If you're a hard-core gamer longing to be the belle of the LAN ball, you will certainly draw attention with the iBuyPower Gamer Extreme PC. At $1,999, you get a unique-looking system with some powerful, game-ready core components, among them Intel's new 3.2EGHz Prescott Pentium 4 CPU and its efficient design. Unfortunately, some bizarre design decisions tarnish this system's overall polish, namely, inconvenient innards and a cheap DVD drive that detracts from movie watching. The high-end Logitech speakers and 19-inch ViewSonic monitor take the edge off these eccentricities, and though it is the least expensive of the first Prescott systems we've seen, we suggest that you either configure some higher-end parts for this PC, using the iBuyPower Web site for a better all-around package, or try entry. Even card-carrying geeks might balk at the quirky-looking, $1,999 iBuyPower Gamer Extreme PC, but it has a certain visual charm that might appeal to the gamers for whom it was obviously crafted. Overall, however, some questionable design decisions mar this system. The two most noticeable are the coordinated yellow coloring of the midtower case, the keyboard, and the mouse and the plastic robot head on the front bezel. And as if the head design weren't unique, a pulsing white light scrolls across the robot's eyes like the car from Knight Rider. The top portion of the robot's face also serves as the front-panel door, behind which sit two optical drives, a floppy drive, three free 5.25-inch bays, and one free 3.5-inch slot. Two inconspicuous panels on the bottom edge of the front panel slide in to reveal a pair of USB ports on one side and two audio jacks on the other.
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|Nope, we checked. The Gamer Extreme PC does not transform into a four-story robot.||Unobtrusive sliding panels prevent the front-mounted ports from interfering with the overall visual effect.|
The side panel features a Plexiglas window situated behind a complex design cut out of the metal. Panel removal requires unscrewing two screws, as well as disconnecting the annoying side fan. The fan's power cable is almost impossible to reattach because it's short and connects directly to a motherboard power output that's both small and difficult to reach. Most of the internal cables are tethered and organized reasonably well, so at least airflow is unrestricted.
Six USB 2.0 inputs and the usual array of legacy ports adorn the rear panel. And though seven expansion slots are cut into the back panel, there are only six card slots on the motherboard; one AGP and five PCI. This makes us wonder why the game port and the light's power switch, neither of which has a card to plug in, are both installed in front of a card slot when there is one noncard slot free. This leaves only two PCI slots open, one of which is so close to the graphics card that if you can fit a card in it at all, it impedes the airflow to the GPU. Also, despite the tool-free plastic latch assembly that holds components in place on all of the card slots and the drive bays, every part that came with the system was also screwed in, effectively rendering the tool-free features irrelevant. On paper, the $1,999 iBuyPower Gamer Extreme PC looks like a powerful gaming system, but it takes too many component shortcuts where other vendors offer higher-end parts for a similar price. It does, however, include Intel's new Prescott 3.2EGHz Pentium 4 processor, bolstered by 1GB of 400 MHz PC3200 DDR system memory. These parts alone establish the Gamer Extreme PC as a high-performing system.
Not only does iBuyPower include the 256MB ATI Radeon Graphics 9800 XT graphics card, the company also throws in everything that comes in the ATI retail box, including a rebate coupon for Half-Life 2, as well as the S-Video and RCA cables and adapters. The Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS sound card is the baseline card for the brand, delivering advanced 24-bit audio over 7.1 audio channels. Though the Logitech Z-640 speakers are only a 5.1 set, their output quality most definitely does not disappoint. Gamers will frown upon the interface devices, considering the flimsy-feeling construction of the Mitsuko multimedia keyboard and optical mouse.
If the 16X DVD-ROM's stuttery movie playback is representative of other products from Ultima Electronics, we understand why we don't see components from that company too often. The supercrisp ViewSonic UltraBrite E90f+ flat-screen CRT helps smooth out video viewing, with a neat toggle that switches between brightness presets for text-heavy pages and a more illuminated screen for movies and games. You can also revert to the multiformat NEC DVD+/-RW drive that can play DVDs at almost the same speed as the DVD-ROM drive, not to mention its all-encompassing recording capabilities. And thanks to the 120GB 7,200rpm Seagate Serial ATA hard drive, you'll be able to store a sizable amount of digital media.
The system shipped to us with Windows XP Home Edition installed. iBuyPower also loaded nearly all of the attendant applications for the system components, including ATI's handy Multimedia Center software. is included, as well as the handy , and DriveImage 7.0 for managing your hard drive. Norton AntiVirus 2002 is included in the box, though it was not installed on our test system. Application performance
Today, Intel released its next-generation processor, which it developed under the code name Prescott and is rolling out under the Pentium 4 name. To differentiate it from existing P4 processors, Intel has added an E at the end of the processor speed (for example, 3.2EGHz Pentium 4). Built on a 90-nanometer process, Prescott introduces a number of architectural changes when compared with the older Pentium 4 design. The L2 cache is doubled from 512K to 1MB, which should offer improved performance even though the clock speed remains at 3.2GHz. Offsetting the larger cache is a longer pipeline, which can cause delays but also allow Intel to increase the clock speed to 4GHz, which it has stated it will do by the end of the year. In addition, Prescott includes 13 new multimedia instructions, which Intel is calling SSE III.
Considering the L2 cache was doubled, we expected to see a tad bit of a performance increase just from this addition alone, but as you will see from our review systems, there was either a very small performance gain or none at all. We expect to see performance gains with Prescott when Intel introduces higher clock speeds and when applications are released that are able to take advantage of the SSE III instructions.
The iBuyPower Gamer Extreme PC is one of the first systems we've seen fitted with the new 3.2EGHz Pentium 4 processor. As our test results show, it sits in essentially a dead heat with the other 3.2GHz-rated systems in this review, the Prescott 3.2EGHz-equipped Dell Dimension 8300, and the original 3.2GHz Pentium 4-powered Compaq X09 Gaming PC. This bears out what we know about Prescott: that despite its smaller transistor size and larger L2 cache, initially it won't show a significant performance increase given the longer processing pipeline. We will likely see more benefit from the new design as Intel ramps up the processor speed throughout the year. But despite its fourth-place finish on SysMark 2002, this is by no means a weak system. With an overall score of 338, the Gamer Extreme PC sits exactly where it should among a selection of very high-end desktops and should handle anything you care to throw at it.
Application performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2002, 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
Equipped with the 256MB ATI Radeon 9800XT graphics card, the Extreme Gamer PC is a very capable gaming system. One of the most advanced graphics cards on the market, the 9800XT is faster and comes with more memory than the 128MB Radeon 9800 Pro found in the Dell Dimension 8300. With a score of 59.0fps at 1,600x1,200 resolution in our Unreal Tournament test, the Extreme Gamer PC is only incrementally faster than the Dell, though far behind the Velocity Micro and the Falcon Northwest systems, both of which are equipped with faster CPUs and, in the case of the Velocity Micro, high-performing hard drives. A score of 60fps is largely considered the minimum ideal frame rate for acceptable performance, and that the iBuyPower comes a hairbreadth away from it on one of our most intensive benchmarks speaks very well of its performance. You will not be disappointed with this as a gaming PC.
3D gaming performance (in fps) (Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Note: * Denotes system was not tested at this resolution.|
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 10x7 tests, and are set to 4X and 8X respectively during our 16x12 tests. At this color depth and resolution, Unreal is an excellent way to compare 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.
ABS Ultimate M6
Windows XP Professional; 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-51; Nvidia Nforce-3 Pro 150; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800XT 256MB; two Seagate ST380013AS 80GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; WinXP Promise FastTrack 376/378 controller
Compaq X09 Gaming PC
Windows XP Professional; 3.2GHz Intel P4; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 256MB; two Seagate ST3120026AS 120GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Intel 82801ER SATA RAID controller
Dell Dimension 8300
Windows XP Home; 3.2EGHz Intel P4; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; Maxtor 6Y250M0 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Falcon Northwest Mach V 3.4 Extreme Edition
Windows XP Home; 3.4GHz Intel P4 Extreme; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 256MB; two Seagate ST3120026AS 120GB 7200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Intel 82801ER SATA RAID controller
iBuyPower Gamer Extreme PC
Windows XP Home; 3.2EGHz Intel P4; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800XT 256MB; Seagate ST3120026AS 120GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Velocity Micro ProMagix
Windows XP Home; 3.2EGHz Intel P4; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 256MB; two WDC WD740GD-00FLA0 74GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA; WDC WD2000JB-00EVA0 200GB 7,200rpm; integrated Intel 82801ER SATA RAID controller Though the iBuyPower Gamer Extreme PC's three-year labor, one-year parts and onsite warranty isn't phenomenal, we appreciate that iBuyPower included documentation that clearly explains all of the ins and outs of its service plan. For example, the company is up front about the fact that onsite service comes from a third-party contractor; makes it plain that you can use the service only twice in one year; and states that if the tech finds that the problem is software related or due to a component you tried to add after purchase, you're responsible for the $165-hour charge. Tech-support phone numbers are easy to locate, and the hours of operation are 24/7 the first year and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT, Monday through Friday after that.
There is no system manual to speak of, but nearly all of the component manuals are included, as well as their driver and application CDs. The iBuyPower Web site offers the usual array of configuration options, with a host of potential upgrades.