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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 same gaming expertise and applies it to the creation of very powerful workstation systems for tasks like CAD, extreme data crunching and high-end graphics.
One of its newest systems is the MJ-12 8550i Workstation, which is one of the first systems to use Intel’s latest class of workstation processors, the quad-core Xeon 5300 series. However, the power of the system doesn’t stop at the processor. The Alienware MJ-12 8550i Workstation can be loaded with up to 16GB of memory and uses super-fast 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.
And despite the fact that this system is from Alienware, it won’t 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 I was very surprised at how quiet the system is. I could easily have this system sitting on my desk without any concerns 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 prices around $2,500. The system that I received for testing 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 Quadra FX 3500 graphics card and a built-in digital card reader. Pricing for this configuration is more in the $5,000 range.
With this configuration I expected a pretty fast system, and I wasn’t disappointed. In tests using the PCMark05 benchmark the system scored very well, with a PCMark05 score of 6,273—more than twice the performance of a custom-built workstation in our Labs that had an 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 I expected from Alienware, the MJ-12 8550i has lots 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. I also liked how the panel could slide to the side of the case, letting me 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 to dampen system noise, and all drives and cables were neatly arranged and easily accessible, making upgrading the system a snap.