If you are looking for the ultimate in 3D graphics performance, look no further than the aptly named ABS Ultimate M5-64. We'd trade half of the system's 2GB of memory for a bump up from the Athlon 64 3800+ CPU to the FX-53, which would trim about $100 from our review unit's $3,899 price. We wouldn't change a thing about the graphics card, however, because the system's ATI Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition turned in unparalleled frame rates in our tests. Gamers aren't the only ones who will put the Ultimate M5-64 to good use. Our test system boasts 500GB of hard drive space, giving videophiles plenty of storage room. Games and movies will look stellar on the bundled Samsung SyncMaster 19T 19-inch LCD panel, though cheaper monitor options abound. A nifty extra is the Asus motherboard's built-in Wi-Fi capability. First and foremost, the Ultimate M5-64 is a graphics powerhouse that should make any gamer proud. Gamers like to stand out from the crowd, and ABS gives you the choice of five cases for its Ultimate M5-64 desktop. Our test system arrived in Cooler Master's stylish, brushed-aluminum midtower WaveMaster case. Shortly after we placed the ABS Ultimate M5-64 under a desk and powered it up, our feet were bathed in a cool blue glow. On a more practical note, looking down on the top of the system, you'll notice a pop-up hatch on the top, under which you'll find two USB 2.0 ports and a FireWire port. We've sung the praises for convenient front-mounted ports over the years, but the top-mounted ports on the WaveMaster case are located in an even better position when you have your PC sitting under a desk as opposed to atop it--nobody likes kissing dust bunnies when trying to connect a camera or an MP3 player. The usual back-panel legacy connectors are present along with four USB 2.0 ports and two FireWire ports.
A bounty of accessible drive bays is under the swing-out upper section of the front panel, but there's not much room for expansion. ABS has already stuffed three of the Ultimate M5-64's four 5.25-inch bays with a Lite-On 16X DVD ROM drive, an 8X NEC 2500A multiformat DVD burner, and a media reader that supports Memory Stick, SD, CompactFlash, and SmartMedia memory cards as well as providing yet another USB port. The lone 3.5-inch accessible bay outside is occupied by a floppy drive. Undo the three thumbscrews and pull off the side panel, and you'll find only one open 3.5-inch bay inside. Two such bays are filled with the system's hard drives while another is filled with cabling that ABS has routed out of your way. Elsewhere within the box, ABS has done a superb job of routing both power and data cables away from traffic areas such as the motherboard's memory sockets and PCI slots. Our Ultimate M5-64 test system contained two PCI cards, which left us with three open PCI slots. And even with two memory sticks installed, there were still two vacant memory sockets waiting for more to bring the system to its maximum 4GB.
Our only reservation with the ABS Ultimate M5-64 is with its cooling system. The PC never once came close to overheating during our tests, but overclockers might not find the overhead they require. There's the requisite back-panel fan to draw out heat and a front-panel fan to draw in cool air and pass it over the hard drives. But they're both 80mm fans, and recently, we've seen more 120mm fans, which allow for increased airflow. We can't discuss the ABS Ultimate M5-64's features without beginning with the Asus A8V Deluxe Wi-Fi motherboard. It's the company's most advanced motherboard, and it supports AMD's latest 939-pin Athlon 64 processors. Our test system came outfitted with the Athlon 64 3800+, and ABS offers the high-end Athlon 64 FX-53 CPU as an upgrade option. Our test unit complemented the speedy CPU with a generous 2GB of PC3200 memory.
Also generous is the amount of storage space found on our test system. With dual ATA/133 and dual Serial ATA (SATA) connections on the motherboard, you have ample choice in configuring the hard drive subsystem. Our Ultimate M5-64 test system boasted two Maxtor 250GB SATA drives in a RAID 0 configuration.
Although the system's Via K8T800 Pro chipset provides 8-channel digital audio, ABS opted to add an Audigy 2 ZS card to our Ultimate M5-64 test system, which added $90 to the overall price. Only the most serious gamers and audiophiles, however, need spend the additional cash here for the Audigy card. We connected the bundled Klipsch ProMedia Ultra 5.1 speaker system to the card and were in awe of the massive sound provided, whether we were listening to a CD, watching a DVD, or playing a game.
Serious gaming is also the function of the Sapphire-branded 256MB ATI Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition graphics card. It's an AGP card (you'll have to wait a bit longer for PCI Express to come to AMD-based systems), but it delivers astounding performance. The bundled 19-inch Samsung SyncMaster 19T LCD is up to the task of displaying rich, detailed graphics and boasts a speedy pixel-response time of just 25ms, along with a 500:1 contrast ratio.
One of the unique features of the Asus A8V Deluxe Wi-Fi motherboard is its wireless capability, as its name implies. If you have a wireless home network, this feature gives you an easy way to connect the ABS Ultimate M5-64 to it. It supports the 802.11g standard and is backward compatible to 802.11b networks, as well. There's also a Gigabit RJ-45 LAN port so, instead of just connecting the M5-64 to a wireless network, you can make it a wireless distribution system for your other Wi-Fi products by using the Wi-Fi end of the motherboard as an access point. (The software to do that is also included.)
The Ultimate M5-64's extensive software bundle provides the needed tools to put the high-class hardware to good use. It includes Microsoft Works Suite 2004, WinDVD suite (WinDVD, WinDVD Creator, WinRip 2.0), and PC Treasures Elite suite of Pinnacle Instant DC/DVD, Quicken 2003, PhotoImpact 8.0, Word Perfect 11.0, and MacAfee's VirusScan 2004--all working happily together under Windows XP Home. Application performance
The ABS Ultimate M5-64 performed quite well in our tests, with results that were nearly identical in terms of application performance to those of the other AMD Athlon 64 3800+ system we've tested, the iBuyPower Gamer Extreme 3800+. The Ultimate M5-64 trailed the Polywell Poly 939VF-FX53 by 7 percent, a system that uses the higher-end Athlon 64 FX-53 chip. (Both chips run at 2.4GHz, but the FX-53 has twice the L2 cache at 1MB.) Similarly, it lagged behind the 3.6GHz Pentium 4-based Dell Dimension 8400 on SysMark 2004 by 6 percent. Still, all of the systems here have more than enough power to run the vast majority of today's apps.
|BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating||SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating||SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating|
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2004, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).
3D graphics and gaming performance
With the Dell Dimension 8400, we've seen the new PCI Express version of ATI's latest and greatest graphics card, the Radeon X800 XT Platinum Edition. The ABS Ultimate M5-64 gave us our first chance to test the AGP version of the card. The result? No contest. The Ultimate M5-64 posted a score of 131 frames per second (fps) on our high-end 1,600x1,200 Unreal Tournament 2003 test, which bested the Dimension 8400 by a comfortable 13 percent. In fact, 131fps is the best frame rate we've seen on our high-end test. If the Ultimate M5-64 is any indication, you shouldn't be in a rush to switch to a PCI Express-based system.
|Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,024x768||Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,600x1,200 4XAA 8XAF|
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Epic Games' Unreal Tournament 2003, widely used as an industry-standard benchmark. We use Unreal to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8.0 (DX8) interface at a 32-bit color depth and at a resolution of 1,024x768 and 1,600x1,200. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are disabled during our 1,024x768 tests, and are set to 4X and 8X respectively during our 1,600x1,200 tests. At this color depth and these resolutions, Unreal provides an excellent means of comparing the performance of low-end to high-end graphics subsystems. We report the results of Unreal's Flyby-Antalus test in frames per second (fps).
Performance analysis written by CNET Labs technician David Gussman.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Windows XP Home; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 3800+; Via K8T880 Pro chipset; 2,048MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon X800XT PE 256MB; two Maxtor 7Y250M0, 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Via Serial ATA RAID controller
Windows XP Professional; 3.4GHz Intel P4 Extreme; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 256MB; two WDC WD740GD-00FLX0 74GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA; integrated Intel 82801ER SATA RAID controller
Windows XP Home; 3.6EGHz Intel P4; Intel 925X chipset; 1,024MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; ATI Radeon X800XT PE PCI Xpress 256MB; two Seagate ST3160023AS 160GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Intel 82801FR SATA RAID controller
Windows XP Professional; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 3800+; Via K8T880 Pro chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra 256MB; Maxtor 6Y160M0 160GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Via Serial ATA RAID controller
Windows XP Professional; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-53; Via K8T880 Pro chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5900XT 256MB; two WDC WD740GD-00FLX0 74GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA; integrated WinXP Promise FastTrak 579 controller The three-ring binder didn't go out of style after high school--it's been revived by ABS, and one goes out in every ABS computer box. It's a convenient way of keeping documentation, software, and driver discs neatly organized rather than spread thin and loose. The complete installation process from inside the box to on (or under) your desk is a no-brainer with the oversize setup sheet, but be prepared for some tedious work as you position and wire the Klipsch speaker system. If you do run into problems, toll-free tech support is available directly from ABS, weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. PT, for the lifetime of the system. When ABS isn't available, 2Net, a third party, picks up the slack during your warranty period. The basic warranty covers parts and labor for one year through depot service. ABS pays the full freight during the first 30 days; after that, you'll have to split it with the company. Onsite service contracts for up to three years are available from 2Net for an added cost.