Whether you're looking for a computer for your kid to take to college or a second PC to convert his or her now-vacant bedroom into a home office, iBuyPower's sub-$1,000 Value Ultra system lives up to its name by delivering an ultralevel value. And better still are the myriad ways in which the company lets you configure it: strip it down for maximum economy, add a fancy monitor and speakers for multimedia work, or go whole hog with a top-of-the-line processor and dual SLI-ready graphics cards. It's true that the similar, cookie-cutter eMachines T6532 costs less (even when you add in a comparable monitor), but the better graphics power and warranty plus the customization options you get from iBuyPower more than justify the Value Ultra's price. At $999, the Value Ultra makes a great fit for families and students, and enthusiasts on a budget will also dig its high degree of configurability.
If you don't care to pick and choose your components, the eMachines T6532 remains our pick among budget PCs. But if you want to customize your PC, the iBuyPower Value Ultra system (VUS) makes a compelling case. In addition to the standard configuration options, such as adding more memory or a larger hard drive, iBuyPower lets you choose from a handful of cases, power supplies, and motherboards. And no matter your choices, you'll find value throughout. Take away its graphics card, for example, and the iBuyPower VUS stacks up even more closely to the T6532 in price--within about $60--and still you'll have a better graphics subsystem, more expansion, and a better case. That's the beauty of the offerings from iBuyPower: A single system can range from bare-bones basic to a top-shelf screamer.
Though we won't quibble about its value, the iBuyPower Value Ultra isn't without its issues. First of all, the gaming-oriented CoolerMaster Ammo-533 case included with our system may have some nice touches--a built-in handle and side-mounted USB and FireWire ports--but it's tweaked with too much neon and molded ornamentation. From a purely aesthetic point of view, one colleague put it best, "It looks like something you might like if you were 12 years old." Ouch. Thankfully, more mature-looking cases are offered.
The case interior is also a big mess. You can open the side panel with ease, but you'll find cables snaking all over the place, making access to some components more difficult. While the Value Ultra is priced like a budget system, its interior is designed with the enthusiast in mind. The eVGA Nforce4 SLI motherboard features three PCI Express x16 slots--though two offer only x8 bandwidth when used in an SLI configuration; the third provides full x16 bandwidth for a single card--and three PCI slots. In addition, you'll find a total of 10 drive bays, 7 of which were available in our evaluation model.
The iBuyPower Value Ultra is strictly AMD based. Ours came with a 2.2GHz Athlon 64 3500+ processor inside and finished in a statistical dead heat in CNET Labs' SysMark application benchmark with the eMachines T6532, not surprising since both systems are similar and use the same processor. The Value Ultra bested the Intel-based Dell Dimension E510 by a healthy 12 percent. You can, of course, save a bit of dough by opting for the slower 3200+ CPU, or you can jack things up as high as you like. A bleeding-edge FX-60 will run you $910 more. iBuyPower also offers a wide range of Intel-based desktops.
Where the iBuyPower Value Ultra flexes its muscle is with 3D games, turning in respectable scores for a budget PC. We don't typically run our 3D benchmarks on budget systems since most feature integrated graphics and aren't designed for gaming. Our Value Ultra test system used a current-generation Nvidia card, the 256MB GeForce 7600 GT, which delivered decent 3D frame rates, including a very playable 60.9 frames per second (fps) in our Half-Life 2 test at 1,600x1,200 resolution. It pulled down 73.8fps and 35.5fps on Doom 3 at 1,024x768 and 1,600x1,200, respectively. High-resolution gaming (or more-demanding games) will require you to up the ante, and iBuyPower allows you to do this with 27 different graphics card options, including eight dual-card SLI profiles.
At this price, our system included 1GB of 400MHz DDR RAM, a 200GB hard drive, and a double-layer DVD burner. Here again, the sky's the limit when it comes to configuration. The company offers 10,000rpm Raptor hard drives, a 1TB dual-drive RAID setup, and almost anything in between. We suggest you chip in the extra $82 to add a second 200GB hard drive.
Among the wide assortment of CRT and LCD monitors, iBuyPower bundled the 17-inch ViewSonic Q7B with our review unit, the lowest-priced LCD currently available. It supports a native 1,280x1,024 resolution, looks decent, and has an easy-to-use menu system.
At the quoted price, the system includes Windows XP Media Center Edition and Microsoft Works Suite 2006 software, a standard Internet keyboard and optical mouse, and some rather flimsy 2.1 speakers. You can save a couple of bucks by foregoing the neon light kit, which thankfully comes with a back-mounted on/off switch.