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Systemax Venture VX2 review:Systemax Venture VX2

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The Good Smart mix of components provides good performance for a great price; runs quietly; upgrading to Vista won't be a problem.

The Bad Thanks to the Intel chipset, the only dual-graphics-card option is ATI's CrossFire; 500-watt power supply further limits your dual-card options; the system's Radeon X1950 XTX card is a bit behind the times; fixed configuration.

The Bottom Line It doesn't look like your typical gaming box, but fortunately the Systemax Venture VX2 also carries a price that's atypical of a gaming PC. It's one of the better-outfitted $2,000 PCs we've come across. Gamers and anyone running high-end graphics apps should take notice of this unassuming desktop.

7.5 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Support 5

Review Sections

The Systemax Venture VX2 isn't a gaming PC to inspire envy among your fellow fraggers. It won't net you the fastest frame rates on your block, and its plain-Jane looks cannot be classified as "head turning" or "conversation starting." But what this affordably priced, fixed-configuration, $1,999 gaming system provides is a solid foundation for playing today's current titles, and you can put the money you save now toward future upgrades. With its Intel motherboard, 500-watt power supply, and midtower chassis, the Venture VX2 will never be transformed into a bleeding-edge gaming PC, but it does provide enough wiggle room to let you at least keep pace. Its mix of components allow it to hit the sweet spot between underperforming and overpriced, resulting in a system that is priced lower than similarly configured systems from competing vendors.

The Systemax Venture VX2 uses a midtower chassis that looks more like your basic, black business PC than something used to play Company of Heroes. You won't find any molded plastic or custom paint options--there aren't even any drive doors or covers to hide the optical drives or the front-panel ports, if that's your thing. We like that the two USB 2.0 ports, the six-pin FireWire port, and the mic and headphone jacks are located right in the middle of the front panel and not placed along the bottom, where they collect dust and are harder to reach. And the data archivist will appreciate that there are two optical drives--a DVD burner and a DVD-ROM drive--which makes for quick disc-to-disc copies.

Look inside the case, and you'll soon discover one way in which Systemax was able to keep the price so low. Where boutique gaming companies, such as Falcon Northwest (we can't really call Alienware and Voodoo "boutiques" anymore, since they are really just divisions of Dell and HP, respectively), take great care in neatly tying up and routing the cables out of the way, Systemax does not look at cabling as an art form. There are a few clasps to group the power and SATA cables, but you will need to wrestle with a tangle of power cables from the optical drives to gain access to the memory slots, for example. On the other hand, the system's two PCI slots and three PCI Express slots are free from any obstruction. Systemax has successfully built one of the quieter gaming systems we've come across; you can barely tell the thing is running because the cooling fans spin in near silence.

The Systemax Venture VX2 uses Intel's D975XBX motherboard. While most enthusiasts prefer Nvidia's 680i boards and their support for SLI, Nvidia's dual-card technology, Intel's 975X chipset supports only ATI's CrossFire for a dual-card setup. And that helps explain why the Venture VX2 ships with a 512MB ATI Radeon X1950 XTX card. The card is tops in ATI's lineup, and it gets you halfway to a CrossFire config. If we were setting out to build an affordable gaming PC with a single graphics card, however, the obvious choice is Nvidia's recently released GeForce 8800 GTS, which costs roughly the same as an X1950 XTX card while also providing DirectX 10 support; the older X1950 XTX is a DirectX 9 card. (The Venture VX2's midtower chassis looks like it's too small to accommodate the huge 8800 GTX card.) At any rate, you'll have to keep your CrossFire dreams in check because the Venture VX2's 500-watt power supply won't be able to handle to high-end Radeon cards. When it comes time to upgrade, we'd recommend replacing the X1950 XTX with a single 8800 GTS rather than creating a CrossFire setup by adding in a midrange Radeon card.

Enough about upgrades--let's talk about what your $1,999 gets you with the Systemax Venture VX2 out of the box--an important discussion given that there is no way to customize the system prior to purchase. The system uses the highest-end, mainstream Core 2 Duo chip, the 2.66GHz E6700. You get 2GB of fast 800MHz (PC 6400) DDR memory, which positions you well for the transition to Vista (more on that later), and there are two free DIMMs for adding more memory down the line. While the system doesn't supply any of the 10,000rpm drives that are commonly found on other high-end PCs, the two 7,200rpm drives are in a RAID 0 array for a total of 500GB of capacity. There's also room to add four more hard drives, should your storage needs suddenly explode. All in all, you couldn't ask for much more in a $2,000 PC.

We priced out a Dell XPS 410, and the only way we could beat the Systemax Venture VX2's price was by outfitting the XPS 410 with an entry-level GeForce card. Likewise, we priced a Gateway FX530XV system, and with a comparable 512MB GeForce 7950 GT card, the system cost $80 more than the Systemax Venture VX2. A few months back, we reviewed a similarly specced Alienware Area-51 5500, which had a bigger power supply but less hard drive space, and it costs hundreds more than the Venture VX2.

So, we can forcefully say that the Systemax Venture VX2 is a good deal, but what about its performance? The Alienware Area-51 provides the best comparison since it's nearly identical to the Venture VX2, despite costing more. The Venture VX2 beat the Area-51 5500 on nearly ever test (the two systems ended our iTunes audio encoding test in a statistical tie, and the Alienware posted slightly better frame rates on Quake 4)--an impressive feat, given the custom tweaks and the level of detail that Alienware puts into its systems. The Venture VX2's frame rates illustrate that you can play current OpenGL and DirectX 9 games at modest resolutions and expect very smooth frame rates. For higher-resolution gaming on larger displays and for making the leap to the upcoming DirectX 10 games, we refer you to our earlier recommendation of upgrading to a GeForce 8800 GTS card.

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Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test
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Apple iTunes encoding test
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CineBench
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