The best professional workstations for any budget

Last year, the Intel Core i9-9900K was a common sight among budget-friendly workstations, and it often put in a respectable showing. Now, however, its comparatively rare to see a manufacturer opt for Intel at this price. Looking at how the PC Specialist performed in most of our tests, it’s easy to see why this change has occurred.

Although the Intel Core i9-9900K was already available a year ago, it remains one of Intel’s top eight-core offerings, with only a KS version above it. Both have a top 5GHz Turbo mode, but whilst the KS can run all its cores at this speed, the K tops out at 4.7GHz for all cores. PC Specialist has backed the Core i9 with 32GB of 2,666MHz DDR4 SDRAM, which is adequate if not generous. Graphics is taken care of by the obligatory Nvidia Quadro RTX 4000 for this price level.

Where PC Specialist goes to town is storage, with a total of five devices. Two are 1TB Samsung 970 Evo Plus M.2 NVMe SSDs, whilst the other three are 2TB Seagate IronWolf Pro 7,200rpm SATA hard disks. The implication is to mirror the SSDs for data security and configure RAID5 for the hard disks, although PC Specialist hasn’t done either out of the box. Being only PCI Express 3, the SSD achieves 3,536MB/sec reading and 3,332MB/sec writing, significantly behind PCI Express 4 NVMe devices. The hard disks achieve a respectable 245MB/sec reading and 242MB/sec writing.

The Intel CPU really does let this system down when compared to AMD’s offerings. The overall benchmark score of 323 is only 64% as fast as the slowest Ryzen 9 3950X workstation. Although the image-editing score of 186 is reasonable, video encoding and multitasking scores are left in the dust. Having half the cores particularly affects rendering, with less than half the performance of the Ryzen 9 in Cinebench R20 at 4,557 and taking nearly twice as long to complete the Blender render with CPU.

It’s not all doom and gloom for the PC Specialist system in performance terms, though. The Intel processor doesn’t hold back the Quadro RTX 4000, and some of the SPECviewperf 13 results are the best in this price band, such as catia-05, creo-02, 3dsmax-06, sw-04 and maya-05. So for pure CAD and 3D animation, this is still a capable system.

Overall, whilst this PC is a decent choice for modelling, its rendering and everyday media application abilities show why most workstation vendors are now switching to AMD Ryzen 9 processors at this price.

PC Specialist Onyx 880GE specifications

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Processor3.6GHz Intel Core i9-9900K
MotherboardAsus WS Z390 Pro
Expansion slots4 x RAM slots (2 free), 4 x PCIe x16 (3 free), PCIe x1 (1 free), 2 x M.2 (0 free), U.2 (1 free), 6 x SATA 600 (6 free)
RAM32GB DDR4, 3,000MHz
GPUPNY Quadro RTX 4000, 8GB GDDR6
Outputs3 x DisplayPort 1.4, USB-C VirtualLink
SSDSamsung 970 Evo Plus 1TB NVMe M.2 PCI Express
Secondary drivesSamsung 970 Evo Plus 1TB NVMe M.2 PCI Express, Seagate IronWolf Pro 2TB x 3
Optical drivesN/A
Dimensions (WDH)Corsair Carbide 200R (210 x 497 x 430mm)
PSU make and model (power output)Corsair RMX750 Modular 80 Plus Gold (750W)
CPU coolerCorsair H80i V2 Hydro Series watercooler
Rear ports2 x Gigabit Ethernet, 5 x 3.5mm audio jack, optical S/PDIF, 5 x USB 3.1 Gen 2 (Type-A), USB 3.1 Gen 2 (Type-C), 4 x USB 2.0, DisplayPort, HDMI
Front/top ports3.5mm audio jack, 3.5mm microphone jack, 2 x USB 3
Operating systemWindows 10 Pro 64-bit
Warranty (parts & labour unless stated)3yr RTB (1 month C&R, 1yr parts & labour, 2yr labour only)
James Morris

Dr James Morris has worked as a technology journalist for over 25 years, including spending nine years on the staff of market-leading computer magazine PC Pro, the last five of which were as the publication’s editor. He specialises in enterprise-grade software and hardware, with a particular focus on content creation. He launched a pioneering video channel for in 2006 and ran the video reviews channel for for four years. He also runs a successful online digital content and commercial video production company, t-zero communications Ltd.

Dr Morris is a prolific technology writer and contributes commercial content for major IT brands including AMD, BlackBerry, Dell, Cognizant, HP, and IBM. He published a book on artificial intelligence, Can Computers Create Art? in 2009. He is also an academic, and is currently Pathway Director of the MA, Interactive Journalism at City, University of London.

Previously, he was course leader for the BA in Web Media Production at Ravensbourne University. He has a PhD in Philosophy, Art and Social Thought from the European Graduate School in Switzerland, a Master's in Media Arts from the New School in New York, USA, and a Bachelor's in Social Anthropology from the London School of Economics.

Dr. Morris can be found on Twitter at @Cyberwest, or emailed at