As usual, Cyberpower assembled a very attractive system for us to review. For the hardware alone, the Gamer Ultra 8500 SE is a steal at $999. Even if we don't love the case, anyone in the market for a budget gaming PC will be impressed, especially because the deal includes a 19-inch Viewsonic wide-screen LCD and a set of Logitech 2.1 speakers (not pictured). But in looking back on older Cyberpower reviews, we noticed a disturbing trend. In the user opinions for every single Cyberpower desktop, CNET readers rail against the Cyberpower buying experience. In addition to reviewing this PC, then, we also grilled Cyberpower about this wash of complaints. The system is a deal, but whether it's worth the apparent hassle to go through Cyberpower to get it still remains to be seen.
The first thing we should report on here is the Gamer Ultra 8500 SE's Raidmax Smilodon case. We hate it. Its side panel door is virtually impossible to get back on once you take it off due to its awkward clips on the bottom edge. And not only does it come with an always annoying removable crossbar, between the crossbar fan and the side panel fan you have two cooling units connected to power supply cables that need to be disconnected before you can make any internal changes. Finally, the crossbar has the words "Dirk-Tooth" printed on it, which are visible through the side panel window, and whose meaning is anyone's guess. Fortunately, Cyberpower offers other cases on its Web site. We suggest you avoid this one.
The hardware nuts and bolts
The Gamer Ultra 8500 SE came to us with a steal of a CPU in the form of AMD's 3.0GHz Athlon 64 X2 6000+. That dual-core processor would have been at least an $800 part a year or two ago, but because of AMD's price war with Intel, Athlons are ridiculously affordable right now.
The Gamer Ultra 8500 SE also comes with Windows Vista Home Premium, which generally benefits from 2GB of RAM or more. Because this system has such a fast CPU, it can get away with 1GB of memory, especially due to its speedy 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM. There's room to add more memory, of course, which we'd recommend for gamers or aspiring digital media editors. For storage, you get a roomy 320GB 7,200rpm hard drive, as well as room to add a few more.
That combination of hardware gives the Gamer Ultra 8500 SE a strong performance profile. In terms of raw CPU speed for the money, this Cyberpower outpaced similar PCs both on our iTunes audio processing test, as well as our CineBench multiprocessor test. Only having 1GB of memory comes back to bite it on our Photoshop test, which relies heavily on system memory for image processing. That's an easy upgrade to make when you configure your PC, although it will add $180 to the cost.
This Gamer's game performance
The discrete Nvidia GeForce 8600 GT graphics card helps the overall performance as well. We don't love the 8600 series of 3D cards from Nvidia due to substandard performance in current games compared to other cards of similar price still on the market. The best thing about them, their HD-video decoding ability, goes unused here since the Gamer Ultra 8500 SE has only a standard-def DVD burner. ATI also has a whole family of new graphics cards due in stores this summer, and it might be worth the wait to see how they compete.
Still, compared to other complete PCs in its class, the GeForce 8600 GT, along with the rest of the hardware, makes the Gamer Ultra 8500 SE a fairly respectable budget gaming PC. Its 69.4 frames per second on Quake 4 ran right over similar PCs from Dell and WinBook. Those PCs have budget-class 3D cards in them, so it's no surprise this Cyberpower won. What's still unknown is how this card's next-gen gaming performance will shake out when those games hit later this year.
Along with the aforementioned specs, you also get an unnamed ViewSonic 19-inch wide-screen LCD (presumably the decent-enough VA1912WB, as it's the only wide-screen model listed on Cyberpower's Web site), as well as Logitech's budget 2.1 X230 speaker system. Those are both solid add-ons that make this a complete desktop set-up, although of course you're free to deselect those on Cyberpower's online configurator.
Just because it looks like a deal...
With the hardware covered, the question remains: is it worth it if you have to actually deal with this company? Its support on paper looks ambitious, with three years of parts and labor coverage, plus 24-7 phone support. Online support is thin, but at least there's a fairly comprehensive list of driver links.
The problem is, if you look at the history of users' opinions on Cyberpower desktop reviews, you'll find a chorus of dissatisfaction. We wouldn't normally indict a company based on reader comments, mostly because it's impossible for us to verify most of those claims. But the sheer regularity of the unhappiness, dating back through four years of desktop reviews, made us cringe.
The most common complaints are as follows:
- The system shipped out later than promised.
- The system arrived with different parts than ordered, or in a nonworking condition.
- Despite claims of 24-7 phone support, Cyberpower's support staff didn't answer the phone, nor did it return messages left on tech support voice mail. When customers did get through, the support staff ranged from unhelpful to surly.
We got in touch with the head of Cyberpower's customer service department, Lap Tran, to find out the company's thoughts on this pattern. We can't say we're thrilled with the response. Rather than refute or acknowledge the complaints, the first question Mr. Tran asked us was whether he could write responses to CNET's user comments. You can see what that might look like if you go check out Cyberpower on ResellerRatings.com. Granted, Cyberpower's rating on that site over the last six months isn't bad, but the complaints sound familiar and Cyberpower's responses read like boilerplate text and don't always acknowledge the full extent of a customer's issues. That's not exactly heartening, especially since you'd think that at least its public responses would be more thorough.
The official response
After informing Mr. Tran that he can comment just like any other reader on CNET, I asked him how he accounts for four years of negative reader feedback. He acknowledged that it seemed to be an issue, and said he would confer with the department heads of his company to form a response. Here is what he came back with.