Component choice and balance
The RX480 platform is ATI's latest mainboard chipset, designed to rival the lower-end models of the nForce 4. It includes all your normal sound and LAN options - in this case, 7.1 audio along with SPDIF in/out jacks, and 10/100 LAN on board. It's performance has been something of an unknown quantity, with not too many retail motherboards on the market sporting the chipset. We found that it offered decent tweaking options, without managing to hit the heady heights of the DFI NF4-SLI-D
. For the price, it delivers great performance.
The 3500+ is a very decent chip, and sits in a fairly decent price/performance bracket. As we discovered in our SLI coverage
, CPU limitation doesn't often come into play even with the fastest graphics setups in today's games. The Socket 939 3500+ is plenty fast enough for video and media tasks, and we had a smooth time using the system. The choice of AMD over Intel is clearly a no-brainer for this system - the thermal properties of Intel's latest chips make designing a whisper-quiet system almost impossible.
X700 is a mid-range card from ATI, designed to rival the 6600 from Nvidia. Whilst there have been XT and Pro variants of this card in the past, the version here is vanilla X700. However, what makes this card special is the silent heatpipe cooler which is included. This cuts down on an awful lot of noise in the system, and we experienced no stability problems with it. It packs 256MB of memory, which is the most appropriate configuration for this speed of card.
Memory-wise, the 1GB of DDR is no-name stuff, and we're disappointed not to see an enthusiast brand in there - even Corsair Value would perhaps be better than this. With that said, decent overclocking memory can be incredibly expensive, and the use of this generic stuff won't greatly affect your gaming experience unless you intend to clock the heck out of the CPU. Memory is also one of the easiest things to upgrade at a later date.
The one component we really didn't like was the Maxtor hard drive. Whilst it may be very fast, with Native Command Queueing, it's also by far the noisiest component in the system. We'd recommend swapping it out for a Samsung Spinpoint hard drive, which we have found to be the quietest hard drive on the market. Watford will do this at no additional cost, so we'd suggest that it's a no-brainer, even though your drive performance may slip a little.
In terms of balance, the system is well thought out. The RX480 motherboard is a good pairing with the X700, and the 3500+ CPU is just on the right side of reasonable. Whilst the memory could perhaps do with a bit of an upgrade, overall, there are no outrageous bottlenecks, a problem we often find with off-the-shelf systems that concetrate on how good a specification sounds
rather than performs
Pricing and upgradability
Let's tot up the cost of the components off the shelf, and compare to the overall cost of the system.
Powercolor silent X700: £102
Athlon 64 3500+: £190
Powercolor RX480 motherboard: not sold at retail, but around £80 equivalent
1GB generic memory: around £60
Maxtor hard drive: £68
Sony DVD drive: around £40
Coolermaster Centurion case: £40
Hiper PSU: £35
Total cost: £615
Of course, on top of that, you have the cost of fully-licensed copy of Windows XP Home, as well as fans, the Akasa fan controller, heatsinks, wireless keyboard and mouse, bits of software (like Roxio burning) as well as a year's warranty. Overall, we'd say the system is good value for money.
In terms of upgradability, there are a few points to note. Number one is that with the x16 PCI Express interface on the motherboard, you'll be able to use any graphics card you can think of over the next couple of years. There's a plethora of SATA ports, so more storage is easy to add.
Perhaps the one minor annoyance is that the Hiper PSU doesn't have any PCI Express power connectors, meaning you'll need to get a molex converter if you intend to add in a card that requires the additional power.
The Centurion chassis is a good choice, because there are plenty of drive bays, and installation is roomy. It looks the part, and the cooling is plenty adequate to accomodate hotter, faster components.