Evesham Solar Storm review
The list of companies that have appeared consistently in PC Pro since issue one is a distinguished one, including Brother, Dell, HP and Intel. But Evesham is the only UK company still with us from the start. The company’s debut effort cost £1,418 – a shade over £1,715 in today’s money, accounting for inflation. In return, you got an Intel 486 DX2/66MHz CPU, 8MB of RAM and a 500MB hard disk.
The difference between the Evesham (Vale) and the Solar Storm is striking. The Solar Storm, for instance, comes with Windows Vista Home Premium rather than Windows 3.11. It has a dual-core CPU, 1GB of RAM and a 320GB hard disk – 640 times more storage than Evesham’s debut.
And, as we’d expect from a modern PC, the Solar Storm flew through our tests, scoring 1.09 overall in our application benchmarks (in Windows XP). The Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 has a core speed of 2.13GHz, while the RAM is also quick, with a pair of 512MB modules running at 667MHz. But Vista is significantly better with 2GB of RAM, so you’re likely to want to fill one of the free DIMM sockets with another 1GB.
The Solar Storm also raced through our 3D tests. With both of our benchmarks at their medium settings, Far Cry ran to an average score of 30fps, while Call of Duty 2 scored 44fps. Even better, the XFX 7900 GS is more than capable of running games at the monitor’s 1,680 x 1,050 resolution, with Far Cry and Call of Duty scoring average frame rates of 22fps and 36fps at the native resolution. It’s a better-value card than the current top-of-the-line Nvidia 8800 series, but it isn’t DirectX 10 compliant, so won’t show off this year’s games at their best.
The TFT is a ViewSonic VG2030wm. The native widescreen resolution is perfectly suited to Vista’s Sidebar, and we appreciate the decent set of built-in stereo speakers. But, in spite of good colour accuracy, the backlighting is uneven, which means some areas of the screen appear brighter than others. Also, the tiny buttons and an unintuitive menu system make adjustments unnecessarily laborious.
The Solar Storm’s standard chassis is functional. Pop off the side and you’re greeted by an uncluttered interior, which makes upgrading easier and keeps airflow healthy. Plenty of cable ties keep the Molex power connectors under control, and reusable cable clamps at the bottom of the case mean the wiring for the front-mounted USB, FireWire and audio ports are equally tucked away.
The Foxconn motherboard supplies a good number of upgrade options. Not only are there still two DIMM sockets available, but there are also two PCI slots spare. One of these is very close to the graphics card, though, and presuming you can even fit another card we’d hesitate to do so because of airflow concerns. Elsewhere, there are one 1x PCI Express and two 4x slots free, five spare SATA ports, as well as a pair of USB risers for adding more USB ports.
While the Solar Storm isn’t Viiv branded, it has all the flexibility needed to make a good media hub, streaming files out via Windows XP Media Center to receivers around the home (once they become available later this year). One of the three PCI slots is taken up by a twin digital Hauppauge TV tuner, so you can watch one channel while recording another, and there’s 320GB of storage. The only disappointment is the lack of wireless networking, although you do get a Gigabit Ethernet controller.
The desktop PC market is more competitive than ever, and when it comes to sub-£1,000 PCs there’s a huge amount to choose from. The A List Sub-£1,000 PC category has become something of a revolving door in recent months, with a continuous stream of new additions arriving as older models depart. With a better monitor, faster processor and more future-proofing than the Mesh Matrix AM2 Pro, the Solar Storm hits that sweet spot between price and performance – if you can’t stretch to Evesham’s Solar Visto Creation, it’s a great alternative.