Review: Alienware Suits Up With The MJ-12 8550i Workstation - InformationWeek

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Review: Alienware Suits Up With The MJ-12 8550i Workstation

Alienware shatters the staid, boring image of the workstation with its MJ-12 8550i, a feisty box with enough tech and attitude to cause major job envy.

Think "Alienware" and you’ll probably conjure up images of huge computer cases meant to impart a vision of bug-eyed aliens straight out of Area 51 -- and which offer performance as outrageous as their looks. And you'd be right -- this boutique computer builder has made its reputation on fast systems with outrageous styling.

The door on the Alienware Mj-12 8550i is mounted to a hinge that lets it open and then slide back out of the way.
(Click image to enlarge.)

Alienware has now entered the business world with its new MJ-12 8550i workstation. But while the machine may look a lot more respectable than its peers, it packs all the punch that its $6,032 price tag implies, including dual 2.33GHz Intel Xeon 5345 processors, 2GB of fully-buffered DIMM (FBDIMM) memory, and a GeForce 8800GTX graphics card. This means you get incredible performance -- but for most business applications, it may be more than you really need.

Some Impressive Specs
The Xeon 5345 CPU is a quad-core device -- there are eight cores in this box. It utilizes "green-er" 65 nanometer technology running at 80 watts -- meaning that the two CPUs in the MJ-12 8550i use just 40 watts more than the average single 120-watt CPU. The system delivers eight-threaded (allowing eight streams of execution to take place concurrently within the same program) 32- and 64-bit processing, with each pair of cores sharing 4MB of L2 cache. Intel indicates that the setup is rated at 4.5x more performance per watt than their single core Xeon processors.

Another fairly new technology sitting in this system is its FBDIMM, which uses a serial interface between the memory controller and the advanced memory buffer. The usual setup is parallel; when you increase the width of the addressed memory, a parallel arrangement requires an ever-increasing pin-count. It becomes messy. Serial solves that and, in theory at least, the latency added by a serial arrangement can be offset by the higher memory speeds it will accommodate.

That brings us to the GeForce 8800 GTX graphics card. It’s been a gamer’s mainstay for months in an SLI configuration, which involves multiple GPUs. Here, it’s a single card that supports DirectX 10 (and there are actually some drivers available for it), carries an unprecedented 768MB of GDDR3 memory, and is the current king of the crop. (There’s an Ultra version of the beast that’s slightly faster but in short supply right now. Besides, the two processors and this graphics card already carry more than a third of the system cost.)

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