Holly SFA2S review
The iDeq 200N chassis, which provides the home for Holly’s SFA2S, is beginning to look slightly dated. We’re naturally in favour of the small-form-factor and clever passive heating (the case acts as a large heatsink thanks to indentations on the underside), but the included Biostar M7NBA motherboard only supports AMD Socket A processors, which lack the integrated memory controller of Socket 754 CPUs.
The 2GHz Sempron 2800+ is the slowest processor in the £599 group, and the Holly could only manage a benchmark score of 1.61, in spite of 512MB of PC3200 RAM. Slow 2D application performance doesn’t necessarily mean slow 3D performance, and the SFA2S turned out to be the fastest 3D performer here.
Instead of spending lots of the budget on a quick CPU, Holly has made the inspired choice of a Gainward 2100LE graphics card. It uses nVidia’s GeForce 6800LE chipset and packs 128MB of RAM. This meant both Halo and Unreal Tournament 2004 frame rates were limited only by the CPU, scoring 46fps each.
But, this card has required other compromises: the Holly is the only £599 system not to feature a 17in TFT. While the 15in Iiyama ProLite E383S is an excellent monitor, it’s simply outclassed in terms of resolution and size: the 1,024 x 768 native resolution precludes using large, multiple windows or watching a DVD with more than one other person. At least the black plastic matches the rest of the PC.
Audio is decent enough. Realtek’s ALC655 chip supplies 5.1 surround sound through either mini-jacks or one of the two S/PDIF ports. Front and rear-mounted FireWire allows DV camcorders to be connected, so long as you can live with the long processing times from the CPU. The NEC dual-layer DVD writer and 160GB Western Digital Caviar 160GB hard disk keep the Holly on a par with other machines in this group.
Expansion is limited but possible. One DIMM socket is free for memory upgrades, and the AGP slot is relatively easy to get to. One thing to bear in mind is that the AGP slot and solitary PCI slot are close together, and installing a PCI card will be a tricky job. Indeed, fitting one may well result in higher internal temperatures because of the diminished airflow to the graphics card.
If you’re looking for a PC to fit in a small space, the Holly is the best choice this month. However, unless you’re going to mainly play games, there’s better value to be had elsewhere.