Let’s get this out of the way right now – this PC is seriously expensive. You might have seen systems that cost over two and half thousand pounds before, but this Holly Computers PC doesn’t include a monitor, or even a keyboard and mouse. So how can a company that most people won't have heard of charge this much for a PC, when you can get great systems like the Mesh Matrix S3100 Plus for only £800.
The answer is that Holly Computers is one of an increasing number of companies that are specialising in producing hand-crafted, high-performance PCs. The slogan on its web site is ‘customise, not compromise’, and this machine is certainly a good example of that philosophy. Not only is it brimming with the latest technology, but like the Armari T64-LQX, which we looked at recently, it’s water cooled. Cooling a PC with water is superior to cooling with fans, as water can transfer heat far more efficiently than air. An additional benefit is that by removing the fans, it’s far quieter. On top of that it also gives more scope for overclocking.
Even at default settings though, specifications wise, the Holly certainly has it going on. The system is powered by an Athlon FX-53, which until recently was the fastest AMD processor you could buy. That honour is now taken by the slightly upgraded Athlon FX-55, which has clock speed of 2.6GHz compared to the FX-53s 2.4GHz. The good news is that the Holly system is now shipping with a FX-55 for the same price, which can't be bad.
To house the components, Holly has chosen the Antec P160 chassic. While looks are inevitably a matter of opinion I definately approve of this case as it’s one that I put good money down on for my own home system. It’s a trendy silver colour and as it's constructed of aluminium it's very light. It’s upgrading friendly thanks to features such as a side facing removable hard disk drive cage, a removable motherboard tray and thumbscrews holding the PCI cards in place. However, from my experience, it has to be said that’s it’s not the sturdiest case around. In fact, compared to the likes of a Lian Li it could be described as flimsy. However, as the Holly machine will arrive fully built anyway it’s a non-issue.
The system motherboard is the Abit AV8, based on Via's K8T800 Pro. This is a board clearly designed with the adventurous overclocker in mind. Delving into the BIOS, I was pleased to find that the front side bus can be pushed up to a theoretical 336MHz in 1MHz increments. To assist, there are voltage controls for the CPU, AGP, memory and even the motherboard chipset's Northbridge and Southbridge. There are also AGP and PCI bus speed dividers enabling you to adjust the front side bus without having to stress the other components. This is a good thing too, as one of the advantages the FX line of processors has over the standard Athlon 64 line is that it’s multiplier unlocked, specifically enabling you to play around with this stuff.
The BIOS also enables alterations to the memory timings. The Athlon FX line, integrates a dual-channel memory controller, and the Holly is fitted with a matched pair of Corsair PC4400 512MB DIMMs to take advantage of this, with room for another pair. The Corsair RAM can run at up to 550MHz. By default however, Holly has not overclocked the motherboard, with the front side bus set to 200MHz and the memory running in sync at 400MHz. It's great though that the overclocking potential is there for those who have the knowledge and desire to push their PC to the max.
The graphics chipset is an nVidia GeForce 6800 GT - very nearly the fastest nVidia card you can buy, with 16 pixel pipelines and Shader Model 3 support. Sound is equally cutting edge thanks to the presence of a Creative Audigy 2 ZS. This can output 7.1 audio for a full home cinema experience and when hooked up to speakers that do it justice, is superb for both games and DVD. The card’s bundled software enables it to decode Dolby Digital Surround EX and DTS-ES soundtracks from DVDs and also high resolution DVD-Audio.
The Abit AV8 motherboard is however, also equipped with integrated 5.1 audio. With the Creative card in place this is essentially redundant but one advantage it does have is optical S/PDIF in and out ports, so if you want to connect up to an amp in that way you could always enable the on board sound instead.
Not withstanding the audio though, Holly has made good use of the other onboard features. The integrated SATA150 RAID chip is employed by two 75GB Western Digital Raptor hard disks spinning at 10,000rpm. These are set up in RAID 0 'striped' configuration producing a single 'C' partition with a formatted capacity of 138GB. In addition, Holly has equipped the system with a 250GB Western Digital Caviar Special Edition hard drive, featuring 8Mb of cache, connected to an EIDE port.