Review: The MJ-12 8550i Workstation, one of the first to use Intel's Xeon 5300 series, is fast, quiet and handles high-end computational tasks with ease.
High-end PC maker Alienware is probably best known as a producer of screamingly fast gaming machines. However, the company also has a more businesslike side that takes much of this gaming expertise and applies it to the creation of powerful workstation systems for tasks such as CAD, extreme data crunching and high-end graphics.
One of Alienwares newest systems is the MJ-12 8550i Workstation, one of the first systems to use Intels latest class of workstation processors, the quad-core Xeon 5300 series.
However, the power of the system doesnt stop at the processor. The Alienware MJ-12 8550i Workstation can be loaded with up to 16GB of memory and uses superfast 15,000-rpm hard drives.
All in all, this is a system that should be able to handle any high-end computational task with ease.
Despite that this system is from Alienware, it wont be out of place in a corporate environment. While it does feature the distinctive alien head on the front of the system, the case of the system itself is an attractive but very corporate-friendly black streamlined enclosure.
With a quad-core processor, 700-watt power supply and three drives in a RAID array, one would expect the Alienware MJ-12 8550i Workstation to be a pretty noisy system. However, Alienware has done a great job at controlling fan and overall system noise, and we were surprised at how quiet the system was during our tests. Workstation users could easily have this system sitting on their desks without having to worry about too much fan noise.
As is the case with other Alienware systems (and systems from corporate parent Dell), the MJ-12 8550i Workstation can be purchased in a wide variety of configurations, including a base configuration that costs around $2,500. The system that we tested featured one Xeon 5320 1.86GHz quad-core processor (the system can be upgraded to two processors), 2GB of RAM (16GB maximum), 750GB of disk space in a high-speed RAID array, an Nvidia Quadro FX 3500 graphics card and a built-in digital card reader. Pricing for this configuration we tested is approximately $5,000.
We expected the MJ-12 8550i to be a fast performer, and we werent disappointed. In tests using the PCMark05 benchmark the system scored very well, with a PCMark05 score of 6,273more than twice the performance of a custom-built workstation in our Labs that wed equipped with an AMD Athlon 64 2.21GHz processor, 2GB of memory and an ATI Radeon X800 graphics card.
However, where the real power of the Alienware MJ-12 8550i will come through is in classic workstation applications that use multithreading. These applications will take full advantage of the quad-core Xeon processor.
As we also expected from the Alienware system, the MJ-12 8550i sports plenty of nice touches that make using the system a pleasant experience. The case has a lockable front panel with a small door for access to front-mounted Firewire and USB ports. We appreciated the way the panel on the front of the machine could slide away to the side of the case, enabling us to access the DVD drive and the front-mounted digital card reader without having a door flopping around on the front.
Looking at the inside of the case was also a good lesson in system design. Foam linings helped dampen system noise, and all drives and cables were neatly arranged and easily accessible, making upgrading the system a snap.
Chief Technology Analyst Jim Rapoza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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