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ABS Sensation series review: ABS Sensation series

ABS Sensation series

Bill O'Brien
7 min read
With its 1.8GHz Intel Celeron processor, integrated graphics, 40GB hard drive, 17-inch CRT, two-piece speaker system, and $699 price tag, the ABS Sensation 1600--the low end of the diverse Sensation line--is a classic budget PC. ABS lets you configure the Sensation with Pentium 4 or Athlon XP+ processors, increase the memory amount or size of the hard drive, and choose an LCD or surround-sound speaker package. But selecting too many of these upgrades quickly pushes the Sensation into the mainstream category--and price range--where the ABS Bravado line resides. However, if you're looking for an inexpensive first computer with enough performance for basic tasks, a budget Sensation system such as the 1600 that we tested will serve you well.

DVD-ROM and floppy drives.
The most exciting aspect of the ABS Sensation line is its low price; its case design certainly isn't a highlight. As with most budget systems, the Sensation's basic components are packaged in a simple, beige minitower. The DVD-ROM and floppy drives on our Sensation 1600 test system leave three vacant bays--two 5.25-inch bays and one 3.5-inch--which you can fill later. You can also add a second drive to your system using ABS's online configurator, which lists two 40X CD burners from which to choose.
Although the Sensation case isn't pretty, it is easy to work with. Two front-mounted USB 1.1 ports offer a measure of convenience for attaching older USB devices, and the back panel includes four USB 2.0 ports, plus Ethernet and dial-up connections.

Six USB ports in all.

A screwdriver will help you get inside the machine, once you slide off the side panel. The interior cables from the various drives are neatly tied and allow you full access to the motherboard.

Room to grow.

No AGP to be seen.

The Sensation also leaves room for one additional memory module, plus there are two vacant PCI slots. But there's no AGP slot on the motherboard--possibly a major flaw, if your idea of a good time shifts from Internet backgammon to first-person shooters. There are graphics cards with a PCI interface rather than AGP, and most would be better than the integrated solution provided with the system. But a PCI card certainly can't match the performance that you'd get with any current AGP card. Lack of an AGP slot isn't a problem that's particular to the Sensation 1600; many entry-level systems from a wide variety of computer sellers similarly cut corners to keep costs down. If you want high-end graphics on a budget Sensation system, choose a model with the Gigabyte GA-8IE motherboard and dedicated graphics or, better yet, leave the value category all together.

The Sensation 1600's 1.8GHz Celeron processor is powerful enough to access the Internet, do some word processing, keep track of finances, and use for most typical home-computing tasks. No matter what your intended purposes are for the Sensation, however, you'll be able to find a suitable processor. ABS offers both Intel and AMD processors on its Sensation line, from the low-end AMD Duron and Intel Celeron to the speedier Athlons and Pentium 4s. Keep in mind that choosing an Athlon or a P4 will raise the price of your system: our Celeron-based test system is listed at $699, and Athlon- and P4-based systems run from around $800 to nearly $1,100.

There's no disc burner in the budget 1600.
ABS offers a wide selection of monitors, as well: five CRTs, ranging in size from 17 to 22 inches, and five LCDs, 15- through 19-inch models. The 17-inch Samsung SyncMaster 755DF CRT included with our Sensation 1600 test system is an excellent monitor, with a 0.20mm dot pitch and a flat screen. It's a great companion to the system's Pioneer DVD-117 DVD-ROM drive if you're thinking about using it to watch movies.
The Sensation's 128MB of memory works for lightweight home applications, but if you conjure up large spreadsheets with the included Corel Office 2002, the system slows down; consider adding an extra 128MB if you're planning to run processor-demanding apps. The 40GB hard drive, on the other hand, is hardly a small-capacity device and should give entry-level users more than enough storage space. If not, ABS offers hard drives up to 120GB.

Free PCI slots lets you add more memory.
The two-piece Benwin LTS speaker system included with the Sensation 1600 is adequate but isn't on a par with speaker systems equipped with subwoofers, to which you can also upgrade using ABS's online configurator.
Speaking of sound, the Sensation 1600 pulls both its audio and its graphics from the Asus P4BGL motherboard and the Intel 845GL chipset, which is not a problem for sound, especially with the low-end Benwin speakers. On the other hand, 3D graphics take a huge hit with any integrated solution, and the Sensation 1600's is no exception. We can't recommend the 1600 for 3D gaming and, without an AGP slot, it will never be a gamer's delight. Regardless of these poor gaming prospects, integrated graphics chipsets like the Sensation 1600's typically rob some of the performance from a computer because they share the system's memory.

Application performance
The ABS Sensation 1600 might come with a budget price tag, but it delivers midrange-system application performance. While no speed demon, the Sensation should be powerful enough for most common office-productivity tasks. The 1.8GHz Celeron-based system's overall performance, however, is more akin to that of a 1.7GHz Celeron-based desktop. Because the Sensation's graphics engine is integrated into the motherboard chipset and utilizes system memory (typically referred to as unified memory architecture), the system's memory subsystem suffers a slight performance penalty. Still, as long as your computing needs aren't too demanding, the Sensation 1600's application performance will deliver the goods.
Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark2002 Rating  
SysMark2002 Internet Content Creation Rating  
SysMark2002 Office Productivity Rating  
ABS Sensation 1600 (1.8GHz Celeron)
Dell Dimension 4500S (1.7GHz Celeron)
Gateway 300X (1.7GHz P4)
Gateway Profile 4 (1.7GHz Celeron)
Sony VAIO PCV-RX730 (1.7GHz Celeron)
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
With a few exceptions, integrated graphics solutions typically don't provide the level of 3D graphics performance needed for games with demanding 3D graphics requirements. Unfortunately, the Sensation's integrated 845G/GL graphics engine is not one of the exceptions. If you consider yourself a gamer, the Sensation is not the right choice for you.
3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
MadOnion.com's 3DMark 2001 Pro (16-bit color)  
MadOnion.com's 3DMark 2001 Pro (32-bit color)  
ABS Sensation 1600 (1.8GHz Celeron)
Dell Dimension 4500S (1.7GHz Celeron)
Gateway 300X (1.7GHz P4)
Gateway Profile 4 (1.7GHz Celeron)
Sony VAIO PCV-RX730 (1.7GHz Celeron)
Note: The Dell Dimension 4500S was unable to complete the MadOnion.com's 3DMark 2001 Pro test, and the ABS Sensation 1600 was unable to complete the test at 16-bit color.
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses MadOnion.com's 3DMark 2001 Pro. 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  
ABS Sensation 1600 (1.8GHz Celeron)
Dell Dimension 4500S (1.7GHz Celeron)
Gateway 300X (1.7GHz P4)
Gateway Profile 4 (1.7GHz Celeron)
Sony VAIO PCV-RX730 (1.7GHz Celeron)
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:
ABS Sensation 1600
Windows XP Home; 1.8GHz Intel Celeron; 128MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Intel 845G/GL 32MB (shared memory); IBM IC35L040AVVA07 40GB 7,200rpm
Dell Dimension 4500S
Windows XP Home; 1.7GHz Intel Celeron; 128MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Intel 845G/GL 32MB (shared memory); Maxtor 6L020J1 20GB 7,200rpm
Gateway 300X
Windows XP Home; 1.7GHz Intel P4; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Intel 845G/GL 48MB (shared memory); Western Digital WD0400BB-53DEA0 40GB 7,200rpm
Gateway Profile 4
Windows XP Home; 1.7GHz Intel Celeron; 128MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce2 MX 400 32MB; Western Digital WD200EB-11CPF0 20GB 5,400rpm
Windows XP Home; 1.7GHz Intel Celeron; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Sis 650 32MB (shared memory); Maxtor 4D040H2 40GB 5,400rpm
Entry-level computers such as the Sensation 1600 typically attract those who are new to computing and need a higher level of help during the first few months as they become familiar with their system. Thankfully, ABS comes through with decent tech support. Although there isn't much in the way of sympathetic documentation provided--a generic user manual, a quick setup sheet, and a handful of technical documents for the supplied components round out the list--ABS does offer toll-free phone support available 24/7 during the first year that you own the system and on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. PT for the following two years.
The Sensation 1600's warranty sounds like a dream right from the outset: the first year is handled onsite. Be forewarned, however, that onsite service is available only at ABS's discretion. Typically, this means that you may never actually see a repairperson on your doorstep. If you end up sending the system back to ABS to be fixed during any of the three years of its parts warranty (labor is covered for the system's lifetime), ABS will pay shipping in one direction.
Normally, we recommend an extended warranty, but because the $129 cost of the two-year onsite extension is nearly 20 percent of the Sensation 1600's price, the system's potential for a long, useful lifetime doesn't justify the expense, in our opinion.

ABS Sensation series

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 6Support 7