ABS has built the Awesome 4500 into a mainstream system that might stir up some envy among the big hitters, such as Dell and HP. The $1,499 price becomes even more enticing when you consider that it includes a 15-inch LCD, a 120GB hard drive, and Nvidia's excellent midrange GPU. Sure, the comparable includes a DVD burner and a larger LCD for roughly the same price, but the ABS is the more powerful PC. Whether you plan to use the 2.6GHz Pentium 4-based Awesome 4500 as a gaming PC, a graphics workstation, or a plain old office PC, it'll be up to the task. But the big vendors still have one advantage over ABS: better documentation. ABS's lightweight fare means that novices should look elsewhere.
The clear window in the side of the Antec PlusView case gives you a good view of the Awesome 4500's internals, bathed in the purple glow of the light in the side-mounted fan. The case is tool-free, but the power cord for the fan allows the side panel to open only enough to get your arm inside before it yanks the fan's connector out of the motherboard. Reconnecting the fan is tedious. Dual fans in the 450-watt power supply and the three additional 80mm case fans, one of which blows across the hard drive, provide more than enough cooling.
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The front panel has USB 2.0 and FireWire ports and a media-card reader for connecting your peripherals or your peripherals' memory cards.
Two USB 2.0 ports and a FireWire port are positioned behind a front-mounted, sliding panel. The back of the case offers the usual legacy connections, plus four additional USB 2.0 ports and both powered (six-pin) and nonpowered (four-pin) FireWire ports.
Already filled with five drives--two optical drives, a floppy drive, a media-card reader, and a hard drive--the case still has room for two more 5.25-inch accessible devices and three internal 3.5-inch drives. LAN and digital audio services are integrated into the Gigabyte GA-8IPE1000Pro motherboard, leaving only graphics and modem services to AGP or PCI cards. The arrangement gives you five open PCI slots for future expansion. Two available memory sockets let you upgrade beyond the current 512MB. Best of all, the interior is free of overhanging wires and other impediments to access.
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|The Awesome 4500's interior is well organized, and it leaves room for future expansion.|
ABS gives a nod to office productivity with the bundled Microsoft Works 7.0 app, but the Awesome 4500's 2.6GHz Pentium 4 processor, 512MB of DDR400 memory, and Asus-branded GeForce FX 5600 Pro graphics card make it powerful enough for entry-level graphics or video tasks. Based on Intel's 865PE (Springdale) chipset, performance was strong, and it was right in line with similarly configured PCs. Upgrade options for power users include 2.8GHz and 3GHz Pentium 4 processors, eVGA's GeForce FX 5900 graphics card, and dual serial ATA hard drives.
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The slim speakers from Monsoon deliver surprisingly powerful audio.
The Awesome 4500's peripherals add up to an adequate graphics and home-theater workplace. A pair of Lite-On optical drives--a 16X DVD-ROM and a 52X CD-RW--plus a seven-in-one media-card reader and the multitude of USB and FireWire ports give you a wide range of options for accessing and storing your music, photos, and video. We wish only that the system had a recordable DVD drive to go along with the video-friendly and spacious 120GB hard drive (with a roomy 8MB buffer). You can upgrade from the Lite-On CD burner to Sony's DW-U10A DVD+RW drive for $164, but it's a standard feature on HP's similarly priced Pavilion a250e.
The 15-inch Sony SDM-S51R is a couple of inches smaller than the LCD that HP ships with the a250e, but it displays excellent video and text in kind. (The 5600 Pro graphics card has an S-Video port should you want to use your television instead.) The Monsoon Planar Media 9 2.1 speaker system is similarly slender. We are normally wary of flat-panel speakers, but this Monsoon set surprised us by delivering full sound in the high and middle ranges. ABS offers a full stable of speaker sets from Creative, Klipsch, and Logitech, as well.
Using a 2.6GHz Pentium 4 processor with 512MB of 400MHz DDR SDRAM on Intel's 865PE chipset, the ABS Awesome 4500 equaled the strong performance figures we've seen recently from midrange systems, such as the Gateway 500XL. It trailed Dell's latest midrange offering, the Dimension 4600, but that's to be expected: the 4600 we tested costs about $165 more and includes a faster processor and a more advanced graphics card. Using the Intel 865PE chipset, which shares high-end features of the 875P chipset (including a fast 800MHz frontside bus, Hyper-Threading, and support for dual-channel memory), the Awesome 4500 is still more than adequate for all of your computing needs.
Application performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
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
On the strength of Asus's version of Nvidia's midrange 128MB GeForce FX 5600, the ABS Awesome 4500 turned in strong 3D graphics scores for a mainstream PC, edging out the Gateway 500XL, which had ATI's midrange Radeon 9600 card, on both of our 3D graphics benchmarks. The GeForce FX 5600 is a significant step up from the previous generation's card, and it should be able to run most of today's games and those of the near future.
3D graphics performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
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.