- Review Price: £1299.00
I was chatting to someone this morning about the automobile market. I was saying that it amazes me how much you can get for your money, with high-performance, feature laden cars available at very affordable prices. It occurred to me later that the same thing is true with the PC market, and you can now get very fast, well featured PCs without the need to take out a second mortgage. One such machine is the Axis 64 Dominator from Evesham, and in car terms it’s much like a Renault Clio Sport 182 – fast, fully featured, well built and with a bargain price tag.
Evesham’s version of Renaults 182bhp engine is an AMD Athlon 64 3500+, and it puts out just as much of a kick when you need that extra bit of performance. Because this is a Socket-939 chip it can take advantage of dual channel memory, unlike the Socket-754 Athlon 64 processors. However, this is a bit of a double edged sword, because although you gain dual channel memory, you also lose half the Level 2 cache – the older Socket-754 chips had 1MB of Level 2 cache, whereas all the new Athlon 64 CPUs (FX range aside) only have 512KB. Anyway, back to the memory, and Evesham has fitted 512MB of PC3200 DDR SDRAM. Of course the memory is split over two 256MB DIMMs in order to take advantage of the dual channel functionality. But don’t worry; there are four memory slots, so you’ve got space to increase your RAM at a later stage.
The MSI branded motherboard is based on the nVidia nForce3 250 chipset, and has a fair complement of features. The motherboard layout is good and has helped Evesham construct a very tidy machine. The four DIMM slots are unusually located at the top of the board, with the CPU socket below them. To the right of the CPU socket are the two IDE connectors and the ATX power socket. Directly below the CPU you’ll find the AGP slot, with four PCI slots below it. There is an orange slot right at the bottom which will accept the optional 802.11g/Bluetooth combo card from MSI. You’ll also find four SATA connectors, all of which can be configured into an SATA RAID array. Sound is decent enough, courtesy of a Realtek audio chip that can output 7.1-channel sound. There are ports to output 7.1 discrete analogue channels at the rear of the board, but both optical and coaxial S/PDIF outputs are also present. The optical output has a spring loaded cover which is much preferable to the removable plugs that always get lost.
Only one of the SATA connectors is in use, with a 200GB Western Digital hard disk connected to it. Not only is this disk capacious, but with a 7200rpm spindle speed and an 8MB cache, it should be fast too. If you somehow manage fill up that huge hard disk, Evesham has been kind enough to supply a Sony dual layer DVD writer. The specs of the drive are pretty solid with eight-speed DVD+R/-R, four-speed DVD+RW/-RW and 2.4-speed DVD+R DL. However, Evesham informed me that customer machines will ship with the newer Sony drive that will write DVD+R media at 16-speed. But it’s the dual layer compatibility that makes this drive interesting, so you can write a total of 8.5GB to a single disc. Below the DVD writer is a DVD-ROM drive, so you can copy directly from one DVD to another, as long as it’s not a copy protected disc of course. Both drives are very short, which makes them line up flush with the internal drive cage. This might not be something that many users will appreciate, but it does add to the overal tidy feel of the system internals.
Talking of the case, this is the standard Evesham tower that has made its way into the TrustedReviews lab many times before. Finished in silver and grey, this case does look pretty good, although this time Evesham hasn’t put any blue lights behind the front fascia. There is space at the front for two more 5.25in drives and there’s a 3.5in bay that’s crying out for a memory card reader. Right at the bottom of the front fascia is a flap that hides mic and headphone sockets, a six-pin FireWire port and two USB 2.0 ports. At the rear of the case is a mounting for a 120mm fan, but Evesham hasn’t included one. This isn’t a problem though since this system seems to run very cool, and to be honest, it already makes enough noise thanks to the loud cooler on the graphics card.
I would however be happy to live with the sound from the graphics card cooler, because the card itself is a good one. Filling the AGP slot is a Leadtek GeForce 6800 card, which is definitely a pleasant sight now that Doom3 has finally appeared. This isn’t the top of the range GeForce 6800, but it’s still a pretty tasty graphics solution. Unlike the 6800 Ultra and GT cards, the standard 6800 only sports 12 pixel pipelines, but retains the six vertex pipelines. The memory is also half that of its bigger brothers at 128MB, but that doesn’t mean it’s a slow card, because it’s not. A standard GeForce 6800 like this should be able to make short work of even the newest games, unless you’re trying to push it to super-high resolutions with the highest quality effects enabled.
Of course a good graphics card is only half the equation, and you also need a decent screen to make the most of it. Thankfully Evesham hasn’t cut any corners with the display, and has supplied a ViewSonic VX910 19in TFT display. We previewed the ViewSonic VX range a little while back and looking at the pictures that ViewSonic supplied I thought that the design looked pretty stylish. Now that I have a VX screen sitting in front of me, I can see that the pictures didn’t really do it justice – this monitor really does look great. There’s a slim black bezel surrounding the display which I like, and the thinnest of silver lips surrounding that. The stand has a pretty small footprint, and again uses slim lines to minimalism its impact on your desk. Finished in brushed silver and black this screen matches the Evesham case perfectly. But it’s not just the design of the screen that makes it stand out, the image is also superb. The lighting is even, the colours vibrant and the viewing angle wide. Both text and images are crisp and clear, with games looking equally impressive – it even has a 16ms response time which should keep hardcore gamers happy. There’s both D-SUB and DVI connectors at the rear, and even though ViewSonic doesn’t supply a DVI cable in the box, Evesham supplies one with the PC to compensate.
As far communication goes, the MSI motherboard has two Ethernet adapters (one of them Gigabit), so there will be no problem connecting this machine to your home network or broadband. If you’re still using dialup for your Internet, you can make use of the 56k modem that Evesham has also provided.
Even the input devices are colour coordinated, with a silver and black Microsoft wireless keyboard and mouse in evidence. Having recently suffered badly from RSI induced tedonitis in my wrist, I’m well aware of how important a good keyboard and mouse are, and these are some of the most comfortable input devices I have used. The mouse in particular fits perfertly in my hand moved the pointer smoothly and accurately. Likewise, the keyboard was first rate, and the detachable wrist rest took all the strain off my, now weak, wrist.
Evesham has allowed the buyer to choose what type of sound system they want with the Axis 64 Dominator – you can go for either a set of 6.1-channel Creative surround speakers, or a set of 2.1-channel Altec Lansing speakers. Personally I prefer a good set of 2.1-channel speakers, because few PC users have the room to set up a surround system around their desk. The beauty of being given the option though, is that if you do have the space and the inclination, you can go for the surround setup, but if you don’t you can get a more tidy and compact stereo configuration.
There’s nothing in the way of software included, other than the pre-loaded copy of Windows XP Home, and the final feature is the three-year warranty – the first two years are on-site with the third return to base.
Performance wise, the Axis performed very well. Obviously it can’t compete with machines using cutting edge components, but on the whole it will handle pretty much anything you throw at it. Even the most brutal games of the moment couldn’t trip up this little machine. Running Far Cry with the quality settings on Very High, turned in a score of 61fps at 1,280 x 1,024, while Doom3 set at High quality managed a score of 65fps at 1,280 x 1,024. Of course both of those benchmarks were run without anti-aliasing or anisotropic filtering, but the results are, nonetheless, very impressive.
So, Evesham has built a very solid PC, with high-end but not cutting edge components. But it’s the price that’s the most impressive part of this package. At £1,299 including VAT, the Axis 64 Dominator is an absolute bargain for anyone wanting a machine that will play the latest games, but won’t bankrupt them in the process. Yes, you could buy a machine with faster components, but as far as the price/performance ratio goes, Evesham has got it just about perfect.
The Axis 64 Dominator is a superb PC bundle at a truly amazing price. The build quality is solid and the components are first rate, but it’s the price that belies belief. If you’ve been holding out for a new PC to play the latest 3D games, it’s time to put your money on the table.
Score in detail