With any new computer product, my first objective is to push it to a point of fatigue, consequently testing any weaknesses that may arise while running multiple applications simultaneously. This strategy has proven to serve me well over the years, as technology sometimes has a mind of its own, reveling at your response to a failure during production or, even worse, during a client demonstration. As such, knowing what your chosen system is capable of, and standing by the advantages gained from using it, assures that your work and performance will be at the optimal level.
The sheer size of the computer I recently received for this review was intimidating, but after firing it up, I immediately recognized that it stood out as a quality and powerful workstation. This of course cured my fear of the size and I began to delight over the great user experience I was having with Xi’s MTower PCIe workstation. It appeared that Xi had delivered a high-performing, competitively priced workstation with enough power to satisfy anyone craving computational power and reliability without compromise.
Figure 1. The MTower PCIe workstation.
Computational Performance and Stability
As a multitasking millennial or, as some may call us, the information-hungry, high-speed, enhanced-gaming generation, computer performance is everything. Sure, I’ll go ahead and put high speed at the top of the list, since computer booting stalls and rendering crashes are cause for reevaluation of product worthiness. Fortunately, this was not an issue when using the Xi MTower PCIe workstation. Design and assembly tasks with modeling software were met with the computational power of a firm sixth generation quad-core Intel Core i7-6700K processor with a sealed water-cooled dual fan radiator. This is combined with 16 GB of memory and a Windows 7 Professional operating system. It’s also integrated with a 256 GB Samsung SM951 series solid-state drive that is ideal for multi-tasking, high-performance and even gaming. The combination of these premium components, in conjunction with an NVIDIA Quadro M4000 video card, definitely enhanced the user experience and pushed the 3D visualization far beyond my expectation. For example, the NVIDIA Quadro M4000 is capable of supporting four monitors. So of course I tested it with one of my standard 21-inch monitors and a 55-inch flat screen television, leveraging a DVI to HDMI adapter. Yes! Another win for the millennial. It’s a win for any designer or gamer willing to embrace the unfaltering power of this computer system.
The Xi MTower PCIe is by far the most stable workstation that I have ever operated. I had expected it to roar like a jet engine and overheat from overuse, but it was surprisingly quiet and remained cool over time. I saw no signs of fatigue or overheating. This is due in part to the MTower’s “silent quiet fans” and “sound dampening panels” case option.
Moreover, additional inputs are housed in the rear and on the top sections of the computer, giving the user options to connect several devices, such as USB keyboards, dual monitors, or external storage drives. The additional USB 3.0 and 2.0 ports came in handy when I needed to access content from an external drive (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. The MTower PCIe rear and top inputs.
The base configuration for the Xi MTower PCIe is set at a competitive price of $1,079, but the as-tested premium model was priced around $3,646. See the as-tested options in Figure 3.
Figure 3. The MTower PCIe workstation pricing options.
||Xi MTower PCIe workstation (base configuration)
||Intel Core i7-6700K at 4.5GHz top core frequency high-performance; sealed water cooling dual fan radiator 8MB shared L3 cache DMI 2.0 quad-core 6th generation; 14nm w/Artic Silver 5 thermal compound
||16GB DDR4 at 3000MHz high performance aluminum heat spreader
||NVIDIA Quadro M4000* 8GB DDR5 Maxwell Architecture PCIe 16x 2.0-4xDP 1.2-1x stereo-3D pro support-DX11-OGL 4.3- Shad.M 5.0-supports four monitors
||No monitor (credit)
||256GB Samsung solid state drive SM951 M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 2150/1200MB/s Seq.R/W 512MB cache buffer <.3ms seek shock resistant 1500G (UEFI boot, not to be used as boot drive on XEON-based systems)
||Optional 1TB 7200RPM SATA 6GB/s Seagate Barracuda 64MB cache NCQ ST1000DM003
||HDD std ctrl. according to motherboard and HDD type selected
||Incl. w/ base
||DVD+RW/DL/+R-R/CD-RW Double Media 4.7/8.5GB 18x
||On-board sound or according to motherboard specifications
||Incl. w/ base
||No external speakers option
||Incl. w/ base
||On-board network port(s) according to motherboard specifications
||Incl. w/ base
||Logitech wireless combo MK520 keyboard, hand-friendly laser mouse, programmable
||Genuine Microsoft Windows 7 Professional edition SP1 64-bit (32-bit available on request), fully installed, configured and updated, includes original DVD media and COA
||ASUS Z170-A Intel Z170 Chipset-2xPCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 (Single at x16-dual at x8/x8)-1xPCIe 16x at x4- 3xPCIe 1x-1x PCI-dual ch.-DDR4 to 64GB 3400(OC)/2133-1xGB LAN-1xSATA Express-1xM.2 Socket3(SATA and PCIe mode)-4xSATA 6GB/s RAID 0/1/5/10-HD audio-8CH-1x 5GB/s USB type C-1x10Gb/s USB 3.1-8xUSB 3.0/2.0-DVI-HDMI-DP1.2-Asus 5x protection
||1200W Rosewill 80 plus Gold Certified 140mm silent fan ATX12V/EPS12V 87-92% efficiency active PFC
||Xi MTower silent 652S -3x12cm quiet fans and sound dampening panels-4xfront USB 3.0/2.0-HD audio-SD card-3x5.25 in. ext. bays- 7x3.5 in. int. bays-(supports dual fan radiator for O.C. to 4.5GHz)-DIM(DxWxH): 20 in. x 8.7 in. x 20 in.
||Standard Xi warranty w/ express advance parts replacement, lifetime tech support, three year labor FOB Xi, one year on system parts, manufacturer warranty on software, monitors and external accessories, freight both ways, paid for parts only inside U.S. and Canada)
||Incl. w/ base
||NEMA 5-15P to C13 wall plug, 125 Volt, 16AWG, 5 ft. standard computer AC U.S. power cord or other major countries standard power cord (AU/CH/DE/FR/IT/NZ/UK)
*later upgraded to an M5000 for an additional $980.00
||Incl. w/ base
Now, try not to jump out of your seat over the price of the as-tested model options. It is definitely powerful enough to handle the rigors of personal and high-production office tasks and is worth the cost. Therefore, I give no apologies for sharing the capabilities and cost of this computer. It is priced well for the ambitious designer or competitive gamer looking for a premium, high-performance workstation.
The User Experience
The Xi MTower PCIe workstation configuration was very useful during object creation with SOLIDWORKS CAD software. It enabled the seamless creation of part extrusions, feature cuts and assembly without any system interruptions. No one enjoys diminished creativity due to inefficiency of a lackluster computer, especially when designing with deadlines, or when performing CAD demonstrations for a client. The MTower PCIe configuration made designing even with a robust software program a breeze. Editing was boosted by the NVIDIA Quadro M4000 video card and 16GB DDR4 3000MHz memory, which are both built for high-performance. To this end, a later upgrade to the Quadro M5000 video card added additional capacity for design control.
Figure 4. Assembly model drawn with SOLIDWORKS software.
Figure 5. Part model created with SOLIDWORKS software.
Benchmarking the MTower PCIe Workstation
Below is a list of performance testing and comparisons that I generated using the Xi MTower PCIe workstation.
Figure 6. Windows Experience Index score for system components.
|Windows Experience w/Quadro M4000 video card
|Windows Experience w/Quadro M5000 video card
The Windows Experience Index for this Xi model returned a base score of 7.8 in two instances using a different video card. Since the maximum score for this testing is 7.9, we can see that all of the other components from the performance test are performing at a high level. The systems base score of 7.8 was attributed to the processor.
Figure 7. PassMark comparison with other systems.
|PassMark w/Quadro M4000 video card
|PassMark w/Quadro M5000 video card
Figure 7 illustrates the PassMark testing, which measures the speed of this MTower PCIe workstation, as well as component comparisons. The test was performed twice to compare both a Quadro M4000 and Quadro M5000 video card, which I added as an upgrade on the system. This computer definitely held its own in all categories, regardless of which card was installed. The first run returned a PassMark score of 7091 with the M4000 installed. Then, a second run with the M5000 returned a PassMark score of 7151, increasing the overall score by 60. While this increase may seem small from an all-inclusive view, upgrading to the M5000 card did increase the 3D graphics significantly.
Figure 8a. SPECviewperf benchmarking for Xi MTower PCIe workstation.
|SPECviewperf Benchmark w/Quadro M4000 video card
|SPECviewperf Benchmark w/Quadro M5000 video card
Figure 8b. SPECviewperf online reported benchmark scores.
Figures 8a and 8b display comparable system performance results using the SPECviewperf version 12.0.2. The generated results are a measure of computing performance from varying systems. The higher scores are an indication of greater system speed. I pulled a sample of scores from the SPECviewperf website that only lists reported 2015 performance results for computers with varying configurations and that are using the same NVIDIA Quadro M4000 or M5000 graphics card that was tested in the Xi model.
The system performance metrics were generated on the Xi MTower PCIe workstation
and compared with the existing SPECviewperf system data. Rendering modes from design applications such as SOLIDWORKS, CATIA, NX, and Maya are compared during the benchmark test and reported. The MTower PCIe workstation
returned a score of 127.98 with the M4000 graphics card and 158.47 with the upgraded M5000 graphics card for the SOLIDWORKS viewset (column heading “SW mean” in Figure 8b). In reviewing the scores in figures 8a and 8b, the Xi model running SOLIDWORKS wins hands-down when compared with workstations operating with the same graphics card model. In fact, the only workstations from the sample that outperformed the Xi model were those that incorporated a graphics card that cost significantly more than the Quadro M5000. Of course, an upgrade to a Quadro M6000 would drive the Xi PCIe cost through the roof, which probably isn’t necessary. The Xi performs at a high level without having to upgrade to the next graphics card level. When reviewing the seven reported scores from workstations that are running the pricier graphics card (NVIDIA Quadro M6000), only one surpasses the Xi model and not by much. In this case, I would stick with the competitively priced PCIe workstation with all of the as-reviewed options and upgrades. Trust me, it is more than enough power and you won’t break the bank.
Figure 9. Cinebench benchmarking.
Results: XI MTower PCIe w/Quadro M4000 video card
Results: XI MTower PCIe w/Quadro M5000 video card
Results from office Dell system
A Cinebench test was performed on the Xi MTower PCIe
to test the performance of both the CPU and graphics. The test pushes the computer systems processing power to examine how well the hardware interacts with 3D scenes. The final results will measure frames per second (fps) and points (pts), which reveal graphics card and processor speeds respectively. I was able to generate a Cinebench benchmark score from both video cards shown in Figure 9. Results from the system were higher when upgrading to the M5000 card, but the M4000 still returned great results. Especially when comparing it to a design station in my home office.
The muscle, speed and flexibility integrated into the Xi MTower PCIe
yielded a truly superlative performance, regardless of the software applications I used. Not only have I run multiple design applications simultaneously, but I have done so while streaming music and video content from the Internet. Also, while upgrading to the Quadro M5000 does improve the user experience and graphical design performance of the computer, the Quadro M4000 video card can hold its own. I never expected this much power to come from this workstation, but I must say that any designer, engineer, or anyone engaging in complex computer computations will find this system more than suitable for their needs.
For more information, see Xi MTower PCIe product page on the Xi site.
Alexander Murray is an instructional designer and developer for a mid-sized organization in Central Ohio. Murray is also an adjunct engineering technology instructor at Columbus State Community College in Columbus, Ohio, and has more than 14 years of engineering design and training experience in both the mechanical and civil industries. His education includes an AAS in mechanical engineering technology; a bachelor of science in industrial technology from Kent State University; a master of science in industrial and systems engineering from Ohio University; and he is currently completing a PhD in instructional technology from Ohio University.