- Quad-core Xeon processor
- 15,000rpm hot-swap hard drives
- Top-notch engineering and cooling
- No Linux option
Alienware recently introduced two powerful additions to its MJ-12 desktop workstation family: the MJ-12 8550i and the MJ-12 8550a. The MJ-12 8550i (reviewed here) is powered by the quad-core Intel Xeon 5300s, whereas the MJ-12 8550a is equipped with AMD’s Opteron 2000 Series. Regardless which processor platform you opt for, creative professionals have two incredibly powerful options for maximising performance-per-watt efficiency and virtualisation potential.
Encased in a sleek black chassis emblazoned with the distinctive Alienware logo, the MJ-12 8550i builds on the foundations set by previous Alienware workstations, utilising top-end technology that's relied upon by design professionals and users of compute-intensive applications. Available in single and dual-processor customisations, the MJ-12 8550i features up to eight total processing cores and delivers some 50 per cent greater performance than previous-generation Intel Xeon processor-based workstations. The system can also be packed with up to four 15,000rpm Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) hard disk drives to maximise storage space and data access speed.
To cope with memory and graphics-intensive applications, the MJ-12 8550i is configurable with up to 16GB of DDR2 RAM, along with rock-solid nVidia Quadro FX and ATI FireGL graphics. User convenience and comfort is emphasised, too, thanks to hot-swap drive bays and custom acoustic dampening. Plus, the machine looks striking — a boon to any business that values its image. The system also has lots of nice touches that make using it a joy. Most noticeably, the case has a lockable front panel with a small door to access the front-mounted FireWire and USB ports. The panel even slides to the side of the case, allowing you to access the optical drive and front-mounted digital card reader without having an open door flopping around on the front.
Looks aside, the MJ-12 8550i is 100 per cent built for business. Under the surface it ships as standard with Windows XP Professional (SP2), an Intel Xeon 5130 processor (2GHz, 1,333MHz FSB with 4MB cache), 1GB dual-channel 667MHz DDR2 (upgradable to 4GB), and a 128MB nVidia Quadro FX 350 PCI-E (optional 1GB Quadro or ATI FireGL). Configurable with up to four hard disk drives, running out of local storage capacity is unlikely to be an issue with the MJ-12 8550i. Data transfer is quick, too, as the MJ-12 8550i offers 15,000rpm SAS drives that deliver lightning-fast access. Storage options include: RAID 0 for increased performance and nearly double the drive-to-motherboard bandwidth; RAID 1 for added security; and single or dual independent (non-RAID/JBOD) drives for system-critical data independence, performance and the storage topology designed to your requirements.
Other niceties include a 700-Watt multi-GPU PSU, Alienware Professional motherboard with Intel Xeon 5000P Chipset, 18x Dual Layer DVD±RW drive, integrated High-Definition audio, integrated Intel Gigabit Ethernet Adapter (DSL-ready), Alienware 28-in-1 Digital Media Reader/Writer, and USB Floppy Drive. If your needs are more demanding (and your budget can stand it), you can opt for an Intel Xeon 5355 (2.66GHz, 1333MHz FSB with 8MB cache), 4GB dual-channel DDR2 RAM (667MHz), nVidia Quadro FX 5500 (1GB GDDR3 with x2 Dual Link DVI), Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Gamer, and 30in. (2,560 by 1,600 pixels) Dell UltraSharp Widescreen TFT monitor. The cost for this computing luxury? How does £4,964 (ex. VAT and delivery) sound?
Computers packing this amount of power typically require a lot of ventilation, which can be noisy. The former is true of the MJ-12 8550i, but advanced features such as Alienware’s Acoustic Dampening Level reduce the noise to near-whisper levels. Most connectivity bases are covered: the MJ-12 8550i provides four high-speed USB ports and three analogue jacks to go with Digital Audio In, Digital Audio Out, Gigabit Ethernet and two FireWire ports.
Building on the foundations set by previous Alienware workstations, the MJ-12 8550i is a flexible and powerful system. Available in single and dual-processor customisations and featuring up to eight processing cores in total, this machine should deliver around 50 per cent greater performance than Alienware's previous-generation Xeon-based workstations. And although it’s a solid machine with immaculate build quality (just check out the internal cabling), similar-specified workstations from competitors can be had for less money. Dell, for instance, offers a Precision 690n from just £986 (ex. VAT) which comes with a choice of Linux, up to 64GB DDR2 667MHz quad-channel FBD memory and a 19in. TFT monitor. But you pay a premium for top-notch engineering, and that's what Alienware delivers.