Evesham Blaze X850 review
Evesham blasted its way onto the A List last month with a PC built to take advantage of ATi’s CrossFire technology, combining the power of two ATi cards to boost frame rates. The Axis Blaze 1800 XL uses an expensive X1800 XL graphics card and costs £1,799 including VAT, so this time Evesham tries the same trick but with a more affordable X850 Pro.
Predictably, it stormed through our 3D tests with smooth frame rates at our standard tough settings. However, it only supports Shader Model 2, so the next big thing in gaming – High Dynamic Range Rendering – will tend to suffer. It will keep up with games like Call of Duty 2 and F.E.A.R. but newer titles taking advantage of Shader Model 3 efficiencies may take a performance hit.
The X850 Pro sits in one of two PCI Express 16x slots on the MSI CrossFire motherboard. While a fast chipset, ATi has yet to release any Master cards to give you a dual-card graphics rig. However, these should start appearing in the next month or two, so it’s handy to have the upgrade potential.
The motherboard is a fairly standard high-end board, with two Gigabit Ethernet ports, four RAM sockets (two are used for the 1GB already installed) and six Serial ATA ports. The four fed by the Radeon Express 200 chipset don’t support Serial ATA 2, but the two routed from the Silicon Image chip do. There are two PCI Express 1x slots free for upgrades, but after the dual-height graphics and sound card no PCI slots are free.
Rather than rely on the motherboard’s integrated audio, Evesham has splashed out on a Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeMusic. The 24-bit Crystalizer certainly improved our low bit-rate MP3s, especially when teamed with the competent Creative I-Trigue 3200 speakers. Just note that support for advanced audio standards such as DTS-Extended surround sound is wasted on a 2.1 speaker set.
Sitting in the 939-pin CPU socket is an AMD Athlon X2 4200+, which is slightly underpowered for a PC at this price; we’d expect a faster 4400+ or 4600+. Still, few will want for speed: backed by 1GB of PC3200 RAM and a Western Digital Caviar SE hard disk (with a 16MB cache), the Blaze scored 1.11 in our benchmarks. The Caviar has 250GB of storage, but if you want to add more the Chenbro GamingBomb case only has room for two disks, and these would be tightly packed and run very hot as a result. Evesham also includes a DVD writer paired with a DVD-ROM.
Just as the styling of the case won’t be to everyone’s tastes, the ViewSonic VX912 TFT isn’t suited to all. We always appreciate the extra viewable diagonal afforded by a 19in TFT as opposed to a 17in TFT, and in day-to-day use our only criticism is slightly narrow vertical viewing angles. However, although gaming on the VX912 was generally acceptable, its dynamic range is limited. Detail in shadows – whether in games, films or photos – is almost non-existent. We saw banding on colour ramps in our technical tests too, indicative of poor colour handling, and our photos looked bland and lacked impact.
What certainly isn’t disappointing is the warranty offered by Evesham. The first two years are on-site, with the third year reverting to a return-to-base policy. The software bundle is also handy, as the competent BullGuard Internet Security 5 is included. This efficient anti-virus engine and firewall will have you protected from the off.
The Blaze X850 is a mixed bag, with budget spent on luxuries compromising the quality of core components. The X-Fi card is a prime example: Evesham could have left it out and spent the money on a better screen, as onboard AC97 audio is fine for most uses, especially with 2.1 speakers. Then there’s the X850 Pro, which although fast will look old quickly. The CrossFire motherboard may guarantee a speed boost when ATi gets round to releasing CrossFire Master cards, but it won’t get the boost of Shader Model 3. Again, Evesham could have saved money by going for an X800 GTO, a fast card in its own right. This would also run cooler, lessening the annoying whirr of the 120mm exhaust fan.