Xi MTower PCIe Workstation17 May, 2012 By: Art Liddle
First Look Review: Beefy desktop machine delivers top CAD performance.
For more than 20 years, @Xi Computer has been designing workstations for CAD users, and during that time the company has developed a reputation for delivering real value. The latest Xi MTower PCIe workstation reviewed in Cadalyst Labs holds true to that tradition.
Large and unusual-looking tower cases are popular among desktop workstations of late, and this Xi MTower PCIe workstation is a prime example. The all-black CM Storm Trooper Quiet High Ventilation tower measures 9.5" x 23.75" x 22.5" (WxHxD) — the largest we've seen in Cadalyst Labs — and is visually striking, with a motif suggestive of Star Wars. As its name implies, it is quiet, despite the fact that it is cooled by three dedicated fans, including one monster fan (7.5" diameter) on top. All six sides of the tower feature metal mesh for ventilation. A sturdy, integrated handle lets you get a firm grip on this 44-lb unit.
At the heart of the Xi MTower PCIe sits an Intel i5 2500K quad-core processor (3.3 GHz; 6-MB L3 cache) overclocked to 4.5 GHz. A Corsair silent, sealed water-cooling system, which includes its own fan and mini-radiator, keeps the CPU cool. In keeping with its large case, the Xi MTower PCIe includes a Corsair TX850 Ultra-Quiet power supply (minimum 80% efficiency). The whopping 850 watts of power it provides should handle virtually any add-ons you might require.
The ASUS P8Z68 Deluxe motherboard has four dual-channel DIMM sockets. A pair of 8-GB DDR3 1866-MHz DIMMs, equipped with Corsair heat spreads, provide 16 GB of system memory. After accounting for the graphics card and a second slot that it effectively blocks, five slots remain available for expansion cards: one PCIe 2.0 x 16 slot (x16), one PCIe 2.0 x 16 slot (x4), one PCIe 2.0 x 1 slot, and two PCI slots.
The graphics subsystem of the Xi MTower PCIe is powered by an NVIDIA Quadro 4000 graphics card (2 GB of GDDR5 RAM) and includes one dual-link DVI-I port and two DisplayPort connections, as well as a 3D stereo (3-pin mini-DIN) jack. With this configuration, you can run two simultaneous displays at a maximum resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 with 32-bit color.
The Xi MTower PCIe workstation is big, powerful, and well appointed.
The system is equipped with three drives: a Western Digital SATA hard drive (7,200 rpm) that provides 1,000 GB of data storage; a Corsair 60-GB solid-state drive that enhances file-reading performance by intelligently caching frequently accessed data; and a DVD+RW/DL+/-R/CD-RW 18x optical drive. Eleven empty slots are available for expansion, including one 5.25" bay, seven 3.5" bays, and three 2.5" bays.
Don't worry about running out of external connections with the Xi MTower PCIe. Located high on the front face of the tower — allowing for easy access — are five USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, two eSATA ports, assorted memory card slots, a 5V DC power plug, and microphone and headphone jacks, plus the power and reset buttons. Located at the rear of the tower are six USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, one eSATA port, one Gigabit Ethernet port, one optical S/PDIF audio-out connector, a Bluetooth v2.1 module, and a set of 7.1 HD audio jacks.
Other features include an integrated sound card, Logitech Deluxe Windows keyboard, and Logitech 2x optical wheel mouse. The operating system is Microsoft Windows 7 Professional Edition 64-bit, with DVD included.
We measured the Xi MTower PCIe's performance with our usual suite of three tests: the Cadalyst c2011 v5.3b benchmark with AutoCAD 2011 and its default driver; Cadalyst c2011 with AutoCAD 2011 and NVIDIA's enhanced driver; and SPECviewperf 11. In addition, for the first time, we included the results running Cadalyst c2012 with AutoCAD 2012. Per our standards, we set the screen resolution to 1,280 x 1,024 and the color depth to 32-bit. We enabled hardware acceleration for AutoCAD and turned off vertical sync for the graphics card.
Based on our extensive experience with @Xi Computer, we weren't surprised that the benchmark numbers for its latest workstation were incredible. Running c2011 with AutoCAD 2011 and the NVIDIA enhanced driver, the scores were as follows: total index of 1,482, 3D graphics index of 4,864, 2D graphics index of 439, disk index of 274, and CPU index of 352. These scores are the highest we've seen to date for a workstation in Cadalyst Labs.
The scores for the SPECviewperf 11 suite of tests were of similar caliber, with three of its scores earning top honors as indicated. The weighted scores, single-sample mode only, were as follows: 47.29 for catia-03 (No. 1), 32.43 for ensight-04, 73.68 for lightwave-01, 48.93 for maya-03, 15.59 for proe-05 (No. 1), 57.12 for sw-02 (No. 1), 38.41 for tcvis-02, and 34.03 for snx-01.
Next up are scores using the default AutoCAD driver. We'll start with the AutoCAD 2011 and c2011 benchmark combination: total index of 567, 3D graphics index of 1,198, 2D graphics index of 453, disk index of 275, and CPU index of 340.
Using the Cadalyst c2012 benchmark for the first time in a formal review, we ran AutoCAD 2012 with its native driver; NVIDIA's enhanced driver does not support AutoCAD 2012. The results were as follows: total index of 546, 3D graphics index of 1,043, 2D graphics index of 485, disk index of 301, and CPU index of 355. Going forward, we will test workstation performance using the c2012 benchmark and AutoCAD 2012 combination. We include both sets of numbers here for future reference.
While we're on the subject of performance, let's address the topic of overclocking the CPU. The Xi MTower PCIe's water-based cooling system is designed to maintain an acceptable temperature for the CPU and other components on the motherboard. In the lab, we did a stress test by running our c2012 benchmark continuously for five days (800 iterations). This literally works the CPU, memory, and graphics card continuously at full throttle. The Xi MTower PCIe performed flawlessly throughout the test. Of course, there is no way to be certain how the overclocking will affect the CPU in the long run.
The Xi MTower PCIe carries a base price of $1,119. As configured for this review, the price is $2,994 ($3,105.45 with ground shipping). This price includes a three-year hardware warranty including parts and labor, express advance parts replacement, and return shipping costs. The first three years of technical support is free, and @Xi Computer includes a 30-day, money-back guarantee (excluding software).
The Xi MTower PCIe has everything you need to get serious work done today and ample expansion capacity to support whatever needs may arise tomorrow. Thanks to its competitive pricing and superb performance, the Xi MTower PCIe offers exceptional value. Highly Recommended.
Autodesk Technical Evangelist Lynn Allen guides you through a different AutoCAD feature in every edition of her popular "Circles and Lines" tutorial series. For even more AutoCAD how-to, check out Lynn's quick tips in the Cadalyst Video Gallery. Subscribe to Cadalyst's free Tips & Tools Weekly e-newsletter and we'll notify you every time a new video tip is published. All exclusively from Cadalyst!