Evesham is usually expeditious in selling PCs with the latest technology, and it has demonstrated its swiftness once again in releasing the Vista-equipped Solar Storm, which you can buy for £999. This might seem like a big wodge to shell out for a PC nowadays, but you get what you pay for, including a gorgeous 20-inch widescreen monitor, capacious storage and strong multimedia capabilities, which gives it the edge on the budget boxes you find on the high street.
With a name like Solar Storm, you might expect Evesham's first Vista machine to look fairly special, but it's nothing to write home about. It's predominantly black with a smattering of silver, which does it few favours -- it looks pretty much the same as the majority of desktop PCs being sold today.
There's a small flap at the bottom of the chassis that hides a pair of USB ports, a six-pin FireWire port and a couple of audio (mic-in and line-in) jacks. These are a nice addition, but we'd prefer it if the ports were mounted higher up the case, where they'd be more accessible to people who place the PC under a desk.
A DVD-ROM drive and separate DVD rewriter inhabit the drive bays at the top of the front panel. This gives you the ability to burn data from one disc directly to another, which comes in particularly handy for copying audio CDs.
There's much more going on at the rear of the case than there is at the front. There are six separate audio jacks for connecting a set of speakers as well as parallel and serial ports, four USB ports, a six-pin FireWire port, two PS/2 ports for a mouse and keyboard, plus an external serial ATA port. All the ports and their surrounding areas are colour coded, so you shouldn't have difficulty marrying the right cable to the right hole.
The internal layout of the case is fairly typical. The cables look a little messy, but they're all secured with cable ties and are, for the most part, out of the way. The one unusual object inside is a green funnel, which is attached to the side panel. This is positioned just above the CPU fan and is supposed to help direct air straight through the side vent. We're sceptical about how beneficial this is to the PC's cooling system, but its presence isn't hurting anyone.
The driving force behind the Solar Storm is a 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T6400 CPU. This is joined by a pair of 512MB DDR2 667MHz DIMMs atop a Foxconn P9657AA-8EKRS2H motherboard. Also inside is a slightly better-than-average Nvidia GeForce 7900GS graphics card with 256MB of dedicated memory. All in all it's a slightly above-average specification that's only hindered by the fact its RAM only just meets the minimum requirements for a Vista Premium Ready PC.
Thankfully it's easy to add more RAM. There are two unoccupied slots on the motherboard, and since it's a Vista machine you can use a spare USB key as extra memory, thanks to the excellent ReadyBoost feature.
The PC's upgradeability in other areas is a mixed bag. There's plenty of space inside for installing new drives: three empty 3.5-inch bays and two empty 5.25-inch drive bays for adding extra hard drives and optical drives respectively, but there are no spare molex power connectors from the power supply unit (PSU). It only provides a feeble 350W of power, which is great for helping to avert global warming, but rubbish if you intend to add lots of new components.
The remainder of the Solar Storm's components reiterate its do-it-all intentions. There's a 320GB Western Digital hard drive that provides ample room for around 300 hours of video, (you get a dual-layer DVD rewriter for backups), and there's a hybrid analogue/digital TV tuner card, which will let you watch one digital or analogue channel while you record another.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Solar Storm is its use of Windows Vista Home Premium edition. This version of the operating system includes the Media Center interface, which gives you easy access to video, audio, images and TV shows. Usefully, Evesham has provided a couple of infrared blaster cables, which you can use to control your existing set-top-boxes via the bundled Media Center remote control, or the accompanying wireless keyboard and mouse.
But our favourite part of the Solar Storm bundle is the Viewsonic VG2030wm monitor. It's a widescreen 20-inch model with a native resolution of 1,680x1,050 pixels. Not only does it have very good picture quality, its widescreen aspect ratio lets you work with two document windows side by side, and it's also ideal for gaming, since many forthcoming Vista games will run in widescreen by design. We also like the fact that its height is adjustable and the circular base allows easy left-to-right swivelling.
Unfortunately, the PC's audio capabilities aren't particularly good. You get a set of Creative I-Trigue 3220 speakers, which consists of two stereo speakers and a subwoofer, but their sound quality is average at best and they don't take advantage of the PC's surround-sound capabilities.
The Solar Storm turned in a fairly solid performance. It achieved 5,928 in PCMark 2005, which is in line with what we expected from a machine of its specification. It's quicker than the Hi-Grade DMS Xtc2_02 Media Center machine, which has a slightly slower processor.
In gaming tests, the Solar Storm performed well. We set F.E.A.R. to our default test resolution of 1,024x768 pixels and cranked the detail levels up as high as we could, barring the full-screen anti-aliasing feature -- it ran at an impressive 46 frames per second. In 3DMark 2006 it scored 3,804, which is a solid score.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide