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Review: Xi MTower PCIe Provides the Best Bang for Your Buck

California-based @Xi Computer Corporation (pronounced “at-ex-eye”) recently shipped us the latest version of its Xi MTower PCIe workstation. In many ways, this new workstation is an updated version of the identically-named Xi MTower PCIe workstation we reviewed more than three years ago (see Desktop Engineering August 2011, deskeng.com/de/?p=3915). Like the previous system, the workstation we received came housed in a mid-tower case manufactured by Cooler Master and powered by an Intel CPU.

Xi MTower

The well-organized interior of the @Xi workstation hosts an ASUS motherboard, with an over-clocked Intel Core i7 processor hidden beneath a sealed liquid cooling system and eight memory sockets, four on either side of the CPU. Images courtesy of David Cohn.

This time around, however, our @Xi workstation was encased in a black HAF XM case that measured 9.9 x 20.9 x 22.8 in. (W x H x D) and weighed in at 36 lbs. A hexagonal power button is centered in the top-front edge of the case and flanked by a reset switch and a fan LED on/off switch. A small panel at the top of the front bezel contained four USB ports — two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 — as well as a pair of audio ports for headphone and microphone. Below this are three 5.25 in. drive bays with front panel access. The top-most bay contained a 74-in-1 Rosewill USB memory card reader with an additional USB port. Although a DVD reader comes standard in the base configuration, our system included a dual layer DVD+/-RW optical drive, which filled a second bay. An optional Blue Ray read/write drive is also available. The front panel also provides access to a pair of 3.5 in. drive bays. A perforated screen with a large @Xi logo takes up the lower portion of the front panel and conceals a large 6 in. fan that cools the internal drive bays.

The rear panel provides four more USB 2.0 ports, six more USB 3.0 ports, a PS/2 mouse/keyboard port, RJ45 LAN port, an optical S/PDIF out port, and five audio jacks including line-in, line-out/front speaker out, microphone, center/subwoofer and rear speaker out. And the NVIDIA graphics card in our evaluation unit provided two DisplayPorts and two DVI-I connections. The case has no handles, however, and no internal speaker.

Lots of Choices

Everything about the Xi MTower PCIe workstation, including the case itself, is customizable, and @Xi offers lots of choices. In fact, we counted more than 30 different tower and rack mount case options on the company’s website in addition to the one that housed our evaluation unit. On our system, the left panel of the case was held in place by two non-captive thumb-screws. After removing these and putting them safely aside, we lifted a latch and removed the panel, revealing a well-organized interior with six additional 3.5 in. drive bays.

Pricing for the Xi MTower PCIe workstation starts at just $1,079, but that is for a configuration based on a 3.1GHz Intel Core i5 processor with an integrated graphics card, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB SATA drive, DVD reader, mouse, keyboard, a completely different case and 20 in. monitor. At the heart of our evaluation unit was an ASUS X99-A motherboard based on an Intel X99 Express chipset, although @Xi offers 20 different choices. The X99-A board, which adds $199 to the base price, has a single CPU socket flanked by eight DIMM sockets, four to either side of the CPU.

Xi MTower

The Xi MTower PCIe workstation is housed in a Cooler Master HAF XM case with five front panel bays and six more internal drive bays. The system is quiet in spite of multiple fans and cooling grilles on the top, front and sides.

@Xi also offers a choice of 25 different CPUs. Our evaluation unit came with an Intel Core i7-5930K CPU. While this processor has a base frequency of 3.5GHz and a maximum turbo frequency of 3.7GHz, the K designation indicates that the CPU has an unlocked multiplier, making it easier to over-clock. That is exactly what @Xi did, boosting our system to 4.32GHz with a 2800MHz RAM and a Corsair sealed water cooling system. That CPU added $995 to the base price.

Four of the eight memory sockets were filled with 4GB DDR4 quad interleave DIMMs, for a total of 16GB of RAM, adding an additional $399. The system can accommodate up to 64GB of memory.

Xi MTower

The rear panel of the Xi MTower PCIe workstation provides lots of expansion options.

One of the internal 3.5 in. bays contained a Samsung 500GB SSD (solid-state drive), which added $269 to the base price. But again, @Xi offers a choice of 25 different drives ranging from a 250GB SSD up to a 4TB SAS drive. You can configure your workstation with multiple drives as well as various RAID arrays.

The ASUS motherboard provides three PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 slots, two PCIe 2.0 x1 slots, and a PCIe 2.0 x16 slot. One of the slots in our evaluation unit housed an NVIDIA Quadro K5200 GPU (graphics processing unit) with 8GB of DDR5 memory and 2304 CUDA parallel-processing cores. The GPU’s thickness blocks access to one of the adjacent PCIe x1 slots, and its 150W power consumption means that it needs an additional power connection. Of course, the 1000 watt Rosewill 80 Plus Bronze series power supply nestled at the bottom of our case, yet another option, provided plenty of power to spare. That’s a good thing, because the motherboard also has eight SATA 6.0 Gb/s ports and one SATA Express port.

The motherboard also provides Realtek ALC1150 8-channel high-definition audio and support for gigabit LAN. Though @Xi also offers other higher-end sound cards, network cards, speakers, and more.

Great Performance

Thanks to its SSD, the @Xi workstation booted up very quickly. And although it had lots of fans — two on the top of the case attached to the liquid cooling system, the large fan in the front panel, another large fan in the rear panel and fans on the GPU and power supply — the workstation was nearly silent after its initial startup.

Xi MTower PCIe workstation

  • Price: $4,985 as tested ($1,079 base price)
  • Size: 9.9 x 20.9 x22.8 in. (WxHxD) mid-tower
  • Weight: 36 lbs.
  • CPU: 3.7GHz Intel Core i7-5930K over-clocked to 4.32GHz
  • Memory: 16GB DDR4 at 2800MHz
  • Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro K5200 w/ two DisplayPorts and two DVI ports
  • Hard Disk: 500GB Samsung 2.5-inch SSD
  • Floppy: None
  • Optical: 18X DVD+/-RW Dual Layer
  • Audio: Integrated HD audio (front panel: microphone, headphone; rear-panel: line-in, line-out, microphone, rear, center/sub-woofer, and SPDIF out)
  • Network: Integrated gigabit Ethernet, one RJ45 port
  • Modem: None
  • Other: Nine USB 3.0 (3 front/6 rear), six USB 2.0 ports (2 front/4 rear), PS/2 keyboard/mouse port, 74-in-1 card reader
  • Keyboard: 104-key Lenovo USB keyboard
  • Pointing device: Lenovo USB optical wheel mouse
  • Power Supply: 1000 watts, 80%
  • Warranty: Three years parts and labor
Thanks to the NVIDIA Quadro K5200 GPU, the Xi MTower PCIe workstation performed great on the SPECviewperf benchmark, turning in the best results we’ve recorded to date for a single-socket workstation.

On the SPECapc SolidWorks benchmark, the system also delivered top scores. It was only on the multi-threaded AutoCAD rendering test that the Xi MTower PCIe workstation didn’t take top honors. This rendering test clearly shows the benefits of multiple CPU cores, so while the Xi workstation with the equivalent of 12 CPU cores (with HyperThreading enabled) took just 42.33 seconds on average to complete the test rendering, that was 4 seconds slower than the Digital Storm Slade PRO, a system with a slightly slower CPU, but the equivalent of 16 CPU cores.

We also ran the SPECwpc workstation performance benchmark. We have now run this new test on a half-dozen systems, and while we still do not have enough results to understand the subtleties of all of its data, it is abundantly clear that the Xi MTower PCIe workstation delivered the best results thus far on nearly every one of the individual tests in this extensive benchmark.

@Xi pre-loaded Windows 8.1 Professional 64-bit, adding $59 to the system price. Here again, the company offers lots of choices, including various flavors of Linux as well as several versions of Microsoft Windows. A free one-year license to McAfee AntiVirus Plus was also included. The company rounded things out with a Logitech 104-key USB keyboard and Logitech USB 2-button wheel mouse.

A one-year warranty with express advanced parts replacement is standard, but our evaluation unit came with a three-year warranty, adding $99 to the total cost. Warranties of up to five years are also available.

Although @Xi advertises a starting price of $1,079, once we added all of the higher-end components, our evaluation unit priced out at $4,985 without a monitor. But when you consider that price is more than $800 lower than the only single-CPU system we have tested that turned in faster performance, the Xi MTower PCIe workstation once again delivers more bang for your buck.

More Info

Single-Socket Workstations Compared

Xi Mtower PCIe

One 3.7GHz Intel Core i7-5930K 6-core CPU over-clocked to 4.32GHz, NVIDIA Quadro K5200, 16GB RAM

Lenovo P300

One 3.6GHz Intel Xeon E3-1276 v3 quad-core CPU, NVIDIA Quadro K4000, 8GB RAM

Digital Storm

Slade PRO

One 3.4GHz Intel Xeon E3-2687W v2 eight-core CPU, NVIDIA Quadro K4000, 32GB RAM

HP Z1 G2

One 3.6GHz Intel Xeon E3-1280 v3 quad-core CPU, NVIDIA Quadro K4100M, 16GB RAM

HP Z230

One 3.4GHz Intel Xeon E3-1245 v3 quad-core CPU, NVIDIA Quadro K2000, 8GB RAM

Lenovo E32 SSF

One 3.4GHz Intel Xeon E3-1240 v3 quad-core CPU, NVIDIA Quadro K600, 8GB RAM

Price as tested $4,985 $2,072 $5,804 $5,918 $2,706 $1,479
Date tested 12/13/14 11/9/14 5/10/14 5/3/14 11/24/13 11/10/13
Operating System Windows 8.1 Windows 7 Windows 7 Windows 7 Windows 7 Windows 7
SPECviewperf 12 higher
catia-04 98.53 38.19 34.81 42.23 n/a n/a
creo-01 86.66 34.31 33.15 30.82 n/a n/a
energy-01 3.49 0.65 0.60 1.74 n/a n/a
maya-04 72.18 32.31 31.28 33.79 n/a n/a
medical-01 28.84 12.38 10.75 10.34 n/a n/a
showcase-01 48.98 22.64 20.65 21.12 n/a n/a
snx-02 150.42 36.79 34.12 40.37 n/a n/a
sw-03 126.08 69.37 50.78 38.66 n/a n/a
SPECviewperf 11 higher
catia-03 99.1 67.84 69.41 63.80 46.17 25.14
ensight-04 148.83 48.80 47.76 61.56 29.32 15.47
lightwave-01 100.99 88.54 76.90 82.76 87.98 75.52
maya-03 99.44 132.59 101.12 128.09 92.05 51.32
pro-5 18.19 21.34 16.29 17.18 20.25 15.61
sw-02 88.89 72.05 63.66 67.75 57.31 41.99
tcvis-02 78.64 55.66 54.26 58.99 38.78 23.74
snx-01 134.51 53.24 52.98 65.58 34.09 19.56
SPECapc SolidWorks 2013 higher
Graphics Composite 8.82 6.29 5.37 5.67 4.38 3.14
RealView Graphics Composite 10.03 6.88 5.90 6.16 4.69 3.09
Shadows Composite 10.05 6.89 5.85 6.13 4.68 2.96
Ambient Occlusion Composite 17.58 9.65 9.46 8.48 5.81 2.90
Shaded Mode Composite 8.95 6.17 5.30 5.55 4.75 3.25
Shaded with Edges Mode Composite 8.69 6.41 5.45 5.79 4.04 3.02
RealView Disabled Composite 5.28 4.39 3.70 4.08 3.35 3.31
CPU Composite 4.50 4.18 3.70 3.12 4.15 4.27
Autodesk Render Test lower
Time seconds 42.33 64.08 38.25 45.00 49.00 48.66

Numbers in blue indicate best recorded results. Numbers in red indicate worst recorded results.

About David Cohn

David Cohn has been using AutoCAD for more than 25 years and is the author of more than a dozen books on the subject. He’s the technical publishing manager at 4D Technologies, a contributing editor to Digital Engineering, and also does consulting and technical writing from his home in Bellingham, WA. Watch for his latest CADLearning eBooks on AutoCAD 2015 on the Apple iBookstore, at Amazon, and on the CADLearning website. You can contact him via email at david@dscohn.com or visit his website at www.dscohn.com.