Acer split the difference between HP and Sony and Lenovo, tapping Intel’s Core i5 for the Aspire AZ5700-U2112. That design decision helped the Aspire Z5700 win three of the four benchmark competitions.
Sony’s VAIO L-series computers boast plenty of sex appeal, and this particular model boasts a 24-inch screen that’s one inch larger than the rest of the field (albeit with the same wide-screen resolution of 1920x1080). It’s not just a pretty face, either; its benchmark performance puts it a close second to the edgy-looking Lenovo. The VAIO’s $2,000 MSRP, however, renders it $600 more expensive than that machine, $320 pricier than HP’s TouchSmart 600 Quad, and more than twice as costly as MSI’s budget-friendly offering.
Sony tapped the same midrange desktop CPU that Lenovo did, Intel’s 2.66GHz Core 2 Quad 8400S, and paired it with an Intel P43 chipset and 6GB of DDR2/800 memory on a proprietary motherboard. Nvidia’s discrete mobile GeForce GT 240M GPU, with 1GB of dedicated memory, handles graphics duties. Sony’s VAIO Media Gallery makes good use of the touch-screen display, enabling you to produce slide shows and movies by dragging thumbnail images around with your fingertips. But Sony’s touch-screen software is much less comprehensive than HP’s offering.
If you don’t like highly reflective displays and don’t care about a touch-screen user interface, Lenovo’s IdeaCentre B500 is the all-in-one to buy. It’s the fastest machine in the bunch, and it’s attractively priced at just $1,400.
Lenovo and Sony both reached for midrange Intel Core 2 Quad desktop processors—namely, the 2.66GHz Core 2 Quad 8400S—but Lenovo paired the CPU with speedier memory (4GB of 1,066MHz DDR3, compared to the 6GB of 800MHz DDR2 memory Sony chose) and a more powerful discrete mobile GPU (Lenovo tapped Nvidia’s GeForce GTS 250M, which has 96 cores, while Sony uses the GeForce GT 240M, which has only 48). Lenovo uses a proprietary motherboard with an Intel G41 chipset.
When we heard HP was building its latest TouchSmart with Intel’s Core i7 processor, we figured it was game-over for the competition: Lenovo and Sony use quad-cores, too, but they both tapped Intel’s Core 2 Quad. MSI picked an even less capable Core 2 Duo (and priced its machine accordingly). But when the benchmarking dust had cleared, HP sat in third place across the board. What happened?
We should have remembered that HP likes to use mobile processors in its TouchSmart line. In this case, a 1.6GHz Core i7-720QM. That’s a capable enough proc, but the older (and cheaper) Core 2 Quad that Lenovo and Sony picked is a desktop model running at 2.66GHz. So even the larger cache, integrated memory controller, Hyper-Threading, Turbo Boost technology, and other goodies tucked inside the Core i7-720QM don’t compensate for the mobile proc’s lower clock speed.
If we asked you to name three boutique PC vendors, we’re pretty sure that Origin PC wouldn’t make your list. Hell, you’ve probably never even heard the name Origin PC.
But that’s to be expected. The company has only been selling PCs since November. That’s not a lot of time to jump into a game dominated by the likes of Falcon Northwest, Digital Storm, and Maingear.
Origin PC isn’t just a typical startup, though. The three founders of the company are ex-patriots of one of the oldest names in gaming PCs: Alienware. That’s the old Alienware, too, before it was sucked into the Dell mothership and relocated to Austin, Texas.
Most readers know the name iBuypower by now, but they don’t know our nickname for the company: iStealpower.
OK, that’s not really true, we just made that up to make this story sound sexier, but there is some truth to our jest. Over the years, we’ve often wondered how the hell these guys can offer PCs for less than the cost of the parts. You know, like getting $2,900 worth of parts in a machine that cost $2,200.
We’re not sure if the cost of the parts in iBuypower’s Paladin F exceeds the price of the machine, but it probably gets close. The Paladin F sports Intel’s new hotness: the hexa-core 3.33GHz Core i7-980X (clocked up to 3.8GHz). Even with AMD’s new hexa-core CPU now on the market, Intel’s Core i7-980X is still clearly the recognized fastest CPU in der verold! To the 980X, iBuypower adds Nvidia’s top-dog GeForce GTX 480 card, aka Fermi. Also aboard are 6GB of Kingston DDR3/1600, a 1-kilowatt PSU, an LG Blu-ray combo drive, a 1.5TB hard drive, and RAID 0 SSDs, along with Windows 7 Home Premium. The entire system is embedded in a Zalman GS1000 Plus enclosure.
We’ve come to realize that there is no single ideal build for a home-theater PC. Some folks want an HD tuner, while others want Blu-ray. Some even expect their HTPC to function as a full-tilt boogie gaming rig. Then there are the users who want nothing more than the ability to browse the web on their glorious 60-inch TV set and dive into the vast sea of streaming content.
For these latter folks, Dell’s Inspiron Zino HD seems like a perfect fit. Like a chubby Mac Mini, the Zino HD is quiet, small, and easy to tuck away in the AV rack. It’s outfitted with a dual-core 1.5GHz Athlon X2 3250e, 2GB of DDR2/667, and AMD’s 780G chipset with integrated Radeon HD 3200 graphics. Instead of relying on a diminutive (and performance-sapping) 2.5-inch drive, the Inspiron Zino HD can fit a full-size 3.5-inch desktop drive. Our review model featured a 250GB drive, but options up to 1TB are offered, and we see no reason why a 2TB drive could not be used.
The unit has Gigabit Ethernet, two eSATA ports, VGA, HDMI, analog audio–out, and mic in on its behind. In front, the Zino has two USB ports, a headphone jack, and a multiformat card reader. Unfortunately, there’s no Wi-Fi as standard but 802.11g can be added for $25, and 802.11n for $45.
It’s no secret that Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 480 cards are the hottest piece of technology people want to gawk at right now. Hell, we were barely able to obtain one of these coveted babies for our feature on Fermi this month.
So we were pretty impressed to crack open Maingear’s new Shift system and find three GTX 480 boards running in tri-SLI. That the company could rate such bounty is testament to its street cred among power users.
The Shift isn’t just about the Fermi cards, though. Maingear also managed to get that other big star of the PC world in for the ride: Intel’s Core i7-980X, which, with help from the Acetek water cooler, Maingear pushes from the stock 3.33GHz to 4.2GHz.
When we introduced our new system benchmarks last month, we thought it might be at least six months before review machines began stomping the holy crap out of them. Unfortunately for us, Digital Storm couldn’t wait to pile it on. The company has unleashed a rig so damned powerful that we’re wondering if our new benchmarks and zero-point system aren’t already obsolete.
But what would you expect of a rig named HailStorm Black Ops Edition that’s equipped with Intel’s new hexa-core Core i7-980X CPU? The Core i7-980X normally clocks in at 3.33GHz, but Digital Storm pushes the CPU to 4.4GHz, with the help of an impressive dual-radiator and large ID hose water-cooling system. For graphics, the company combines three Radeon HD 5870 cards, which have been clock-bumped as well, thanks to the beefy water-cooling. Along with the CPU and GPU cooling, Digital Storm water-cools the chipset and voltage regulators on the EVGA X58 Classified motherboard. We still haven’t reviewed one of these EVGA boards, but its selection by several high-profile OEMs is making us want in on that action. Get the hint, EVGA? We should also mention that for the amount of hardware the HailStorm packs, it’s one of the quietest machine’s we’ve tested.
Evaluating successive generations of HP’s TouchSmart series reminds us of shopping for a new car. If you fall in love and buy this year’s model, you must never, ever visit the showroom to look at next year’s model or you’ll be hit with a bout of buyer’s remorse faster than you can say “planned obsolescence.”
We’re not suggesting that HP is intentionally designing these machines to have a shorter-than-normal useful life or that it’s been adding frivolous features to new models; it’s just that the company’s engineers keep making design improvements that are significant enough for us to wonder why we heaped such praise on the previous iteration. The changes this year are a wee bit more incremental, but HP gets a major assist from Microsoft in the form of Windows 7, which is not only vastly superior to Vista but also offers far better native support for HP’s touch applications. Fortunately, owners of previous-generation TouchSmarts have the option of upgrading to Windows 7 and downloading the latest version of HP’s software.
But let’s get back to the matter at hand: Just what makes the TouchSmart 600-1055 so damned sweet? There’s the display, for starters. Last year’s model had a 22-inch display with a native resolution of 1680x1050; this one has a 23-inch screen with a native resolution of 1920x1080, making it the perfect partner for both the slot-feed Blu-ray drive and the integrated HDTV tuner.