Xi3 5A Series Review

Powerful design, mediocre performance

Xi3_front

There are a few choices on the market if you’re looking for a compact PC, but many of these don’t churn out the performance. Xi3 Corporation is trying to change that with a line of compact, modular, yet stylish PCs.

We were able to purchase Xi3′s 5A Series on the show floor of the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show and have been using it over the past few months in preparation for this review.

Specs

Product reviewed
Xi3 5 Series
Model5 Series
Price$499 (Base Model)
OSLinux (openSUSE)
Windows 7 Pro
Windows 8
Windows 8 Pro
CPUDual-core 64-bit 3400e @1.8GHz
Single-core 64-bit 2000+ @ 1.0GHz
RAM2GB DDR2
L2 Cache1MB
Power20 Watts (Dual-core)
8 Watts (Single-core)
eSATAI and II support
USB2.0
Internal Storage16GB mSATA SSD (up to 512GB)
DirectXDX10
Open GLv2.0
Video DecodeUVD 2.0 - VC-1, MPEG2, MPEG4
HDCPv1.3b (up to 1080p)
Side-Port Memory128MB
DP/DVI1080p, with Digital Audio (HDMI optional)
Max Resolution2560 x 1600 @ 32bpp (dual output capable)
Dual Display StandardDVI + VGA, DVI-DL + DP, VGA + DP (HDMI converter optional)
External Size4.270" x 3.656" x 3.656"
Operating Temperature32F - 140F
Elevation<10,000 Ft
BIOSPhoenix Legacy
Warranty 3-year depot

Design:

Our unit is composed of a blue (cobalt) steel case enclosed on the sides with solid, chrome plated metal. This helps add a nice weight to the unit. Its small size is very nice too, measuring up at 4.0″ x 3.656″ x 3.656″. This makes it a good choice if you’re looking to add it to the living room.

Xi3′s computers are based around a modular design, which is possibly their biggest selling point. You open the side of the computer by removing four star head screws, giving you access to the CPU board and the primary and secondary I/O boards. All the internal components are plug-and-play, making it extremely easy to perform upgrades.

Xi3_rear

I/O includes: USB 2.0 x6, eSATA 2.5 x2, DL-DVI + VGA x1, Display Port x1, Ethernet, Sound Jacks x3 (Line IN, Line OUT, MIC)

It’s unfortunate that there are no HDMI ports, as I’ve always hated using a Display Port adapter. It should be noted that the unit does not ship with a Display Port to HDMI adapter, something that will have to be purchased separately if you want to connect it to an external display.

There is a DVI port, however, allowing you to readily connect to most of today’s monitors. The unit is dual output capable, allowing you to use the DVI port and Display Port at the same time for a dual monitor setup.

Another small issue I noticed is that the eSATA ports do not double as USB ports, something I’ve become used to on my Alienware M15x laptop. However, since the unit has six dedicated USB ports, I don’t view this as a deal breaker.

The power button is located on the back of the unit, a downfall if installed in a tighter area such as under a television, desk or behind a monitor. I feel this should have been readily accessible on the front of the unit. All LEDs on the unit are visible just inside the honeycomb chromed sides

Xi3_led

Green LED indicates the unit is functioning properly. An amber light signals the unit is either on standby or is off.

 

Software Performance:

Xi3’s spec sheet for the 5A Series boasts that the unit can launch “the latest version of Windows in less than 25 seconds.” I’m not able to test that specification directly, since for this review, I am running Ubuntu 12.10. I tried installing Windows 7, but limited BIOS options were preventing that (I’ll talk about this later), and short of formatting the hard drive completely, my options were sparse.

With the clock starting right as I hit the power button, I was at Ubuntu’s log in screen in 18 seconds and into the full OS in 23 seconds. I was able to consistently shut the system completely down within 10 seconds.

Once into the OS, things moved along fairly quickly. Utilities loaded within 3-4 seconds and larger programs, like the LibreOffice suite, loaded within 5-6 seconds. A Linux-based OS seems to be the perfect candidate for this system due to its lighter nature. Ubuntu 12.10 runs fluidly.

The 5A Series utilizes the Phoenix Legacy BIOS and has AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) enabled by default. This allows for more efficient use of the unit’s eSATA ports on the back with external drives and can increase multi-tasking performance. However, it also severely limits the functionality of the BIOS. This is what prevented me from being able to change the boot options and load Windows from a disk, or any other OS via USB.

In fact, the only option you have is to hit CTRL + A at startup, which then lists the devices currently attached to the computer. You can’t make any changes to them; it’s just a list you can scroll through. My disclaimer here is that I’m not extremely technical when it comes to computer settings. I’m trying to give this review from an average consumer standpoint, and this limited BIOS is not consumer friendly.

 

Hardware Performance:

Our unit is running a dual-core 64-bit 3400e AMD Athlon processor at 1.8GHz with 2 GB RAM. At the time of review, the RAM can not be upgraded. Xi3 is marketing this computer as modular, but the truth is at this point is that you cannot upgrade anything after purchase. Hopefully this will change in the near future, as I myself wouldn’t consider a system with less than 8 GB. Shipping the unit with 2 GB is fine, as long as there is an upgrade option. Unfortunately, that’s not one of them at this time.

As for graphics, the system supports DirectX 10 and has OpenGL version 2.0. It’s not going to play Crysis 3 on high and it’s going to look like crap on medium. I did run a few games from the Ubuntu games directory and those played fine, but games there are also much lighter. If you are looking to play mainstream games, look elsewhere. For the everyday user that simply browses the web and does light office work, these specs will be fine. If you are a gamer reading this review, or anyone that uses any program heavier than the Microsoft Office suite, you can start looking for a different system now.

 

Xi3_mouse

 

Pricing and Options:

At $500 for the base model, the unit is a bit pricy. The base model gets you the standard color (grey), a 16 GB internal SSD and openSUSE Linux for the operating system. Xi3 gives you the option of adding Windows 7 Pro for $147, Windows 8 for $110, or Windows 8 Pro for $147.

If you decide to upgrade to a Windows OS, you also have to spend another $50 to upgrade to a 32 GB SSD, as Windows requires a 32 GB hard drive. Xi3 does offer the options to upgrade the SSD in steps, all the way up to 512 GB for $750. Also available are external hard drives with capacities up to 2 TB.

Mounting options are also available. $29 gets you a universal mounting bracket while $39 gets you the VESA mount for connecting the unit to the back of a monitor.

You can also upgrade the color from grey (default) to blue, green, purple, red, orange or black for an extra $15, or you can go completely chrome for $30.

 

Conclusion:

The 5A Series is almost a niche item at $500, simply because it doesn’t put out the same performance as a typical $500 desktop. The lack of any options to upgrade after purchase really kills Xi3′s marketing standpoint as a modular computer. There will be upgrade options in the future, so perhaps it’s worth the wait. However, at the same time, it’s great for the everyday user who doesn’t necessarily need that extra performance boost. If size is an issue and you need a small solution, but aren’t worried about performance, then drop the $500 because this will serve your purpose well. If you’re looking to play a few games, maybe do a bit of editing, then you might want to explore a few other options first.

 

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)

Rave

  1. Modular design
  2. Small size
  3. Cool look
  4. Quick boot time

 

Rant

  1. No upgrade options yet
  2. Limited options in BIOS
  3. Slow performance for heavy programs

 

Rage

  1. Price tag

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