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Xi MTower PCIe

January 19, 2011 By: Ron LaFon

First Look Review: Workstation offers exceptional speed at a moderate price.


Editor's note: This article was originally published in the Fall 2010 issue of Cadalyst magazine.

It's been a few years since Cadalyst reviewed a workstation from @Xi Computer, so when a new Xi MTower PCIe arrived, I was excited by the opportunity to put it through its paces. As it turned out, this moderately priced desktop workstation set a new performance record in Cadalyst Labs.

System Features

The MTower PCIe system I received was based on an Intel Core i7-950 3.0-GHz quad-core processor that was mounted on an Asus P6X58D Premium Intel X58 motherboard that supported both SLI and CrossFireX graphics accelerators. The motherboard had three PCIe 2.0 slots and included two USB 3.0 connectors as well as eight standard USB 2.0 sockets.

The system supported triple-channel DDR3 1600/2000-MHz RAM with 6,144 MB of 1,333-MHz triple rank interleave memory with heat spread, which is available only on Core i7–based motherboards. When fully populated, the motherboard can accommodate 24 GB of 1,333-MHz RAM. Although numerous hard disk options are available, the system I tested included a Seagate Momentus 500-GB 7,200-rpm XT hybrid SATA II drive with 4 GB of SSD memory cache. Due to the nature of these drives, the second and subsequent iterations of a given benchmark test will produce slightly higher scores, which I used for the test results reported below.

Devices include a DVD + RW DL/±R/CD-RW double media 4.7/8.5-GB 18x optical drive, a Logitech deluxe Windows keyboard, and a Logitech 2+ wheel optical mouse. An ultra-quiet Corsair TX850W series power supply (greater than 80% efficiency, 99% active power factor correction UL) provided ample energy resources for the system as equipped and for future expansion. The sturdy case measured 10.0" x 19.7" x 22.2" (W x D x H) and offered a substantial number of ventilation fans.

Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit was preinstalled on the system, and both a Windows 7 DVD and a DVD that included the various drivers used by the system were packaged among the cables and accessories. A PDF user manual for the Xi MTower PCIe also was included, as was a quick-start guide.

Graphics were provided by the new Fermi-based NVIDIA Quadro 4000 graphics card. This PCIe 16x single-slot card has 2 GB of DDR5 RAM, a DVI-I connecter, two DisplayPort connections, and a stereo connector. The Quadro 4000 supports OpenGL 4, Shader Model 5, and DirectX 11. (For additional information about this graphics card, as well as other Fermi-based cards from NVIDIA, visit Windows 7 x64 NVIDIA graphic drivers v8.17.12.5957 (dated September 1, 2010) were preinstalled and used throughout the benchmark testing. For the AutoCAD benchmarks, I used NVIDIA AutoCAD 2011 performance drivers x64 v18.1.4.

Test Results

When testing the Xi MTower PCIe system, I ran two benchmarks: the Cadalyst C2011 v5.3b and the SPEC ViewPerf 11. The Cadalyst benchmark was running under AutoCAD 2011 x64 with the most currently available service packs and patches applied. I performed all tests at a screen resolution of 1,280 x 1,024 at a color depth of 24 bits. I ran several iterations of the Cadalyst benchmark in two different configurations, first with the default Autodesk drivers, then with several iterations of the same test using the NVIDIA performance drivers for AutoCAD. All benchmarks were run with vertical sync set to the Force Off position, as I typically do during all testing.

The moderately priced Xi MTower PCIe workstation set a new performance record in Cadalyst Labs.

The second test suite I used was the SPEC ViewPerf 11 benchmark, which is the latest release of this industry-standard benchmark for evaluating OpenGL graphics performance. For those familiar with the older SPEC ViewPerf 10 test, the results from that revision of SPEC ViewPerf aren't directly comparable to the results from ViewPerf 11. The tests of the latter version are more complex and access different features, making a comparison between the two sets invalid.

My first runs of the Cadalyst C2011 benchmark using the native Autodesk drivers generated a total index score of 354, with a 3D graphics index of 687, a 2D graphics index of 320, a disk index of 188, and a CPU index of 221. The system completed this benchmark suite in 17 minutes.

As expected, test results were greatly improved with the NVIDIA performance drivers for AutoCAD 2011 compared with the native drivers. I ran a series of tests using this driver, which produced a C2011 total index score of 1,220, a 3D graphics index of 4,156, a 2D graphics index of 315, a disk index of 186, and a CPU index of 224. The system completed this benchmark in a speedy 13 minutes. This particular test result is the fastest performance I've seen to date in Cadalyst Labs.

The initial test score with ViewPerf 11 shows single sample performance. Additional tests with as many as four samples are reported below, with composite scores for the four view-sets affected. These scores are listed with the single sample performance first and, where applicable, the 4x samples in parentheses. NVIDIA states that some ViewPerf 11 performance increases are as much as fivefold with the Fermi-based Quadro line, with simulation performances as great as eightfold.

ViewPerf 11 performance scores were as follows: 39.28 for catia-03, 32.26 for ensight-04, 55.57 for lightwave-01 (49.91 — 102%), 77.93 for maya-03, 9.36 for proe-05 (5.84 — 99%), 49.28 for sw-02 (47.17 — 100%), 36.63 for tcvis-02 (28.04 — 92%), and 33.34 for snx-01.

The Xi MTower PCIe has a base price of $1,119, but as equipped was $2,649. This price includes a three-year hard-ware warranty with express advance parts replacement, parts and labor, and return shipping costs. A range of system con-figuration options are available, as are other warranty plans.

Much skill is required to put together a great workstation, and @Xi Computer demonstrates this well. With its high-quality components, expandability, speedy performance, and moderate price, the Xi MTower PCIe easily earns a high mark. Highly Recommended.





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