Velocity Micro Raptor DCX (ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT)
We've given Velocity Micro plenty of good reviews in the past, but this might be the best PC we've ever seen from the midsize vendor. True to its specialty of building powerful, smartly configured gaming desktops, this Raptor DCX comes in at $4,020, but it feels like you're getting a remarkable deal given the performance you get for that price. Featuring a pair of ATI's new Radeon HD 2900 XT graphics cards and an Intel quad-core processor, this system delivers a very strong bang for the buck in terms of today's gaming. We wouldn't blame you for holding off until we know more about actual next-generation games, but in terms of current-day performance, the Velocity Micro Raptor DCX performs as well as systems that cost several thousand dollars more. That alone makes this an Editor's Choice winner.
The configuration of this system is close to other high-end PC's we've reviewed over the past six or seven months, but a few key differences help it stand out. Where others in its class have sent us Core 2 Extreme quad-core CPUs, Velocity Micro sent this Raptor DCX to us with a 2.4GHz Core 2 Quad Q6600 overclocked to 3GHz (a $25 upgrade). That's faster (on paper, at least) than the stock 2.93GHz Core 2 Extreme QX6800 in the $3,940 ABS Ultimate X Striker Elite and the $4,570 Maingear X-Cube. It also likely accounts for the Velocity Micro's strong scores on the Cinebench test, which measures raw processing power.
Application performance isn't tied explicitly to CPU speed, though. The 2GB of 800MHz DDR2 memory in the Raptor DCX should be fine for current games and any mainstream application you want to use. But as you can see from our Photoshop test results (and likely our iTunes results as well), systems such as the Dell XPS 710 H2C and the ABS that have 4GB of system memory will benefit when dealing with memory-intensive tasks such as image editing.
Of course, you don't spend $4,000 on a PC with $800 worth of 3D cards to encode MP3s. For a complete breakdown of the ATI Radeon HD 2900 XT (announced today), you can check out our Crave blog on it, which links to various reviews around the Web (we'll have our review up shortly). In brief, it competes well against Nvidia's similar 640MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS card, with the two trading wins on various current-generation PC games. We're eager to see each card's performance on next-gen gaming titles, and we're also curious about how each card's Vista drivers develop. In the context of this PC, the two Radeon HD 2900 XT cards give the Raptor DCX a distinct gaming-performance edge, although we should add that we don't have a comparison system with two of its Nvidia counterparts to line it up against.
All that said, our gaming charts illustrate the sheer value of this PC. The only system that's consistently faster (and not even on every test) is the Dell XPS 710 H2C that costs almost $2,000 more. The Raptor DCX also makes Maingear's X-Cube, which costs $600 more, look especially overpriced. Our only wish is that we had a PC with two GeForce 8800 GTS cards in it for comparison, as those are the main competitors to the Velocity's Radeon cards. We don't feel too bad about not having them though, since we have a feeling as both ATI and Nvidia's Vista driver development progresses, any conclusions we make about the cards today will go out the window in the coming months. Velocity Micro informs us that it will be shipping specially picked, overclocked versions of the Radeon HD 2900 XT cards in this system, so you can expect even more performance from this system than we're showing here.
In addition to the Raptor DCX's test scores, we're also enthusiastic about its core features, although just a bit less so. In addition to the parts mentioned already, Velocity includes a dual-layer LightScribe DVD burner, a standard DVD-ROM drive, a Creative Sound Blaster X-FI Xtreme Audio sound card and two hard drives--a 400GB, 7,200rpm drive for mass storage and a 150GB, 10,000rpm drive for speedy application access. That's a solid collection of parts to be sure, especially compared to the ABS, which gives you only a single 10,000rpm drive.
When we look at our comparison ABS system, which has a very similar price tag to this Raptor DCX, two questions come to mind: Why did Velocity Micro put Windows Vista Home Premium on here instead of Vista Ultimate? And where's the media card reader? We know that Velocity was trying to keep the price down on this model, and we'd rather have the raw performance than spend the extra for Vista Ultimate. This is also not the first time we've complained about Velocity Micro leaving out a card reader. As long as it continues to send us systems without them, it won't be the last. Fortunately, the Raptor DCX offers a lot of configuration options, a card reader among them, although we were surprised not to see an HD drive option.
We haven't mentioned much about the design of this system, simply because there isn't much to say other than the fact that it's as neat and tidy as you'd want a PC to be. Velocity Micro has stuck with Lian Li cases for several years, adopting an "if it ain't broke" approach that we appreciate. Expansion gets a little sticky, as the two double-wide graphics cards leave you with only a single PCI slot for expansion, occupied in our system by the sound card. The uppermost 3D card also presses up against the memory brackets, and you'll likely need to remove the card in order to add or remove RAM. None of those issues are deal breakers, though.
Finally, we have to give Velocity Micro kudos for its service and support offerings. Included in the price of this system is three years of parts-and-labor coverage and one year of on-site service. We thought Maingear was the last vendor to offer a three-year plan, and we were glad to see we were wrong. Velocity Micro's Web site offers a comprehensive selection of resources with FAQs, a glossary, links to vendor Web sites, drivers, and other features. And while it's not 24-7, Velocity's phone support extends from a reasonable 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.
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