Evesham Knockout Pro review

Price when reviewed

With a World Cup just around the corner, manufacturers like Evesham are hanging their hats on shipping plenty of Windows Media Center PCs to those keen to cheer England on to glory.

The headline specifications of an AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ with a core speed of 2GHz and 1GB of RAM will be plenty for the foreseeable future.

At first glance, the Knockout Pro doesn’t look much like a media centre PC, but it has all the necessary components to make a fine media system. Windows MCE 2005 is pre-installed, and you’ll find Hauppauge’s latest twin-digital tuner inside. It’s a single card with just one aerial input, so you’ll only need to do a minimal amount of wiring.

There’s a 250GB Western Digital Caviar SE inside. An 8MB buffer and spin speed of 7,200rpm mean that, although you won’t see Western Digital’s quoted maximum data throughput of 300MB/sec, our disk-intensive Photoshop benchmark flew along. If 250GB sounds too restrictive, five spare internal drive bays make expansion easy.

The two optical drives are a DVD writer and a DVD-ROM drive. Evesham has connected them both to the same IDE channel, though; it makes the insides tidier, but means that large disc-to-disc copying jobs will take longer than if both channels were used at the same time. It’s also frustrating to see that there’s no dedicated means of attaching removable storage. This won’t be a problem if you have a ready supply of USB flash drives, but for this price the low cost and convenience of an integrated card reader isn’t much to ask.

You’ll have no problem playing games on the Knockout Pro. The Nvidia GeForce 7600 GT is an eminently respectable card, with 256MB of RAM and a core clock speed of 560MHz. Far Cry, at 1,280 x 1,024 with 4x anti-aliasing and 8x anisotropic filtering, ran at 36fps, while Call of Duty 2 ran at an equally respectable 29fps. ViewSonic’s 19in VA1912w widescreen TFT has a maximum resolution of 1,440 x 900, but this had a negligible effect on our benchmarks, both of which dropped by just one frame per second.

The monitor itself is one we recommended a few months back. The 8ms response time means it’s almost impossible to spot any smearing during fast-paced games or films, and the excellent contrast ratio ensures plenty of detail in both light and dark areas of images. Stereo speakers are built into the bottom of the bezel, although a set of Creative I-Trigue 3220 2.1 speakers are also included. These are good enough for solitary gaming, and make a decent stab at sound reproduction for films and music.

The sound chip built into the MSI motherboard supports up to 7.1 surround sound, and there are both optical and co-axial S/PDIF ports available for those with more complex setups. The motherboard features Nvidia’s Nforce4 SLI chipset, which means a wealth of other capabilities are built-in. Gigabit Ethernet makes a welcome appearance, although those looking to integrate the Knockout Pro into a network might have appreciated a wireless card as well. Expansion options are good – three spare SATA ports are useful and, since the MSI motherboard is an SLI model, you can add another graphics card later for more 3D power. The front of the PC is spartan, but flip down the front panel and you’ll find a pair of USB ports, a full-sized FireWire port (there’s another on the backplane) and mic and speaker jacks.

The £800-£1,000 PC market is as competitive as ever and, although the Knockout Pro is a superb system with plenty of power, there are challengers. Take the Panrix LanBoy 3800 X2, which offers equivalent application power but better 3D performance thanks to its 7900 GT graphics card. And just last month, we saw the Evesham Axis Dominator 79GT, which costs £40 more but offers a 4200+ CPU and a 7900 GT. But while the Knockout Pro may not be the most all-out powerful PC for the money, its superb all-round features take it straight onto our A List.

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