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ABS Ultimate M5 Vortex review: ABS Ultimate M5 Vortex

It has an innovative case (with the power button on top) and some fancy THX-certified speakers, but ABS misjudged the M5 Vortex's core configuration, which cost the system in our performance tests. You can easily rectify that oversight by changing the configuration, but the bigger sin here is that the M5 Vortex offers no SLI upgrade path.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
5 min read
ABS Ultimate M5 Vortex

Judging by its components, the ABS Ultimate M5 Vortex should be one of the fastest systems in its class. It features a dual-core AMD processor, a whopping 2GB of RAM, and a high-end graphics card. So why on almost every performance test do its scores trail those of similarly priced gaming systems? Most likely because the graphics card is last year's state-of-the-art model. Fortunately, the Vortex is still plenty fast and comes with a cool case, killer speakers, and even a couple of games. Had ABS put more of our review unit's $1,999 price toward better graphics at the expense of the memory allotment or the speaker set, the M5 Vortex would have turned in a better showing in CNET Labs' tests. We still don't recommend this system, however, because it lacks a dual-graphics-card upgrade path--a feature every other system in our sub-$2,000 gaming roundup provides.


ABS Ultimate M5 Vortex

The Good

Unique case; excellent speakers; comes with Microsoft Works productivity suite and three games, including Half-Life 2.

The Bad

Noisy; below-average performance; no SLI option; last year's graphics card.

The Bottom Line

The ABS Ultimate M5 Vortex impresses with its THX speakers and overall design, but its performance and upgradability trail that of competing systems.

The black ABS Stealth tower stands tall and deep, measuring 18.2 inches high, 8.8 inches wide, and 21.2 inches deep. Its hinged art-deco front door, constructed of three tiered pieces of thick metal, opens to reveal a grille-covered bezel. It's not the prettiest tower we've seen, but it definitely has a unique, imposing look. Meanwhile, the power and reset buttons sit on top of the case, so they're accessible even when the door is closed. Also on top: two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, and headphone and microphone jacks, all hidden under a small pop-up panel. The buttons and ports on top of the case are handy unless the tower resides beneath a desk; the panel is set pretty far back from the tower's front.

With its five internal fans, the ABS Ultimate M5 Vortex makes more than its fair share of noise. On the plus side, it has oodles of space on the inside for whatever upgrades you care to add. Make that most upgrades: the Asus A8N-E motherboard has no slot for a second graphics card, so upgrading to an SLI configuration isn't an option. Having only one 16X PCI Express slot is a significant failing for this or any gaming PC; with prices on SLI-capable motherboards falling, we can't understand why ABS wouldn't include one.

Even so, you should have no problem playing today's games in all their graphical glory. ABS stocked the Vortex with an Nvidia GeForce 6800 GT graphics card, which, while no longer the fastest card available, still runs most games at an impressive clip. Even its below-average Half-Life 2 test scores clocked 86 and 48 frames per second (fps) at 1,024x768 and 1,600x1,200, respectively. That's more than sufficient for smooth action. Still, if you want a gaming system that's more than just acceptable, you need only look at the Velocity Micro Gamer's Edge DualX and its 96/75fps scores on Half-Life 2 to see what a system with a more modern graphics card can do.

In addition to its impressive AMD Athlon 64 3800+ dual-core processor and 2GB of PC3200 SDRAM, the Vortex hosts a 200GB 7,200rpm hard drive, a double-layer NEC DVD burner, and an onboard Realtek ALC850 eight-channel audio processor, which includes an optical output. The bundled Logitech Z-2300 2.1-channel speakers aren't digital, but they do pump out 200 watts of THX-certified sound. Much as we loved these premium speakers, it's worth noting that by substituting the less expensive (but still decent) Logitech X-230, you could use the savings to upgrade to an XFX GeForce 7800 GT card.

Whatever graphics card you end up with, you'll be pleased with the accompanying Acer AL1711FB monitor. This 17-inch analog LCD delivers an extremely bright picture, crisp images, and a fast 12ms response time. Our only complaint was with its need to repeatedly autoconfigure (and display an onscreen message to that effect) whenever we switched resolutions. Games tend to require a lot of that. Fortunately, ABS offers a variety of display options.

Unlike most gaming systems we see, the ABS Ultimate M5 Vortex includes some actual games in the box. ABS bundles the real-time strategy classic Rise of Nations, the disappointing first-person shooter Bet on Soldier, and the incomparable Half-Life 2 (which you download via the online Steam service using a provided coupon code). The Vortex also comes with Microsoft Works Suite 2005--a worthwhile inclusion. Alas, antivirus software is nowhere to be found, nor can you configure any when you purchase your system.

ABS's warranty and support offerings are more generous than most. The standard warranty covers parts and labor for one year, but you also get toll-free, 24/7 tech support and onsite service via 2Net, a third-party company. Technically, tech support expires with the warranty, but an ABS rep told us that customers can still get live help after the year is up. The company also provides extensive online resources, including a staffed message forum and real-time chat.

Application performance
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo's SysMark 2004 rating  
SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating  
SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating  

Half-Life 2 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Half-Life 2 custom demo  
* Indicates graphics and CPU are overclocked

Doom 3 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Doom 3 custom demo  
* Indicates graphics and CPU are overclocked

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:
ABS Ultimate M5 Vortex
Windows XP Home SP2; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 3800+; Nvidia Nforce-4 chipset; 2,048MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 GT (PCIe); Seagate ST3200826AS 200GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Alienware Aurora 3500
Windows XP Home SP2; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 3800+; Nvidia Nforce-4 SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GT (PCIe); Samsung HD160JJ 160GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Maingear Prelude 64
Windows XP Home SP2; 2.0GHz AMD Athlon 64 3200+; Nvidia Nforce-4 SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 GS (PCIe SLI); two WDC WD2500KS-00MJB0 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Nvidia Nforce-4 RAID class controller (RAID 0)
Velocity Micro Gamer's Edge DualX (Athlon 64 3700+)
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 3700+; Nvidia Nforce-4 SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GT (PCIe); WDC WD2000JB-00GVC0 200GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA


ABS Ultimate M5 Vortex

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 7Performance 5Support 7