PC Specialist Vortex 860GTX review

£1049
Price when reviewed

PCs used to be mocked for their “big beige box” tradition, but these days it’s the big black box school of design that dominates. PC Specialist’s latest system conforms to that in a sense, but its Cooler Master HAF 922 chassis could never be accused of being dull.

In fact, the brash design makes it one of the most outlandish cases we’ve come across. The lower half of the front is decorated by a huge 200mm fan drawing air inwards, beneath angled bezels and mesh panels, and the sides are similarly adorned. The roof boasts a further 200mm outward fan, alongside a small area for storing peripherals. At least cooling shouldn’t be an issue.

It has its practical benefits as well as aesthetic touches. The interior is spacious enough to ease upgrading and tweaking, and PC Specialist’s meticulous cable tidying helps. Excess cables are tucked behind the motherboard, and vital wires are routed underneath graphics cards and around various struts to ensure they’re unobtrusive.

PC Specialist Vortex 860GTX

Aside from the lack of empty DIMM sockets, there’s also plenty of room for component upgrades. There’s a decent selection of ports, with 11 USB, two eSATA, FireWire, HDMI and a well-appointed card reader, all divided between the backplate and the front of the case.

We were also relieved to note that the PC Specialist isn’t a particularly loud machine. While it’s far from silent – the pair of 200mm case fans emits a constant low hum – we’ve certainly heard worse, not least from the Cooler Master’s bigger brother, the huge HAF 932.

PC Specialist has crammed the spacious case with plenty of impressive components. Intel’s 2.8GHz Core i7-860 processor powered to an impressive score of 1.98 in our application benchmarks, ensuring that even demanding software won’t tax the CPU too heavily.

The Vortex also sports an Nvidia GeForce GTX 275 which, in the face of ATI dominance, is one of the only Nvidia parts that’s regularly seen in the PC Pro Labs at the moment. It’s a good GPU too, brushing our low and medium-quality Crysis benchmarks aside with ease and running through our 1,600 x 1,200 high-quality test at a playable 45fps. Only at very high graphical settings did the GTX 275 fall below 30fps.

These results may mean every modern title will be playable but, with new cards from ATI and Nvidia either already released or just around the corner, it’s worth asking PC Specialist about upgrades should you choose to take the plunge. The Mesh Matrix II 5870XT, for instance, included ATI’s new Radeon HD 5870 card, and ran through the 1,920 x 1,200 very high quality benchmark 12fps faster than the PC Specialist.

Elsewhere, 8GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 RAM is double the amount we’re used to seeing in most desktop systems, and should make mincemeat of intensive photo editing applications. The 1TB hard disk offers enough storage for all but the largest of media collections, and the Blu-ray drive should also endear the system to movie fans.

Unfortunately, though, while the £912 Vortex may sport a competent chassis and return decent benchmark scores across the board, it can’t quite match other similarly priced machines. The Mesh Matrix II 5870XT, for instance, is a little faster in our 2D tests and a lot faster in games, and comes with a monitor, keyboard and mouse – all for the same amount of cash.

The Vortex does a lot right, but the all-round package just isn’t quite there: if you’re looking to put together a full system you can get better deals for less cash. While the case is certainly interesting, there just isn’t the value in this PC Specialist to stand out from a very competitive crowd.

Warranty

Warranty 1 yr return to base

Basic specifications

Total hard disk capacity 1,000
RAM capacity 8.00GB
Screen size N/A

Processor

CPU family Intel Core i7
CPU nominal frequency 2.80GHz
CPU overclocked frequency N/A
Processor socket LGA 1156

Motherboard

Motherboard Asus P7P55D PRO
Conventional PCI slots free 1
Conventional PCI slots total 2
PCI-E x16 slots free 2
PCI-E x16 slots total 3
PCI-E x8 slots free 0
PCI-E x8 slots total 0
PCI-E x4 slots free 0
PCI-E x4 slots total 0
PCI-E x1 slots free 2
PCI-E x1 slots total 2
Internal SATA connectors 6
Internal SAS connectors 2
Internal PATA connectors 1
Internal floppy connectors 1
Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec

Memory

Memory type DDR3
Memory sockets free 0
Memory sockets total 4

Graphics card

Graphics card Nvidia GeForce GTX 275
Multiple SLI/CrossFire cards? no
3D performance setting High
Graphics chipset Nvidia GeForce GTX 275
Graphics card RAM 896MB
DVI-I outputs 2
HDMI outputs 1
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 1
DisplayPort outputs 0
Number of graphics cards 1

Hard disk

Capacity 1.00TB
Hard disk usable capacity 931GB
Internal disk interface SATA
Spindle speed 7,200RPM
Cache size 16MB
Hard disk 2 make and model N/A
Hard disk 2 nominal capacity N/A
Hard disk 2 formatted capacity N/A
Hard disk 2 spindle speed N/A
Hard disk 2 cache size N/A
Hard disk 3 make and model N/A
Hard disk 3 nominal capacity N/A
Hard disk 4 make and model N/A
Hard disk 4 nominal capacity N/A

Drives

Optical disc technology Blu-ray reader
Optical disk 2 make and model N/A
Optical disk 3 make and model N/A

Monitor

Monitor make and model N/A
Resolution screen horizontal N/A
Resolution screen vertical N/A
Resolution N/A x N/A
Pixel response time N/A
Contrast ratio N/A
Screen brightness N/A
DVI inputs N/A
HDMI inputs N/A
VGA inputs N/A
DisplayPort inputs N/A

Additional Peripherals

Speakers N/A
Speaker type N/A
Sound card Asus HD Audio
Peripherals N/A

Case

Chassis Cooler Master HAF 922
Case format Full tower
Dimensions 252 x 558 x 503mm (WDH)

Free drive bays

Free front panel 5.25in bays 4

Rear ports

USB ports (downstream) 11
FireWire ports 1
eSATA ports 2
PS/2 mouse port yes
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 1
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 1
Modem no
3.5mm audio jacks 6

Front ports

Front panel USB ports 3
Front panel eSATA ports 1
Front panel memory card reader yes

Mouse & Keyboard

Mouse and keyboard N/A

Operating system and software

OS family Windows 7
Recovery method Windows disc

Noise and power

Idle power consumption 102W
Peak power consumption 254W

Performance tests

Overall application benchmark score 1.98
Office application benchmark score 1.69
2D graphics application benchmark score 2.12
Encoding application benchmark score 1.72
Multitasking application benchmark score 2.39
3D performance (crysis) low settings 45fps
3D performance setting High

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