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I was chatting to someone this morning about the automobile market. I was saying that it amazes me how much you can get for your money, with high-performance, feature laden cars available at very affordable prices. It occurred to me later that the same thing is true with the PC market, and you can now get very fast, well featured PCs without the need to take out a second mortgage. One such machine is the Axis 64 Dominator from Evesham, and in car terms it's much like a Renault Clio Sport 182 - fast, fully featured, well built and with a bargain price tag.
Evesham's version of Renaults 182bhp engine is an AMD Athlon 64 3500+, and it puts out just as much of a kick when you need that extra bit of performance. Because this is a Socket-939 chip it can take advantage of dual channel memory, unlike the Socket-754 Athlon 64 processors. However, this is a bit of a double edged sword, because although you gain dual channel memory, you also lose half the Level 2 cache - the older Socket-754 chips had 1MB of Level 2 cache, whereas all the new Athlon 64 CPUs (FX range aside) only have 512KB. Anyway, back to the memory, and Evesham has fitted 512MB of PC3200 DDR SDRAM. Of course the memory is split over two 256MB DIMMs in order to take advantage of the dual channel functionality. But don't worry; there are four memory slots, so you've got space to increase your RAM at a later stage.
The MSI branded motherboard is based on the nVidia nForce3 250 chipset, and has a fair complement of features. The motherboard layout is good and has helped Evesham construct a very tidy machine. The four DIMM slots are unusually located at the top of the board, with the CPU socket below them. To the right of the CPU socket are the two IDE connectors and the ATX power socket. Directly below the CPU you'll find the AGP slot, with four PCI slots below it. There is an orange slot right at the bottom which will accept the optional 802.11g/Bluetooth combo card from MSI. You'll also find four SATA connectors, all of which can be configured into an SATA RAID array. Sound is decent enough, courtesy of a Realtek audio chip that can output 7.1-channel sound. There are ports to output 7.1 discrete analogue channels at the rear of the board, but both optical and coaxial S/PDIF outputs are also present. The optical output has a spring loaded cover which is much preferable to the removable plugs that always get lost.
Only one of the SATA connectors is in use, with a 200GB Western Digital hard disk connected to it. Not only is this disk capacious, but with a 7200rpm spindle speed and an 8MB cache, it should be fast too. If you somehow manage fill up that huge hard disk, Evesham has been kind enough to supply a Sony dual layer DVD writer. The specs of the drive are pretty solid with eight-speed DVD+R/-R, four-speed DVD+RW/-RW and 2.4-speed DVD+R DL. However, Evesham informed me that customer machines will ship with the newer Sony drive that will write DVD+R media at 16-speed. But it's the dual layer compatibility that makes this drive interesting, so you can write a total of 8.5GB to a single disc. Below the DVD writer is a DVD-ROM drive, so you can copy directly from one DVD to another, as long as it's not a copy protected disc of course. Both drives are very short, which makes them line up flush with the internal drive cage. This might not be something that many users will appreciate, but it does add to the overal tidy feel of the system internals.