PC whirrled:
A small bonus at work has enabled me to splash out on a new PC base-unit. I looked at suppliers such as Evesham, Mesh, Dell, Watford, and others. I even ventured into PC World (Stoke)… /shudder/. There were some Japanese tourists in PC World, and the group openly laughed out loud when one of them translated the specification / price combinations on offer. I considered building a PC myself. I even idly considered a Mac, for about a whole three seconds. But I eventually ordered a pre-built PC from a very responsive local supplier in Derby, Gladiator Computers. For the highly-competitive price of £1145 (inc. Gordon’s slush fund VAT & delivery), I now have the following specifications, on a silent & cooled base-unit:-

+ ATX Case: Arctic Cooling Silentium; Silver & black, low noise, with 350W PSU

+ Cooler: Arctic Cooling Freezer 64 PRO CPU Cooler

+ CPU: AMD X2 64-bit 4200+ Dual Core

+ RAM: 2Gb of DDR RAM

+ Hard drive: Diamond Maxtor 6L300S0 300GB SATA/150 with 16Mb cache

+ Motherboard: EQS M56K9-MLF ATi RS-480 (Socket 939)

+ Video card: Asus GeForce N7800 GT Top, 256MB DDR PCI-e x16, with passive cooling + Nvidia 81.98 WHQL drivers

+ DVDs: 16x dual-layer DVD Writer, and 16x DVD Player

+ Floppy-drive with 7-in-1 card-reader, front USB ports

+ Windows XP OEM disc, with Service Pack 2

Only Gladiator could offer the combination I wanted, and at the price I required: an AMD X2 64-bit 4200+ dual-core CPU; a healthy 2Gb of RAM; a speedy 16mb-cache hard drive; a silent GeForce 7800GT graphics card. Other suppliers could provide something more or less similar, Mesh coming the closest, but only at an added cost of several hundred pounds. The Gladiator’s silent / cooled / sleek case was ‘the icing on the cake’.

Cheap delivery was another nice little money-saving bonus, at a mere £8 via ANC. ANC has a local depot, so I could collect if I had to. Ordered on a Thursday, the PC arrived on Tuesday morning as promised.

So, it all looked good on paper. It looked good in the box too, with especially well thought-out and highly-protective packing. But what about when the box was opened and the switches were flipped? Is it really ‘silent’? No, it’s quiet but not silent. But, after a while, it’s often difficult to realise that is actually running, in terms of noise or vibration. The main Sony DVD drive also spins up to a reasonably quiet rotation. Sometimes the hard disk makes a rather pleasant faint chirruping noise.

First I tinkered with the insides, fitting a second hard drive. This was a very tight squeeze; I had to take the huge CPU heatsink off to get the drive connected, and the drive was forced to use the cables of the second DVD drive, thus disabling one of the DVDs. Despite my being assured that an old IDE drive could be fitted, there were no screw threads for an IDE drive, and the drive just had to ‘lay in the bay’. I also had to re-seat and re-connect a few components – but the latter was the fault of the courier and state of the British roads, not the supplier.

One of the first things I installed and ran was the standard 3DMark05 test. Not good. “Out of the box” gained a dismal score of a shade over 2000. A few tweaks and driver-updates later, I had a far healthier 3DMark05 test score of 6002 (at 1280×960, 2x alias, 2x aniso). That’s within striking distance of the 6929 mark of a super-tuned custom-drivers -enabled £3,500 machine reviewed in September’s PCW as …the fastest gaming PC we’ve ever seen”. It’s amazing what waiting six months does to performance, in the PC cost/life-cycle.

In the real-world, Photoshop CS2 launches to full readyness in about 12 seconds. Painter IX launches in 5 seconds. The lumbering Open Office 2.0’s Write launches in just five seconds. Sweet, very sweet. Throw in the new dual-core 64-bit ability to efficiently and securely multi-task, and all this cool quiet power feels very pleasant indeed. There are still a few hourglasses in sight, regrettably, but using a PC is now much more pleasant.

It’s not tip-top-of-the-range, but then neither is the price. Judging by the magazines, for an extra £1000 I might have had a faster 4800+ or FX-80 CPU in a more highly-tuned motherboard, with a slightly faster 7800GTX card, a faster hard-drive, and some non-essential extras. But like any PC, mine is upgradable and has a standard motherboard. Core components, that are now too expensive, can be added when prices tumble in a few years, and if that kind of extra power is really needed.

I must say that I have yet to find anything much to fault with the actual PC. The components are good, and the build-quality is satisfactory. The driver disks were all present. It works fine, via a supplied free adapter, with my Sony Trinitron monitor. The only annoyances are from Windows XP and its need for huge security-updates and multiple ‘activations’. But, overall, £1145 well spent, it seems. I’ll keep you updated.