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Jal TR2800F

Jal grabbed a Recommended award in our first group test so we were keen to see what it came up with this time around. Though not blessed with a memorable name, the TR2800F manages to hit the spot with a well-rounded specification that offers superb value for money. Jal was the only manufacturer to really go to town with the extras, supplying a multi-function printer, an impressive set of speakers and some decent starter software.

First impressions weren’t helped by the style free appearance of its case. That said, the understated grey and black may appeal more than the silver swathed cases from Evesham and Scan. At first we feared that the case lacked front USB or FireWire ports. These are virtually de rigueur these days and rightly so as it avoids having to go all the way round the back to plug in devices such as digital cameras. However, they were hidden by a flap underneath the rather cheap looking logo, which also houses an audio and microphone line inputs. There are a further four USB ports at the rear and two FireWire ports at the back, one four-pin and the other a powered six-pin variant. This ensures that the PC is ready for adding devices such as external hard disks or sucking up DV camcorder footage onto the 120GB Western Digital hard disk.

Card readers are always good to see and Jal has supplied one that supports the four major media types – Memory Stick, CompactFlash, Smart Media and SD. As with the Multivision, the sides of the case drop down from hinges at its base, once a single screw has been removed. This makes it easy to get at the components on the motherboard, should you want to upgrade in the future.

Inside, we found a Gigabyte K7 Triton motherboard based on the VIA KT-600 chipset. Though this is a decent chipset it doesn’t offer quite the performance of nForce2 based motherboards. The board supports 400MHz DDR RAM and Jal has supplied a single stick of 512MB in one of the three sockets. This is rated at 333MHz PC2700 speed rather than the 400MHz PC3200 that the board is capable of accepting. Admittedly the FSB of the Barton core Athlon XP 2800+ CPU is running at 333MHz, but those looking to overclock might find the RAM a limiting factor. The motherboard does cater for overclockers with settings in the BIOS to increase CPU, AGP and RAM voltages but you’ll have to fiddle with DIP switches if you want to alter the CPU multiplier. The northbridge chip is passively cooled with a heatsink rather than actively with a fan. There is however a very large heatsink and fan over the CPU. This is a quality Arctic Cooling branded fan and is much quieter than the stock heatsink and fan used in the Multivision.

One of the highlights of the Jal package is the Connect3D All-in-Wonder 9800SE graphics card. Not only does this offer excellent 3D performance but it also features video capture and a wealth of helpful connections. The integrated TV Tuner enables you to pick up conventional analogue terrestrial TV but you can hook up other sources such as a satellite or cable box via the S-Video and composite inputs, which are supplied using a break-out box. You can also perform tricks such as pausing live TV and archiving footage to DVD, though you’ll have to upgrade from a CD-RW drive to a DVD writer to do that. The ATi Radeon 9800SE chipset features the same clock speed as the incredible Radeon 9800 Pro, but sports four pipelines rather than the full eight of the Pro.

The card features a digital DVI output with a adaptor used to connect to an analogue 15in Sharp flat panel. The screen’s black bezel gives it a smart appearance and it offers good image quality to match. Though it’s an inch short of the display area offered by standard 17in CRT’s its still a far more stylish option for a family PC. There are even small speakers built in though the 1W power output is suitable only for the bells and whistles of Windows.

The screen’s integrated speakers are pretty superfluous however considering that Jal has gone the whole hog in the audio department, supplying a set of quality Altec Lansing 5.1 speakers. With large satellites and a huge subwoofer these are seriously loud and powerful speakers, that if placed correctly will provide decent surround sound from games and DVDs. That said, few people will have the space or inclination to have speakers positioned all around their desk and chair.

With high quality graphics and audio capabilities, Jal hasn’t neglected the more mundane side of its PC. Included in the bundle is a Lexmark 5150 multi function printer. This is rated at 19 pages per minute (ppm) for black output and 14ppm for colour. It will also scan at a resolution on 600dpi. Output quality is decent though not superb and there are devices with sharper text and scans. However it’s good enough for the odd report and the kids homework, and combining both in one unit is an effective space-saver.

Jal has even supplied a reasonable software bundle in the form of Microsoft Works Suite 2004. This includes the full version of Word 2002, a picture editor and Microsoft Money, as well as Works 7.

Removable storage is supplied by an AOpen drive, remarkably rated at 52-speed for CD-R burning and 32-speed for CD-RW writing, so you won’t have to hang around too long waiting for discs to burn.

The final practical touch is the high-quality keyboard and mouse from Microsoft. These are wireless which reduces the maze of wires on your desktop. The keyboard features a number of genuinely useful buttons for controlling Windows functions. Best of all is that these buttons work in Windows and Office XP without the need to load any drivers.

This rounds of a highly impressive PC bundle. The only immediate shortcoming is the lack of a DVD Writer but for £999 the Jal offers unbeatable value and walks off with the Editor Choice award.

Verdict

The Jal is fast enough to handle anything you through at it, has high-quality speakers and a multi-function printer. A definite new year bargain.

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