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Laptops might be taking over from desktops for most consumers, but for gaming you still can't beat good old clunky towers. Especially not in the case of Wired2Fire's HellSpawn ALC Gaming PC, which is driven by a water-cooled Core i7 processor overclocked to an impressive 3.8GHz - that's 600MHz faster than the Core i7 965 Extreme which costs almost £900 on its own! Wired2Fire complements this blazing CPU with a decent 6GB of DDR3 RAM and a Radeon HD4890, so there ought to be very few games this monster can't chew up and spit out into the eternal abyss.
Not that you'd think this PC anything special from the outside, mind you. Antec's Three Hundred might be a very good case in the budget arena, but it's not exactly one that shows off a PC's innards and is seriously low on the bling factor many gamers crave.
There's nothing wrong with a more understated approach - in fact it's one I prefer myself - but the problem here is that the case's lack of a side-window means you have to remove a panel to be able to read the water-cooling system's LCD display. You see, CoolIT's Domino A.L.C. features a rather nice 3in black-on-blue screen that shows handy information such as fan speed, pump speed and coolant temperature. Quite aside from wanting to show it off to friends this is genuinely useful information, especially if you tend to indulge in a bit of dynamic overclocking (though to be fair the CPU is probably already clocked as high as it will safely go).
Thankfully Wired2Fire allows you to upgrade individual components before ordering, so an extra £41 will set you up with an Antec Nine Hundred instead (which has more in common with the Twelve Hundred) featuring a windowed side panel that should show off the display nicely. An additional advantage is that its 200mm top fan offers better noise and cooling performance than the 140mm model found on the Three Hundred.
Getting back to the case our review sample came in, in every other regard the Three Hundred is more than adequate. It's a mostly steel construction with plastic 'pillars' on either side of the mesh metal front, and is finished in a durable matte black.
It offers three external 5.25in drive bays, the top one of which is filled with an LG GGC-HL20 combined Blu-ray and HD DVD drive which will of course also write to DVDs and CDs. Below the drive bays are twin 120mm fans with washable air filters that can be easily removed by un-clipping the front of the case.
Above the optical drive reside neat power and reset buttons, two USB ports plus headphone and microphone jacks. Unfortunately, there's no sign of an eSATA connector here, which nowadays is a bit stingy and yet another reason to upgrade to the Nine Hundred, though the Three hundred is more compact at just 45.8 x 46.5 x 20.5cm (H x D x W).
At the HellSpawn ALC's rear you'll find two PS2 ports, optical and coaxial digital outputs, standard and mini FireWire ports, eight USB ports, a Gigabit Ethernet connector and six analogue 3.5mm audio jacks, all courtesy of Gigabyte's EX58-UDR3 motherboard which we'll examine in a bit more detail later on. Notice a striking absentee on the above list? Again there's no sign of an eSATA connector, meaning that this powerful and not exactly cheap Core i7 PC built towards the latter half of 2009 has no external SATA connectivity at all, which is a very sorry state of affairs. However, for some it won't be an issue, and you can always buy an eSATA bracket or, as mentioned before, upgrade the case.
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