Evesham e-style AX64 review
With the unprecedented leap in performance that dual-core processors offer, we were expecting them to be priced out of the mainstream for some time, but so far we’ve been pleasantly surprised. And, just days after AMD’s announcement of the Athlon 64 3800+, Evesham has built a machine around the new chip, intended to offer an even sweeter spot between price and performance. At £799 the e-style isn’t quite what we’d call a budget system, but it certainly packs a hefty punch for the price.
While not explicitly a media PC, the AX64 comes with Windows Media Center Edition (MCE) 2005 installed. Aside from the slightly tweaked Desktop theme, it’s indistinguishable from Windows XP – until you press the green button on the remote control that is, after which you’re dropped into the slick and well-featured media interface. The system doesn’t include a TV tuner, so won’t cut the mustard as a dedicated all-in-one box, but that’s not really the point of this machine. The price difference of MCE for larger manufacturers is negligible, and the inclusion of what Microsoft describes as the ‘Premium Windows Experience’ certainly adds an extra dimension.
Graphics are powered by a 128MB GeCube HP550L-C3, based around ATi’s new Radeon X550 chipset. With a large passive heatsink, it neatly sidesteps the need for any extra fan noise, but while it doesn’t add a huge amount to the price, don’t expect any 3D miracles. Woeful in our benchmarks, it finally managed to produce a just about playable 28fps in Far Cry at 1,024 x 768 with detail set to medium and AA and AF turned off. Half-Life 2 had similar difficulties – you won’t really be enjoying any recent games without an upgrade. Evesham offers this in the form of a GeForce 6600 GT which, for another £50, would be money well spent in order to greatly improve the system’s flexibility.
There are no complaints with the superb 19in ViewSonic VX924 TFT though. With good viewing angles, vibrant colours and an industry-leading 4ms response time, it’s a high-quality addition. Less extravagant is the integrated sound and Creative 2.1 speakers, but they provide reasonable sound quality, with pleasingly punchy bass from the subwoofer, and there’s a handy wired remote control too.
The system itself is built around an understated micro ATX case that won’t take up a lot of space. Inside there’s sufficient room for the air to flow and to gain access to components when you come to upgrade. There’s scope for one more hard disk, although that would likely need some extra cooling due to the tightly spaced drive bays – you’ll also need to remove all the drives if you need to get to the memory sockets. There aren’t any PCI Express 1x slots, and the PCI Express 16x graphics card extends just far enough over one of the standard PCI slots to render it unusable, leaving two free.
But however important it may be, upgrade capacity is only a look to the future – any new PC needs to perform to the expected level right out of the box. And, with an overall application benchmark score of 2.17 – principally handled by just one core of the CPU – there’s plenty of horsepower available for everyday jobs. Fitted to the Socket 939 MSI MS-7093 motherboard, it’s supported by 512MB of PC3200 DDR RAM, running in dual-channel mode across two of the four available slots.
Storage comes courtesy of a 200GB Western Digital hard disk, which is adequate at this price, and there are two Sony optical drives to more than meet your DVD needs. The writer will burn both plus and minus dual-layer formats at 4x, and comes paired with a standard DVD-ROM drive to allow on-the-fly burning.