It would be fair to say that the desktop PC is in a state of flux. Intel just released its exciting new Core 2 Duo processors, the early returns of which suggest that big gains await PC buyers. Velocity Micro's Vector GX Campus Edition has the benefit of being the first budget-price Core 2 Duo desktop sent to the review press. At $999 for a full system--complete with a 17-inch LCD and 2.1 speakers--the Vector GX offers strong performance compared to similarly priced (pre-Core 2 Duo) systems; overall it's a compelling bargain. You can't order one for another two weeks, however, and during that time AMD is expected to announce deep price cuts on its own chips, which will make Athlon 64-based PCs look like much better deals. Other vendors including Dell, Gateway, HP, Lenovo, and Sony will also begin selling Core 2 Duo-based PCs in the coming weeks, hitting a variety of price points. The Vector GX is a solid opening volley, and it easily trumps a number of recently reviewed budget PCs that use older technology. But if you're looking for a desktop deal this summer to take back to school, we would avoid the temptation to buy now. Enjoy a few more weeks of your summer vacation and wait until more Core 2 Duo PCs hit the street before deciding where to spend your PC dollars.
The Vector GX features the lowest-end processor in the Intel Core 2 Duo lineup: the 1.86MHz Core 2 Duo E6300. It's a much more affordable chip than the higher-end Core 2 Duos found in the pricier Falcon Northwest Mach V and the Dell XPS 700. Rounding out the rest of the core specs are 1GB of 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM, a 250GB hard drive, and a 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7600 GS 3D card. Your disc-burning needs are met with both a dual-layer DVD burner and a DVD/CD-RW combo drive. In addition, the $999 price also includes a 17-inch LCD, a set of Creative SBS350 2.1 speakers, and a Velocity Micro-branded mouse and keyboard set. This configuration will tackle schoolwork, Web browsing, light gaming, and common digital media tasks with no problems, at roughly the same speed or faster than some more expensive PCs. It should also run Windows Vista with the Aero effects turned on, at least according to Microsoft's Vista system requirements. In general, we'd like to see a broader sample set before we make a wholesale judgment. But based on this one review, it seems that the Core 2 Duo E6300 is not as revolutionary as the higher-end chips in the line, but its performance gains are still competitive with AMD's offerings at the same price range.
You will probably want to upgrade to a better 3D card, a faster CPU, and potentially more memory if you'd like to use the Vector GX for gaming, digital content creation, or other more-demanding tasks. You'll be able to add all of those items and more, including additional Core 2 Duo options, via Velocity Micro's online configurator. Gamers should keep in mind that this is not an SLI-ready PC, which means that it can't accommodate two graphics cards. Velocity will offer Nvidia's two-chips-on-one-card product, the Nvidia GeForce 7950 GX2, which should solve most 3D performance worries (for about $500 extra). But with its single PCI Express graphics slot, you shouldn't really consider the Vector GX a low-cost upgrade platform for through-the-roof gaming like many of Velocity Micro's other models. You still get three empty standard PCI slots, as well as three x1 PCI Express slots, so with the right upgrades you could turn it into a wireless, TV tuning, media server, a basic digital content creation workstation, or pretty much anything else.
We always appreciate the build quality and confident aesthetics of Velocity Micro's systems, and the Vector GX Campus Edition doesn't disappoint. In fact, its looks are one of the features that help it stand out from the rest of the budget pack before you even get to its next-generation processor. Its all-aluminum case serves a functional purpose in that it helps keep the system cooler than with a plastic or steel chassis, but it also gives the system an understated, yet powerful appearance. If we were selecting a PC based strictly on looks for a college dorm setting, we like the message the Vector GX sends much better than the plastic, alien-looking iBuyPower Value Ultra.
The accessories that come with the Vector GX provide you with a solid basic computing experience. The 17-inch AOpen LCD, with a native 1,280x1,024 resolution, is large enough to watch a movie on in a small room, and the 2.1 Creative speakers are equally dorm room appropriate. About the only feature of this package that we think is cheesy is the floppy drive. We're not sure we've even seen a floppy disk in the last 18 months, let alone used one to store data. Media card readers cost $15 or less. In the age of digital cameras and USB thumbdrives, the floppy is dead. You can upgrade to a floppy-8-in-1 media reader combo drive for $25, but we'd like to see this option come standard.
We've always lauded Velocity Micro's support. The Vector GX comes standard with one year parts and labor coverage. We credit Velocity Micro most for its comprehensive online support, which is easy to navigate, clearly written, and in general one of the most robust in the industry. Phone support is not 24/7 in the standard package, but its lines are still open during a generous window, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m, Monday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET on Saturdays. And of course you can upgrade the service incrementally, up to three years of warranty coverage, with 24/7 emergency phone support and onsite service.