- Review Price: £799.00
Slowly but surely PCs are arriving based on AMD’s new Sempron processor and the Mesh Matrix S3100 Plus is the first one to arrive in our offices. It comes as no surprise that the Matrix S3100 Plus is a budget PC, and as such I wasn’t expecting it to come with a lot of extra kit. That said, I have to say that I’m pleased with what Mesh has managed to supply, since this machine doesn’t lack anything in terms of functionality and everything you’d expect to find in the box is present and accounted for.
As mentioned above, the CPU socket is populated with an AMD Sempron processor, and as you’ve probably already guessed from the system name it’s a 3100+ variant. The Sempron 3100+ is derived from the Athlon 64 core, unlike the slower Semprons that are based on the older Athlon XP architecture. However, the Sempron 3100+ lacks the 64bit functionality of its Athlon 64 cousin and also sports less cache memory. The processor is married to an Asus K8V Deluxe motherboard which wasn’t what I expected to find in a budget PC since this is a top of the range Socket-754 board.
The motherboard features the VIA K8T800 chipset and it comes with a range of onboard features such as SATA RAID, onboard Gigabit Ethernet, onboard FireWire and 5.1-channel sound. Mesh has taken advantage of all the integrated features and added the supplied brackets where needed for extra ports, although a further two USB 2.0 connectors can be fitted if needed. Considering the budget price of the Matrix S3100 Plus, Mesh must be commended for integrating such a high-quality backbone and proving that a budget PC doesn’t have to suffer in the quality stakes.
Mesh hasn’t skimped on memory either with 512MB of PC3200 DDR SDRAM fitted. Although 1GB is becoming the norm on faster machines, 512MB should be more than enough as long as you don’t intend to embark on any heavy duty video editing or image manipulation. A 160GB Maxtor SATA hard disk is the main storage drive and this is a decent capacity for a low cost PC, since many mid to low end PCs only ship with 80 to 120GB drives.
Even more impressive is the inclusion of a 16x multi-format Sony DVD writer. As well as writing to DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW, this drive will also write to dual layer DVD+R media, giving you 8.5GB of data on a single sided disc. The price difference is small between the latest and the previous generation of DVD writers, but many system integrators would choose to save even a few pounds when building a low cost machine. Mesh however has definitely broken the trend here and narrowed its margin in order to give better functionality to the customer. On top of this there is also a 16x DVD-ROM drive fitted, which again adds cost and many PCs in the price bracket to which the Matrix S3100 Plus fits ship with a single drive.
There are obviously some corners that have to be cut and the graphics card is the most obvious one. Filling the AGP slot is a Radeon 9600XT from Connect3D with 128MB of onboard memory. This is in no way a cutting edge graphics solution, but it will still play all but the latest games. The monitor is another area that often suffers from cost cutting with budget PCs, but the 17in Sharp TFT that Mesh has supplied is a far better display than I had expected to see. If there’s one issue with this screen it’s the lack of DVI input, but the picture is still clean and crisp through an analogue D-SUB connector.
On the plus side, the Sharp monitor has built-in speakers – handy if you like a clean and tidy desktop. If however you’re looking for a better audio experience, Mesh also bundles a set of Creative Labs Inspire P5800 5.1-channel speakers, so you’ll be able to watch DVDs in full surround as long as you have enough space to set all the speakers up.
The final few parts worth mentioning are the 56K V.90 modem – in case you don’t have broadband yet, and a Logitech keyboard and optical mouse. The software bundle is thin, with only a copy of Microsoft Works 8.0 in the box, but at least it will get you started.
Strangely Mesh has included a rear mounted 120mm fan inside the system case – this is odd because there is no real need for the extra cooling since the Sempron 3100+ doesn’t run as hot as the Athlon 64 processors and the fan will only add extra noise to the system. However, it does of course mean you’re ready for future upgrades without fear of overheating.
In terms of performance the Mesh Matrix S3100 Plus came out a couple of points slower in SYSMark 2004 than when I had one of these chips in a test rig a couple of weeks back. However, this is to be expected as the test rig used 1GB of memory which would account for an extra point or two. With a score of 144 the Matrix S3100 Plus is still a good performer and by far the fastest budget PC we have tested to date. The 3D scores are unremarkable but most games should still be playable at 1,024 x 768 resolution as you can see from the graphs, although it did struggle in Doom3 and 3DMark05.
So how cheap is the Matrix S3100 Plus? Well, it’s not the cheapest PC around, but at £799 inc VAT it’s a cracking deal. Of course you need to factor in £45.83 for delivery, but you can collect the machine directly from Mesh and save yourself that cost. You also get a two year on-site warranty with the third year return to base. The warranty covers all the hardware so it should offer piece of mind to nervous first time buyers. It’s hard to fault the Mesh Matrix S3100 Plus, it’s a great little machine at a very reasonable price.
The Matrix S3100 Plus is an excellent PC for the money. Despite the low price, Mesh hasn’t cut too many corners and has produced a machine worthy of a Recommended award.
Score in detail
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