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January 1999

Xi 450X MTower DP AGP
"Xi Computer's dual-Xeon-processor workstation delivers high end graphics on a budget."

  Xi Computer Corp., a company that began life engineering motherboards for Intel microprocessors, has been a leader in assembling systems that consistently deliver the fastest AutoCAD performance. With its latest top-of-the-line system, the Xi 450X MTower DP AGP, the company has set its sights on delivering performance to meet the needs of designers involved in sophisticated 3D modeling applications.

    Unlike systems from major manufacturers, who now design their own sculpted, zero-tools cases, the Xi 450X MTower is built using lots of standard parts. But Xi has a long history of choosing premium parts. The minitower case (7.5w X 20.75h X 17d inches) is a perfect example. A cover conceals the front-panel accessible device bays as well as the power and reset buttons, sliding open at the press of a button. The case's side panels, held in place with two screws, remove to expose a well-organizer interior with excellent access to the drive cages, expansion slots, CPUs, and memory sockets. Our system came equipped with 128MB of RAM installed in a single 72-pin DIMM; up to 2GB of RAM is supported. The drive cage provides more than ample room to grow with three 5.25-inch accessible drive bays and three 3.5-inch bays, two with front panel access. A 300-watt power supply provides power to spare.

Quick-Switch Motherboard
   The system itself is built around a Super S2DGU motherboard from SuperMicro. This well-designed board supports dual Pentium II Xeon processors running at 400- or 450MHz at a 100MHz system bus speed.
    Our evaluation unit was initially provided with a pair of 450MHz Pentium II's installed in a special Slot 1 adapter. Once we had evaluated the system in this configuration, we removed these CPUs, installed a pair of Intel Pentium II Xeon 450s, and repeated all the benchmark tests a second time, to determine the performance benefits of Intel's latest CPU. The motherboard, based on the Intel 440GX chip set, provides five PCI slots, an AGP slot, and two ISA slots, one of which is shared with the first PCI slot.

   The second PCI slot also offers a RAID port for use with an Adaptec ARO-1130CA2/SA2 RAIDport III card. The system board uses the latest AMI flash BIOS, and also includes APM 1.2, DMI 2.01, Plug and Play, and an Adaptec 7890 Ultra II SCSI controller supporting both UltraWide and UltraSCSI devices. The Xi 450X MTower came equipped with a 10,000-rpm Seagate Cheetah 9.1GB hard drive. On-board support is also provided for the 3.5-inch floppy drive and 32X Teac CD-ROM.

    The SuperMicro motherboard also allows system integrators to take advantage of numerous other technologies, such as chassis intrusion detection, Intel LANDesk Client Manager, Microsoft OnNow, Wake-On-LAN, and real-time clock wake-up alarm, all of which Xi implemented in its system. Wake-up events can also be triggered by a call received my the modem, and Xi included an internal US Robotics 56Kbps Sportster voice/fax modem in our system, installed in one of the ISA slots. Two of the five PCI slots were also filled: one with a 3Com Fast EtherLink XL 10/100Base-T network interface card and the other an Ensoniq 32-bit wavetable sound card. Xi rounded out the system with a very vice Keytronic 104-key PS/2-style keyboard, the latest Logitech MouseMan+ three-button mouse with a mouse wheel, a pair of Altec Lansing ACS42 computer speakers, and a Labtec desk boom microphone. Rear-panel connections include two 9-pin serial, one parallel, two USB, mouse, and keyboard ports in addition to the video, sound, network, and modem connections provided by the respective boards, with everything clearly labeled, Microsoft NT Server 4.0 came preloaded.

Powerful 3D Graphics
    Nor did Xi skimp when it came to equipping its Xi 450X MTower system with high-end graphics capabilities. Our evaluation unit came with an Accel-Graphics AccelGMX 2000 video board. This board, equipped with 96MB of memory-- a 16MB VRAM frame buffer and 80MB DRAM for local buffering and textures-- dual 3Dlabs Glint MX Graphics processors, and a 3Dlabs GLINT Gamma geometry engine, delivers 3 million 3D vectors per second and more than 3 million 3D triangles per second. Its 3D graphics features include Gouraud shading, bilinear, trilinear, and MIP-mapping, overlay support, and support for up to 16 lights. Maximum resolution ranger up to 1,600x1,200 at 60Hz while maintaining 32-bit color depth. At 1,280x1,024, the board supports  refresh rates up to an eye-pleasing 100Hz. Although we received our system sans monitor, Xi also offers a wide range of monitors to choose from.

Different CPU, Same Results
    I loaded an arsenal of CAD and 3D modeling software on to the Xi 450X MTower, including AutoCAD R14 and Solidworks 98.. With the dual Pentium IIs, AutoCAD's performance, as expected, was no better than on similarly powered single-processor systems, since AutoCAD is not multithreaded and therefore cannot really benefit from the second CPU. My test rendering took a mere 19 seconds to complete, beating even a 400MHz Hewlett-Packard Kayak. SolidWorks' performance was also nice and quick. When I substituted the two Xeon processors, however, SolidWorks and AutoCAD performance showed minimal improvement.

    The Indy3D benchmark yielded admirable results, but nothing approaching those produced by the fx6-equipped HP Kayak. With the dual Pentium 450s and AccelGMX 2000, the Xi system delivered 13.33 and 4.84 fps (frames per second) on the MCAD40 and MCAD150 tests, respectively; 13.88 fps on the animation test, and 15.43 fps on the simulation test. When I substituted the twin Xeon CPUs, the improvement was negligible: 13.41 and 4.88 fps on the two MCAD tests, 14.08 fps on the animation, and 15.57 on the sailboat simulation. Results with the single Xeon processors were nearly identical.

Won't Break The Bank
Although not a household name, Xi has forged a well-deserved reputation for selling excellent systems built using top of the line components, and then backing those systems with knowledgeable support staff. In addition to Xi's standard one-year parts warranty and the warranty offered by the manufacturers of the individual components, buyers can add a 12-month or three-year on-site warranty through National Warranty Computer Service Corporation, a network of over 900 service centers throughout all 50 states.

      Although the $7,775 price initially appears high, consider that it includes two Xeon processors (about $1,579 each) and the $2,209 AccelGraphics board. The same system with two standard Pentium IIs is priced at $6,170 while a single-Xeon-based system would be $6,196. Base configurations with more modest memory and graphics options start at $2,519. While it does not deliver the SGI-rivaling bang of the HP Kayak, Xi has once again produced a solid, top-performing system that won't break the bank and offers lots of room to grow.

By David Cohn, a computer consultant and technical writer based in Bellingham, Washington, has been benchmarking PCs since 1984. He is a contributing Editor of Desktop Engineering, and the author of various books, including AutoCAD R14: The Complete Reference, coming soon from Osborne/McGraw-Hill. You can contact David via e-mail at dcohn@az.com.

Benchmark Test Results

Benchmark Test Single Pentium II Dual Pentium II Single PII Xeon Dual PII Xeon
Indy3D MCAD40 13.33 fps 13.33 fps 13.41 fps 13.41 fps
Indy3D MCAD150 4.83 fps 4.84 fps 4.87 fps 4.88 fps
Indy3D Animation 13.88 fps 13.88 fps 14.05 fps 14.08 fps
Indy3D Simulation 15.43 fps 15.45 fps 15.55 fps 15.57 fps
AutoCAD Render 20 seconds 19 seconds 19 seconds 18 seconds