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The keyboard and mouse are another hangover from the Solar Storm 731 and they're one that I'm much less happy to see. Sure wireless peripherals have their uses, but not for a gaming oriented machine. The mouse simply cannot keep up with intense gaming, end of story. Aside from my wireless gripes the mouse is also lacking in extra buttons for forward and back and I'm so used to using these buttons I simply cannot happily use a mouse without them. Also, the lack of a charger and reliance on having to swap out batteries is just a pain in the proverbial. On the plus side the keyboard is perfectly adequate and I was quite comfortable writing this article on it.
Building on this positive theme, the included speakers are a very capable 2.1 set from Creative. They will never compete with the more expensive sets out there but the sizeable sub keeps bass strong and well defined - the bass solo at the end of Love Rollercoaster by the Red Hot Chili Peppers was particularly enjoyable - and the two satellites do a good job of reproducing the mid-range and top end. Dialogue is also dealt with well so watching movies will be quite enjoyable on this system. A headphone socket on the left satellite is also a welcome addition particularly as the speaker volume knob also controls the headphone level.
Continuing along the peripheral rollercoaster, the Solar 8600 GTS plummets right back to ground courtesy of the included IIyama monitor. At 22inches from corner to corner, there's no denying the ample desktop real estate but with only a single VGA input, quality is simply not up to scratch with competitive equivalents. Text isn't as sharp as should be and colours lack vividness. There is also significant compression at the white end of the scale resulting in light images becoming washed out. I'd recommend choosing the smaller 20" Viewsonic 2030WM instead, as it has a DVI input, better image quality and is a tad cheaper.
The software package that comes bundled with the Solar 8600GTS consists of Microsoft Works 8.0, Roxio Easy Media Creator 9, and, BullGuard anti-virus software which comes with three months free updates. Given the number of multimedia applications that come with Vista Home Premium you should have enough to get going with most tasks with even this basic bundle. Warranty covers the PC for parts and labour for three years with the first two years being on-site, while the last year will require you to send the PC back to Evesham for repairs. It's this level of service that you're paying for when you spend that little extra on a ready built system rather than building it yourself.
To test the performance of the PC we ran our usual set of 2D and 3D benchmarks. Our 2D benchmark consists of automating some everyday tasks in a single and multi-tasking environment and timing how long they take to complete, you can find a full explanation of each task here. We also run PCMark05 to compliment our own 2D benchmark. To test the graphics card I ran our usual set of gaming benchmarks. I've compared the results against our reference E6400 rig and the Evesham Solar Storm 731, for 2D tests, and our reference 8600 GTS results for the 3D tests. Our reference test bed consists of an Intel 975XBX “Bad Axe” motherboard, coupled with 2GBs of Corsair CMX1024-6400C4 running at 800MHz with latency settings of 4-4-4-12.
Looking at 2D performance first, it is clear that our VirtualDub test is very CPU bound and there is very little to distinguish the two systems. However, the other two tasks are much more dependent on the speed at which data can be fed to the CPU, therefore the faster memory on our test bed helped it to gain a noticeable lead over the Evesham. Even so, the Evesham should prove more than capable for most people's everyday 2D tasks.
Moving onto 3D performance, the Evesham was quite capable of keeping up with all our test games at 1,680 x 1,050, all except for Company Of Heroes which only managed an average of 17.4 frames per second when anti-aliasing was enabled. However, as always our tests are run at absolute maximum in game detail settings so dropping back on some of these should allow you to find a playable framerate.
The Solar 8600 GTS has, for the most part found a perfect balance of components that should tackle everyday office/web browsing/photo editing tasks with ease as well as keep up with the latest games. However, there's no question I'd swap the IIyama 22inch monitor for another one that uses a DVI connector and opt for a decent mouse.
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