ABS Ultimate X Striker Elite
We generally like ABS systems. Of the lesser-known vendors (we call them "third tiers"), we usually find ABS PCs built well, with strong bang for the buck. The ABS Ultimate X Striker Elite is no different, but you should be extra careful if you place an order. If you look at this system's Web page you'll see among its features some very neat-looking case lighting, with lit exterior-port labels, a built-in LCD for error messages, and other features. Too bad that's not what arrived in our lab. Instead, our $3,937 configuration looked a lot different. We still think it's a decent gaming PC, and it performed as expected given its new Intel quad-core CPU. ABS also says that it's redesigning its Web site to reflect all of the information and different parts available with this system. We have no reason to think that it won't follow through, but until the update happens, we suggest you proceed with caution if you place an order.
If some of the more cosmetic features of ABS's Ultimate X Striker Elite don't line up with what's on ABS's site yet, at least the core hardware is all present and accounted for. Intel's new 2.93GHz Core 2 Extreme QX6800 quad-core chip is the highlight here, making this a good system for high-end gaming or intense digital-media editing. It comes with Windows Vista Ultimate and, thankfully, 4GB of 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM and a single 768MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTX 3D card. Those two parts help its overall performance considerably.
For storage, a 10,000rpm 150GB Western Digital Raptor hard drive gives this system some fast drive access. We normally like to see more storage space in a $4,000 PC. Even if it isn't a full-on RAID setup, a second standalone hard drive for storage doesn't seem unreasonable to ask for, given the price.
Despite the fact that the ABS Ultimate X Striker Elite and its new quad-core chip don't dominate every benchmark test, its performance still ranks where it should. We can only compare this system to what we've tested before, which is why the other systems listed (with the exception of the Polywell Poly i680SLI) all have an Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 chip overclocked to 3.2GHz or (excluding the Gateway FX530XT) have Windows XP, which uses much less memory and overall CPU power than Windows Vista.
Those apparent disadvantages aside, the ABS makes a fair account of itself on CNET Labs benchmark tests. Its iTunes score led its category and is a good indicator that the combination of so much memory and a faster quad-core CPU will really benefit encoding times. And on F.E.A.R., a particularly tough, 3D-gaming test, you can see that even though the Gateway has an overclocked CPU, its relatively weak Radeon CrossFire X1950 XT is no match for the ABS with its single GeForce 8800 GTX card.
This brings us to the Ultimate X Striker Elite's case. On the ABS Web site, the current offering highlights internal and external lights for swapping hardware in the dark, an LCD screen that translates error messages, and other options. What the Web site doesn't tell you is that you only get those features if you order your system with the Asus Striker Extreme motherboard, which adds another $87 to your cost. In addition, ABS currently showcases two cases different from the Antec Nine Hundred we received. We actually like this Antec case. It comes with four system fans, including two on the front panel, but it also has room inside for a new, unlisted liquid cooling system. All of that cooling makes this system a bit loud, but it's nowhere near as noisy and bulky as the last ABS we reviewed. The case design also puts the expansion ports to the top, which are integrated into a molded plastic tray for holding spare screws, CDs, and other odds and ends.
In addition to an effective layout for cooling, we also like the design of this system as it relates to expansion, with one exception. The included Blu-ray burner drive (another plus, feature-wise) takes up one optical drive bay, but you also get room for another. The expansion slot and the spare memory slots are all easily accessible. Power supplies are also getting smaller, apparently, as the 1,100 watt Tagan model (which sits on the bottom of the system, rather than near the top), looks no different than a typical 400w or 600w PSU. That extra wattage will come in handy if you decide to add a second GeForce 8800 GTX card. Our only beef is with the hard-drive cage. It has plenty of room for more drives, but it faces in, meaning you'll likely have to remove other hardware to swap drives in and out. Outward-facing drive cages are much preferable.
However powerful its PCs, ABS still has some catching up to do on its support side. The standard warranty includes parts-and-labor coverage for one year. That feels short for a PC that's more than $3,500. You can extend the length of the coverage and add on-site service for additional fees. Phone support is available from from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. PT, Monday through Friday, and on Saturday and Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., which if not 24-7, should suffice. On the ABS Web site, you'll find some information and drivers, but it could definitely use some more attention.
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(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)