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P100 NTower SP
Pros: Fastest AutoCAD system reviewed.
Cons: None significant


Year after year, the computers submitted to CADalyst's annual desktop review run faster and faster. And each year Xi manages to deliver a machine that is just a bit faster than any of the others.  Highly Recommended!


Somehow Xi managed to do it again this year: 

Xi's new P100 NTower SP combines some of the latest components to score just a bit better than the other systems in this year's field. Based on a PCI/I-P54TP4 motherboard with Intel's new Triton chipset, the NTower offers Extended Data Output (EDO) RAM support and a 100MHz Intel Pentium CPU installed in a ZIF socket.

The system supports up to 512KB cache, although our review unit came with a more modest 256KB 10-nanosecond pipeline burst write-back cache. Xi's motherboard provides seven expansion slots: three PCI, three 16-bit ISA, and one slot that can be used for either a PCI or ISA board. Although the motherboard also provides on-board support for up to four enhanced IDE drives, Xi elected instead to squeeze higher performance out of the system by using a 2 1/2" Seagate 1.84GB Barracuda 2 hard drive supported by a wide and fast SCSI-2 controller. This PCI- based controller also connects to a Toshiba quadspeed CD-ROM. The on-board IDE support interfaces with a TEAC combo-floppy - making the Xi NTower one of the few machines in this year's review to offer both 3 1/2" and 5 1/4" floppy drives - and a Conner 420MB Wide QIC 80 tape backup unit. Xi's motherboard also came populated with 32MB installed in two of the four available SIMM sockets. The board accommodates up to 128MB of RAM using 32MB SIMMs. RAM supports both fast page mode and EDO modules.

A second PCI expansion slot holds a Diamond Stealth 64 graphics board with 2MB of VRAM (the 4MB VRAM expansion board was unavailable at review time). This S3 964-based board offers video resolutions up to 1600 x 1200 and up to 30 frames/second video capability. In Xi's system, the Stealth 64 powers a 21" Iiyama 9121, the same VisionMaster Pro that garnered a Highly Recommended rating in CADalyst's February review.

All of this power is housed in a spacious 7" x 25" x 16" (WxDxH) tower case. The case contains 11 drive bays, 9 with front-panel access. The 300-watt power supply provides ample power. Everything is kept nice and cool thanks to a large but somewhat noisy front-panel fan as well as the power supply fan and a third fan mounted on the CPU. The motherboard supports a pair of serial ports and a parallel port. Although the motherboard also supports two PS/2-style connectors for a keyboard and mouse, Xi elected to go with a single port, connecting the pointing device instead to one of the serial ports. A Logitech two-button trackball served as the pointing device for this review; a Logitech three-button mouse is also available. Xi's choice of keyboard provided a welcome opportunity to try something new - Microsoft's new Natural Keyboard. A more standard keyboard made by Fujitsu is also available.

To round out one of the most complete systems we've ever received, Xi supplied a Creative Labs Sound Blaster Pro MCD and a pair of Labtec speakers. Though the Sound Blaster isn't the fanciest sound board available, all current operating systems support it, which proved to be a good thing because Xi preloads DOS 6.22, Windows for Workgroups and Windows NT 3.5. You can also have OS/2 Warp preloaded or substituted in lieu of Windows NT.

Of course, the proof of any system is in its performance, but here too Xi stacks the deck by supplying both a Panacea DLD Classic driver for AutoCAD Release 12 and 13 DOS and a copy of Vermont Microsystems' Automate Pro Windows ADI driver for Release 12 and 13. With some of the fastest hardware and software available, no wonder the NTower turned in the fastest timings on nearly all our tests. Under DOS, this Xi machine edged out the competition with CADalyst index scores of 217.87 and 196.49 for Release 12 at 640 x 480 and 1024 x 768 respectively. The release 13 DOS scores were equally impressive: 215.35 and 192.58. Jumping over to Windows, the VMI driver enabled the NTower to virtually eclipse the field, yielding CADbench results of 85.41 and 86.34 for Release 12 in our low-resolution (640 x 480 x 256) and high-resolution (1024 x 768 x 256) tests. Scores totaled 90.46 and 89.43 for Release 13 at those same resolutions, respectively.

Once again, Xi assembled the latest top-of-the-line components into a unified system that bests the rest of the field. The system comes with Xi's own user manual as well as manufacturer's literature for all individual components. Xi also backs the complete system with a one-year warranty that covers all parts, labor and shipping.

If cost is an issue, Xi starts the NTower system more modestly with 16MB, onboard IDE hard disk control, and a 17" monitor for a price $3,300 lower. But if you're looking for the fastest Intel-based AutoCAD system around, the P100 NTower SP configuration is aimed squarely at high-end AutoCAD performance.
Highly Recommended.