- Review Price: £699.99
To say we were unimpressed with Advent’s previous PC would be an understatement, as the PQG9002 garnered the lowest score we’ve ever awarded to a desktop computer. It was noisy, badly built, and offered poor value. However, today we’re looking at a machine that might turn those impressions around. The CBE1401 Centurion (quite aside from having a far cooler name) comes with a watercooled, overclocked AMD CPU and Radeon 5000-series DirectX 11-compatible graphics card wrapped up in an attractive custom case, all for a penny under £700.
First impressions are certainly good, as the black mid-tower case is an impressive and solid beast with distinctive styling that’s rather fetching, if a bit unusual. This is aided by the AMD and Advent logos on its front being backlit in white, while a narrow strip across the top and the power button are backlit in red. Mind you, it would have looked nicer if the backlighting colour was consistent, but at least it’s not jarring.
The bulk of the case is constructed from steel but there’s a plastic side window and matt plastic top and front sections. The two protrusions on the top not only add a unique visual impact but serve a practical purpose, as they make the case’s various ports and buttons easy to reach.
The front section houses the huge square power button and multi-format memory card reader, while the second, sporting a glossy finish, offers a welcome complement of four USB ports, headphone and microphone jacks and an eSATA port. The latter is an especially welcome inclusion for hooking up external storage until USB3.0 becomes mainstream. Another thoughtful touch is a textured rubber mat integrated between the two humps, perfect for cushioning an external hard-drive or for putting odds and ends on.
Around the back things are less exciting, due to the outdated connectivity of the motherboard Advent has used. A meagre four USB 2.0 ports are joined by a parallel port (yes, really), Gigabit Ethernet socket and three analogue jacks for the motherboard’s integrated audio (which offers a sub-par six channels compared to the eight we’d normally expect on a gaming PC, but at least this is alleviated by the video card offering a full 10 channels on all of its digital connections).
VGA and DVI ports from the motherboard’s integrated Radeon 3100 graphics chip are hidden by rubber covers so that less knowledgeable users won’t try to connect their monitor to them, as the discrete Radeon video card will actually be taking care of video duties, and offers twin dual-link DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort outputs.
There are also two good old PS2 ports for mouse and keyboard, and unfortunately you’ll need the latter for the included peripherals. Advent has made the lamentable decision to stick with the same sub-par mouse and keyboard it provided with the PQG9002. The three-button ambidextrous USB mouse is actually not too bad, though very far from a worthy gaming peripheral. The PS2 keyboard, however, is just plain poor, with mushy feedback and lacking even basic extras such as volume keys.
Getting back to the CBE1401 Centurion PC, the front sports a strong and tight mesh section, in which are integrated three 5.25in drive bays. The bottom two are free while the top one hides a DVD-Rewriter. The mesh flap in front of it is surprisingly sturdy and effortlessly drops and springs back as the drive opens and closes.
A transparent side panel on the left lets you see into your case, though in this instance we wish it didn’t. It’s bad enough that the case’s inside isn’t painted black, but the various brightly-coloured plastics, mismatched cables, and rather lacklustre cable management combine to make the view singularly unattractive – not helped by weak red lighthing inside, which can thankfully be turned off using an external switch at the case’s back.
At least the side panel is easily removed by undoing two thumb screws. Three of the internal 5.25in bays have tool-free clip systems that work very well and are among the sturdiest I’ve come across. The same can be said for the four hard drive clips, though they do lack rubber grommets to dampen vibration. The card expansion slots seem like they might be tool-free as they’re secured using what look like thumb-screws, but thanks to smooth heads that offer zero grip a screwdriver will still be required. Though most are neatly curled, the case does have a few razor-sharp edges inside so be careful when upgrading.
Advent’s gaming machine is powered by a generic CWT 450 watt power supply, which is fine to power the installed components but doesn’t leave too much room for future high-end graphics card plans, and we suspect it’s not the most power efficient either. Another disappointing choice is that the 750GB hard drive is a Western Digital Caviar Green. These drives are optimised for low power consumption and as a result have rather poor performance – fine for a data or backup drive but for a system with only one drive we’d hope for something faster. This isn’t just a theoretical performance difference either, as we noticed markedly longer game loading times than other gaming PCs we’ve looked at recently.
As you might already have guessed by its connectivity, the motherboard also disappoints. It’s a Foxconn A7VMX-K Micro-ATX affair based on AMD’s deprecated AM2+ platform, which doesn’t support AMD’s latest processors is restricted to DDR2 RAM thus severely limiting your upgrade potential. With the board’s single free PCI slot being taken by the Wi-Fi G card, there’s only a single PCI Express x4 slot for expansion, and as both memory slots are filled with 2GB sticks of generic DDR2 RAM you can’t add extra memory without replacing the whole lot. Last of all there’s only a single free SATA port. Honestly, it all feels like a budget PC from a few years ago.
Finally we come to the CPU, and yet again an AMD Phenom II Black Edition X2 550 processor overclocked to a mere 300MHz over stock speed (3.4GHz compared to its usual 3.1GHz) makes a mockery of the CoolIT CPU water cooler – though to be fair this does keep the Phenom below a relatively chilly 40 degrees under the heaviest loads. Even so, a dual core chip could easily be kept at a sensible temperature by a more modest cooling setup and besides, this ageing budget CPU is hardly ideal for a gaming system at the CBE1401 Centurion’s price point.
After all this disappointment and corner-cutting surely the graphics card will be a worthy contender? Well, no, not really. Despite its attractive custom cooler, which runs almost silently, the Gigabyte-branded AMD/ATI Radeon 5750 simply isn’t up to much. Undemanding games like Stalker: Call of Pripyat (in which it achieved a silky-smooth 52fps at 1,920 x 1,200) and Call of Duty 4 will run at maximum detail without a problem, but more intensive fare like Crysis left the CBE1401 Centurion gasping for breath. The 5750 is not a bad card and should play current DirectX 11 titles (all seven of them) without too much bother, but it’s simply not good enough for a £700 PC.
Unfortunately, that pretty much sums up Advent’s latest gaming machine. Its initial good looks (albeit an acquired taste), relatively quiet operation and Wi-Fi provision can’t overcome a messy interior, consistently poor and severely outdated component choices, lacklustre overclocking and rubbish peripherals – especially as you can get so much more for the money.
The Scan 3XS i3 OC, for example, gives you a far faster and newer overclocked Intel Core i3 CPU, faster, better memory, superior 5770 graphics card, better motherboard, and a Blu-ray drive – all for just £3 more! And this doesn’t even take into account the neater build, better upgradeability, build quality and service. Heck, even last year’s £600 CyberPower Infinity i5 Hercules SE beats this gaming PC in almost every way, despite using an older generation graphics card.
The Advent CBE1401 Centurion gaming PC might be relatively quiet but it’s also messy, outdated, underpowered and overpriced. Enough said.
Score in detail