When you pony up major bucks for a top-of-the-line PC, you expect nothing but the best: premium parts, uncompromising service, and pack-leading performance. The Hypersonic Cyclone hits two out of three, serving up Cartier-class components and an enviable warranty-and-support policy but curiously uneven benchmark scores. Indeed, the Cyclone lives up to its name when it comes to games and graphics, but its application performance didn't meet the expectations we had for the Athlon XP 3000+, AMD's fastest CPU to date. Still, this power user's boutique PC is easy on the eyes, with a custom paint job that rivals those we've seen recently on high-end gaming rigs from Falcon Northwest and Voodoo, and it should keep you computing happily for years to come--assuming you survive the sticker shock.
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|Custom-painted case, keyboard, and mouse.|
From one angle, the Hypersonic Cyclone's custom-painted Cooler Master case appears a dark metallic green. At another angle (that from which our photographer shot these images), it appears a dark metallic purple. Walk past it, and it blinks from one color to the other. To call this system attractive is an understatement, especially when you consider the matching Logitech keyboard and mouse. The Sony monitor's gray bezel would seem out of place if it were not for the keyboard's matching gray accents.
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|Media card slots up front, USB and legacy ports in back.|
The graphic card's huge fan blocks a PCI slot.
We're not sure why, but you must remove a total of five thumbscrews just to unlock the tower's side panel. Once inside, you'll find an organized and spacious interior. The cables are routed and tied in such a way that you can easily reach everything, including the numerous open drive bays, the single available memory socket, and the lone unoccupied PCI slot. There's actually a second free PCI slot, too, but it's blocked by the video card's oversized fan assembly.
The GeForce FX 5800 Ultra is big, fast, and loud.
There's an equal embarrassment of riches outside the system, including a Sony DRU-500A DVD burner (itself a CNET Editors' Choice burner), and Klipsch ProMedia 5.1 speakers--the latter paired with Creative's flagship sound card, the Audigy 2.0, to provide PC audio that simply doesn't get any better. PDA and digital-camera users will particularly appreciate the universal media drive on the front panel, which provides slots for CompactFlash, Memory Stick, Secure Digital/MMC, and SmartMedia cards. And DV camera owners will make use of the card reader's inclusion of a four-pin FireWire port.
Our sole hardware reservation is the mammoth, 21-inch Sony CDP-G520P CRT monitor, which not only consumes significant desk space but also seems an odd match for a system of this type. It's a business-minded monitor intended for the likes of CAD users, not gamers and video buffs. What's more, image quality proved surprisingly poor for a Sony tube, with washed-out color and text that looked bleary regardless of the resolution or refresh rate. If you're considering this system, consider a different monitor. Thankfully, Hypersonic offers a good mix of both CRTs and LCDs via its online system configurator.
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|The two hard drives add up to 360GB of storage.|
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|We aren't sold on this Sony CRT.|
But keep the keyboard. It's a Logitech Elite, notable not only for its stellar layout and comprehensive multimedia features but also for its built-in wheel for mouse-less scrolling. The only option that's better is Logitech's wireless version, the Cordless Elite, which is the one, given the Cyclone's price, we feel should have been included.
If you saw the software bundle that accompanied our test system, it would be obvious to you that the Cyclone is a gaming PC. There was nothing in the way of a productivity suite, although both Corel and Microsoft Office suites are available as added-cost options. Instead, we found some fairly current (and violent) games, including Hitman 2 and Soldier of Fortune II. The optical drives ship with corresponding apps, including Roxio Easy CD & DVD Creator, CyberLink PowerDVD, Sonic MyDVD, and ArcSoft ShowBiz video-editing software.
The Hypersonic Cyclone is among the first Athlon XP 3000+ processor-based systems we've tested. (The 3000+ represents AMD's latest and greatest generation of desktop processor, code-named Barton.) Even though the clock speed of the 3000+ (2.167GHz) is identical to that of the currently shipping 2700+, the newer design increases the L2 cache from 256K to 512K, which boosts performance.
The Cyclone performed rather well and, if it weren't for its disappointing application performance, it would be right up there with the best-performing systems we've tested. The application performance is puzzlingly low, however; it's similar to what we've seen with 2.66GHz P4-based systems. We expected the Cyclone to compare with a similarly configured Voodoo F-Class F510 AMD Custom system, but the Voodoo is approximately 11 percent faster. Other than the application performance, however, the Cyclone compared quite favorably with other Barton systems overall.
Application performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark2002, 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 Cyclone is one of the first systems to come into our Labs with the long-awaited and hard-to-come-by Nvidia FX 5800 Ultra graphics card. The new FX graphics engine was supposed to beat the pants off of the ATI Radeon 9700 Pro, but this does not appear to be the case. The FX card barely bests the 9700 Pro and does not provide runaway performance. The FX card and the drivers that we tested were still beta products, so it is possible that the release version of the card and later drivers might boost the performance. In the meantime, any recent game on the market should play beautifully on this system.
3D graphics performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Pro Second Edition, Build 330. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8 (DX8) interface at both 16- and 32-bit color settings at a resolution of 1,024x768. A system that does not have DX8 hardware support will typically generate a lower score than one that has DX8 hardware support.
3D gaming performance in FPS (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Quake III Arena. Although Quake III is an older game, it is still widely used as an industry-standard tool. Quake III does not require DX8 hardware support--as 3DMark2001 does--and is therefore an excellent means of comparing the performance of low- to high-end graphics subsystems. Quake III performance is reported in frames per second (fps).
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Windows XP Professional, 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra 128MB; two IBM/Hitachi IC35L180AVV07 180GB 7,200rpm; Promise FastTrak TX2/TX4 controller
Motherboard Express Glacier P50
Windows XP Professional; 3.06GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce Ti 4200 128MB; Western Digital WD800JB-00CRA1 80GB 7,200rpm; integrated Promise FastTrack 376 RAID controller
Polywell Poly 880NF2-3000
Windows XP Home, 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB; two Western Digital WD800JB-00CRA1 80GB 7,200rpm; HPT372A ATA/133 RAID controller
Voodoo F-Class F510 AMD Custom
Windows XP Professional, 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 3000+; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra 128MB; two Seagate ST312002 120GB 7,200pm; Promise FastTrak TX4000/S150 Serial ATA controller
ZT Group Gamer Desktop Z1129
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4600 128MB; Seagate ST312002 120GB 7,200rpm; Silicon Image SiI 3112 SATALink Serial ATA controller
For a high-end system such as the Hypersonic Cyclone, we expected the standard warranty to last for three years, but only a two-year warranty is included in the price of our Cyclone test system. You can upgrade to a three-year plan for an added cost. Fortunately, the warranty includes not only parts and labor, but also onsite service for the United States and major cities in Canada and Mexico. Hypersonic also pays the shipping both ways for replacement parts and provides 24/7, toll-free phone support (for the configuration we tested, the standard support hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET, which will connect you to an internal Hypersonic support tech). After hours, you must call a different toll-free number to connect to support provided by third-party 2Net.
Hypersonic's Premiere Upgrade Program is another added-cost option. It provides you with a full-service trade-in option should you outgrow your system's components. Do-it-yourself types will most likely forsake this option, but those who are afraid to tinker can send the system back to Hypersonic and let its technicians supply the elbow grease. You will have to pay for shipping and a small fee for labor.
Hypersonic's site has an e-mail help-request form and an FTP server for downloading drivers but no FAQ page. The Cyclone's printed documentation consists of miscellaneous component manuals and a binder containing detailed but incomplete setup and support information.