Evesham Solar Plus review
We’ve been hearing rumours about Core 2 Duo for months now. The biggest surprise, though, is that the reality isn’t that far from the hype, and some of the results we’ve seen this month put existing systems costing twice as much to shame.
You don’t need to look any further than Evesham’s own Axis Asteroid FX62 (see issue 142, p46). Costing £2,552, that was an impressive 45% faster than our Pentium D reference rig, using AMD’s fastest, most expensive, desktop chip. This new system, costing £1,361 less, is 59% faster.
Most of this performance comes from the new 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo E6700 (the fastest non-Extreme chip), helped along by 1GB of Corsair DDR2 RAM running at 800MHz. They’re housed in one of Intel’s own P965 chipset motherboards, and all wrapped up in a smart Evesham case.
Nvidia supplies the gaming grunt on this occasion, with the GeForce 7900 GT capable of running all the latest 3D titles at near-maximum detail settings, as long as you ease off on AA or AF. At 1,280 x 1,024, our Far Cry test – with its computationally complex and visually appealing HDR lighting effects – ran perfectly at an average frame rate of 53fps. However, the tortuously difficult smoke and fog effects in Call of Duty 2 proved too much at top settings with 4x AA and 8x AF. But there are few people who’ll be left unsatisfied.
The only disappointment is that both gaming and other jobs are slightly limited by the 19in ViewSonic VX922 TFT; a 20in panel with a higher resolution would certainly add to the cost, but it’s the first element we’d upgrade.
It’s not a fantastic panel either, with a lacklustre contrast range, despite the quoted figure of 650:1. Shadows and bright areas lack the detail of better panels, and our technical tests revealed banding in colour and greyscale ramps. On the plus side, the 2ms response time makes moving images appear rock-solid, and for day-to-day use, you won’t have cause to complain. Mesh’s Matrix Elite Duo Pro comes with the same screen, but whereas that’s partnered with gratuitous amounts of gaming power, Evesham balances this system much more sensibly, and the cost savings are evident.
There’s reasonable scope for extending the Solar’s capabilities once you peer into the case. The motherboard offers up to three PCI and three PCI Express 1x cards, although one of the latter is put out of action by the graphics card need for ventilation.
You could also connect up to three more SATA hard disks, though surprisingly the case hasn’t the room to store them internally. That isn’t a disaster given the reasonable 320GB Western Digital Caviar SE inside, which will be fine unless you want to add a TV tuner (to take advantage of Windows XP Media Center Edition) or store lots of video. You could also purchase a backplate and create some eSATA connections, as the onboard Intel Matrix storage controller supports hot-plugging hard disks.
Evesham bundles the numerous cables together in a neat bunch. It does hover over the RAM sockets, but there’s still acceptable access. The tidiness has the knock-on effect of keeping airflow running smoothly, with the side and front vents helping the rear 120mm fan suck through enough air to keep the system cool at all times and, aside from the slight whine of the graphics card, remarkably quiet too.
All in all, it’s a great showcase for Intel’s new wonder chip, whatever you want a new PC to do for you. And to cap it all off, the price is more than reasonable, particularly when you consider that this also includes a commendable three-year on-site warranty. There’s simply no contest for a place on the A List.