• Price When Reviewed: 2085

  • Pros: Well-designed case. Great attention to detail. Wide choice of configurations.

  • Cons: Low-powered components. Poor value for money.

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 6 out of 10We rate this 6 out of 10We rate this 6 out of 10We rate this 6 out of 10We rate this 6 out of 10 We rate this 6 out of 10

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Despite now being owned by Dell, it seems Alienware is still running much as it was – recently releasing the MJ-12 8550i line of Xeon workstations that compete directly with Dell’s own Precision 490, as well as the likes of Apple’s Mac Pro and HP’s xw6400.

The MJ-12 8550i has all of the options you’d expect from a modern 3D workstation: two Xeon processors with a choice of dual- or quad-core chips, and a wide selection of workstation-class graphics cards and drives. You can configure your model’s specifications through Alienware’s Web site. Only options for more than 4GB of RAM and Windows XP 64-bit are lacking, which will disappoint high-end 3D artists.

The chassis is well laid out inside. All of the components are easy to get at, and adding a new hard drive or changing the graphics card is easy.

While the chassis impresses, Alienware’s choice of components for our test model doesn’t. It’s essentially a base configuration that needs to be upgraded, or dismissed in favour of a single-chip, Core 2 Duo machine.

The single dual-core Xeon 5150 chip feels wasted inside this box – especially as you can pick up a similarly configured quad-core Core 2 Duo workstation from other vendors for under two grand. Its Cinebench rendering score of 816 is high for a model with two processor cores, but paltry next to four-core rivals – which usually attain scores of 1,300-1,400.

In After Effects CS2 rendering, the 1GB of RAM meant that the 8550i performed very poorly – as it did in Photoshop CS3. The Quadro FX 3500 graphics card delivers a solid performance – though it requires better processors and a decent amount of RAM to fulfil its potential.

For £2,085 plus VAT, you’d expect more creative power.

Processor (supplied): Intel Xeon 5150 (2.66GHz dual-core)
Processor (max): 2x Intel Xeon 5355 (2.66GHz quad-core)
RAM (supplied): 1GB
RAM (max): 4GB
Graphics card: nVidia Quadro FX 3500
RAM: 256MB
Connection: PCI Express
Hard drive type: Serial ATA 3Gbps
Size: 500GB
Speed: 7,200rpm
Removable media drive: 18x dual-layer DVD±RW drive
Soundcard: on-board 5.1
Keyboard: Logitech Deluxe Keyboard
Mouse: Basic Optical Mouse Black