Pros: An excellent attempt to put workstation components in a small case. It looks great, and is relatively inexpensive.
Cons: Like Apple’s Cube, there’s little reason to favour this over a full-sized rig, as it restricts your upgrade options.
You wouldn’t normally call a workstation small and stylish – but that’s the perfect description for the Crossbow XB-A700. Armari has taken a chassis that would normally house a combo PC/hi-fi unit, and somehow fitted most of the usual workstation components inside it.
The end result looks great. Once you stop drooling and start thinking, though, the XB-A700 isn’t so appealing. It’s reminiscent of Apple’s Cube – that groundbreaking, proof-of-concept machine that arrived to a fanfare of praise and adulation, and then disappeared within a year. Power users would rather have a larger machine they could upgrade. The XB-A700 isn’t quite so limited, but in the long-term the small size is more of a hindrance than a plus.
For what it is, the XB-A700 is extremely well designed. It features a single AMD Athlon64 3200+ processor, which runs at 2.2GHz. This is the most we’d expect in a small form-factor case – though Taiwanese hardware maker iWill is apparently bringing out a dual-Opteron-based system in a similarly sized case in the near future.
The processor is powerful – and it will get more powerful when the 64-bit version of Windows and 64-bit enabled applications arrive. It’s as fast as a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 in our rendering tests and only slightly slower than a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 Extreme Edition. The single 1GB RAM module sounds great – and the XB-A700’s Photoshop scores are as they should be for a 3D workstation.
What truly makes this Crossbow a workstation is the PNY NVidia Quadrio FX 700 graphics card. This gives base-level Cinebench results that even top the popular FX 1100 – though the FX 700 falls back with complex Maya scenes.
The only concern with the FX 700 is that PNY says it requires a 350W power supply, while the XB-A700 only has a 300W. Armari says PNY’s requirements are for a desktop PC, allowing for multiple drives. As the XB-A700 only has single drives, 300W is more than enough.
A single hard drive can be a pain – though the included 200GB Serial ATA drive is a good choice, as is the eight-speed DVD±RW drive. Equally impressive are the USB 2.0, FireWire, CompactFlash and SD card slots on the front, and the bundled Logitech keyboard and mouse.
The inside of the XB-A700’s case is well laid out. A pull-out shelf holds the DVD±RW and hard drives, though you have to unplug the cables before removing it. Two PCI slots are available (an extra fan takes up the third slot), though you wouldn’t be able to fit a large card such as Creative’s Audigy2 ZS sound board, which would be useful for video editors –the XB-A700’s sound is basic. The unit runs hot inside, so you’d have to be careful with add-in boards.
As an inobtrusive home machine for 3D creatives, the Crossbow XB-A700 makes sense. For anyone else, why wouldn’t you just buy a more flexible, upgradable, full-sized unit?