The Xi PowerGo XT
The Xi PowerGo XT is a 17.3” portable workstation that weighs nearly 9 pounds. A machine like this is not for everyone. For professionals who need desktop power on the go, 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 as well as padding to keep the keyboard from marking up the screen. The extra attention to packing shows that Xi cares about the condition of the machine when it reaches your desk.
Besides the laptop itself, the box included a simple carrying bag, desktop keyboard and mouse, and disk media for the OS (Win7). 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 components for a case for a niche device like this PowerGo. Xi buys the chassis from Clevo, which I believe to be the P170M model. So it is possible that you might find other companies offering similar machines that look identical, but are branded differently. Dell also resells Clevo units, which can be easily recognized in their M6000 line. Xi’s part in the process is that it tweaks the specifications, adds some branding, installs the OS, other software, burns it in, tests, markets, sells, and supports the unit.
Some 6 years ago, I owned a predecessor to this design, similar in size, also 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 concept of reselling niche devices is not new, and it does help to keep the prices down and the technology up.
Processor and Turbo Boost
The processor in this unit is the Intel Core i7 3840 QM 2.8/3.8 GHz with 1C Turbo Boost. The split clockspeed rating means that it is rated for 2.8 GHz, but through Turbo Boost, it can be raised to as high as 3.8 GHz. When all 4 cores are engaged, it runs at about 3.6 GHz, which I was able to verify with the utility CPU-Z. Setting the Windows power management to high performance makes the processor speed constant. Using the balanced power setting will dynamically enable or disable the number of cores, allowing the CPU to go as high as 3.8 GHz.
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 to break one of the two clasps. The fact that there is nothing there at all is a little unsettling, but in actual use, the spring seems to hold it shut well enough. If I were traveling with this unit, I would probably use a piece of foam between the keyboard and the display when closing the lid to help minimize vibration. I didn’t directly observe any actual problems with this, but when the unit was packed for shipping, there were multiple safeguards in place to keep the keyboard from chattering against the display.
Powering up the laptop for the first time, I let out an audible “oooooh!” The 17.3” 1920 x 1080 display is truly magnificent. It was so bright I couldn’t run it at full brightness, it was lighting up the room around me. Even the smallest text looked crisp and clear.
Below the display is a backlit keyboard including a 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 be a different color. Now I’m not suggesting that having a multi-color backlit keyboard will make you more productive, but it does make you outrageously cool. My favorite set up is shown here, dark blue to light blue to red.
If you decide to work all night just so you can see the cool multi-color keyboard, just be warned that typing with any vigor may interrupt the sleep of those around you. The keyboard worked, and felt ok, but doesn’t feel (or sound) nearly 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 Nebraska hailstorm.
Not to get unduly stuck on the keyboard, but there is no navigation nub in the middle of the keyboard, which I take as an advantage. I find the nubs tend to get in the way of typing properly.
The next peripheral that you will notice is 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 you should expect when paying for a serious piece of performance equipment like this
Some of the other non-essential goodies include a thumb reader, and a webcam.
Connectivity is what you might expect. There are 3 USB 3.0 ports and 1 USB 2.0. There is a IEEE 1394 (Firewire) port and an e-SATA connector (which actually doubles as a USB 3.0 port). Wifi is of course built in, and you have a network port. For video out, there is DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort, one each. You’ll find jacks for headphone, microphone, line in and line out. There is also a 9 in 1 combo card reader. A Kensington lock slot rounds out the connections.
The battery is an 8 cell 77 Wh unit, but between the video display and the processor, if you are doing anything other than admiring the keyboard, you’ve got less than two hours of juice. The battery is essentially 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 both the mother board integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 and the nVidia Quadro K3000M using the nVidia Optimus switchable CPU technology. This allows you to set which applications use which GPU, enabling more efficient use of power.
One of the great things about the video out arrangement is that you can attach an external display, and use it as a second monitor. So you could have your 27″ desktop monitor right next to the 17.3″ laptop display, leaving email on the laptop and moving 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. When traveling, being able to take your primary computer with you is a great advantage, especially if you’re not involved in something where you can get away with only toting 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 is still the weak link. While the K3000M is the best video card offered on the Xi configurator, nVidia offers a K4000M and a K5000M, which double the memory of the K3000M, use an extra 25W of power, and have significantly more parallel processor cores (576 vs 950 and 1344 respectively). The cost of such an upgrade would be about $500 and $900 respectively, probably not worth the added cost, unless your video demands are really extraordinary.
Another benchmark, the informal Anna’s Punch Holder is a 3D CAD (SolidWorks 2013) benchmark, simply measuring how long it takes to rebuild a 3D part with very large hole patterns. 54 seconds is a great time for a laptop, and 3 seconds faster than the Lenovo unit reviewed recently. Follow this link to look through results for how other computers fared in this home-grown benchmark.
I’ve noted this in previous CAD hardware reviews, but I’d like to point it out again here. SolidWorks software ships with a Performance Benchmark Test as part of its SolidWorks RX diagnostics. This would ideally be a great method to use to benchmark computers because it compares your hardware within SolidWorks versions, and is highly automated. But when comparing results against other computers, some of the results simply don’t make any sense. The range in results was so wide, that it was clear that something was not valid. You can see this for yourself if you visit the results site, and sort on one of the columns (click a column header). The CPU score ranges from 5.6 to over 7000. Regardless of the units used, there is no way that processors available within the last several years could be honestly that far apart.
Also, the test itself cannot be run using certain levels of the SolidWorks software without continually interrupting the test to request some licensing verification, due to the requirements for rendering in the test.
So on a couple of levels, SolidWorks needs to revisit this benchmark if they want it to have any validity or trustworthiness at all. It is frankly an embarrassment for Dassault Systemmes to have results of this sort available on a public website without addressing the issue.
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 also keeps the scores high. When measured against those two components, the K3000M video is shown as the weak link.
Xi As a Company
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 have purchased have been from Xi. I find them to be a great company to deal with because they are small, and you can always get to the person you spoke with last, or the person who can get something done for you. My support experiences with Xi have been very positive, but the best experiences with the company have been buying new computers. They also know the difference between a gaming computer and a CAD box. Buying a computer from Xi is like building your own computer with expert help and a warrantee.
I see Xi as a low cost competitor to Boxx. Boxx makes very high end machines for visual and engineering 3D applications, but my experience is that they tend to overbuild the machines, and you wind up paying for a lot of stuff you 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 a large airport (I recommend a roller bag). But when you sit down to work behind that lovely 1920 x 1080 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 shoulders.
All of this power does not come cheap, however. The as-reviewed price for this beast is $3223. Having owned something similar, this unit is miles ahead of the easily overheated portable workstations of this class from a few years ago. There is nothing quite as luxurious as not having to compromise when you need power on the road. This Xi is also decked out with many amenities such as webcam, fingerprint reader, premium audio, fantastic display, backlit keyboard, complete connectivity options, double layer DVD read/write, card reader to add up to a no-compromise portable office.