October 21, 2019 | 09:30
UK price (as reviewed): £1,299.97 (inc. VAT)
US price (as reviewed): N/A
There are some interesting choices to be made if you're in the market for a mid-range PC, and they cover nearly every component involved. It's a crowded market in terms of CPUs, GPUs, SSD, cases, motherboards, and coolers, so we were interested to see what Stormforce deemed appropriate when creating the £1,300 Crystal 3600 RX 5700. Note that the component selection is fixed for this PC and not customisable like it is with other system integrators, though a couple of the parts you see here have or will be swapped to slightly different versions (including the graphics card) compared to the review system - we'll note these as we go.
It's certainly a good-looking PC, largely courtesy of Cooler Master's MasterBox MB520 RGB case that's equipped with three RGB fans, and both these and the ML120L RGB cooler are tied together in terms of light effects using the Asus motherboard's Aura software, which was the only software included on the Windows 10 Home Plus installation - no bloatware here, thank you very much.
The case retails for around £60 on its own but certainly isn't limited to the hardware Stormforce has installed. There's plenty of room for more elaborate cooling systems and storage drives should you wish to upgrade in future or transplant a few components from an existing PC. You also get a tempered glass side panel and three 120mm fans as standard, so we're happy with Stormforce's choice here. These three fans run at 12V (full speed) straight off the PSU, but they're quiet and slow-spinning, so we can appreciate Stormforce's decision to maintain some airflow and a constant noise level rather than have them spin down even further. The front I/O panel is fairly basic with the usual pair of USB 3.0 ports and audio minijacks - no USB 3.1.
Inside, we'd describe the cable tidying as adequate but far from ideal; we would have preferred a few more cable ties to have been used to gather up and anchor the cables a little more, especially under the PSU cover. It looks as if someone that really isn't keen on cable tidying has spent all of two minutes here, and sadly it's a less tidy system that the Stormforce PC we looked at earlier this year. The cables under the PSU cover are a little messy too, but it's far from the worst we've seen.
Beneath the shroud is also the location of a 1TB WD Blue hard disk and FSP 500W PSU. Regarding the latter, the wattage is plenty for this system and future upgrades too, but the 80 Plus Bronze rating and captive cables are not very exciting.
The name gives away the two key pieces of hardware - an AMD Ryzen 5 3600, which sadly runs at stock speed and hasn't been overclocked, resulting in a peak boost frequency of 4.2GHz. However, with the thermal headroom offered by the 120mm Cooler Master AIO cooler, there's at least scope for buyers to have a play with the frequencies of AMD's cheapest 3rd Gen six-core Ryzen CPU. The cooler's three-pin pump and four-pin PWM fan are wired to the motherboard, and the latter will spin up as things get hotter, but both remained quiet throughout our testing, with only heavy multi-threaded workloads seeing the cooler's 120mm fan spin up noticeably.
The second of those pieces of hardware is the Radeon RX 5700, which is Asus-branded but essentially just the stock Navi card with reference blower. Even though it runs at stock speed here, you'd be right to raise your eyebrows given the widely-reported noise issues of the reference cards, especially the RX 5700 XT, but thankfully the less power hungry RX 5700 used here didn't prove to be intrusive at all, even during our stress test, with the partly-sealed front section doing a good job of containing the decibels and the front fans clearly evidently reasonable airflow to this toasty component. Note that the Radeon logo on this card is coloured red and not LED-illuminated.
Stormforce has already clarified that once its reference stock of RX 5700 cards runs out, any systems that were using it (including this one) will begin to use the Asus RX 5700 Dual Evo OC, which comes with a basic two-fan cooler and a mild overclock. Pleasingly, this swap will happen at no extra cost, and while we haven't tested this specific card, we do reckon it's a preferred choice to the stock card.
Stormforce has opted for 16GB of 3,200MHZ HyperX Fury memory, which while ample and correctly configured in BIOS, is a little slower than we'd like to see with a 3rd Gen Ryzen system, even at this price point. 3,466MHz and even 3,600MHz don't cost that much more, and the extra speed can definitely improve performance, although we can appreciate a cutback here if it meant dipping under that £1,300 price point.
All this is strapped to an Asus Prime X570-P motherboard, which is maybe a questionable choice given the fact that the SSD used is a 250GB PCIe 3.0 WD Blue SN500 and not something of the PCIe 4.0 variety. There really isn't any advantage here opting for an X570 chipset board, which also comes equipped with a chipset fan, over an X470 model, and you're paying £30-40 for the privilege and get fewer features for your money. The board is fairly well-equipped, at least, with eight Type-A USB ports and Realtek ALC1200 audio, although it's worth noting that there are only three audio ports on the I/O panel, so 7.1-channel speaker owners will need to make use of the case's front audio output.
Returning to the SSD, 250GB of space does feel lacking given we're talking about a mid-range gaming system here. Many games require well over 50GB of space these days. In fact, Red Dead Redemption 2 has a minimum requirement of 150GB, and the new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare recommends 175GB of space for the game and future DLC updates, so we think 500GB is what should be considered a minimum these days. If Stormforce had opted for an X470 motherboard, it could have saved enough cash for a larger SSD that would be more beneficial than a PCIe 4.0-equipped motherboard or liquid cooling on a stock-speed CPU. Also, the SN500 SSD uses the PCIe 3.0 x2 interface, not x4, so peak speeds are limited to under 2GB/s - still much faster than anything SATA-based, but considerably slower than x4 drives can be.
Thankfully, the main chamber is much neater than the depths of the PSU cover, and the eagle-eyed will also have spotted a PCIe card in there too. This is a Realtek RTL8192EE Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n, 300Mbps) adaptor, which will be enough for most broadband connections, but some of the more speedy packages in the UK at the moment might benefit from something faster. The green PCB on this is a bit unsightly, but thankfully, Stormforce has already swapped its stock of these cards to ones with black PCBs, so any newly ordered PCs would come with those instead.
Finally, there's the warranty, which is a generous three years collect and return covering parts and labour - enough to cover an entire university degree course. This is something other companies charge a great deal extra for (typically the collect and return portion is anywhere from one month to one year), so if peace of mind is a priority the Crystal 3600 RX 5700 should definitely go up in your estimations.
November 6 2020 | 17:30