Xi MTower 2P64X (Cadalyst Labs Review)

1 Oct, 2008 By: Ron LaFon

Dual quad-core workstation is responsive, fast to boot, and quiet.

This review of @Xi Computer's MTower 2P64X workstation is the second time Cadalyst Labs has completed an extended review of a system and monitor combination. Over a three-month period, I put this workstation through the paces of a variety of Cadalyst Labs projects — including tests of graphics cards, visualization solutions, and benchmark software — to gain a broad sense of how well it functions in extended use. The MTower 2P64X workstation is the first dual quad-core system Cadalyst has evaluated. It was accompanied by a ViewSonic Optiquest Q241wb 24" wide-screen LCD monitor.

Testing Procedure

When I received the MTower 2P64X, I installed current versions of the software for testing, along with the Cadalyst benchmark testing software. The system had arrived preloaded with Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2, as requested. Microsoft has since discontinued Windows XP Professional, unfortunately, so the specific system configuration we tested is no longer available. You can, however, purchase the MTower 2P64X with one of several different versions of Linux or Windows Vista. (Cadalyst plans to test all future workstations with 64-bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista.)

The MTower 2P64X was configured with 4.0 GB of DDR2 800-MHz ECC RAM. Graphics were provided by an NVIDIA Quadro FX 3700 PCIe2 graphics card using NVIDIA drivers v., dated February 1, 2008.

For the first part of the benchmark tests, I ran the Cadalyst C2008 benchmark (www.cadalyst.com/c2008) under AutoCAD 2009, which I used to test performance with both AutoCAD's native OpenGL drivers and Direct3D drivers. I tested the MTower 2P64X system at 1,280 x 1,024 resolution at 32-bit color depth. The Cadalyst C2008 benchmark adds two 3D tests — Hidden Shade and Flat Shade — and works with AutoCAD 2008 under both Windows XP and Vista operating systems. In addition to the single OpenGL and Direct3D tests, I also ran side-by-side simultaneous sessions of C2008, as I typically do with multiprocessor or multicore systems. I combined these two test times for a final result. Because AutoCAD is not yet multiprocessor aware, this procedure presently seems to be the best method for testing AutoCAD on multicore systems.

 Xi MTower 2P64X Dual Quad-Core Workstation
Xi MTower 2P64X Dual Quad-Core Workstation

I also ran the MAXBench4 benchmark test with Autodesk 3ds Max Design 2009, which I tested in three configurations: with the native OpenGL drivers, with the native Direct3D drivers, and with the accelerated NVIDIA MAXtreme driver. This system is among the last that I expect to test with the MAXBench4 benchmark — future 3ds Max tests for Cadalyst Labs workstation and graphics cards reviews will use only the SPECapc 3ds Max benchmark. For this review only, I'm providing scores from both 3ds Max benchmarks.

The final benchmark test for the Xi MTower 2P64X workstation was the full SPECviewperf 10 benchmark (www.spec.org), which works under both Windows XP and Vista. The scores for each of the component tests in the performance evaluation are listed below.

The System

The Xi MTower 2P64X workstation that Cadalyst received for evaluation was housed in a visually striking and large Xi NetRAIDer Sound Proof Cosmos 1000 ATX case that proved to be quiet and offered lots of room for expandability. Inside the decidedly space-age case was an Intel Skulltrail i5400 Express C.S. D5400XS motherboard that had two Intel Core 2 Extreme Quad QX9775 Skulltrail processors, which were overclocked to 3.60 GHz and cooled with a Silent Water Cooling system.

The Xi MTower 2P64X workstation is based on dual processors. The system we reviewed had two Intel quad-core processors.
The Xi MTower 2P64X workstation is based on dual processors. The system we reviewed had two Intel quad-core processors.

The Intel DS5400XS motherboard featured a 1,600-MHz front side bus and could accommodate as much as 16 GB of RAM when fully populated. The design featured two FireWire IEEE 1294 connectors, 7.1 Dolby on the motherboard, and eight USB 2.0 connectors. SLI and Crossfire multi-GPU support was incorporated. A beefy 1250-W power supply is required for this system, but the water-cooling system keeps the Xi MTower 2P64X moderately quiet during operation. A well-located panel at the top front of the system provides easy access to four USB 2.0 connectors, the power and reboot switches, and connectors for both earphones and a microphone.

Although 16 GB of RAM is accommodated, this MTower 2P64X system came with 4 GB of DDR2 800-MHz ECC Dual Rank Interleave heat spreader RAM in two DIMMs. The system included two Western Digital Raptor 150-GB, 10,000-rpm SATA hard drives that featured a 16-MB cache and response times faster than 9 ms. A combination DVD-RW and CD-RW double media (4.7/8.5 GB) 18x optical drive rounded out the drive complements for this particular system. All together, it had five 5.25" drive bays and six 3.5" bays, which combined with the beefy power supply to offer a great deal of expandability. Expandability options were rounded out by the motherboard's two PCI slots and four 16x PCIe slots.

Input for the Xi MTower 2P64X system included a Logitech Deluxe black Windows keyboard and a Logitech 2+ PS/2 black optical mouse.

During the time I had the Xi MTower 2P64X in house, it proved to handle everything that I needed it to do with no problems whatsoever. The system was responsive, fast to boot, quiet, and unobtrusive in operation.

In the benchmark tests, the Xi MTower 2P64X system performed quite well. Running AutoCAD 2009 with the OpenGL drivers selected, I ran the C2008 benchmark and obtained a C2008 total index score of 275 in 78 minutes. With the Direct3D drivers selected, the system produced a C2008 total index score of 351 in 62 minutes. With two simultaneous sessions running concurrently using the Direct3D drivers, one test produced a score of 315 in 66 minutes and the second test produced a score of 349 in 67 minutes, for a combined score of 664 in 67 minutes.

With Autodesk 3ds Max Design 2009 running MAXBench4 using the native OpenGL driver, the system produced a combined high/low average score of 87.11. With the Direct3D driver, the combined high/low average score was 222.02. Using the NVIDIA MAXtreme driver v.10.00.01, the combined high/low average score was 229.77. Using a modified prerelease version of SPECapc for 3ds Max 9 that had been modified to work with Autodesk 3ds Max Design 2009, the MTower 2P64X system on three test runs produced an averaged CPU render score of 12.54, an averaged graphics score of 3.27, and an averaged hardware shaders score of 7.53.

For the full SPECviewperf 10 benchmark, the composite scores were: 40.09 for 3dsmax-04, 50.85 for catia-02, 44.62 for ensight-03, 172.56 for maya-02, 44.18 for proe-04, 84.62 for sw-01, 26.24 for tcvis-01, and 28.23 for ugnx-01.

These scores all are very good for a system based on quad-core processors, with the effects of the additional cores showing up in the performance scores — especially in the SPECapc benchmark.

The ViewSonic Optiquest Q241wb 24" LCD monitor that @Xi Computer shipped with the Xi MTower 2P64X workstation offered a video response time of 5 ms. It featured 1,920 x 1,200 resolution, 400-cd/m2 typical brightness, and a typical 800:1 contrast ratio. The monitor tilted in a –5° to +15° range and consumed 85 W when in operation. Color purity was very good, as were brightness, contrast, focus, convergence, and geometric distortion. Raster rotation showed no problems, and the on-screen menu (OSM) was adequate. This monitor was good, but didn't offer the niceties and feature sets available in more expensive displays. With its speedy response time it was, however, a good match for the MTower 2P64X workstation.

Delivering High Performance

Combined, this workstation and monitor make for a high-end system with lots of extras, and the package is priced accordingly. The $8,636.13 price tag included ground shipping to the East Coast and a standard one-year warranty with express advance parts replacement. A number of other warranty plans are available from @Xi Computer, including on-site coverage. The ViewSonic monitor is covered by a one-year limited warranty on parts, labor, and the backlight.

This high-performance, pricey professional system delivers on performance for those who run the kinds of applications that can take advantage of the extra processor cores and memory. Xi Computer consistently produces some of the speediest systems for CAD, digital-content creation, and engineering applications, and the Xi MTower 2P64X will not disappoint those whose pockets are deep enough to afford this workhorse. Highly Recommended.

About the Author: Ron LaFon

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