for 90 – 264VAC 50/60Hz and 115VAC 400Hz avionics power. All units include a 16X dual mode DVD-R/RW burner supporting 8.5GB dual layer DVD media.
I really liked the transportation specs, because portable computers are subject to damage and this can be a real problem with mission-critical hardware. Some of the cases are built to withstand an 18-inch drop, and all of them can withstand the vibrations encountered in most military wheeled vehicles and helicopters. Some can even function in that environment. If you buy one of these computers, I suspect it just might last forever.

Published Thursday, December 7th, 2006

Written by Hal Reid

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