Cyberpower Gamer Ultra 8500 SE review: Cyberpower Gamer Ultra 8500 SE

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The Good Excellent performance vs. cost via the new Athlon 64 3000+ CPU; tricked-out case; wide array of customization options; easy upgradability; lengthy warranty.

The Bad No PCI sound card; sluggish keyboard and mouse; fuzzy monitor at higher resolutions.

The Bottom Line With a price you'll like, the Cyberpower Gamer Ultra 8500 SE is an outstanding choice for students, home users, and middle-of-the-road gamers.

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7.8 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Support 8

Review summary

On top of the colorfully lit case and the attractive black hardware, the Cyberpower Gamer Ultra 8500 SE isn't just a hollow showpiece. Populated by a host of potent parts, the newest of which is AMD's Athlon 64 3000+ processor, the system can handle almost any job, and it does it with style. Serious gamers will want a crisper monitor and a more responsive keyboard and mouse, but for less than $1,200, the Gamer Ultra 8500 SE is a powerful, versatile mainstream gaming system, as well as a well-stocked starting platform for those interested in upgrading.

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A sound-activated interior neon light adds atmosphere.

Geared toward gamers on a budget and college students who crave power, the Cyberpower Gamer Ultra 8500 SE delivers both performance and customized style. The black-metal case and the Plexiglas side panel are complemented by six bright-blue, front-panel lights, a side-panel fan equipped with four different-colored lights, and an interior neon strip with three sound-sensitivity settings. The cumulative effect is more like being inside the glowing interior of a submarine than sitting in front of a PC. And using Cyberpower's online configuration tool, you can even choose the colors of the glow in which you'll bask.

Cooling won't be a problem with four case fans (two rear, one side, and one dorsal) and a front-panel LED CPU-temperature indicator, a nifty addition. In a nod to convenience, the front is home to two USB 2.0 ports, audio input and output jacks, and a six-in-one media-card reader. In a surprisingly amateur move, though not a deal-killer, an RCA cable runs from the audio jacks on the back of the system back into and through the PC in order to power the front-mounted audio ports.

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The internal-temperature LED provides early warning in case of overheating.
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The external cable connecting the rear audio jacks to those on the front is a sloppy solution.

Cyberpower leaves plenty of room for upgrading, however, with two of the four 5.25-inch bays free and four free PCI slots, although one is occluded by the graphics card, whose fan spills over from the AGP slot. A fifth PCI slot is occupied by a Creative 56K modem. If 120GB just isn't enough storage space, three 3.5-inch bays are free for future hard drives, and the out-of-the-way cabling ensures that installing new drives will be painless. The case interior is conveniently accessible with thumbscrews, but you'll require a screwdriver for the drive bays and the PCI mounts.

For a system that costs roughly $1,200, the Cyberpower Gamer Ultra 8500 SE hosts an impressive hardware lineup. The key piece responsible for this is AMD's Athlon 64 3000+, a significantly cheaper version of the 64-bit 3200+ processor. Complementing the 3000+ is the system's 1GB of 400MHz DDR SDRAM, a 7,200rpm Seagate 120GB Serial ATA hard drive, and a blazing Nvidia 128MB GeForce FX 5900 graphics card. Compared with the 2.8GHz Gateway 700X Gaming PC that we tested recently, the Gamer Ultra 8500 SE serves up similar performance. The Athlon 64 3000+ costs slightly more than the 2.8GHz Pentium 4 when you look at the average street price of both CPUs, but AMD's chip gives you the bonus of running the 64-bit apps we expect to start seeing this year.

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A world of drive bays just begging to be filled.
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Even though two 5.25-inch slots are taken, you still have two to spare.

We had nary a complaint about the internal components, but that doesn't mean we didn't take issue with some of the peripherals that Cyberpower bundled with our test system. The ViewSonic G90fb, a capable 19-inch CRT, performs adequately at standard resolutions but drops in image quality above 1,280x1,024. It's a stylish addition, but it does not complement the robust performance of the rest of the system. We also found the generic black wireless Internet keyboard and ball mouse disappointing. Keystrokes tended to lag or were even ignored at times; this misregistration was especially noticeable with fast typing. Both the keyboard and the mouse must be positioned precisely, or they will refuse to function, rendering irrelevant the best features of a wireless interface. Fortunately, several better options are available via Cyberpower's online configurator, such as the Logitech Cordless MX Duo mouse and keyboard, a $99 upgrade.

No PCI sound card was included in this configuration, instead forcing the Creative SBS 5.1 560 speakers to run off the integrated audio controller. This, too, can be remedied when configuring your system online, though it will cost you around $30 for a Creative SoundBlaster Live Value card.

Bundled software includes a demo version of Ahead Nero CD-burning software and CyberLink PowerDVD, giving you some immediate use out of the 16X DVD-ROM and the speedy 52X CD-RW. Our test system came with Microsoft Windows XP Home and Microsoft Works 2004, but Cyberpower provides a choice of Microsoft OSs as well as applications such as multiple versions of Microsoft Office 2003, Norton AntiVirus 2002, and a few slightly dated Microsoft games--an adequate bundle for the price.

Application performance
The Cyberpower Gamer Ultra 8500 SE is the first system we've tested that uses AMD's Athlon 64 3000+, a mainstream 64-bit CPU released with little fanfare at the end of 2003. The budget-oriented 3000+ runs at the same clock speed as the 3200+ (2GHz) but has only 512MB of L2 cache, as opposed to the 1,024MB found on the 3200+. Due to this difference, we expected to see lower performance in the 3000+-based system when we compared it to a PC equipped with a 3200+ CPU, and the results were what we expected. The SysMark 2002 score of 214 posted by the Cyberpower Gamer Ultra 8500 SE was 17 percent slower than the 257 score of the Vicious PC Assassin SE, which uses the Athlon 64 3200+. Although the 3000+ represents the lowest end of AMD's 64-bit processor line, it does compare favorably to Intel's 2.8CGHz Pentium 4 processor and its system's SysMark score. It is also important to note that while our tests consist of 32-bit applications, Athlon 64 processors will be capable of running 64-bit software when it is released later this year, an ability that Intel's current chips do not offer.

Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark 2002 rating  
SysMark 2002 Internet-content-creation rating  
SysMark 2002 office-productivity rating  
Compaq X09 Gaming PC (3.2GHz Intel P4, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Polywell Poly 900VF (2.2GHz, AMD Athlon 64 3400+, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Vicious PC Assassin SE (2GHz, AMD Athlon 3200+, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Cyberpower Gamer Ultra 8500 SE (2GHz, AMD Athlon 3000+, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Gateway 700XL Gaming PC (2.8GHz, Intel Pentium 4, 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)

To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2002, 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
The Gamer Ultra comes equipped with a GeForce FX 5900 graphics card, accompanied by 128MB of RAM. While its performance is not equal to that of a higher-end 256MB GeForce FX 5950 Ultra-based card, the FX 5900 posted more than adequate results, including 195.3 frames per second on Unreal Tournament 2003. This is easily enough power to play today's games, and it leaves the system well prepared for games down the road.

3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Futuremark's 3DMark03 v330 1,600x1,200 4X antialiasing 4X anisotropic filtering  
Compaq X09 Gaming PC (Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra)
Gateway 700XL Gaming PC (Nvidia GeForce FX 5900 Ultra
Vicious PC Assassin SE (ATI Radeon 9800XT)
Polywell Poly 900VF (Nvidia GeForce FX 5900)
Cyberpower Gamer Ultra 8500 SE (Nvidia GeForce FX 5900)

Note: 3DMark03 v330 results may be artificially inflated because of driver optimizations.