- Review Price: £2999.00
If there’s one task for your home PC that requires the fastest, largest, and most capable system that you can afford, it’s digital video editing. Don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s the die-hard PC gamers of this world who are the performance freaks, digital videographers have them beaten hands down. After all, drop one or two frames in your favourite first-person shooter, and you’ll probably be too busy dodging artillery to notice. Drop a couple of frames in the middle of an MPEG2 transcode that’s just taken your system over five hours to create, and you’ll probably hear a wide assortment of interesting words that are unsuitable to print even on the Web.
It’s with this in mind that we asked PC manufacturer and Matrox Approved System Integrator Poweroid to send us what it thinks a digital video editor wants, and we received this – the Poweroid 4202. And a rather lovely piece of hardware it is too.
As you can probably tell from the price, no expense has been spared in the construction of the Poweroid 4202, a fact that is immediately apparent from the choice of case – a Coolermaster 710SX. With its machined aluminium fascia and steel panels, it’s an excellent choice for a video PC, providing lockable solidity and largely tool-free access to its roomy interior, as well as a clean, attractive appearance. Bearing in mind that you may also be working with live audio recordings, Poweroid has also paid close attention to the acoustics of this system, applying noise insulation foam throughout and selecting a 350W Enermax PSU with a rounded grille and adjustable fan speed. Taking this a step further, Poweroid also fitted a Zalman CNPS7000 AlCu CPU cooler with its internal fan speed controller hooked up to the Zalman 80mm case fan, while the Northbridge has a large aluminium heatsink. While this doesn’t make the 4202 totally silent, it’s about as close as you’ll get from a PC with this kind of specification, taking potentially intrusive system noise down to a tolerable background murmur.
At the heart of it all is an Intel 875P chipset-based Asus P4C800 Deluxe motherboard, fitted with a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 CPU and two 512MB sticks of 400MHz PC3200 DDR RAM (with passive cooling, of course). Making full use of the motherboard’s support for 150MB/sec Serial ATA are two Western Digital hard drives; a 36GB, 10,000RPM Raptor system drive and a 250GB 7,200RPM Caviar media drive. There’s also a WD Caviar 120GB, 7,200RPM ATA133 export drive. This last addition is yet another example of Poweroid’s attention to detail, and follows Matrox’s own system recommendation that video exports and transcodes should be written to a drive that’s different from the media source or system drives. Another thoughtful inclusion is the 6-in-1 Media Reader that’s sitting beneath the floppy drive, letting you pull still images off whatever media your camcorder or camera uses without having to hook it up to one of the eight USB 2.0 ports at the rear. It even has a blue LED to match the system LED, which is a nice touch.
Optical storage is equally well catered for, with Pioneer’s multi-format DVR106 DVD+/-RW drive (four-speed DVD-R, two-speed DVD-RW, four-speed DVD+R, 2.4-speed +RW, 16-speed CD-R, 10-speed CD-RW) and a Sony DDU1621 16-speed DVD-ROM, while the onboard audio has been disabled to make way for Creative’s Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS with accompanying Inspire T7700 7.1 surround speaker system. Because a video editor’s desk tends to have too many cables on it at the best of times, Poweroid has also opted for Logitech’s Cordless Desktop MX as the keyboard and mouse setup, with the keyboard’s dedicated volume controls proving particularly useful on an editing rig. The software bundle is straight-forward, with Windows XP Professional, Adobe Premiere Pro, Nero Burning ROM and Intervideo’s WinDVD suite, with all discs and drivers provided in the box.
But what really makes this a video PC, rather than just a top-flight workstation, is the Matrox hardware inside. The RT.X100 Xtreme provides the system with both analogue and digital video capture capability, as well as hardware assistance for real-time editing and output, while the accompanying 128MB Parhelia card offers a combination of unbeatable signal quality and effective multi-monitor support for up to three separate displays – not including a TV monitor that can hook up to the RT.X100’s analogue outputs. We should point out that this system has been priced without any monitors to allow video editors to choose their own – a wise move, given the ongoing debate as to whether LCD monitors have reached the point where they’re as good as a decent CRT.
So the Poweroid 4202 looks good on paper. But how does it measure up as an editing rig? We put it up against a worthy but slightly dated opponent in the form of our dual-Athlon 1900 test rig, with 1GB of PC2100 RAM, a 7,200RPM system drive, and a 5,400RPM media drive. Given that the combined CPU clock speed of our test rig is exactly the same as the Poweroid 4202 and both systems are equipped with the Matrox RT.X100, you might expect the difference in performance to be marginal, but if you ever needed a demonstration of how a CPU is only as good as its supporting hardware, this is it.
To begin with, the responsiveness of the Poweroid system was noticeably better. Scrubbing the timeline was smooth and accurate, projects and assets were imported quickly, and the general editing experience showed a marked difference. To see just how much of a difference, we gave each system three tasks. The first was an Export to DVD from a 16-minute timeline in Premiere Pro (a task that the RT.X100 doesn’t assist with). This uses every aspect of the PC, from hard disk, RAM and CPU for the transcode, hard disk speed for the assemble and DVD write speed for the burn. Our test rig took a leisurely 1hr 45min 47s to complete the process, while the Poweroid 4202 ripped through it in 53min 58s – about half the time.
Next we used the Matrox Media Export tool to set up a simultaneous Web encode of 6 individual files (Windows Media 8 and Real Media 8 at 56-, 256- and 512kbps) from the same project. Our test rig constantly failed during the encoding process until we shifted the project assets over to the PC’s faster system drive, at which point it managed it in a respectable 24min 54s. It’s obvious that the RT.X100 is providing a large amount of assistance here, as the Poweroid 4202 was only five minutes faster at 19min 52s, but there was no need to shift any of the asset files around in order for it to work.
Finally, while the RT.X100 in both systems means that they can both export MPEG2 and DV AVI files in real time, as well as export to tape, we thought it would be interesting to see how they fared when we cut the dedicated hardware out of the loop. To do this, we used Premiere Pro’s file export rather than the Matrox Realtime Export tool to create a single DV AVI file from our test project. The results were interesting, with our dual-CPU rig taking 24min 28s to turn our 16min project into a single file, while the Poweroid 4202 managed it in only 5min 56s. If it wasn’t for the fact that the RT.X100 provides so many other services (accelerated batch encoding, hardware-assisted real-time previews, analogue capture, advanced editing tools, effects and filters) you might question whether it was needed at all.
However, while it’s clear that all this power makes for an excellent video editing platform, we did come across a rather serious issue during testing. Despite the beautifully tidy internals of the Poweroid 4202, with clipped and tied cabling and unimpeded airflow, the Parhelia card got rather hot under the collar during heavy use. This caused critical errors and system crashes, and forced us to test with the PC’s side panel removed to stop it from overheating. When we discussed this with Poweroid, which said that it would replace the standard VGA fan with a Zalman heatpipe cooler for the Parhelia in all future units, so we’re satisfied that this is not a problem that you’ll encounter.
There’s no doubt that the Poweroid 4202 is an expensive piece of kit, particularly when you consider that you’ll have to add the cost of a monitor (or three) and maybe some decent DVD authoring software to the bill. But it’s also one of the best video editing rigs we’ve seen.
Poweroid is to be commended on the level of build quality and the attention to detail shown in this model. It’s got just about everything you could ask for, along with the power to back it up. As our tests show, it can cut the amount of time that common editing tasks take in half, so if you’re currently spending most of your day staring at a progress bar, the cost of this PC isn’t as hard to justify as you might first think. We were definitely sorry to see it leave the labs
Score in detail