• Price When Reviewed: 3999

  • Pros: Supreme graphics performance and packed with features, including a state-of-the-art OpenGL card, mirrored hard disk configuration, Iomega Rev backup, and a dual-layer DVD burner.

  • Cons: Very expensive. LightWave rendering was no better than Armari’s own AMD Opteron-based workstations.

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

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Over the years, Armari has made a name for itself as one of the most dependable independent UK workstation vendors. Always at the forefront of technology, the company is regularly one of the first to showcase new developments.

The Magnetar Xi continues this tradition, housing two of the latest 3.6GHz Xeon processors, as well as NVidia’s new PCI Express QuadroFX 3400 graphics card, courtesy of PNY. The Supermicro X6DAE-G2 motherboard is brand-new too. It’s based on Intel’s Tumwater chipset, aka E7525, which supports PCI Express graphics and DDR2 memory – of which Armari supplied 2GB. The maximum you can get is 16GB. The supplied Xeons, as well as having an 800MHz front side bus for faster memory access, incorporate Intel’s EM64T 64-bit extensions, so will be able to run 64-bit Windows XP when it becomes available.

The sober black chassis is relatively compact, but full of features. Behind a lockable door is a four-drive hot-swap bay housing two 250GB Hitachi SATA hard disks configured as a mirror RAID, so while you only get 250GB of storage, a drive failure won’t lose your data. An Iomega Rev drive offers 35GB of removable storage. The DVD writer is Sony’s DRU-700A, which supports dual-layer writing for 8.5GB per disc, while the Mitsumi floppy drive integrates a 7-in-1 media reader.

Interior design

The Armari’s interior is surprisingly spacious, helped by neat routing and tying back of cabling. The Supermicro board sports two PCI Express slots, although only one is the 16x version – the other just supports 4x. Armari claims it’s still possible to run two PCI Express graphics cards in parallel. Not that you’d need to, as the supplied PNY QuadroFX 3400 is one of the fastest OpenGL cards out there. It’s the workstation version of the GPU found in GeForce 6800 cards, and the Armari’s Cinebench score of 2,674 is one of the best results we’ve seen. The 3400 has some unique features. Rotated Grid anti-aliasing improves visual quality, while High Dynamic-Range Imaging uses twice as many bits per colour component. 1GBps pixel read-back makes more complex 3D interactivity possible, such as responsive liquid effects.

It’s pricey, but you do get pretty much all the latest technologies, including the fastest Xeons currently available, 2GB of the latest DDR2 memory, dual-layer DVD writing, mirrored hard drive configuration, and state-of-the-art NVidia QuadroFX graphics. However, not all our tests were as fast as we’d expect. Compared to Armari’s own AMD Opteron-based RD-X64TE, LightWave rendering was slightly slower. However, Photoshop work was stunning, showing the benefits of the 2GB of DDR2 memory and superfast processors. And if your main intention is 3D composition, the stellar Cinebench score implies this will be one storming workstation for the animation market.