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Starfish Tech SS 3000XP review: Starfish Tech SS 3000XP

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The Good Excellent 3D graphics performance; easy expandability in a full-tower case; lots of customization options available at purchase.

The Bad Excessive fan noise; no onsite service; lean user manual; little in the way of Web-based support.

The Bottom Line A large case, the Radeon 9800 Pro graphics card, and an attractive price make the Starfish SS 3000XP a good choice for do-it-yourselfers and gamers on a budget.

7.3 Overall
  • Design 7.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Support 6.0

Review Sections

Review summary

The Starfish SS 3000XP is clearly a system for gamers and do-it-yourself enthusiasts. Its application performance is somewhat lacking, but the system turned in fine 3D graphic benchmark scores in CNET Labs' tests, and it comes ensconced in a large case that keeps your options open for future upgrades. Memory-intensive apps will prove taxing for it, but this Athlon XP 3000+ CPU-based PC will handle the majority of today's office tasks. Plus, the SS 3000XP really shines in 3D gaming, thanks to its 128MB Radeon 9800 Pro graphics card. Starfish backs the system with a three-year parts-and-labor warranty, but the absence of onsite service may turn off those who are not willing to delve into the case should a problem arise. Still, if you're not afraid to tinker and you spend your time playing graphics-intensive games, you should gaze upon the Starfish SS 3000XP.

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Underneath the Radeon 9800 Pro are plenty of free PCI slots.

The Starfish Technologies SS 3000XP comes in the same blue case as the Velocity Micro Vector VX-W system that we recently reviewed (Chieftec makes the case for this Starfish system, while Antec makes Velocity Micro's case). Like the Vector VX-W, the SS 3000XP might not fit under every desk, but it does leave you with oodles of upgrade options. Peer through the clear side window or use the lockable latch on the side panel to get inside, and you'll quickly see that all five PCI slots are free, and many of the drive bays are unoccupied. Enthusiasts will also appreciate the substantial 500W power supply, which makes system crashes less likely. For gamers looking to add a bit of dash to their desktop, Starfish outfits the SS 3000XP with green and red interior neon lights.

The front is adorned with a blue, hinged cover that hides the system's floppy drive and a pair of Lite-On optical drives. Two 5.25-inch bays and one 3.5-inch bay remain free, in addition to three internal 3.5-inch bays. The MSI K7N2-L Nforce-2 motherboard is also fully exposed and easily accessible in the full-tower case. One purely aesthetic complaint: the white bezel on each drive clashes with the dark-blue case color. Worse, the system's five cooling fans--two on the back panel, two on the front, and one the side--plus the fans for the power supply, the processor, and the graphics card make the entire system sound rather clamorous.

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The two cooling fans on the back panel add to the overall noise of the system.
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USB 2.0 and audio ports are up front where you want them.
Around back, you'll find a suite of standard rear connections, including those for PS/2 keyboard, PS/2 mouse, printer, serial, and audio (speaker out, line in, microphone), as well as a single 10/100 Ethernet port. There are six USB 2.0 ports in all, including two on the front panel hidden by a small, plastic flip-up cover. For your listening pleasure and convenience, Starfish includes two speaker (headphone) and microphone jacks next to the two front-mounted USB ports. FireWire ports, however, are notably absent from the system.
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Dual optical drives, with room for two more.

The number three plays a prevalent role inside the Starfish SS 3000XP. The system features an Athlon XP 3000+ processor with a 333MHz frontside bus and 512MB of DDR memory running at 333MHz. The Nforce-2-based MSI K7N2-L motherboard can accommodate up to 3GB but doesn't provide a video port. Hence, the monitor will need to be connected to the video port on the system's graphics card, which in the case of our test system, was ATI's 8X AGP Radeon 9800 Pro, with 128MB of onboard RAM.


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Good for gaming: the bundled 19-inch KDS flat-screen CRT and the 5.1 Altec Lansing speakers.
Our SS 3000XP test system included a PS/2 Microsoft multimedia keyboard and USB Microsoft mouse (also PS/2 compatible with an adapter). Audiophiles may want a more robust (and expensive) speaker set, but the included Altec Lansing 5.1 set is a great choice for general movie watching and game playing. The 19-inch KDS XF-9c flat-screen CRT that accompanied our test system offered a clear, crisp image and enough screen real estate for movie nights and multitasking in Windows.

Speaking of Windows, Starfish gives you the choice of Windows XP Home or XP Pro. The Home Edition is included in the price of our review unit; XP Pro costs a bit extra. You'll also have to pay for a productivity suite such as Microsoft Office XP, since our review unit's price does not include such an app. Application performance
The Starfish SS 3000XP uses an AMD Athlon XP 3000+ with a 333MHz frontside bus (FSB) and 512MB of DDR SDRAM. The catch is that the DDR SDRAM is PC2700 running at 333MHz; almost all of the other systems we've tested using the Athlon 3000+ have used PC3200 memory, which runs at a speed of 400MHz. According to Starfish, 333MHz DDR outperforms 400MHz DDR on AMD platforms with a 333MHz FSB because 400MHz memory is running out of sync with the processor, creating some latency issues. Our results give credence to this theory: the SS 3000XP's performance was on a par with that of the 3000+ systems we've tested with PC3200 memory, including the Hypersonic Cyclone. Regardless of the speed of the memory, the SS 3000XP is evidence that the AMD's 3000+ trails the performance of 3GHz P4-based PCs.

Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark2002 rating  
SysMark2002 Internet-content-creation rating  
SysMark2002 office-productivity rating  
Alienware Area-51 (3GHz Intel P4, 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
307 
429 
219 
Polywell Poly 880NF3-3200 (AMD Athlon XP 3200+, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
286 
355 
230 
Adamant Gamers Dream 6030 (2.8GHz Intel P4, 512MB RDRAM 533MHz)
276 
378 
202 
Hypersonic Cyclone (AMD Athlon XP 3000+, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
259 
338 
199 
Starfish SS 3000XP (AMD Athlon XP 3000+, 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)
257 
330 
200 

To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark2002, 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
The Starfish SS 3000XP uses the 128MB version of the ATI Radeon 9800 Pro graphics card (a new 256MB version is now available). Regardless of the amount of memory in the Radeon 9800 Pro, it is more than able to run any game you throw at it. If you buy the SS 3000XP as configured here, you need not worry about it stumbling on any games.

3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Second Edition Build 330 (16-bit color)  
Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Second Edition Build 330 (32-bit color)  
Alienware Area-51 (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
17,392 
17,144 
Starfish SS 3000XP (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
17,042 
16,792 
Polywell Poly 880NF3-3200 (Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra)
17,370 
16,723 
Hypersonic Cyclone (Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra)
16,478 
16,052 
Adamant Gamers Dream 6030 (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
15,784 
15,313 

To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Pro Second Edition, Build 330. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8 (DX8) interface at both 16- and 32-bit color settings at a resolution of 1,024x768. A system that does not have DX8 hardware support will typically generate a lower score than one that has DX8 hardware support.

3D gaming performance in fps  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Quake III Arena  
Alienware Area-51 (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
305.9 
Starfish SS 3000XP (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
301.6 
Hypersonic Cyclone (Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra)
284.0 
Polywell Poly 880NF3-3200 (Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra)
280.8 
Adamant Gamers Dream 6030 (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
259.4 

To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Quake III Arena. Although Quake III is an older game, it is still widely used as an industry-standard tool. Quake III does not require DX8 hardware support--as 3DMark2001 does--and is therefore an excellent means of comparing the performance of low- to high-end graphics subsystems. Quake III performance is reported in frames per second (fps).

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Adamant Gamers Dream 6030
Windows XP Professional; 2.8GHz Intel P4; 512MB RDRAM 533MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB; Western Digital WD1200JB-75CRA0 120GB 7,200rpm

Alienware Area-51
Windows XP Professional, 3GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; two Seagate ST3120023AS 120GB 7,200rpm, SATA; integrated Intel 82801ER Serial ATA RAID controller

Hypersonic Cyclone
Windows XP Professional, 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra 128MB; two IBM/Hitachi IC35L180AVV07 180GB 7,200rpm; Promise FastTrak TX2/TX4 controller

Polywell Poly 880NF3-3200
Windows XP Professional, 2.2GHz AMD Athlon XP 3200+; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra 128MB; two Western Digital WDC WD360GD-00FNA0, 36GB 10,000rpm; Highpoint RocketRAID 1520 SATA RAID controller

Starfish SS 3000XP
Windows XP Home, 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; WDC WD800JB-00CRA1 80GB 7,200rpm Seasoned PC users won't have any trouble setting up the Starfish Technologies SS 3000XP, but novices may find the skimpy manual intimidating. The troubleshooting FAQs in the user manual are helpful, but Starfish needs to provide basic setup instructions and gather the various component guides and media together into one binder. The online Starfish support site provides links to manufacturer's Web sites when searching for new drivers, but you won't find any other Web-based support, such as an online FAQ page, downloadable files, PDF documents, or other features that most major PC makers offer.

The good news here is that Starfish protects the SS 3000XP with a three-year warranty on parts and labor when the standard PC warranty has shrunk to a single year. Business users should note that there is no onsite service available, but Starfish pays for shipping both ways for the first year (they pay one way after the first year). Buyers also receive five years of toll-free telephone support (weekdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET) and free e-mail support for the life of the system.

There is no coverage of system backup or restoration, however, and the system doesn't include recovery applications or CDs to support it in the event of a failure. Fortunately, you do receive the original media for Windows XP, the motherboard, and video driver CDs. Adding a system-restore feature to this bundle would be a real plus.

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