Xi Computer's 4036 MTower Premiere is neither the slickest-looking nor the most feature-packed performance system you can buy. With its 3GHz Pentium 4 processor and ATI Radeon 9700 Pro graphics card, however, the 4036 MTower Premiere is among the fastest game machines on the market. Its included flat-screen ViewSonic G90fb CRT monitor supports crisp graphics, and Creative's budget-priced Inspire 5.1 5300-series speakers hold up their end with rich surround sound for games and movies. You'd be hard-pressed to find such a cutting-edge 3GHz gaming machine for less than the 4036 MTower Premiere's sub-$3,000 price. Xi lets you upgrade some components on its site, but those people looking for pure speed and power will do well with the 4036 model.
A bland but quiet case.
Look too quickly at the bottom-front of the tower, and you might miss a small sliding panel that hides two USB 2.0 ports to augment the two ports on the rear next to the built-in Ethernet connector. We wish Xi had included a FireWire port on the front as well, though, to save us reaching around back for the port on the Creative Audigy Gamer sound card.
|Two USB 2.0 ports on front and two in back.|
Unlike mainstream vendors, such as Gateway, that have moved to a single thumbscrew approach for both opening the case and unlocking the adapter boards, Xi uses four thumbscrews and traditional Phillips-head screws along the adapter cards on the 4036 MTower. Nonetheless, we found the design easy to work with; you need only remove a pair of thumbscrews to take off each side panel.
Free bays give you room to grow.
Four free PCI slots below the Radeon 9700 Pro graphics card.
Memory can be expanded to 2GB.
The Xi 4036 MTower's Gigabyte P4 Titan 533 GA-8IHXP motherboard offers some convenient features, such as a built-in Promise MBFastTrack 133 RAID controller, sparing the need for installing an adapter board. This leaves four usable PCI slots--more than enough for almost any expansion plans you may have. Same goes for this system's memory: the 4036 MTower comes with 512MB of installed RDRAM with two open slots, but the maximum memory capacity of the board is a whopping 2GB. You can increase the amount (up to 2GB) and choose the type of memory (DDR or RDRAM) using Xi's online configurator.
At the heart of this gaming system is the pairing of Intel's new 3GHz P4 CPU and ATI's Radeon 9700 Pro board; these are the fastest processor and most advanced graphics card of the moment, respectively. There isn't much software right now that takes advantage of the new Intel Hyper-Threading technology found in the 3GHz P4, nor are there many games available yet that take advantage of the 9700 Pro card's DirectX 9.0 features. Nonetheless, the extra power does add up to one immediate benefit: you'll be able to run games in 1,600x1,200 mode with full-screen antialiasing and anisotropic filtering enabled.
DVD-ROM and CD-RW drives.
Though not as sleek as a space- and energy-saving flat panel, the bundled 19-inch CRT is better suited for serious gaming, as the refresh rate of a CRT is faster than that of an LCD. We were impressed by the ViewSonic G90fb monitor's rich colors and lack of distortion in the corners of the flat screen. That said, fine text began to blur at resolutions above 1,024x768, particularly when we reached the maximum 1,600x1,200 resolution. Xi offers a wide selection of both CRTs and LCDs of varying sizes, should you be looking for a specific size or type of screen.
Our 4036 MTower test system included a typical tandem of optical drives. The 48X Toshiba DVD-ROM drive takes care of movie and game duty, while the Plextor PlexWriter 40/12/40A provides CD-write capability for data backup, large-file transfer, and speedy audio-burning needs. Gamers will find no fault with this pair, but if you're into digital video editing or are even thinking about buying a DV camcorder, consider the Pioneer DVD-RW drive that Xi offers as an upgrade to the DVD-ROM drive.
It's unlikely that the range and power of the Creative Inspire 5.1 5300-series speaker set we tested will disappoint; it's a fine economy choice as 5.1 speaker systems go. Xi is now offering the new Audigy 2.0 sound card and the Creative Inspire 6600 6.1 speaker set--for the same price as the 5300s and Audigy card found on our test system. The Audigy 2.0 and 6600s weren't available in time for this review, but with this pair, you'll be able to listen to 24-bit audio in 6.1 surround sound.
The keyboard is built to match.
The accompanying software bundle underscores that this is a machine built for fun and games and not work. If your plans for the 4036 MTower extend beyond gaming and into the realm of homework or office tasks, you'll want to forego the bundled Corel WordPerfect Office 2002 for a more powerful software suite such as Microsoft Office XP. And unfortunately, Xi doesn't include any video-editing software, either. Our test unit didn't have a DVD burner, but it had FireWire ports for hooking up a DV cam, which means you might want to edit video at some point. A DV editor such as Ulead VideoStudio would have been appreciated.
Xi has earned a reputation for decking out its high-performance desktops with the latest top-of-the-line components. If the configuration of the 4036 MTower Premiere that Xi sent us is any indication, Xi's reputation will remain intact well into the future. Tricked out with a 3.06GHz Intel P4 processor and 512MB RDRAM memory running at 533MHz (also known as PC1066), the 4036 MTower Premiere has the fastest overall application performance--by just a hair--of the initial batch of 3GHz P4 systems that we tested. The 3GHz P4 is the first iteration of the P4 processor to include a performance-improving technology called Hyper-Threading, the benefits of which can best be reaped when the system is doing heavy-duty multitasking. This system's application performance will knock your socks off.
Application performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark2002, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).
3D graphics and gaming performance
Hard-core gamers are lining up to get their hands on the ATI Radeon 9700 Pro graphics card. Combine such a speedy graphics card with a 3GHz P4 processor, and your gaming experience advances to a whole new level. But even though the graphics card is capable of running at up to AGP 8X, 4036 MTower Premiere's Intel 850E-based motherboard supports up to only AGP 4X. Thankfully, the less capable motherboard doesn't seem to have an adverse effect on the system's speedy performance. The 32-bit color score on the 3DMark2001 test, however, was lower than expected. We noticed that Xi shipped the system to us with its display properties set to custom settings. When we changed that back to default settings, the performance jumped up to the level we expected. The scores we publish, however, are with the Display Properties settings as the vendor originally had them. Either way, this system's 3D graphics performance will have hard-core gamers drooling.
3D graphics performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses MadOnion.com's 3DMark 2001 Pro. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8 (DX8) interface at both 16-bit and 32-bit color settings at a resolution of 1,024x768. A system that does not have DX8 hardware support will typically generate a lower score than one that has DX8 hardware support.
3D gaming performance (in fps) (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Quake III Arena. Although Quake III is an older game, it is still widely used as an industry-standard tool. Quake III does not require DX8 hardware support--as 3DMark2001 does--and is therefore an excellent means of comparing the performance of low-end to high-end graphics subsystems. Quake III performance is reported in frames per second (fps).
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
ABS Awesome 3600
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; 512MB RDRAM 533MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4600 128MB; two Maxtor 6L080L4 80GB 7,200rpm; HPT372A UDMA/ATA133 RAID controller
Dell Dimension 8250
Windows XP Home; 3.06GHz Intel P4; 512MB RDRAM 533MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB; Western Digital WD2000JB-00DUA0 200GB 7,200rpm
Falcon Northwest Mach V
Windows XP Home; 3.06GHz Intel P4; 512MB RDRAM 533MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB; two Western Digital WD1000JB-00CRA0 100GB 7,200rpm; Promise FastTrack TX2000 RAID controller
Windows XP Home; 3.06GHz Intel P4; 512MB RDRAM 533MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB; two Maxtor 6Y200P0 200GB 7,200rpm
Xi 4036 MTower Premiere
Windows XP Home; 3.06GHz Intel P4; 512MB RDRAM 533MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB; two Western Digital WD800JB-00CRA1 80GB 7,200rpm; integrated Promise MBFastTrack 133 RAID controller
In keeping with the PC industry's move to à la carte service menus, Xi offers several support options, starting with a standard one-year warranty on parts and labor. You can extend coverage to three years for an added cost, and you'll also have to pay to upgrade for onsite service, which is not included in the standard warranty. Oddly enough, you can extend the onsite service to three years while maintaining the same one-year policy on parts, which means that you'd have to pay for any replacement components in years two and three. You might as well upgrade to the full three years parts warranty with onsite service if you are going to go that route.
A more economical option, especially for the type of experienced users who are likely to buy the 4036 MTower Premiere, would be to opt for three years on parts and labor without onsite service. For those who forgo the onsite option, Xi offers overnight shipping of replacement parts. Similarly, if Xi deems it necessary to recall the entire system to perform the work, the company will pay the freight in both directions.
Toll-free technical support is available 24/7 for the life of the system. From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific Time, you can reach a technician directly. After hours, you can page someone via Xi's support Web page for a return call within 30 minutes. You can even page Xi tech support directly from the company's Web site. We were impressed by how easily we reached a rep--in less than 10 minutes--the two times we called one Saturday afternoon.