• Price When Reviewed: 1599

  • Pros: Best test scores overall.

  • Cons: Case not as good as some rivals.

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10We rate this 9 out of 10 Best Buy We rate this 9 out of 10

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The X8i-C2Q is the top performer here, offering the best overall mix of processor, memory and storage. Other workstations have more chips, better cases, or more complex storage, Xworks’ model offers the most to the applications that professional creatives use every day.

Running the 64-bit version of Windows XP, the X8i-C2Q can access its full complement of 8GB of RAM. This allows it to run our Photoshop test in a time that was just a whisker behind those of Armari Magnetar QS2 and CAD2 Imagine DQX-Light.

In After Effects though, the X8i-C2Q is clearly the pick of the bunch, shaving over a minute off from its nearest rival. This is due to some excellent components choices overall, but also a fast core hard drive that’s paired with a large media drive.

The included 3D graphics card seems a little overpowered for a workstation largely aimed at 2D-based creatives. The Fire GL V5600 is a Digital Arts Best Buy-winning workstation-class card for 3D artists – and it’s reliable, robust and the most powerful board here. Its inclusion in this group test is welcome, but it could be considered overkill – we’d have preferred a less overstatedly powerful card and dual-drive-based RAID 0 media storage, for example.

The Antec case – as also used by CAD2’s workstation – is a unmarked black towerblock with lots of drive bays in modular containers. It’s flexible, but lacks the pop-in drive set-up of the Mac Pro, Magnetar QS2 or Scan 3XS PVE-930, meaning that replacing drives and so on is slightly fiddlier than it could be. The chassis also offers fewer forward-facing USB ports than the Coolermaster case used by Armari and Scan, and the door blocks the power button.

However, these are minor quibbles when you consider the sheer power on offer in this model, which is why we chosen to give the X81-C2Q our Best Buy award.

This model was reviewed as part of our group test of workstations for graphics professionals.