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By Matt Lombard, December 3, 2012
The Xi PowerGo XT is a 17.3” portable workstation that weighs nearly nine pounds. A machine like this is not for everyone; for professionals who need desktop power on the go, however, this is power you can tote -- although I'd recommend a roller bag!
The laptop is plenty big on its own, but as shipped to me for this review it was double boxed and very well padded. The display had a special wrapping, and there was extra padding to keep the keyboard from marking up the screen. This extra attention to packing shows that Xi cares about the condition of the machine when it reaches your desk. (See figure 1.)
|Figure 1: The 17.3" Xi PowerGo XT is a portable workstation that could easily serve as a no-compromise desktop replacement.|
Besides the laptop itself, the box included a simple carrying bag, a desktop keyboard and mouse, and the disk media for the operating system (Windows 7). There were some extra bits of software installed, including Adobe Creativity Suite and McAffee VirusScan. I’m sure that if you order a machine from them and specifically ask for no additional installed software, they would oblige.
A company the size of Xi does not have the resources to engineer and build the case for niche devices like this one, and so it buys chassis from Clevo, which I believe to be their P170M model. (It is possible that you might find other companies offering machines that look similar but are branded differently. For instance, Dell resells Clevo units, which are easily recognized as their M6000 line.) Xi's part in the process is to tweak the specifications, adds some branding, install the OS and other software, burn it in and test it, market and sell it, and supports the unit.
The concept of reselling niche devices is not new, and it does help to keep the prices down and the technology up. Some years ago, I owned the predecessor to this design, similar in size and built by Clevo, but sold through another brand. I can say that the design has improved over the years, particularly in the heat management department.
The processor in this unit is Intel’s Core i7 3840 QM 2.8/3.8GHz with 1C Turbo Boost. The split clock speed rating (2.8/3.8) means that it is rated for 2.8GHz, but through Turbo Boost can race as fast as 3.8GHz. When all four cores are engaged, it runs at about 3.6GHz, which I was able to verify with the CPU-Z utility.
Setting the Windows’ power management to High Performance runs the processor at the high speed constantly. Using the Balanced Power setting dynamically enables and disables the number of cores, allowing the CPU to go as high as 3.8GHz.
One odd thing you will discover is that there is no mechanism to lock the lid in the closed position. (In my old unit, it just took one trip through TSA airport security to break one of the clasps.) The fact that this one has nothing there is a little unsettling at first, but in actual use the spring seems to hold the lid shut well enough. If I were traveling with this unit, I would probably use a piece of foam between the keyboard and the display to help minimize vibration when closing the lid. I didn't directly observe any problems, but there were multiple safeguards in place to keep the keyboard from chattering against the display while the unit was shipped.
Powering up the laptop for the first time, I let out an audible "Oooooh!" The 17.3” 1920x1080 display is truly magnificent. It was so bright I couldn't run it at full brightness, because it lit up the room around me. Even the smallest text looked crisp and clear.
Below the display is a backlit keyboard, including full numpad. I’m a bit of a keyboard snob, but the backlighting on this unit is truly stunning. The keyboard is divided into three sections, and each section can have a different color. Now, I’m not suggesting that a multi-color backlit keyboard makes me more productive, but it does make me outrageously cool. My favorite set up is shown in figure 2, dark blue to light blue, to red.
|Figure 2: The backlit keyboard|
If you decide to work all night just to see the cool multi-color keyboard, be forewarned that typing with vigor may interrupt the sleep of those around you. The keyboard worked and felt ok to me, but didn’t feel (or sound) as good as it looks. The keyboard could benefit from just the thinnest bit of foam to cushion the keys slightly and to deaden the sound. I’m a bit of a “Helm Hammerhand” on the keys, and typing on this keyboard, while visually inspiring, sounds like a Nebraskan hailstorm.
Not to get unduly stuck on the keyboard, but there is no navigation nub in the middle of the keyboard. For me, this is an advantage, because I find those nubs tend to get in the way of typing properly.
The next peripheral that I noticed was the sound. For a laptop, the Onkyo THX sound is very good. This wouldn't be a primary reason to buy this machine, but it is certainly on par with what I would expect when paying for a serious piece of performance equipment like this.
Some of the other non-essential goodies include the fingerprint reader and the Webcam.
|Figure 3: Firewire, network, 2 USB 3.0 and e-Sata/USB, Card Reader access are on the left side of the computer.|
Connectivity is what I expect. There are three USB 3.0 ports and one USB 2.0 port. As well, there is an IEEE 1394 (Firewire) port and an e-SATA connector, which actually doubles as one of the USB 3.0 ports. See figure 3.
WiFi is built in, of course, and there is a network port. It has a double-layer DVD read/write drive. For video out, there is DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort, one each. I found jacks for headphone, microphone, line in, and line out. There is also a 9-in-1 combo card reader, and a Kensington lock slot rounds out the connections. See figure 4.
|Figure 4: Connections for DisplayPort, HDMI, DVI and power plug are available on the back between two large vents.|
The battery is an 8-cell 77Whr unit. This is big for a laptop, but between the video display and the processor, I got less than two hour juice when I did anything other than admire the keyboard.
Essentially, the battery is a convenience for being unplugged for short amounts of time. Machines like this can't be used for long away from the power umbilical.
The Xi PowerGo has two graphics boards. One is the lower-powered Intel HD Graphics 4000 integrated into the CPU; the other is the more powerful nVidia Quadro K3000M in an independent GPU. The laptop uses nVidia’s Optimus switchable CPU-GPU technology, which allowed me to specify which applications use which GPU (More graphics power) and which use the CPU (more battery life).
One of the great things about the video out arrangement is that I can attach an external display and use it as a second monitor. So I could have my 27" desktop monitor right next to the 17.3" laptop display. I’d leave email on the laptop, and move CAD to the 27".
When I owned one of these, this is exactly how I had mine set up, and it worked well for me for several years. The large laptop was my main computer, and I found it a great advantage when I was travelling to take along my primary computer with me. This is especially true when you're involved in something where you cannot get away with toting only a tablet.
The Windows Experience Index scored this system at 7.3, but it has much higher potential. As much extra as the nVidia Quadro K3000M cost, it proved to be the weak link! See figure 5. The highest possible score is 7.9, and this laptop just about reached this in all other areas.
|Figure 5: Windows Experience Index rates a computer based on its weakest component, which in this case is the graphics system.|
While the K3000M is the best video card offered by the Xi configurator, nVidia does offer more powerful K4000M and K5000M models. These double the memory of the K3000M, use an extra 25W of power, and have significantly more parallel processor cores (576 vs 950 and 1,344 respectively). The cost of such an upgrade would be about $500 and $900 respectively; this probably is not worth the added cost, unless your video demands are really extraordinary.
To run SolidWorks with real-time rendering, you have to have a Quadro card; if you don’t run SolidWorks, then Xi offers the more powerful nVida GeForce GTX 680M with 4GB GDDR5 video memory for $200 less.
Another benchmark is the informal Anna's Punch Holder. This uses 3D CAD (SolidWorks 2013) as the benchmark, and it simply measures how long it takes to rebuild 3D parts with very large hole patterns. See figure 6.
For a laptop, 54 seconds is a great time and is 3 seconds faster than the Lenovo unit I reviewed recently. Follow this link to look through results for how other computers fared in this home-grown benchmark.
|Figure 6: Anna's Punchholder benchmark runs fast for a laptop.|
Finally, the PassMark benchmark shows that the Xi PowerGo XT and the processor within it stack up very well against other computers and other processors. The use of the solid state drive helps keeps the score high. When measured against those two components, the K3000M video is again shown as the weak link.
|Figure 7: The Passmark benchmark results.|
Although Xi has been around for more than 25 years, they haven't had a lot of attention until recently. The last two desktops (both CAD workstations) I purchased were from Xi. I find them to be a great company to deal with, because they are small and I can always get to the person with whom I last spoke --, or the person who can get something done for me. My support experiences with Xi have been positive, but the best experience with the company was when buying new computers, because they also know the difference between a gaming computer and a CAD box. Buying a computer from Xi is like building your own computer, but with expert help and a warranty.
I see Xi as the low-cost competitor to Boxx. Boxx makes very high-end machines for visual and engineering 3D applications. My experience is that they tend to overbuild the machines, and I could wind up paying for a lot of stuff I really don't need. Xi will help you spec a machine with just what you need.
If you need to be mobile and bring your own hardware for power computing applications, the 17.3" display Xi PowerGo XT may be what you really need. Its huge power brick and 9-pound weight make it punishing to tote through large airports. (This is why I recommend a roller bag.)
But when you sit down to work behind that lovely 1920x1080 display, typing on the stunning multi-color backlit keyboard, on one of the fastest portable computers available anywhere, you may be excused for forgetting the pain in your shoulder.
All of this power does not, however, come cheap. The as-reviewed price for this beast is $3,223. Having owned something similar, you can be sure that this unit is miles ahead of the easily-overheated portable workstations from a few years ago.
There is nothing quite as luxurious as not having to compromise when you need power on the road.
Corporate product page - www.xicomputer.com/products/PowerGoIntelXT.asp
|Matt Lombard is a leading expert on SOLIDWORKS. He has written the SOLIDWORKS Bibles as well as books about SOLIDWORKS surfaces and SOLIDWORKS administration. He has a BSME from RIT. More...|
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