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After more than six months of waiting, we finally get a look at a stable computer that uses two graphics cards simultaneously. Velocity Micro's $4,649 Gamer's Edge DualX came loaded with a pair of 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra PCI Express graphics cards linked together via Nvidia's new Nforce4 motherboard chipset that features two x16 PCI Express slots and a bridge chip that plugs into both 3D cards, harnessing their combined power. Thanks to SLI, or Scalable Link Interface, the Gamer's Edge DualX posted unprecedented 3D benchmark scores (although interestingly, they were not twice as fast as single-card PCs') that, combined with Velocity Micro's expert construction, make this PC an outstanding, if expensive, high-end gaming system. The dual graphics cards in the Velocity Micro Gamer's Edge DualX takes top billing with respect to this system's design. (For a complete breakdown of how Scalable Link Interface works, read our double-barreled 3D graphics explainer.) Using the new Asus A8N-SLI motherboard with Nvidia's Nforce4 chipset, Velocity Micro paired up two slightly overclocked 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra graphics cards, bridging them together with the Asus-supplied SLI connector. A single 600-watt power supply drives both cards, and each comes with a pair of DVI ports. Even though you get so many video-out ports (a pair of DVI-to-VGA adapters come in the box, too) that doesn't mean you can connect four monitors: Nvidia's current drivers support only two simultaneous displays.
We had initial concerns that using two graphics cards would make some drastic cooling and wattage demands, especially these two fast-and-hot cards, which require a direct connection to the power supply. We also wondered whether all of those extra wires would clutter the inside of the case. Happily, even though the Gamer's Edge DualX uses a tightly packed midtower case, none of our concerns were justified, though you must be willing to tolerate some noise pollution. Most of the cables, including the extra graphics card power connectors, are wrapped, tied, or otherwise routed out of the way. The only area that might give you trouble is the hard drives, because with three (of a possible five) installed, the nest of serial ATA wires is rather dense and unwieldy. Fortunately, the hard drive cage is easy to remove entirely.
Aside from an array of five cooling fans (three system, one CPU, and one power supply), no excessive cooling measures take away from the straightforward layout. With so many fans, you do get a significant amount of noise, though, which makes us think an SLI configuration in the new cooling-cognizant BTX form factor PC would be an interesting system. It remains to be seen though, whether AMD-based motherboard vendors will adapt to the BTX layout or whether Intel will come out with an SLI-supporting chipset.
As for the case itself, the Gamer's Edge DualX has some promising features, but others we'd leave behind. The front panel features two doors: one hides the drive bays, another conceals a mesh screen and a cooling fan. The fan door doesn't do much, other than create an interesting visual effect, thanks to the Velocity Micro logo design and the blue LED that shines through it--a refreshingly tasteful use of case lighting. Behind the upper door, there's access to four 5.25-inch drive bays (of which two are taken) and two 3.5-inch bays, with one of those occupied, as well. Two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire jack, and a pair of audio jacks line the bottom edge of the case. We'd opt out of the wheels on the bottom of our test system's case, thus saving $30; it's hard to roll the case on them without lifting the entire thing anyway.
The rear of the case holds a few surprises. YouÂ’ll find a healthy selection of audio options, thanks to the Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS and its 7.1-speaker support. The case also has inputs to the motherboard audio chip, which, should you enable it, supports another set of 7.1 inputs, as well as both coaxial digital and Toslink digital audio inputs. The back panel serves up four USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, and a pair of Gigabit Ethernet jacks.
Inside the Gamer's Edge DualX, there are two free memory slots but no available expansion slots. You'll have to sacrifice the sound card or the wireless networking adapter if you want to add a PCI expansion card.If you had an unlimited budget to configure a high-performance gaming PC, your spec sheet might look something like that of the $4,649 Velocity Micro Gamer's Edge DualX. The highlight, obviously, is the SLI 3D card configuration, with two 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra cards. One of those high-end cards on its own costs roughly $500, which is telling of the total system price, but for gamers who demand the ultimate in 3D performance, an SLI configuration such as the Gamer's Edge DualX is currently the best way to have it. And while the 3D centerpiece will draw most of your attention, Velocity Micro didn't skimp on any of the other components.
AMD's Athlon FX-55 processor has proven itself one of the most powerful consumer CPUs on the market, so it makes sense that Velocity Micro would include it in this spare-no-expense PC. AMD's top CPU is paired with ample memory: 1,024MB of 400MHz DDR memory. The hard drives on our test system are both fast (two 74GB 10,000rpm drives in a RAID 0 configuration) and large (a single 250GB 7,200rpm drive).
For removable media, the Gamer's Edge DualX gives you plenty to work with. A tandem of a 16X dual-format/dual-layer DVD-RW drive and a 16X DVD/CD-RW combo drive lets you burn CDs and DVDs quick and easy. We also liked the space-efficient 7-in-1 media-card/floppy combo drive, which takes up only a single front-panel 3.5-inch bay.
Velocity Micro sent neither a monitor nor speakers with the Gamer's Edge DualX, although you can choose from a range of high- and low-end options for both. We did receive a keyboard and a mouse in the form of the, a slick set with plenty of customizable buttons that let you craft the perfect media or gaming interface scheme.
You also get plenty to do out of the box, including the means to put the 3D capabilities to the test. The system runs on Windows XP Pro and includes the Ulead Digital Creation Suite and Corel's WordPerfect Office Suite for media creation and basic productivity. But more exciting is the inclusion of both Far Cry and Doom 3, two demanding, up-to-the-minute 3D games that are perfect for showing off the SLI hardware.Application performance
We expected great things from the Velocity Micro Gamer's Edge DualX, even from an application performance standpoint, given the fast AMD Athlon FX-55 processor, and we weren't disappointed. With an overall score of 217 on SysMark 2004 performance, the Gamer's Edge DualX beat out the Athlon FX-55-powered , likely due to the Cyberpower's slower hard drive setup. The Gamer's Edge DualX didn't overachieve; two overclocked PCs with already-fast CPUs and a 3.8GHz Intel Pentium 4 570-powered posted better overall scores. But regardless, at this level, standard PC usage poses no challenge, and you'll notice the differences only when you look at the benchmark charts, not when you're actually using the computer.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|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
Now, the nitty-gritty. Our first look at the 3D performance of the Gamer's Edge DualX doesn't represent the most challenging 3D test, but it provides an accurate snapshot of the kinds of performance increase you'll see with older 3D titles. The results taught us quite a lot. Interestingly, at the 1,024x768-resolution test, the Velocity Micro didn't even finish in first place. At 284.1 frames per second (fps), the AGP-based Cyberpower Media Center Ultra Edition beat all of its PCI Express competition, single card or otherwise, although the Gamer's Edge DualX was the next closest with 269.6fps. The reason for this is simply because the 1,024x768 test is CPU limited, which means that it doesn't tax the graphics cards enough.