There are two things we think of when we hear the word “supercomputer.” The first is the failed 1970s NBC show Supercomputer (now available on DVD from Shinehart Wigs). The other is a massive room full of HAL9000-like scary boxes just two MIPS away from declaring thermal nuclear war on humanity.
So, what was Gateway thinking when it decided to call its FX6831 a Gaming Super-computer? This is, after all, just a simple desktop housing a single 2.8GHz Core i7-860. Surely, that’s not the stuff of supercomputing, is it? OK, we know that in January, Fabrice Bellard used a single Core i7 to smash a record set by, umm, a supercomputer for calculating pi. Still, Gateway’s gone way over the line, right?
Most all-in-one PCs make extensive use of notebook technologies: The processors are low voltage, the GPUs are mobile designs, and the optical drives are low profile. This tends to endow all-in-ones with a natural price premium, because compact, lower-power components add cost. Be that as it may, the $700 HP Pro All-in-One seems a tad overpriced—particularly when you consider that the nearly identical home version, the Pavilion MS200, costs $100 less.
We don’t think this boost is entirely an attempt to gouge corporate buyers, though. For one thing, the Pro All-in-One ships with the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Professional, which adds domain networking, Windows XP mode—a virtualized PC running Windows XP—and network-backup capability.
The MS218 consists of a monitor (with all the workings of a PC built into the same enclosure), a keyboard, a mouse, and a 120-watt external power brick. Although efficient (the entire PC draws just 36 watts at idle), the brick seems to be overkill. Even when running system-intensive tasks, we never saw power consumption rise above 66 watts.
Featuring a microATX motherboard the HP Compaq 6005 Small Form Factor PC is relatively svelte, measuring 13.3 inches by 14.90 inches square and less than four inches tall. (Note: HP also sells the model 6005 in a micro-tower configuration).
Built around a motherboard with an AMD 785G chipset, the system sports a 3GHz AMD B95 CPU. The “95” in B95 denotes a thermal design power (TDP) of 95W, while the “B” means “business.” These business-class CPUs are identical to their 45nm retail cousins and offer 2MB of L2 cache (512KB dedicated per core) and 6MB of shared L3 cache.
As with many business desktop PCs, this system uses integrated graphics; in this case, the ATI Radeon HD 3200 core built into the 785G. It won’t win any gaming benchmarks, but it should handle most light-duty business 3D chores, including running Windows 7’s Aero mode.
One of the PC’s weaknesses is the tendency to be generic. That’s certainly not a weakness of Alienware’s new Aurora ALX. Using a new redesigned chassis, there’s no way your Aurora ALX will be confused with a bland black box.
And how could it, given its signature Xenomorph look? Previous Alienware cases have felt like rebadged commodity cases, but this new case is clearly unique. When we plugged the PC into the wall socket, the set of ventilation vents on top slowly flapped open and closed—as though the ominous black creature were alive and just took a breath.
Getting inside of the case added to the mystery. Like a caveman hammering away on a flying saucer with a rock, we just didn’t know how to open the thing. We finally found that lifting the very last ventilation flap unlocks the side hatch. With the door off of the blowing, pulsing, and breathing Aurora ALX, was it alien technology we saw? Fortunately, it was more Earth-bound. Inside, we found a water-cooled Core i7-975 Extreme Edition on a custom Micro ATX X58 motherboard. Graphics were in the hands of the latest hotness, two CrossFired ATI Radeon HD 5870s. Along with 6GB of RAM and a Blu-ray combo drive, there wasn’t much wanting in the rig. We do take issue with the storage configuration, which comprises two 1TB drives in RAID 0, with no local backup drive. Scary. However, we like the mounting system, which gives you easy access to drives.
What sets a boutique builder apart from a huge OEM? Taking risks with hardware, that’s what.
Unfortunately, taking risks doesn’t always pan out. Take AVADirect’s Custom PC. Hot on the heels of numerous Core i7 rigs tipping the 4GHz and 4.2GHz range, AVADirect went a step further by clocking its Custom PC gaming rig at 4.4GHz. The company even goes so far as to include a custom profile for 4.7GHz—a speed the company had originally promised it would hit out of box, until cooler heads prevailed.
The bad news is that even at 4.4GHz, we were able to break the AVADirect machine with our stress test. The good news is that the machine remained stable in our benchmarking runs. Still, if we could stress it enough to reboot in two hours, someone else could, too. Working with AVADirect, we were able to get the machine to rock-solid levels at 4.4GHz, but it took several days of testing and more than 25 different BIOS combinations—which somewhat tarnishes the feat.
When Falcon Northwest submitted its Talon PC to us instead of its top-gun Mach V, we didn’t think the machine stood a chance of taking down the spate of ripping-fast 4GHz Core i7 rigs we’ve seen in the last few months.
And we were right. But the point Falcon was trying to make with its Talon was that its machine could deliver 90 percent of the performance of those big LGA1366-based Core i7 rigs at half the cost, half the noise, and half the energy consumption. Impossible? We thought so.
But that was before we’d ever heard of ATI’s new Radeon HD 5970 card. Code-named Hemlock, this new card features not one, but two of the GPUs that power the Kick Ass Radeon HD 5870.
It is, perhaps, fitting that Velocity Micro’s new rig is called a Raptor. That’s because anyone who has ever seen the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor in person and on afterburner knows just how overkill the F-22 is.
The same can be said of Velocity Micro’s Raptor Signature Edition. With people overjoyed just to have a $99 Athlon II X4 620, Velocity Micro decided to go shock-and-awe on the spec lists—and the wallet.
First up is Intel’s stellar Core i7-975 Extreme Edition. With a stock speed of 3.33GHz, Velocity Micro uses a custom CoolIt Domino ALC to get the processor to a very stable 4.2GHz. To “balance” this $1,000 CPU, Velocity Micro throws in probably $1,500 in GPUs in the form of three EVGA GeForce GTX 285s. Still not impressed? How about four SLC-based Intel X25-E Extreme 64GB SSD drives in RAID 0?
Mind you, these are not the pedestrian X25-M consumer drives; they’re enterprise-class drives that offer more than twice the write performance of the X-25M version and peg the read speeds at the SATA 3Gb/s limit. If you’re afraid of a four-drive RAID 0, you might feel better that the X25-E’s are designed for server use and should have 10 times the life of a consumer drive.
Even we have to admit that in this economy, you have to be thankful if you’re not still driving a Pentium 4 rig. Still, for budget buyers today, the choice usually doesn’t get much better than a dual-core machine that takes overnight to encode video and a GPU that can’t push pixels downhill.
Fortunately, it’s no Pentium Dual-Core or Celeron that CyberPower opts to stick you with. Instead, CyberPower reached into its parts bin for Intel’s brand-new, budget badass: the $200 2.66GHz Core i5-750. This chip is like Chuck Norris in a bar fight: It not only wipes the floor with Phenom II X4, it commits a little fratricide against its Core 2 Quad and Core 2 Duo siblings, too.
To this Two-Buck Chuck, CyberPower adds what is definitely not a budget part: Nvidia’s fastest videocard in the form of EVGA’s GeForce GTX 295. At the foundation is Gigabyte’s new GA-P55-UD5 and 4GB of Kingston DDR3/1600. Storage is left to a 1.5TB Seagate Barracuda and a Samsung 22x DVD burner. A Cooler Master V8 cooler and Scout case complete the package.
If you doubt the existence of mirror universes that are almost the same except for minor changes, Digital Storm’s 950Si rig could make a believer out of you.
The 950Si is that similar to Maingear’s Kick Ass Award–winning ePhex that we reviewed in August, albeit with some slight differences. For instance, the ePhex’s all-white enclosure was a Silverstone TJ10, while the 950Si uses a nearly all-black TJ09.
In graphics, the 950Si features dual EVGA GeForce GTX 295 cards while Maingear opted for three GeForce GTX 285 cards. Both rigs sport Intel’s top proc—the Core i7 975 Extreme Edition at 4GHz—but get there differently. Digital Storm does a straight multiplier overclock of 31x133MHz base clock to get to 4.1GHz. Maingear preferred a 21x multiplier with a 160MHz base clock to get to 4GHz.
Even in SSDs there’s a similar-but-different feel. Maingear tapped two Intel 80GB X-25M drives; Digital Storm opted for two of Corsair’s 64GB M64 SSDs.
Once upon a time, I dismissed the iPhone as a wannabe smartphone, lacking the key features that truly warranted that label. Since I wrote that column about two years ago, Apple has gone on a feature-adding rampage—adding push email, support for Exchange servers, third-party applications, and a veritable alphabet soup of new acronyms (GPS, MMS, and 3G, for starters). Two years into the iPhone era, the device is so much more than a phone with an iPod attached— it’s an instant-on, always-connected, pocket-sized computer.
On paper, the 3GS doesn’t seem like a major upgrade from the previous-generation iPhone, especially when you consider that many of the bullet points on the 3GS’s feature list came to older iPhones in the form of the 3.0 firmware release. And at first glance, even the new 3GS-exclusive features—a faster CPU, more memory, a more capable GPU, faster network connectivity, a higher-resolution camera that can finally shoot video, voice control for key features, and a compass—seem like a mixture of unsexy, incremental, shoulda-been-there-already features, and just plain meh. Worse, some of the features require carrier support, so things like MMS messages, higher-speed HSPDA support, and tethering won’t be available in the United States until AT&T deigns to support them.