07-30-2016 10:51 AM - edited 08-01-2016 05:41 PM
Hi all, my first post on this forum. Not so much a question but rather some possible helpful information regarding the newer style M.2 SSD cards around with regards to the HP Z620 workstation.
I recently purchased a 256GB Samsung SM951 MZHPV256HDGL-00000 PCI Express M.2 hard drive module to install in my HP Z620 workstation, like most people, the transfer speed certainly looks appealing. Prior to installing the module my Z620 was already configured with a 480GB SanDisk Ultra II 2.5" SSD as a boot drive with a Hitachi 2TB ( MBR with 1 partition) 7200rpm second drive and a Seagate 4TB (GPT with 3 partitions) 5900rpm third drive.
I initially purchased what I thought was a generic M.2 SSD to PCIe adapter card on ebay for about £8. (NOTE: These generic cards I mention appear to have the M.2 socket and a power LED with resistors and are very cheap). After fitting the M.2 SSD to the PCIe card, I plugged the card into the PCIe Gen3 x8 lane socket on the Z620 motherboard (i.e. the PCIe slot adjacent to the second GPU slot). Surprise, no SSD visible in the BIOS or under Windows. Like everyone else did a bit of digging around which resulted in me installing a Samsung NVMe driver and trying various other methods found on other forums but without any luck. Still not visible in the BIOS or in Windows.
As a last resort, I thought I would try a different PCIe adapter card and opted for the ASUS Hyper M.2 X4 Mini which cost about £27 on ebay. Swapped my SM951 onto the ASUS PCIe card and plugged it back into the same socket on the motherboard. Switched on the computer and waited for Windows to boot as normal and to my surprise the system appeared to load new drivers for the newly detected hardware. Sure enough, the device was displayed in the device manager. After initialising the device in Disk Management the device was visible under windows explorer. As a final check I rebooted the PC to BIOS and confirmed the device was displayed as a legacy bootable device.
Using the same method as I used for installing the OS on the 480GB SanDisk Ultra II, I simply used MiniTool Partition Wizard (which is free) to clone my OS drive to the SM951. (Use the disk copy wizard). After the copying finished my PC rebooted as expected but to my surprise it booted from the SM951 drive. (Note: The PC normally boots to the drive with the new OS but I was surpised that it booted so easily from the PCIe SSD without any tweaking). To confirm the changes I removed the 480GB SSD and tried rebooting which it did without any problems. After running Crystal Disk Mark 5, I can confirm read speeds just above 2000MB/s and write speeds of about 1300MB/s. My SanDisk SSD (which is one of the better SSD's on the market) reached about 550MB/s read and about 500MB/s write.
In summary, it appears the PCIe adapter card seems to be rather important if you want to use an SM951 M.2 SSD I would recommend you avoid the cheap adapter cards on ebay.
Although I cannot say for certain, using the ASUS adapter card may allow the SM951 to work as a bootable drive on the older Z400/Z600 machines since it dispays the SSD as a legacy device in the BIOS.
My full system:
2x Xeon E5-2670, 64GB (8x 8GB) 1866MHz RAM, Samsung SM951 boot drive (via ASUS Hyper M.2 X4 Mini Adapter), SanDisk 480GB SSD, Hitachi 7200rpm 2TB, Seagate 5900rpm 4TB, Syba 2-port SATA III with 2x USB3.0, Quadro K4200, Tesla M2090, ICY Dock hot swappable 2.5" and 3.5" drive bay.
OOPS $@~#? Sorry folks!!! I accidentally pressed 'problem resolved' button. If your reading this thread it will make more sense if you skip the next post, (it appears later in the correct chronological order).
Solved! Go to Solution.
07-31-2016 07:58 AM - edited 07-31-2016 09:00 AM
The Samsung SM951 AHCI is just miles better than almost any other SSD that can be used in older systems. I have one in a z420 (E5-1660 v2 / 32GB / Quadro K4200 / Intel 730 480GB) on a Lycom DT-120 M.2 to PCIe adapter card (about US$22). I updated the BIOS to the latest as recommended- apprarently, some earlier zX20's won't see an M.2 as a boot drive. After setting up the partition /formatting, the z420 saw it immediately and the OS/programs were migrated from the Intel 730. After resetting the boot order it worked extremely well.
The Intel 730 480GB in the z420 had a Passmark Disk rating of 4794- still quite good and changed to 11559 with the SM951. As great as the performance is by the numbers, it seems as though little changed in terms of disk function time elapsing. save large transfers. Startup time was slightly faster. I was hoping it would very noticeably speed up the time saving large (200MB+) 3D CAD models, but the disk is waiting on the CPU.
I see that there are instructions on the way to convert the BIOS in z420, z620, and z820 to UEFI-Based:
> and - correct this if wrong but it means that with some degree of fuss, an HP zX20 can use NVMe. There is a z420 on Passmark Performance Test baselines listed as having an Samsung 950 Pro 256GB NVMe and with the 2nd highest z620 disk score of 15187 Highest is 21138 :"Areca ARC-1880-Vol#000". A quick scan of z620 results doesn't show any other disk mark for an M.2 although these could be hiding behing a RAID controller as those appear as the boot drive.
My current project is upgrading a z620 to use as a rendering and for calculation- intensive work: analysis, Matlab, simulations, and etc. (Replaces Dell Precision T5500 / 2X X5680/ 48GB / Quadro K2200). The z620 arrived with an E5-1620 / 8GB / and Firepro V5900 (2GB)/ 1X 750 + 2X 500GB HD. In progress, this is now 2X E5-2690 / 40GB / Quadro K2200, eventually 64GB and Quadro M2000.
The z620 setup is being done on the dog's dinner of elderly SATAII drives. The debate though is whether to add an HP Z Turbo Drive 256GB G3G88AA, which uses the Samsung SM951 AHCI as the drive, or use the Intel 730 from the z420. Disk (and 3D) speed is not the highest priority in the z620 as it gets projects that more or less run on their own- a few minutes over 10 or 20 hours is not critical. Have you found siginificant advantages to the SM951 in your z620?
Do you recognize this z620 baseline on Passmark: Rating = 4335 / CPU=19578 / 2D= 518 / 3D =0.0 / Mem- 2207 / Disk (SanDisk Ultra II) : 3743. > If so, I'd enjoy knowing the Passmark disk score using the SM951.
My z620 originally: HP z620 (Original) Xeon E5-1620 4-core @ 3.6 /3.8GHz) / 8GB (1X 8GB DDR3-1333) / AMD Firepro V5900 (2GB) / Seagate Barracuda 750GB + Samsung 500GB + WD 500GB
[ Passmark System Rating= 2268 / CPU= 8361 / 2D= 857 / 3D = 1608 / Mem =1584 / Disk = 574 ] 7.13.16 - not too bad for a $270 system,..
HP z620 (Rev 1) Xeon E5-2690 (8-core @ 2.9 /3.8GHz) / 40GB (4X 8GB +4X 2GB DDR3-1600) / AMD Firepro V5900 (2GB) / Seagate Barracuda 750GB + Samsung 500Gb + WD 500GB / 800W > Windows 7 Professional 64-bit >
[ Passmark System Rating= 2304 / CPU= 14732 / 2D= 723 / 3D = 1665/ Mem =2709 / Disk = 456 ] 7.20.16> -the second lowest disk score!
There are 5 of 157, z620's on Passmark with 3D = 0.0
HP z420 (2015) > Xeon E5-1660 v2 (6-core @ 3.7 / 4.0GHz) / 32GB DDR3 -1866 ECC RAM / Quadro K4200 (4GB) / Samsung SM951 M.2 256GB AHCI + Intel 730 480GB (9SSDSC2BP480G4R5) + Western Digital Black WD1003FZEX 1TB> M-Audio 192 sound card > 600W PSU> > Windows 7 Professional 64-bit > Logitech z2300 speakers > 2X Dell Ultrasharp U2715H (2560 X 1440)>
[ Passmark Rating = 5581 > CPU= 14046 / 2D= 838 / 3D= 4694 / Mem= 2777 / Disk= 11559] [6.12.16
07-31-2016 11:26 AM - edited 08-02-2016 05:28 PM
Here are my Passmark scores;
Passmark System Rating= 4262 / CPU= 19625 / 2D= 566 / 3D = 4718 / Mem =1807 / Disk = 6629
System: 2x 2670, 64GB 1866MHz, 256GB Samsung SM951 (via ASUS Hyper M.2 X4 Mini) boot disk, 480GB SanDisk Ultra II, 2TB 7200rpm, 4TB 5900rpm, Quadro K4200, Tesla M2090, Syba 2 Port USB 3.0 and 2 Port SATA III PCIe 2.0 x 4
I understand my memory although rated at 1866MHz is in fact only running at 1600Mhz. I believe this is dependant on my processors only being the E5-2670 and therefor limited to 1600MHz and not the E5 v.2 versions which run at 1866MHz.
Using CrystalDiskMark 5 gives the folowing;
From left to right:- 2TB 7200rpm drive, 480GB SanDisk Ultra II and Samsung M.2 SSD SM951
Similarly, haven't noticed a huge difference in boot up speed but file transfer speed has improved quite a bit.
I picked up the Tesla M2090 very cheaply (since they are older generation cards) but I think it may be throttling the system performance (i.e. using up valuable PCIe lanes). With only the K4200 installed, Solidworks rendered a 1920 x 1080 image in about 7mins 40secs. After installing the Tesla M2090 this increased to 8mins 15secs? I think I will try removing some of the add-in cards (e.g. an additional SATA III card and Tesla M2090 cards) and re-run the benchmarks. I think the Z620 benchmark test you found was mine when I first got the Z620.
07-31-2016 01:25 PM - edited 08-02-2016 05:30 PM
Just to complete the picture, I pulled the Tesla M2090 and Syba SATA III cards from the Z620 and re-run the tests.
Here are my new Passmark scores;
Passmark System Rating= 4218 / CPU= 19623 / 2D= 571 / 3D = 4623 / Mem =1641 / Disk = 8112
System: 2x 2670, 64GB 1866MHz, 256GB Samsung SM951 (via ASUS Hyper M.2 X4 Mini) boot disk, 480GB SanDisk Ultra II, 2TB 7200rpm, 4TB 5900rpm, Quadro K4200
Using CrystalDiskMark 5 gives the folowing;
So it appears either the Tesla or Syba cards (or both) were reducing the bandwidth of the M.2 SM951 but again, no major increase in boot speed. I expect you need to follow the instructions in the link above to perform a UEFI boot disc to see any real improvement in boot speed. Would be interested to hear from anyone you has performed the clean install as listed in post (specifically on a Z620) above and if they notice any real improvement in performance.
07-31-2016 05:28 PM
RAM: When I bought the z620, it had a single 8GB DDR3 1333 ECC module. The memonry perforamnce was very poor with one modeule. There was then the choice as to use 1600 or 1866, but as I was robbing 4X 2GB from my older z420, and that was 16
07-31-2016 05:33 PM
This is getting a little bewildering?
Just re-fitted the Tesla M2090 GPU and Syba SATA III PCIe cards, re-booted the computer then ran a couple of tests.
PassMark now says;
Passmark System Rating= 4336/ CPU= 19594 / 2D= 569 / 3D = 4592 / Mem =1841 / Disk = 7892
Then on CrystalDiskMark 5
What appears to be a very minor difference in transfer speed of the M.2 SSD with the Tesla and Syba cards back in?
Although not related to this thread, I just wanted to share this information since you mentioned you were interested in rendering in your post. Rendering a more detailed model in SolidWorks at 5000 x 4000 resolution without the Tesla card installed took 24m 29s (ran this test just after my previous post), with the card back in it took 24m 10s, so no noticable improvement in real terms.Would be very interested to hear how you get on with the planned Quadro M2000 you mentioned in your post? My son is currently at university studying for a degree in 3D modelling and computer animation so I'm trying to build a decent rendering machine for using with PremierPro, Maya, etc. Looking for ways to boost the K4200 performance. All ideas welcome. Time to start searching the forum.
FYI, rendered image, 5000 x 4000 pixel resolution, (modelled by myself using SolidWorks 2016);
07-31-2016 06:38 PM - edited 07-31-2016 07:03 PM
Memory scores on Passmark are a bit confusing as the memory marks can be much higher on a 16GB system than one having 96GB and so on- all over the map. I'd gotten in the habit over the years of completing channels , if possible use all the same model of RAM, and on dual systems have the same amount of RAM for CPU 1 and CPU2.
When I bought the z620, it had a single 8GB DDR3 1333 ECC module. The memory performance was very poor with one module. There was then the choice as to use 1600 or 1866, but as I was robbing 4X 2GB from my other z420 (E5-1620 / 24GB / Quadro 4000, Samsung 840 / WD Black 1TB) As that was 1600 as are the E5 2590's, 1600 it was. I bought 4X 8GB Kingston. At the moment I have 2X 8GB + 2X 2GB on the main board and the same on the 2nd CPU riser so they're balanced at 20GB each and at least on on the main board there is CH1 with all slots filled and all slots are filled on the riser. When everything else is done, I'll make it 32GB and 32GB.
The situation with the Telsa M2090 in the z620 is intriguing as it should be throwing it's CUDA cores at the work. Your Passamark CPU mark is well above the average of 18606 for dual E5-2670's. I certainly don't understand the rendering being slower. Solidworks has the absolutely finest multithreaded rendeirng anywhere- fully scalar, - all cores invited- whereas Adobe graphics rendering peaks at about 5-7 Cores and Premiere will decline on dual CPU's. I've never used a Maximus setup, but I'm wondering if there are Maximus settings that could refine the configuration.
The disk score of 8112 for the SM951 AHCI in the z620 is interesting too as I had 11559 in the z420 and 11265 is average. When you say "Syba SATAIII card" is that a PCIe RAID controller? Curiouser,..
Query: Oh, I have a question for you or anyone else that might know. I have the second CPU assembly all ready to go both the E5-2690 and RAM. However, I do not have the rear panel "riser guide" that supports the left side (facing) of the riser assembly. See this part at 1:05-1:08 of
The right-hand bracket is present, but the bracket that replaces the uppermost PCIe slot cover on the rear panel is missing. Did your z620 have that guide bracket already or where did you find one? I'm going bonkers trying to find one of these. There so invisible I wonder if everyone uses them?
I'm sorry to say I find the HP replacement parts impossible. There should be an exploded diagram of the systems and labelled with links to parts number and ordering. The Parts Surfer is nearly useless as you have to know the part number in advance or sort though dozens of numbers and obscure referenced listings. My 4 previous HP systems have been new, but the first used one is difficult to upgrade as it requires parts. Perhaps I'm missing the magic instant part finder pages.
Sorry for such long posts.
08-01-2016 08:10 AM - edited 08-01-2016 10:19 AM
I agree competely with the concept of "bewildering". And in two aspects >
Disk: The SM951 in the z420 has a Passmark disk score of 11559 and the difference to your 7891 is too great to be a variation. This I think warrnats some study. What are your storage and power option settings?
One thing though is that every time Passmark runs, the disk score drops. The first test of the ancient Seagate that arrived in the z620, the disk score was 594, and the third time it scored 495. I decided to make a small improvement and an hour ago bought a Z Turbo 256GB AHCI, that will go into the z420. With the Samsung SM951/ Lycom DT-120 moved to the z620, that should add about 11,000 points to the 495 mark.
I was interested to see that the Z Turbo has a higher average performance than the SM951 and that must be due to the quality of the board design and refinement for use with an HP z.
Tesla M2090: The situation with the M2090 is very strange. My local wind tunnel uses Teslas for Matlab flight dynamics simulations and they have staff that work out bespoke multi-thread / parallelization algorithms. It occurred to me that the problem might be in the parallization stream synch, but Solidworks is said to have the best, fully scalar, rendering of any programme. Only to eliminate it as a possibility, are the z620 BIOS settings to enable all processors? Also, are there similar settings in creating the Maximus (Quadro +Tesla) configuration?
Your Solidworks model and rendering are a work of art- well done and a half. I've been trying to learn Solidworks for awhile for my industrial design projects, but never have large blocks of time. I end up doing them in AuoCad. I have a book,"The Solidworks Bible" but it's more than 600 pages and I'm only on Genesis. How did you learn? Do you give lessons?
Here is a work in progress, a Sketchup test image of a 380m long, five story office / library / laboratory building. It's not much smaller than the island it's on. This is the most complex single drawing I've ever done, in AutoCad to Sketchup on the z420 and will be translated into Revit on the z620:
Quadro M2000, M4000's, and Proposed Sysem:
I have high hopes for the Quadro M2000 as it's a bit more than half the cost of a Quadro K4200 and yet:
Highest Passmark 3D ratings:
Quadro K4200 (317 tested): 4895
Quadro M2000 (12 tested) : 4671
The Quadro "P4000": Thinking of your consideration for the zz620, the first two Pascal GPU Quadros , the P6000 24GB- said to cost $12,000, and the P5000 have been released and these are going to be specular perofrmers. What i'm waiting for however is the "P4000" ( or whatever it will be called) which, if true to form- that is performing as well as the next model up from the model it replaces and costing a bit more means it should perform at near K6000 levels but cost only $100 more than an M4000.
M4000: However, the M4000 is a strong contender to replace a K4200.
Highest Passmark 3D ratings:
Quadro M4000 (8GB) (264 tested): 7234 with i7-6700K / ASUS Z170-A
___________________________ 6934 with Xeon E5-1660 v3 / Dell Precision T5810
____________________________ 6112 with 2X E5-2670 in HP z620
As usual, the GPU performance will be linked to the single-thread performance.
Average for the M4000 ($820 US) is 6402. For comparison a $3,000 Firepro W9100 is 6570, Quadro K5200 is 6155. a GTX 770 averages 6149, and GTX 960 5916. So, the M4000 is actually in the upper end of the mid-level gaming GPU's. certainly, topping the $1,800 Quadro K5200 is good enough for as terrible draughtsman as I.
When the time comes, sell the K2200 in the z620, buy a used M4000, for the z420, and place the K4200 in that spot. When the "P4000" arrives, the price of used M4000 will drop- as will K4200's even more precipitously. In the US already, they have sold for as little as $600. I've had perfect reliability with the eight or so used Quadros I've had- I still use a 2004 FX 580 as the GPU in my server. About three months after the introduction of the "P4000", might be a good time to change.
Proposed System: If you're interested, I've made some suggested workstation build lists on Tom's Hardware. They have a semi-competition every year for the best build list by cost. As 99% are gaming systems, I add a couple of workstation ideas. See and scroll down to : Workstation: Visualization 2D-3D CAD / Graphic Design / Simulation / Animation > $2,000
, which uses a Xeon E5 / Quadro M2000 or GTX 1070. I also added lists in the $1,500 and $1,000 categories. The $1,500 version uses an Xeon E3 / M2000: The no forum handle in the name of your build, and avoiding odd capitalizations & symbols $1,500 Wor...The title is due to the rules of the competition rule that were added because of the names I typically use. e.g.: " BambiBoom PixelCannon Cadamodarendergrapharific iWork? TurboBlast ExtremeSignature SuperModel 8000®©$$™®£™©™_ 6.14.16 " = forum handle+ "odd capitalizations and symbols". It's pleasant to know one's efforts are specially noticed.
If you'd like any other suggestions for the proposed system, I'd be pleased to discuss it. If you think it's not of general insterest, send a PM.
Where is your son studying?
My motto: "Why use just one work when twenty will do just as well."
08-01-2016 04:53 PM
Wow. Just seen the 3D model you created of the building (after logging back in). I really like the overall shape and architectural detail you've created. Very impressed. It would look stunning if done in SolidWorks, as you can also do some cool basic camera animations in SolidWorks and output it as a standard video file to show a full 360 degree view.
08-01-2016 09:13 PM - edited 08-01-2016 09:29 PM
You have a quite refined system. The external drive is a very good idea. I've looked at a number of enclosures but only have a USB 3.0 / 3.5"drive enclosure which houses the WD Blue 1TB that arrived with the z420 when new. That one is an Aluminum Startech and has a cooling fan- looks quite like a book. But, I have a Dell Precision T3500, the two z420's, a Precision T5400, and the T5500 all with two writers and I have used these as duplicators.
I make quite a lot of CD's as I record live and with MIDI (Yamaha S90) but is baby home stuff compared to your productions, which I'm listening to while typing. Fantastic sound quality, balance, and love the music. The Tascam Us-1641 is aerious gear. I used to use a pair of Tascam DAT players at the radio station and their stuff if really good. At home I simply run a pair of Neumann KM184's to a Peavey VMP2 valve microphone preamp to an M-Audio 192 "Audiophile" PCI card which is 2in/2out plus MIDI I/O. This is in an HP Elite m9426f with a Core2 Quad Q6600- 2.4. Editing is Cakewalk Essentials - baby Sonar. That setup never missed a beat as two channel audio is not hardware demanding. I had a radio program for in Los Angeles and made quite a few broadcast recordings on it. I have three of the M-Audio cards and use them everywhere as they occupy the pesky PCI slots and leave the PCIe to devices that need those. These run M-Audio 2.1 computer audio systems and the Z2300 works quite well. In my old loft office I had a McIntosh MR67 tuner and Cambridge Audio 640 CDP to Audio Research LS3 to an Audio Research D130 to Vandersteen 3A's, but the speaker placement was terrible and I actually have a better stereo image with the little M-Audio satellites just behind the left Dell Ultrasharp 27". The z620 however will only have an M-Audio z313 system- they're only $30! with a little subwoofer, and HP 2711x monitor. I run a television off a Dell E520 and there's an M-Audio 192 and z313 for the sound. the useful feature of these is that they have wired remotes with volume controls, and the z2300 remote has a subwoofer control and headphone jack. What do you use for playback monitoring in you audio work and for computer sound?
On the subject of the z620, have you ever used remote desktop? In 2010 I had a Dell Precison T5400 and Optiplex 740 on a KVM switch and that was convenient as I could with one button change from one system to the other. I'm thinking that I could be using that to simplify running both systems from the single K/B mouse and monitors. I could set up simulation, analysis , and rendering files on the z420 and then send them to the z620 to sit in the corner and work on. It's possible too if the sysem is on, to use the system from anywhere via the Internet. These use passwords but there must be an increased security risk. Then I could include the HP 2711x in with the Dell Ultrasharps and have three monitors.
Last year, for the Precisions T3500 and T5500 which have PERC H310 6GB/s RAID cards, I looked into USB 3.0 cards and SATA add-onbut could never find one for which the user reviews gave me any confidence. It appeared quite a few users went through three or so experiements. The reason is obscure to me, but as USB ( I think) works on PCIe lanes in the way of the antique IRQ interrrupts and shares them. It may be that there is a reason the number of USB 3 ports is limited- using too many causes some latency as it's sharing PCIe lanes. Still, that should be solved with dual Xeon E5's as each CPU contributes 40 PCIe lanes. I see the X99 motherboards offer more SATA III and USB 3 or 3.1
Thank you for the information re: the 2nd CPU assembly bracket. I called HP parts and they had no listing for that part seperately nor is it listed in the contents of the 2nd processor riser package. They suggested that was sort of optional, and I don't like the idea of that assembly lacking support at the back, but I went ahead and installed the assmebly and it seems reasonably secure. I'll keep my eyes open for the bracket.
With the 2nd CPU and the Quadro K2200, the z620 is starting to come into focus:
Yesterday: Passmark System Rating= 2304 / CPU= 14532 / 2D= 723 / 3D = 1665/ Mem =2709 / Disk = 538
Today: Passmark System Rating= 2468 / CPU= 20083 / 2D= 731 / 3D = 3535 / Mem =2278 / Disk = 541
All the scores are a bit low, the CPU score average for two E5-2690's is 20826. Such is the importance of the disk score.
What is suprising is that my $53 Precision T3500 still has a higher system rating: Rating = 2567, CPU = 7303 / 2D= 680 / 3D=2022 / Mem= 1939 / Disk=921.
thanks for the screen shot of BIOS. I'm wondering though what is your BIOS version? It's possible that with an earlier BIOS, the SM951 is not able to take advantage of the MLC memory controller. Perhaps you have inwhich case never mind, but if not just to eliminate that as a possibility, you might consider update to the latest which is 3.88. See:
It's slightly fussy, but I'm doing that tommorrow.
The final upgrade - for now- will be transferring the Intel 730 when the z420 has the HP Z Turbo, plus changing the plastic exterior parts that are damaged. HP very usefully sells a kit of all the case plastic parts for only $56. so it wasn't worth buying only the two damaged ones (lower front panel and left runner (skid on the bottom) for $58. Later, I'll continue with the 64GB total RAM and sort the GPU's in the two main systems.
I very much appreciate your comments and suggestion concerning coming up to speed on Solidworks. I've looked at sample files, read some, watched some YouTube, and played with the buttons a bit and have actually made some silly objects, but I'm far from a methodical approach and able to do a complex project. My problem is that I spend a couple months only writing, then back to drawing in 2D, then writing, then graphic design, then 3D in a hurry which means bodged together Sketchup. Sketchup is really infuriating - angles are accurate only to .1 degree and when the file has any size, it barely runs on a 4GHz Xeon and Quadro K4200. With small stuff it's fast, and useful for feasibility studies, but does not produce high quality finshed results. I would love to have done the building in Solidworks as it's quite machine-like anyway, intended to resemble a speed boat, aircraft, and F1 car all at once. I'd like to learn 3ds, Maya, and After Effects properly too, but will I?
A friend is a CATIA user- draws submarine interiors of all things and he thinks Solidworks is still the best industrial design/ rendering software and that comparitively it runs well on less than top end systems. My local accelerator facility uses Siemens NX and that is becoming the industry standard for cars. They run NX on Precision T3500's with a Quadro K6000! AutoCad also runs well on medium-level systems and I think is a sign of very high quality software.
It seems your son has quite a lot of great capabilities and studying a good se of applications, useful in a lot of fields industrial, commerical, and academic. Have you had any first thoughts as to the uni system that might be done? I suppose a z620 or a z420 with a single 8-core could be reasonable if there is GPU-based rendering involved or did you intend to build a system? The good feature with the z620 of course is that the 2nd CPU can be added later.
A niece went off to study animation at the Pratt Institute in New York (no, it doesn't mean that in the US) but was not up to the pace of CAD modeling required and had to take a year off and come up to speed technically. When I studied architecture ( in the UK) CAD was something only used by aircraft companies. My first computer was a 1993 IBM 486 running DOS6 with Windows 3.1 at 50Mhz with 2MB of RAM and an 85MB HD. That system cost $2,800, the 14" CRT monitor was $850, and the printer was $750. When I changed the 85MB for the largest one made then-540MB, it cost $527 or $.98 /MB. In those terms, a 1TB drive would cost, $980,000. The good old days of personal computers is now.