Evesham Dominator X2 review
There’s been palpable excitement about dual-core processors in the PC Pro office over the past few months. One of the best things about it is that, unlike most new technology, it needn’t cost you a fortune. To demonstrate this, Evesham and Mesh have put together systems based on the dual-core Athlon 64 X2. Evesham has plumped for the 4200+ model – currently the lowest-end processor in the new X2 range, although it still effectively contains two Athlon 64 3400+ processors, with 512KB of Level 2 cache apiece. This was cutting-edge until recently, but now you’re getting two, so you can expect multithreaded applications to run roughly twice as fast, and no single-threaded application will take up the lion’s share of computing power.
Our application benchmarks raced to an overall score of 2.25 – and that’s only running at 50 per cent load. Our multithreaded 3ds max benchmark gave an even clearer indication of the power on offer: the system rendered the test scene in one minute, 29 seconds, as opposed to two minutes, 50 seconds in single-threaded mode.
While the Dominator’s specification is modest throughout, it’s still an incredibly powerful and versatile system. Evesham’s standard X-fronted case houses an Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe motherboard, based around nVidia’s well-featured nForce4 SLI chipset. As a platform, it offers such treats as a hardware firewall and nTune, a utility offering automatic under- or overclocking of components, so you can either back off the cooling fans or give an extra boost to performance when needed. Surprisingly, though, this is a fairly quiet system and is well able to cope with a full processing load without keeling over.
There’s as much future-proofing as you could hope for: two IDE channels and two independent SATA controllers give a wealth of options, offering four SATA 2 channels between them and supporting practically every RAID configuration. There are three internal 3.5 hard disk bays free too, allowing a good deal of headroom over and above the 250GB Western Digital disk already installed.
On the storage side, there’s also a 16x DVD writer to cater for backups, supporting DVD+/-RW formats and dual layer, and that’s complemented by a DVD-ROM for quick copying. With a floppy drive and 7-in-1 media card reader tucked in just below, there’s little this system won’t handle.
Further expansion potential is offered by three PCI slots – one of which is taken up by a 56K modem – and two PCI Express x1 slots. Not that you’re likely to need them in the near future: with dual Gigabit Ethernet controllers and two full-sized FireWire ports, there’s nothing crying out to be added. There’s no serial port on the main backplane, but this can be added via a header on the motherboard. Some may lament the lack of a dedicated sound card, but the 7.1 onboard audio, courtesy of Realtek’s ALC850 chip, provides more than enough for most people, especially as there’s optical and coaxial S/PDIF digital output on the backplane.
You’ll also find two DIMM sockets free should you outgrow the existing 1GB of PC3200 RAM, and the Dominator is even SLI ready, with two PCI Express 16x slots. Just note that you’ll lose both PCI Express x1 slots if you decide to fit two cards, even if they’re single height.
Evesham supplies the system with a single nVidia 6800 LE – a sensible move given the likelihood that the next generation of high-end graphics cards will be available soon, so you’ll have the choice of adding another 6800 LE or upgrading to new cards. Even on its own, it’s more than capable of handling today’s demanding titles at 1,280 x 1,024 – our Far Cry benchmark ran at 25fps, even with 4x anti-aliasing and 8x anisotropic filtering switched on, and Half-Life 2 a decent 30fps at the same settings. Switching off the filtering and upping the resolution to 1,600 x 1,200 produced 33fps and 33fps respectively.