The Netserver 486-50 from Xi Computer Corporation
turned in the fastest results of all the machines we tested
with the standard VGA driver. Housed inside its tower case was a full 16MB of system RAM
(expandable to 32MB) and 256KB of write-back cache. We could point to the 8MB memory
advantage over the other machines (CADALYST specified only a minimum of 8MB of system RAM,
and that's what most manufacturers provided) but even after
we disabled half the memory and reran our tests, this 486-50 still outran the pack, scoring a
CADALYST index of 17.36
using a Tseng Labs ET4000-based graphics board.
When tested with the Orchid Fahrenheit 1280 board
originally supplied in our test unit, and using Orchid's ADI 4.1 driver and the full
complement of memory, the rest results soared to 38.46.
Indeed some tests finished so fast that we couldn't even see them take place. Even the Windows extension flew along, scoring an all-time high of 8.14--
about what AutoCAD R11 386 itself scores when run on a 486-25.
So why did we test it with
two different graphics boards? The Orchid board would only operate when used with its own
drivers. The Netserver locked up tight whenever we tried to run AutoCAD in plain VGA. And
the problem didn't seem isolated to the supplied board. An identical Orchid card
"borrowed" from one of the other test units brought on the same result. Yet the
Fahrenheit 1280 performed flawlessly in other 486-50's. Xi was very responsive and, when
we couldn't resolve the problem over the phone, cross-shipped us a new system.
Other than that, and a
defective Enter key on the Chicony-manufactured keyboard, we had absolutely no complaints.
This machine is a winner, from its Chinon 5 1/4" and 3 1/2" floppy drives to its 244MB
Quantum hard drive and matching UltraStor IDE controller with 1MB onboard disk cache. And
all of this was accomplished using an eight-slot ISA motherboard--no smoke and no mirrors. Three of
the eight slots were filled with the graphics board, disk controller, and I/O port. We
could fault Xi for putting the second serial port and game port on a bracket that blocked
the fourth slot, but these were easily moved to a knock out on the rear panel. The case
has room for four 5 1/4" and two 3 1/2" half-height drives, and the system has
power to spare from its 300 watt power supply. Although an Xi representative assured us
that heat buildup was no problem, the company is making extra sure by equipping the 50MHz
CPU with cooling fins and building the case with an extra front-mounted cooling fan.
Now, brace yourself for the
price. The base unit, consisting of a more modest 4MB of RAM, a 120MB hard disk, the
ProDesigner VGA, and a 14" ViewSonic monitor, will set you back a mere $2,995. That's
for a 50MHz 486. Even when decked out with the bigger hard drive, caching controller,
extra RAM, extra cache, S3-based Orchid board, and the beautiful IDEK 17" monitor
supplied with our test unit, Xi still asks only $4,205.
Need any more convincing? This is a power