The best professional workstations for any budget

In this workstation roundup, we’ve split the contenders into two price brackets: £3,000 and £8,000 inc VAT. Previously, workstations in the lower price band have been dominated by the Intel Core i9, but it’s a sign of the times that in 2020, out of all of the machines in this class we’ve only seen one Intel CPU. It’s not hard to see why when you appreciate what the Scan 3XS GWP-ME Q132R can do.

Based around the top AMD Ryzen 9 3950X processor, you get 16 cores and 32 threads, which will storm through multithreaded CPU-intensive tasks. The top 4.7GHz Turbo mode will also make light work of anything single-threaded. Scan has partnered this potent processor with a generous 64GB of 3,600MHz DDR4 memory, taking advantage of the Ryzen 9’s official support for 3,200MHz RAM. As this 64GB helping is supplied in the form of two 32GB modules, there’s still room for upgrades if you need it.

Scan’s graphics acceleration of choice is no surprise at this price, consisting of the Nvidia Quadro RTX 4000. With 2,304 CUDA cores and 8GB of GDDR6 memory providing 416GB/sec of bandwidth, the RTX 4000 is the logical sub-£1,000 GPU for professional use.

Although we traditionally expect to see a combination of fast primary boot storage and a slower but larger secondary device, Scan opted to supply just one primary SSD with the Q132R. However, it’s the sizeable 2TB Corsair MP600 M.2 NVMe, which supports PCI Express 4 so can take full advantage of the AMD Ryzen 9 processor’s support for this faster connection type. With a sustained sequential read rate of 4,988MB/sec and writing at 4,276MB/sec, this is a hugely fast storage device and the 2TB capacity will be enough unless you venture into capacity-hungry applications such as video editing.

If you do want to add more storage, there’s an additional M.2 NVMe slot available, and the Fractal Design Define R6 USB-C chassis provides a quartet of 3.5in bays accessible from one of the side panels. There’s also a front 5.25in bay, should you need to install an optical drive or other removable storage device. We’re not convinced by glass panels on workstations, but the R6 does this tastefully, and this chassis also provides a USB-C port on the top.

We tested this with a PCI Express 4 external storage device, and found it delivered 1,023MB/sec reading with 952MB/sec writing – much faster than an internal SATA/600 connection. The Asus RoG Strix X570-E motherboard also includes 2.5Gbit Ethernet as well as regular Gigabit, so you’re well served for network connectivity.

The Scan’s overall benchmark score of 503 fell behind the InterPro and Chillblast, although its image-editing score was the best at 217. Video encoding proved a slight weakness, and it was one of the slower systems in Adobe Media Encoder 2020 CC. It again fell a fraction behind rival Ryzen 9 systems in Cinebench R20, while the Blender Gooseberry frame took 645 seconds to appear; Chillblast and InterPro were again faster here.

However, the Q132R was the fastest in most of the SPECviewperf 13 3D modelling viewsets at this price, with a particularly commendable 351 in snx-03, showing strong ability when doing engineering design with Siemens NX. Overall, this swings things back into Scan’s favour. We also appreciate that most people won’t want to rush to upgrade the main storage or main memory, so having 2TB of the former and 64GB of the latter provide future-proofing out of the box. Add in 2.5Gbit Ethernet and you have a system that beats the Ryzen 9 competition on features, rather than brute performance.

Although we suspect everyone reading this roundup will be lusting for a workstation based around the Threadripper 3970X, if you’re on a more limited budget then the Ryzen 9 3950X offers a superb balance of performance for a much keener price. Scan’s 3XS GWP-ME Q132R may not be the fastest in every area, but the well-considered specification makes it our pick for the best all-rounder.

Scan 3XS GWP-ME Q132R specifications

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Processor3.5GHz AMD Ryzen 9 3950X
MotherboardAsus RoG Strix X570-E
Expansion slots4 x RAM slots (2 free), 3 x PCIe x16 (2 free), 2 x PCIe x1 (3 free), 2 x M.2 (1 free), 8 x SATA 600 (6 free)
RAM64GB DDR4, 3,600MHz
GPUPNY Quadro RTX 4000, 8GB GDDR6
Outputs3 x DisplayPort 1.4, USB-C VirtualLink
SSDCorsair MP600 2TB NVMe M.2 PCI Express 4.0
Secondary drivesN/A N/A N/A, N/A N/A
Optical drivesN/A
Dimensions (WDH)Fractal Design Define R6 USB-C (233 x 543 x 465mm)
PSU make and model (power output)Corsair RMX650 80PLUS Gold (650W)
CPU cooler3XS 240mm watercooler
Rear ports2.5 Gigabit Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, 5 x 3.5mm audio jack, optical S/PDIF, 7 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 (Type-A), USB 3.2 Gen 2 (Type-C), DisplayPort, HDMI, Wi-Fi 6 aerial headers
Front/top ports3.5mm audio jack, 3.5mm microphone jack, 2 x USB 3, 2 x USB 2, USB 3.2 Gen 2 (Type-C)
Operating systemWindows 10 Pro 64-bit
Warranty (parts & labour unless stated)3yr (1yr on-site, 2yr RTB)
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