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The latest entry in ABS's high-end gaming PC line, the Ultimate M6 Sniper combines the top-of-the-line AMD Athlon 64 FX-60 CPU with two speedy 256MB GeForce 7800 GTX graphics cards running in an SLI configuration. While the $4,799 Sniper doesn't keep pace with the recently reviewed Falcon Northwest Mach V or Velocity Micro Raptor 64 Dual FX--both of which overclock their FX-60 CPUs and include dual 512MB GeForce 7800 GTX cards--it's still a respectably speedy PC, and it didn't exhibit any of the stability issues we encountered with those higher-end PCs. Although it's expensive for most of us, thanks to its monitor and the fact that it's more than $1,000 less expensive than other systems in its class, the Ultimate M6 Sniper is actually a pretty good deal.
The ABS Ultimate M6 Sniper is available in one of three cases; our review unit arrived in ABS's own black Stealth case. An imposing black tower, it has a monolithic look that should satisfy gamers, but it lacks the windows, glowing LEDs, and other garish appointments that would make it look out of place in a more professional environment. Its heavy, hinged metal door opens to reveal a grille-covered bezel, with a subtly blue-lit cooling fan at the bottom and plenty of drive bays above it. The top-mounted power and reset buttons are conveniently placed if you put the tower on the floor. Unfortunately, ABS has substituted an additional cooling fan for the pop-up panel on the case top that normally hides USB 2.0, FireWire, and audio ports on other Stealth-equipped models. Thus, you'll have to reach around the back of the computer to connect your peripheral devices.
Our unit was equipped with a Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Elite Pro sound card, which includes a large external breakout box that features easy-access microphone, headphone, line-in, digital in/out, and MIDI connectors. On the back panel, you'll find six USB 2.0 ports, a pair of FireWire connectors, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and a connector for an external Serial ATA drive.
The Ultimate M6 Sniper has room for four external 5.25-inch drives, two of which were occupied by an NEC double-layer DVD burner and a Sony DVD-ROM drive on our test system. One of the two external 3.5-inch bays contains a floppy/multicard-reader combo drive. Though our M6 Sniper was equipped with three hard drives, there was still room to add a pair of 3.5-inch drives and two more 5.25-inch drives.
There's not much room for expandability on the motherboard; only a single x4 PCI Express slot remains accessible. The other slots are occupied or blocked by the dual EVGA 256MB e-GeForce 7800 GTX graphics cards, the X-Fi sound card, and USB/FireWire port daughter cards. The 2GB of RAM in our unit occupied all four memory sockets, but ABS offers multiple memory configurations, including a more space efficient 2x1GB stick arrangement that will free up more slots if you wanted to upgrade to 4GB later on. The case interior was well organized, with the cables neatly routed and tied down for maximum airflow.
With four case fans and two more in the power supply, the Ultimate M6 Sniper offers plenty of cooling for its high-end processor and dual graphics cards. All of those fans, however, make for a fairly noisy computer. We also don't like its prospects for an after-market upgrade to a pair of 512MB graphics cards due to its relatively weak power supply. Vendors selling similar systems offer 650-, 800-, and even 1,000-watt power supplies to accommodate the mix of high-end parts. ABS offers only a 535- and a 550-watt power supply for its Ultimate M6 Sniper systems, which is unsuitable for a pair of top-end graphics cards (and presumably why there's no option for a pair of 512MB GeForce 7800 GTX cards).
The ABS Ultimate M6 Sniper is powered by AMD's top-of-the line dual-core Athlon 64 FX-60 processor. Unlike the FX-60 systems from Falcon Northwest and Velocity Micro, ABS runs the CPU at its standard 2.6GHz clock speed. Similarly, its two 256MB GeForce 7800 GTX cards run at the stock 490MHz core speed and 1.3GHz memory speed. These parts are mounted on a high-end Asus A8N32-SLI motherboard, which provides full x16 bandwidth to both graphics cards in SLI mode--an important feature for high-end 3D gaming.
The system also comes with a pair of 74GB, 10,000rpm Western Digital Raptor hard drives configured as a RAID 0 array for maximum performance. In addition, you get a massive 500GB, 7,200rpm Seagate Barracuda. We're surprised to see that ABS hasn't added the new 150GB Raptors as a configuration option since other high-end PC vendors have already. Still, we imagine it's only a matter of time before those drives become standard in systems of this caliber.
Our test system lacked speakers, but the Creative X-Fi card is well equipped to drive crystal-clear sound through the high-end speakers of your choice. We found that the card's CMSS-3D virtual 3D sound worked surprisingly well in games, even with a pair of inexpensive Sennheiser headphones.
The bundled 19-inch Samsung SyncMaster 915n monitor is plenty fast for gaming, with an 8ms response rate, and it provides a bright, sharp picture despite its analog connection. But the graphics horsepower in the M6 Sniper cries out for support of higher resolutions than this monitor's peak of 1,280x1,024. As with most of the M6 Sniper's components, you can opt for a higher-resolution monitor when configuring your system.
We appreciated the lack of wires on the included Logitech Internet Pro keyboard and mouse, but gamers will want to opt for one of the more precise mouse options that ABS offers, among them the Razer Copperhead and the Logitech G5 Laser Mouse.
The M6 Sniper ships with Windows XP Pro, though you can opt to save a few bucks and choose XP Home instead. Bundled software includes Microsoft Works Suite 2005, which includes Microsoft Word, as well as EliteSuite, a bundle of dated productivity applications such as Quicken 2003, McAfee VirusScan 2004, and Ulead PhotoImpact 8. ABS also bundles a few games, which will vary. At the time of this writing, the titles included Microsoft's Rise of Nations, Flight Simulator 2004, and Age of Empires III.
Even though its CPU was running at the stock 2.6GHz clock speed, the ABS M6 Sniper turned in impressive results on our SysMark 2004 tests. Its score of 292 lagged behind the overclocked Falcon Northwest Mach V's 306 rating but beat the overclocked 2.9GHz Velocity Micro Raptor 64 Dual X. This is likely due in part to its use of speedy 10,000rpm hard drives; the Velocity Micro system uses 7,200rpm drives.
|BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating||SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating||SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating|
Gaming performance, on the other hand, was notably slower than on the Falcon Northwest and Velocity Micro FX-60 systems, which offer added performance from both overclocking and their use of the 512MB version of the GeForce 7800 GTX cards. The M6 Sniper's 79.1 frame rates in Half-Life 2 at 1,600x1,200 resolution are impressive from a gameplay perspective, but they pale in comparison to the 109.1 and 106.1 frames per second from the Falcon Northwest and Velocity Micro systems, respectively.
|Doom 3 1,600x1,200 4XAA 8XAF||Doom 3 1,024x768, 4XAA 8XAF||Half-Life 2 1,600x1,200 4XAA 8XAF||Half-Life 2 1,024x768 4XAA 8XAF|
Pure performance, however, is only part of the story. While the M6 Sniper can't match those FX-60 systems in gaming benchmarks, we ran into none of the power supply-related stability issues that we encountered with the overclocked FX-60 systems. The only game we encountered any issues with was F.E.A.R., which required us to disable SLI support in the Nvidia drivers. However, F.E.A.R. often has problems on systems using SLI.
If you're willing to sacrifice bragging rights for the peace of mind of system stability, the M6 Sniper has plenty of horsepower for the most demanding games and applications, even if it's not the top performer. It'll still run any of today's games at reasonable resolutions, most importantly at the included LCD's 1,200x1,024. Only gamers with larger displays will really need something more.
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ABS Ultimate M6 Sniper
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.6GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-60; Nvidia Nforce4 SLI X16 chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GTX (SLI); two Western Digital WD946D 74GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA, one Seagate 500GB Serial ATA; integrated Nvidia Nforce4 Serial ATA RAID Controller (RAID 0)
Falcon Northwest Mach V (AMD Athlon 64 FX-60)
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.9GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-60; Nvidia Nforce 4 SLI X16 chipset; 2,048MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7800GTX (SLI); two Maxtor 68300S0 300GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA 150; integrated Nvidia Nforce 4 RAID class controller (RAID 0)
Maingear F131 SLI-AMD
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+; Nvidia Nforce 4 SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800GTX (SLI); two 74GB Western Digital Raptor 10,000 RPM SATA; one Maxtor 300GB 7,200rpm SATA
OverDrive PC Torque SLI
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.8GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-57; Nvidia Nforce 4 SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800GTX (PCIe SLI); two WDC WD740GD-00FLA2 74GB 10,000rpm SATA; one Seagate ST3200826AS, 200GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Nvidia Nforce RAID class controller (RAID 0)
Velocity Micro Gamer's Edge Dual X (AMD Athlon 64 FX-60)
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.9GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-60; Nvidia Nforce 4 SLI x16 chipset; 2,048MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7800GTX (PCIe); two Hitachi 500GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Nvidia Nforce 4 Serial ATA RAID controller (RAID 0)
Given the ABS Ultimate M6 Sniper's price, we expected a longer standard warranty than one year of parts-and-labor coverage. The problem is that ABS offers no extended warranty options, so one year is all the coverage you can get. It also throws in one year of onsite coverage and 24/7 tech support from third-party-provided 2Net, so at least the single year of coverage is robust. Online help is only adequate, too: the ABS Web site provides a user discussion forum, a driver database, and a searchable technical knowledge base. The M6 Sniper comes with a well-organized binder with restore discs and component-specific manuals, though the system user manual is generic.