I never before had the opportunity to use a Xi computer, but I had seen their advertisements and read reviews of the hardware in CAD magazines, all of which scored the units very well, and so highly recommended them. While out of town at a client’s location for a week-long project, I received confirmation that a Xi PowerGo 15/7 Notebook demo unit ($1,839 base price, $2,675 as tested) had arrived back at the office. Needless to say, I was to get home so that I could unbox the engineering laptop and put it to the test (see figure 1).
When I arrived back at the office, I got worried, for I saw the box, clearly marked "Fragile," looking worse for the wear. Upon opening the box, however, I was relieved to see the unit in one piece, as it has been carefully and well packaged.
Inside the packing box, I found the notebook in its own cardboard box, along with accessories in boxes of their own -- with sturdy cardboard and foam spacers all around. Inside the notebook’s box I found another level of careful packaging: a fabric sock to protect the monitor, clear plastic strips on the plastic housing around the keyboard and speakers.
Opening the accessories box revealed a couple of nice surprises. Not only were all the standard cords and software disks supplied, but also a nifty carrying bag, a Xi-branded mouse pad, and four balsawood airplane kits, stamped with the Xi Computer logo! A very nice touch, in my opinion, as clever marketing strategies can make a difference in how customers perceive you and your products.
First Impressions of the Body
After unboxing everything, it was time for me to plug in the PowerGo and open it up. I noticed two things right away. Firstly, there was no locking mechanism to secure the monitor lid to the chassis, which concerned me initially, but further inspection proved that the lid stayed shut tight on its own. (Several rubber nubs to help keep the lid and chassis from damaging each other while in transport.)
Secondly, the visual design and general appearance of the notebook jumped out at me. I've owned and used a lot of computers through the years, and I have to say this is the first one I've encountered where it seemed like its style was actually thought out during the design process -- in addition to the performance. Xi used multiple textured and brushed plastics, as well as multiple glossy finishes, some of which look almost like chrome. Chamfered corners and edges provide a sleek look and make the unit seem smaller than the other boxy sharp-cornered units on the market.
The chassis slopes from back to front to make the unit seem smaller, and the keyboard easier to type on than the flat chassis models. Two large silver speakers sound great thanks in part to the addition of a small subwoofer on the bottom of the chassis; the Cinema sound controller is from Sound Blaster. While I would never sacrifice performance for stylish looks, I must admit it's cool to have both.
A couple other features worth mentioning: the full-color programmable backlit keyboard (provided by SteelSeries) that includes a number pad and Quick Launch Buttons. One of these is user definable for opening any program I want. Since I often work into the evening, the backlit keyboard is awesome. I programmed the user defined button to open AutoCAD, saving me a little time each morning.
As far as functions and connections on the exterior of the notebook, in the front middle I found status LEDs for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, battery level, sleep state, and hard drive activity.
The right side of the unit has two USB 2.0 ports and houses the CD/DVD burner (see figure 2). But don’t worry, there also are USB 3.0 ports.
The left side includes a vent, three USB 3.0 ports, SD card reader, and audio connectors (see figure 3). It is rare to get this many audio connectors in laptops today:
Yellow -- headphone out and SPDIF out. Not only is it for headphones, but it provides digital audio transmission to external speakers through a fiber optical cable
Red -- microphone input
Blue -- line in connection for external audio devices
Cream -- line out for fixed-volume output, such as to an amplifier
The back of the notebook is where I found the Kensington Lock for anti-theft protection, power connector, RJ-45 ethernet connector, VGA display port, mini-DisplayPort connector, and HDMI port. So lots of display options; VGA is useful for connecting to older external monitors and projectors (see figure 4).
The bottom of the notebook accesses the removable battery, and has additional vents and the subwoofer. Additional items a built-in 720p webcam, and the sound system with Dynaudio Premium Speakers.
The rechargeable high-capacity Li-ion battery is replaceable, which comes in handy if your battery fails or becomes damaged, or if you just want to use an additional back-up battery if you’ll be away from AC power for an extended time. Replacement is easily accomplished by unlocking the battery lock button and then activating the battery release button.
Assessing the CPU Power
While it’s nice to lug around an esthetically pleasing computer, it’s the power inside that counts for engineers and designers. Performance and reliability are what I need to evaluate when choosing a new system.
In this case, my PowerGo 15/7 packed plenty of punch with the newest 22nm 4th generation Intel Core i7 with 8MB L3 Cache. As Xi says, "This mobile workstation can easily handle the most power-hungry CAD, graphic, and number crunching applications at speeds rivaling desktop workstations." And so the unit I reviewed came with 16GB of 1866MHz DDR3 RAM, but can be expanded to 32GB.
(The model number 15/7 refers to the two monitor sizes available: 15" with Quadro K2100, or 17" with Quadro K3100.)
The display is 17.3" diagonally, at the hi-def resolution of 1920x1080. It is an LED backlit display with anti-glare coating; I found it definitely lights up the room! The screen is powered by NVIDIA’s Quadro K3100M graphics board with 4GB VRAM. This is a Kepler GPU and offers Optimus Technology to switch between power-hungry and power-saving modes automatically.
The hard drive is a 250GB solid-state drive from Samsung, which makes drive performance much faster than traditional hard drives. The other drive is the 8x DVD±R/RW burner that can handle double-layer discs. To top things off, its "green" construction is lead-free, halogen-free, and Energy Star-compliant.
Windows 7 is ready to go, and so I did not need to wait for it to first be installed, as can occur with other computers.
Benchmarking the PowerGo
After booting the computer, I immediately tested the PowerGo 15/7 with the Windows 7 Experience Index (no longer available on Windows 8, unfortunately). The computer scored an impressive 7.5 out of the highest possible score of 7.9 (see figure 5). Overall, a great score; the only thing holding it is the graphics card. But when I tested it later with large and complex 3D files and renderings, it ran well. (For those that need more speed from the system, the laptop can be upgraded to the Quadro K4100M.)
In addition to the Windows Experience Score, I benchmarked the system in SolidWorks. For this I used the SolidWorks Performance Benchmark test, which compares your computer’s operations with others. The test pushes computers hard and so gives us a good comparison of the CPU performance. For the comparison, I used our company’s comparable laptop (see figure 6 on the left) against the PowerGo 15/7 (results shown on the right). It blew our office machine out of the water, running 9x faster overall and 27x faster in RealView mode!
(The office machine is a Dell Precision M6500 workstation with a 1.73Ghz quad-core CPU, 8GB RAM and an ATI FirePro M7820 graphics card.)
The proven benchmark performance of the Xi PowerGo 15/7 Notebook is remarkable, and so features such as widescreen display (for full Web page viewing), super-long battery life, backlit keyboard, great sound system, and a sleek looks are all icing on the cake.
When our office evaluates mobile CAD workstations for purchase, we plan to include Xi, as everyone in the office who had a chance to use it loved it. I am not, unfortunately, looking forward to shipping the unit back and being forced to return to my "normal" system. This is a remarkably speedy computer for 3D MCAD designers.
System Configuration of Xi PowerGo 15/7 Notebook, as Reviewed