- Review Price: £170.00
It might seem odd that we are reviewing a Socket-A based small form factor system, but with the price of AMD Athlon XP processors coming down to bargain basement levels the AOpen XC Cube EZ18 could be the ideal platform for anyone that wants to build a low cost PC. The EZ18 comes in pearl white, like our review sample, or black, which means that you can even colour coordinate it with your peripherals.
Personally I think I would have to go for the black version rather than the white one here, as I’m not a fan of the iMac design scheme. But fear not, colour coordination is not the only thing that the XC Cube EZ18 has going for it, and it’s good to see that this is definitely a well constructed cube. The only minor flaw is that the flaps at the front could get damaged if you forget to close them, but to be fair, this is a common problem with cases that cover ports in this way.
Gaining access to the internals of the EZ18 is fairly simple – just remove the three thumb screws and then slide the casing cover backwards and lift it off. Inside you’ll find space for one external 5.25in and one external 3.5in drive – the latter is more likely to house a memory card reader than a floppy drive these days. There is also a 3.5in drive cage for your hard disk. This might not be as impressive as the new XPC SB81P from Shuttle, but unless you need masses of storage space or a performance boosting striped RAID array, this is hardly an issue.
At the bottom of the case is the custom-fit motherboard and AOpen has left plenty of space to fit all the components in place. There are similar issues with the EZ18 as with the XC Cube EY65 we looked at previously, with the floppy drive connector being in an awkward position, but apart from that most things are pretty easy to get to.
Installation is straight forward and apart from the usual amusing translation hiccups AOpen has supplied first class instructions that make setting up the EZ18 the simplest of procedures. As with the EY65 most of the cables are pre-routed, except the IDE and floppy cables.
The EZ18 is messier inside than the Biostar iDEQ 200N as there are several cables that run from the rear of the case to the front – all these cables occupy a fair amount of space where the back of the optical drive ends up. This is not a major issue, but it makes it harder to install the optical drive than it should be.
The motherboard is based on the nForce2 IGP chipset and features integrated GeForce 2 MX class graphics, although if you plan to use the EZ18 for games, I recommend that you get a stand alone graphics card for it. The integrated graphics are however fine for everyday Windows tasks and video playback. The choice of chipset limits the CPU compatibility to 333MHz bus speed chips, so forget about fitting a 3200+ Athlon XP to this box.
The MCP-T adds 5.1-channel Dolby Digital hardware decoding, which is a great feature if you plan to use the EZ18 as a DVD player while it also adds that extra bit of realism in games. Other onboard features include integrated 10/100Mbit/sec Ethernet which is also a part of the MCP-T.
Looking at the connection configuration around the back you’ll find two PS/2 ports, two D-SUB connectors, a serial port, a parallel port, two USB 2.0 ports, a single FireWire and LAN connector, S-Video out, optical and coaxial S/PDIF out and three audio connectors. The audio connectors can be configured either as line out, line in and microphone or as 5.1-channel analogue outputs. The parallel port and the coaxial S/PDIF connector are mounted above the other ports in the chassis as there is not enough space for these on the motherboard. Around the front are a further optical S/PDIF out, headphone and microphone sockets, two USB 2.0 ports and two FireWire ports – one six-pin and one four-pin.
The supplied CPU cooler might not be the most impressive or innovative I’ve seen, but it does a good job and if you enable Silent Tek in the BIOS it is virtually silent during operation, even with a 3000+ Athlon XP. Do be careful when you install the heatsink though, as it has a couple of sharp pins sticking out on one side which could damage the CPU if you’re not careful.
As the EZ18 is an older model there is no support for SATA, but this is again no major issue as there is still little gain in terms of performance when using SATA as opposed to IDE. Apart from this, there is very little to complain about, although I’m personally not overly fond of the flap that covers up the front 3.5in drive bay.
Benchmark scores are pretty good overall, but due to its age the Athlon XP 3000+ CPU can’t quite keep up with the Athlon 64s or Pentium 4s in SYSmark 2004, but this is to be expected. The PCMark 2004 numbers are very good, especially in comparison to other nForce2 boards we have tested in the past. The 3D scores for the integrated nVidia graphics are not going to impress anyone, but such is life with integrated graphics. There is an AGP slot available, so you can install your graphics card of choice if you want to play games.
At £169.98 it is close to £35 more expensive than the Biostar iDEQ 200N and this is the major flaw in the EZ18’s armour. Also I still prefer the Biostar internal design and unless you desperately need a serial and parallel port there’s little on offer here to make the EZ18 look like a more attractive proposition. There is of course the external design, which is radically different to that of the iDEQ 200N, but this is a matter of personal preference rather than real value for money. At the end of the day the XC Cube EZ18 is a quality barebone system but the asking price is just a little too high to make it a great buy for anyone after a budget small form factor box.
The AOpen XC Cube EZ18 is a well built SFF barebone system with plenty of features and good performance; it’s a shame that the price isn’t more competitive though.
The AOpen XC Cube EZ18 was tested using an AMD Athlon 3000+, a Maxtor 120GB IDE hard disk and two matched 256MB Corsair TwinX LL PC3200 memory modules. Both the onboard graphics and an AOpen GeForce FX 5900XT graphics card were used for selected tests.
Score in detail