A not-quite-workstation for creative applications
Asus’ creator-centric ProArt Station PD5 desktop isn't a bad performer, but it could use newer components and faster connectivity.
Asus' ProArt Station PD5 (starts at $1,714; $1,999 as tested) is a desktop PC aimed at professional and prosumer content creators. It offers independent software vendor (ISV) certifications—guarantees that your creative apps will run as intended—at a lower price than most desktop workstations. It's got several nifty features for pros and tinkerers, too, including tool-less storage expansion. But an outdated (if still capable) CPU, loud cooling fan, and lack of high-speed I/O ports are significant drawbacks. The Dell XPS Desktop 8950, which lacks ISV paperwork but excels everywhere the PD5 doesn't, is a better choice. Or, if you require ISV certifications, try a true workstation like Dell's Precision 3650 or the HP Z2 Tower.
It's not as glamorous as a Mac Pro, but the ProArt Station PD5 looks the part. Its all-black case has eye-catching details, starting with perforated ProArt lettering in the metal left panel.
More intriguing is a pair of LED light bars between the front ventilation slats, which light up their entire length when the processor or graphics card (there's one bar for each) are under heavy load or illuminate partly for normal loads. You'd normally need a monitoring app to make that conclusion.
You can choose the light bar colors (blue, white, or green) in the ProArt Creator Hub app or change them to static light displays. The app has other uncanny features, especially its notifications through Microsoft Teams when your renderings complete.
The WorkSmart section lets you create app groups which, when clicked, launch all selected apps at once. If you often use multiple apps, that's simpler than launching them all yourself.
Also unusual (in a good way) are the ProArt Station's carrying handles, which make moving this 22-pound tower (or taking it out of its box) easier. The tower measures 16.4 by 7.1 by 16.1 inches (HWD), on the narrow side for a mid-tower. And how about a power button lockout switch? It does what it implies. If your recurring nightmare is accidentally putting your PC to sleep while connecting devices to the front ports, well, it might just sell the desktop.
Top connectivity satisfies: a headset jack, three USB 3.2 Gen 1 ports (one Type-C and two Type-A), and a full-size SD card reader. The last is a must-have on a creative-inspired desktop. Around back are four more USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, one HDMI and two DisplayPort video outputs (for the Intel CPU's integrated graphics), and three audio jacks (microphone, line-in, and line-out). There are also legacy ports: two USB 2.0 and PS/2 for a vintage mouse and keyboard.
The 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 graphics card provides one HDMI and three DisplayPort video outputs. Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5 are built-in via a MediaTek MT7921 card. The wireless antenna is integrated, so there's no external protrusion.
What's critically missing are high-speed data transfer ports. As you've noticed, all the USB 3.2 ports on this tower are Gen 1 (5Gbps), so transferring gigabyte after gigabyte can take a while. A Gen 2 (10Gbps) port should have been included; Gen 2x2 (20Gbps) would have hit the spot; and Thunderbolt 3 or 4 (40Gbps) would have taken the cake. That said, this is a desktop; you can always install a PCI Express expansion card with the high-speed ports of your choice.
As for peripherals, the ProArt Station PD5 doesn't do too badly with its included wireless keyboard and mouse. Neither are feature-rich, but they're better than the usual generic wired pieces bundled with consumer desktops.
Getting inside the ProArt Station PD5 takes about a minute with a Phillips screwdriver, as it doesn't use thumbscrews. The left side holds the 500-watt power supply (which carries a respectable 80 Plus Gold efficiency certification) and a drive cage with two 3.5-inch bays.
The cage's slide-out top caddy makes for easy, tool-free drive installs, but not so for the caddy-less bottom bay. You must secure rubber grommets (included) to a drive with screws (not included) before sliding it into the bay. The grommets have slits that secure the drive to metal edges inside the cage. Power cables are nearby, but you'll need to run your own SATA cables.
The right compartment has a modern, standard layout. The Intel B560-based MicroATX (9.6-by-9.6-inch) motherboard has four DIMM slots supporting up to 128GB of DDR4-3200 memory (four 32GB modules). Our test unit has two 16GB modules, for 32GB total.
The motherboard also has two M.2 2280 slots for PCI Express solid-state drives. The primary slot, under the CPU, is the latest PCI Express Gen 4 x4 standard, though the installed 1TB Micron 2210 SSD is disappointingly a Gen 3 device. It's also not covered by a heatsink. The other M.2 slot, under the PCI Express x16 slot, supports only PCIe Gen 3 drives. The GeForce RTX 3070 GPU in our unit is an upgrade from the base model's GeForce RTX 3060.
The Asus tower's cooling is functional, but doesn't inspire confidence. There are no intake fans, with all air coming in passively through the perforated front and left panels. Only an 80mm rear exhaust fan provides airflow. Fan noise is subdued during general use but annoyingly loud at upper RPMs. Most of the heat the fan deals with comes from the Intel Core i7-11700 CPU, which is topped by a small but adequate aluminum heatsink. The graphics card fortunately doesn't contribute much heat since its blower-style cooler exhausts outside the case.
The $1,999 ProArt Station PD5 reviewed here has an eight-core, 2.5GHz (4.9GHz turbo) Intel Core i7-11700 processor, an 8GB Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 graphics card, 32GB of dual-channel DDR4 RAM, a 1TB PCI Express Gen 3 solid-state drive, and Windows 11 Home. It's covered by a one-year warranty.
Everything but graphics is a generation behind. Though the 65-watt Core i7-11700 chip is capable (see our review of the higher-wattage Core i7-11700K), its 11th Generation "Rocket Lake" design is decidedly outperformed by Intel's 12th Gen "Alder Lake" CPUs, as our Core i9-12900K review illustrates. "Rocket Lake" is also restricted to DDR4 memory instead of the newer, higher-bandwidth DDR5. And as noted, though the ProArt Station PD5 supports a PCI Express Gen 4 SSD, it's strangely saddled with an older Gen 3 drive.
The Asus' performance will nonetheless satisfy most creators, even 4K video editors, and its GeForce RTX 3070 card means it can double as a gaming desktop. Direct competition is scarce; I didn't find another desktop for sale that does exactly what it does, pairing gaming-grade hardware with workstation-style ISV certifications, but there are close matches. The Dell XPS Desktop 8950 is one; it was $2,058 on Dell's site with a 12-core Core i7-12700. On the workstation side, the HP Z2 Tower G9 is $2,375 with a Core i7-12700K and a professional 12GB Nvidia RTX A2000 card.
I pitted the ProArt Station PD5 against three workstations for our benchmark comparisons: the midsize Dell Precision 3650 Tower, the HP Z2 G8 Tower, and the tiny HP Z2 Mini G9. Running out of workstations, I gave the last slot to the NZXT H1 Mini Plus gaming desktop, which could be used as a creative PC in a pinch. You can see the contenders' basic specs in the table below.
The H1 Mini Plus' CPU is a generation older than the ProArt Station PD5's. Only the Z2 Mini G9 uses a new "Alder Lake" chip, and I won't be spoiling anything by saying it's going to win most of the CPU tests.
Our first test is UL's PCMark 10, which simulates a variety of real-world productivity and office workflows to measure overall system performance and also includes a storage subtest for the primary drive. The ProArt Station PD5 performed strongly in the main test and did surprisingly well in the storage test given its PCIe Gen 3 SSD.
Our other three benchmarks focus on the CPU, using all available cores and threads, to rate a PC's suitability for processor-intensive workloads. Maxon's Cinebench R23 uses that company's Cinema 4D engine to render a complex scene, while Primate Labs' Geekbench 5.4 Pro simulates popular apps ranging from PDF rendering and speech recognition to machine learning. Finally, we use the open-source video transcoder HandBrake 1.4 to convert a 12-minute video clip from 4K to 1080p resolution (lower times are better).
Our final productivity test is Puget Systems' PugetBench for Photoshop(Opens in a new window) , which uses the Creative Cloud version 22 of Adobe's famous image editor to rate a PC's performance for content creation and multimedia applications. It's an automated extension that executes a variety of general and GPU-accelerated Photoshop tasks ranging from opening, rotating, resizing, and saving an image to applying masks, gradient fills, and filters.
The ProArt Station PD5 is the only desktop here using a processor rated at 65 watts, the others all employing 125-watt K-series chips that can run at higher clocks for longer durations. Cinebench R23 showed this plainly, with the Precision 3650's Core i7-11700K performing a whopping 66% better. The Z2 Mini G9 was way out in front almost everywhere, though its Core i9 isn't exactly apples-to-apples with Core i7s. But the Asus narrowed the field in shorter-running tasks; the Precision's performance advantage dropped to 18% in Geekbench and the ProArt Station PD5 actually topped it in Photoshop.
For Windows PCs, we run both synthetic and real-world gaming tests. The former include two DirectX 12 gaming simulations from UL's 3DMark, Night Raid (more modest, suitable for systems with integrated graphics) and Time Spy (more demanding, suitable for gaming rigs with discrete GPUs). Also looped into that group is the cross-platform GPU benchmark GFXBench 5, which we use to gauge OpenGL performance.
The ProArt Station PD5 produced mostly top numbers, thanks to its enthusiast-class GeForce RTX 3070 graphics card. Its CPU held it back in the lightweight 3DMark Night Raid, but in GPU-heavy tests like GFXBench it reigned supreme. That said, the NZXT is the only other unit here with a consumer GPU. The others all pack professional-grade silicon that, though capable, isn't designed for gaming-style graphics, so making direct comparisons is tricky.
I also informally ran our actual gaming tests on the ProArt Station PD5, since it has gaming-desktop hardware. They include the in-game benchmarks of F1 2021 (racing simulation), Assassin's Creed Valhalla (open-world action-adventure), and Rainbow Six Siege (competitive/esports shooter). On desktops, we run them at their highest image-quality presets (Ultra for Valhalla and Siege, Ultra High for F1). The resolution sweet spot for the GeForce RTX 3070 is 1440p, and at that setting the Asus produced an admirable 116fps in F1 2021 (with DLSS), 72fps in Assassin's Creed, and 250fps in Rainbow Six. It even produced playable frame rates at 4K resolution: 72fps in F1 2021, 45fps in Assassin's Creed, and 134fps in Rainbow Six.
We measure workstation graphics performance using SPECviewperf 2020, which renders, rotates, and zooms in and out of solid and wireframe models using viewsets from popular independent software vendor (ISV) applications. We run the 1080p tests based on PTC's Creo CAD platform; Autodesk's Maya modeling and simulation software for film, TV, and games; and Dassault Systemes' SolidWorks 3D rendering package. Results are listed in frames per second (fps); higher numbers are better.
We also run Puget Systems’ PugetBench for Premiere Pro, which uses Adobe's popular video editing app to perform live playback and file export with several codecs at 4K and 8K resolutions, as well as special effects sequences that stress the CPU and GPU beyond normal Premiere Pro operations. Our final workstation test is Blender, an open-source 3D content creation suite for modeling, animation, simulation, and compositing. We record the time it takes for Blender's built-in Cycles path tracer to render two photo-realistic scenes of BMW cars, one using the system's CPU and one the GPU. BMW artist Mike Pan has said he considers the scenes too fast for rigorous testing, but they're a popular benchmark.
Premiere Pro is probably the most relevant benchmark here for the ProArt Station PD5, and its score indicates it would make a capable video-editing platform. Its 65-watt CPU will hold back its rendering times, but dropping frames while editing shouldn't be a problem. The SPECviewperf results also suggest the Asus is capable of 3D modeling. Creo was the only subtest where it (and the NZXT) didn't do as well, and that's because the two HPs and the Dell have professional GPUs with specially optimized drivers. The other two subtests don't use those optimizations, so the ProArt Station PD5 had no trouble keeping up.
The Asus ProArt Station PD5 shows promise, combining gaming-grade hardware with ISV certifications and clever features that creative types might find useful. But it falls short in too many places to earn our enthusiastic recommendation. If Asus can refresh its technology with Intel's latest silicon, add a Thunderbolt port or two, and quiet its cooling fan, we'll be glad to revisit it.
In the meantime, if you're simply after processing muscle, you're better off with a workhorse desktop like the XPS Desktop 8950. And if you really need the certifications and other benefits a workstation provides, you'll want to look at more expensive but more capable machines like the Precision 3650 or the HP Z2 Tower.
Asus’ creator-centric ProArt Station PD5 desktop isn't a bad performer, but it could use newer components and faster connectivity.
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Computers are my lifelong obsession. I wrote my first laptop review in 2005 for NotebookReview.com, continued with a consistent PC-reviewing gig at Computer Shopper in 2014, and moved to PCMag in 2018. Here, I test and review the latest high-performance laptops and desktops, and sometimes a key core PC component or two. I also review enterprise computing solutions for StorageReview.
I work full-time as a technical analyst for a business software and services company. My hobbies are digital photography, fitness, two-stroke engines, and reading. I’m a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Computer buying advice (yes, including Macs)
Lots of cool high-end tech comes through my hands on a weekly basis, reviewing muscular machines for PCMag. But for getting actual reviews done, I keep it simple. A 14-inch HP EliteBook laptop, an Apple iPhone, and Microsoft 365 are my three key work essentials. I use Panasonic Lumix cameras for photography, an Apple Watch for the gym, and an Amazon Kindle for downtime.
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