MyGamer Hardware Score: 8.0/10
Official Web Site: http://www.systemaxpc.com/
Systemax isn't a name that most gamers might recognize right off the bat, but that may change soon. The company's main focus (according to their investor relations web site) is in crafting PCs for use in the business and home office/small office space, however, recently the company has ventured boldly into the gaming arena, constructing systems with fanciful model names like the Warhawk, the TigerShark and the Wildcat.
The company seems to realize, however, that not all PC buyers have an extra three or four grand burning a hole in their pockets, so for the more budget-conscious out there, they've developed the Venture line, a series of PCs targeted at the $1000-$1500 price point, primarily designed for the casual gamer as well as the Media Center crowd. Systemax was generous to send over one of their Venture units, the C2D, for our review, and we bring back this report.
The Venture system we reviewed is powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 CPU array running at 2.66 GHz on an Intel ATX mobo. 2GB of 533MHz DDR2 provides the system's RAM. Graphics are handled by a 256MB Radeon X1600 PCI-Express video card, and all files are stored on a pair of 250GB SATA 7200 RPM hard drive in a Raid 0 stripe array.
On top of this solid platform, the PC is loaded with multimedia goodies, including a pair of DVD/DVD RW drives, a Avermedia PCI TV tuner and a built-in 9-in-1 USB media card reader (installed into one of the PC's 3.5" drive bays). The second 3.5" bay is tricked out with extra front-facing USB and Firewire ports, a very handy and thoughtful addition. Windows XP Media Center edition came loaded as well, and the OS's included multimedia apps enable the Venture's capacity as a digital video recorder system.
All of this hardware, coupled with the included Logitech 2.1 speakers, Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse and a cordless Microsoft remote control turns the PC into a complete DVR system. The user can hook the C2D directly into their cable TV and use it as their media hub. The system comes pre-installed with a wealth of media playback utilities from developer Sonic, including CinePlayer for movies, RecordNow for disc burning projects and PrimeTime for recorded digital playback. This being a media PC however, most of the actual heavy lifting, recording-wise, is handled by Windows Media Center, and it with this app that users will schedule recordings and perform most of their actual multimedia operations.
In testing, we found that the PC did indeed do all it said it would, handling media recording, playback and final burn to DVD with professional polish. The included Logitech speakers left a bit to be desired (you don't want to try watching The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars: Episode 3's opening space battle scene without surround, trust us), but the inclusion of wireless control devices meant that the PC could be used equally well at a desk or on the couch in front of a big-screen PC. Hookups for a full 5.1 sound system are included on the rear of the case.
As happy as we were with the Venture as a multimedia rig, however, when we actually started testing the PC with games, the system quickly showed its limitations. As always, all of our game test were run, unless specified, at 1600X1200 resolution, using 2X antialiasing and 4X anisotropic filtering (where available) with all detail levels and draw distances maxed.
We began our testing with staff favorite Guild Wars, which topped out at 25.3 FPS in repeated tests, which the hard-core out there might consider "barely adequate". FPS titles fared even worse: newcomer Prey barely broke the 15 FPS mark (15.11 FPS) and F.E.A.R. fared little better at 15.74 FPS. RPG Elder Scrolls: Oblivion did a smidgen better at 17.84 FPS. In fact, the only game that really performed well was the aging Half Life 2, which routinely tested at 55-60 FPS on virtually every map we played.
True, we could have backed off on the screen resolution or lowered the graphics effects for pretty hefty FPS increases, but we know that most gamers would happily sacrifice a pinky (or even possibly a testacle) for increased performance before admitting defeat and lowering their graphics settings, so we let our monitor's default resolution set the standard and bit the bullet. If you're a gamer not blessed with a large CRT or LCD capable of 1600X1200 native resolution, however, you can expect roughly a 15%-20% performance increase simply by running at your screen's lower native rez.
Now, before you write off the Venture as a door stop or perhaps pigeon-hole it as a possible email machine for your grandma, in Systemax's defense, when they asked us what kind of system they should send, we specifically asked them to ship a lower-end PC, one that the average buyer could afford without resorting to selling a kidney on eBay. The Venture is what they sent, and honestly, it's not a bad little system for the price.
The Venture comes with some nice peripherals, such as a wireless keyboard and mouse as well as Logitech 2.1 speakers…
My wife, for example, found it more than powerful enough for all her gaming needs, from hours-long sessions with Glow Worm, Insaneaquarium, Talisman and a host of other Pop Cap and puzzle games to the occasional online session with me in Guild Wars. The host of multimedia apps were, to her, the equivalent of half a jar of decadent hot fudge poured atop a towering banana split – the perfect topping on a well-constructed ultra-sweet treat. And, any system that can run Prey or F.E.A.R. at 1600×1200 without looking like a complete slide show (15 FPS is close to that description, but is still playable… mostly) isn't a lightweight by anyone's definition.
Couple that fact with the Venture's $1500 price tag, and you have an excellent system for teens that are looking for an inexpensive yet powerful system, a PC for a casual or mid-level gamer, or for anyone looking for a multimedia PC capable of doing Tivo-like duties while burning movies and MP3's to a variety of media.
The DIY crowd is, by now, doubtless asking: can't you custom build a system this powerful for less? The honest answer is yes, but doing so would require buying all the parts and assembling them on your own, a solution that's not for everyone and that would not include the superior warranty offered by Systemax. If parting out a PC and spending a weekend configuring your hardware isn't your thing, then the Venture line might just be the thing you're looking for in a mid-priced, mid-powered multimedia and gaming system.
In conclusion, while the Venture certainly didn't blow us away, it certainly was no pushover, either. If you're looking for a solid "do everything" system then you might want to give Systemax a look. Personally, we think that if their low-end systems can do this well, then we can't wait to see the higher-end "hard core" systems that they have to offer.
Pros: Dual-core CPU allows for simultaneous use of the PC as a DVR as well as for other tasks, such as DVD burning, web surfing or even gaming. Included accessories, including a wireless Logitech mouse and keyboard as well as a Microsoft remote control adds convenience. Relatively low price tag for a PC capable of running high-end games like F.E.A.R or Oblivion at high resolution – just don't expect lightning-fast frame rates without making some sacrifices.
Cons: The Radeon X1600 video card is a bit anemic for a game system- don't expect 60+ FPS in current-gen PC FPS titles – but it's adequate for multimedia, certainly. Could use more storage space – the striped RAID discs are nice, but with the Venture's DVR capabilities those discs are going to fill up with episodes of Flavor of Love, Celebrity Fit Club, Wife Swap and Lost before you know it. The internal wiring job ain't pretty – in fact looks like it was done by a blind technician with ten thumbs – but it does get the job done.