- Review Price: £2231.00
A few weeks back AMD launched its latest and greatest processors, the Athlon 64 4000+ and the FX55. Evesham has supplied TrustedReviews with its first PC based on these new processors – the Evesham Axis Xcelsior. The Axis Xcelsior is based on the Athlon 64 4000+, but you can change the CPU to an FX55 for an additional £117.50 inc VAT.
The new processors from AMD feature no new technology, no die shrinks or groundbreaking features, they simply reflect a speed bump. The 4000+ is pretty much the FX53 with a new name, with the FX55 replacing the FX53. The 4000+ is clocked at 2.4GHz with the FX55 adding a further 200MHz totalling 2.6GHz. Both of the new processors feature 1MB of level 2 cache – in fact the 4000+ is clocked at the same speed as the old 3800+, so it’s just the extra cache that’s giving a performance boost.
I was a little disappointed when I unpacked the Xcelsior from the box, as it looked just like any other Evesham PC. The case Evesham is using is an OEM version of the Chenbro Gaming Bomb, with a duller front and no side window. It’s not a bad case, but it would be nice to have seen something more exciting for a cutting edge machine like this.
Although a good looking system is one thing, it is far more important that it is well built, using quality components. Evesham is usually pretty good here, so opening the machine up, it came as no surprise to see a tidy and well laid out interior. All the cables are routed neatly and tied up with cable ties, although this may be a cause for concern the day you want to upgrade your PC – the type of cable ties used can’t be opened so you’ll need to be handy with a pair of cable snips, and be careful not to catch any of the wires.
Let’s take a closer look at the components used, starting with the motherboard. The MSI main board goes by the model name K8N Neo2 and is based on the nVidia nForce3 250 chipset. It features both onboard 10/100Mbit Ethernet and onboard Gigabit Ethernet, onboard FireWire and 5.1-channel sound, although this has been disabled in favour of a Creative Labs SoundBlaster Audigy 2 ZS sound card.
With the Axis Xcelsior being a high-end PC one wouldn’t expect to find less than 1GB of memory and this is just what Evesham has fitted, although I was disappointed to find two sticks of CAS3 PC3200 Hynix memory, rather than some low latency performance modules. This is not the first time we have had a high-end PC from Evesham with bog standard memory fitted and it’s a shame that Evesham hasn’t listened to our comments in the past. I understand that this would add extra cost, but with a machine like this, the target user would probably be willing to pay the premium.
On the plus side Evesham has thrown in a first rate graphics card – an ATI Radeon X800 XT. This isn’t the ultra-rare Platinum Edition model, but rather the standard, slightly slower clocked version. It still features 256MB of GDDR3 memory and ViVo, and to be honest it’s more than fast enough to satisfy the hardcore gamer. This card will really show what it can do when Half-Life 2 launches tomorrow.
You can never have too much hard disk space and Evesham hasn’t skimped here with a 300GB Maxtor SATA hard drive. This hard disk has 16MB of cache and is currently one of the fastest SATA hard drives available. Evesham also sticks with two optical drives, the top one being a Sony DVD+/- writer which can write up to 16x DVD+R media, while also supporting DVD+R Dual Layer discs. The bottom drive is a 16x Sony DVD-ROM drive.
There is no floppy drive, but in its place you’ll find a memory card reader/writer which accepts Compact Flash Type I/II, SD, MMC, SmartMedia, xD, MemoryStick and MemoryStick Pro formats. It also features headphone and microphone sockets and single USB 2.0 and FireWire ports. The front audio ports are wired up to the SoundBlaster Audigy 2 ZS card through an adaptor, as the Audigy cards have a special connector that normally only works with Creative’s Live drive. As if this wasn’t enough front mounted connectivity, there are an additional two USB 2.0 ports and a single FireWire port hidden behind a flap at the bottom of the case.
The screen that Evesham supplies as a part of the package is the excellent VP201s 20.1 in TFT display from Viewsonic. This screen has a native resolution of 1,600 x 1,200 and features DVI as well as D-SUB input options. The VP range from ViewSonic also features one of the best stands on the market – there’s dampened vertical movement, panning motion and the ability to pivot the screen into portrait mode. Also, the target gaming market will be pleased with the 16ms response time. The VP201s also picked up a Recommended award in our recent TFT group test.
You do also get a set of 7.1-channel speakers to go with the Audigy 2 ZS sound card. Evesham supplied a set of Creative Labs Inspire T7700s which provide a decent surround sound effect. Finally there’s a Microsoft wireless keyboard and a wireless optical mouse with tilt wheel.
One final thing I have to mention when it comes to the component choices is the power supply. As this is meant to be a high-end gaming PC which is highly likely to be overclocked and probably upgraded in the future with a more powerful graphics card and processor, a 300W PSU is just not good enough. As all modern computers since the Pentium 4 put a higher load on the 12V rail than the other power rails, it is even more worrying to see that the 12V rail peaks out at 216W. This means that if the PC draws more than 216W from the 12V rail it will shut down in best case and in worst case it could damage components in the PC.
In its current configuration the Axis Xcelsior peaked at a power draw from the wall socket of no more 232W running 3DMark 05. If we then calculate that the PSU has an estimated efficiency of 75 per cent, which is quite high, this would mean that the power needed by the components inside the machine would be in the region of 174W combined across all the power rails. This is well within what the PSU can deliver, but I would rather be safe than sorry in this instance. On a more positive note the PSU only draws 4W in standby, which means that the Xcelsior will consume minimal power when it’s not being used. As with the memory, I wouldn’t expect Evesham to supply a high-quality power supply with a bog standard PC, but with a system like this one I would have liked to have seen something a bit more special.
Evesham doesn’t have a lot on offer in terms of software, but you do get a copy of Microsoft Works 8.0 and a basic anti-virus package, but I would have liked to have seen a couple of recent games supplied as well, since there is nothing included that would even give you an idea of how good this PC is when it comes to 3D frame rates.
This brings us on to the benchmarks, which were impressive, although they could have been even better had Evesham put in that faster memory. With the 4000+ processor the Axis Xcelsior managed an overall score of 198 in SYSMark 2004, while it achieved a very impressive score of 210 with the FX55 chip – for the first time AMD has managed to outperform the current top of the range Pentium 4 processor in SYSMark 2004. The PCMark 2004 score is similarly impressive, but again the memory scores could have been higher.
Looking at the 3D benchmarks, with the 4000+ a score of 12182 was achieved in 3DMark03 at standard settings. As this machine is geared towards the gaming market all benchmarks were run at 1,280 x 1,024 as well as 1,600 x 1,200 as well as our standard 1,024 x 768 setting. With the FX55 processor fitted the 3DMark03 score went up to 12335, which isn’t as significant an increase compared with the 2D SYSMark test.
In 3DMark 05 the 4000+ managed to produce a score of 4450 with the FX55 ever so slightly faster with a score of 4477. The CPU score in 3DMark 05 shows a bigger difference with the 4000+ scoring 4819 while the FX55 managed 4941. There is also a noticeable difference in Doom 3 where the 4000+ produced 95.3fps with the FX55 hitting 98fps. The numbers are similar in Far Cry and Unreal Tournament 2004 as you can see on the graphs page with the FX55 keeping the edge with a few frames.
Overall the FX55 doesn’t impress massively if you consider the price premium you have to pay for it, but this is usually the case with the top end processors – a lot of extra cost for a minimal performance increase. The 4000+ would be my choice, especially considering that £2231.33 is quite a lot of money to pay for a PC in the first place – the FX55 model will set you back £2348.83.
Obviously the Evesham Xcelsior is not quite as fast, or as special as the Holly Computers S939 AMD64W that we looked at a few weeks ago, but you have to remember that the Holly costs even more than the Evesham and doesn’t come with a monitor, speakers or input peripherals. So, considering the performance on offer, the Xcelsior provides pretty good value for money.
The Evesham Axis Xcelsior is a very fast PC and generally well specified, but the high latency memory and the poor PSU come as a letdown on a computer costing well over £2000. That said, you are getting a cutting edge machine that’s well built and has an excellent TFT display. With a little more attention to detail the Xcelsior would have grabbed a Recommended award, but even as it stands it provides a good mix of performance, features and value.
Score in detail
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