Like many systems we've seen recently from small vendors, iBuyPower's Gamer Force-2 offers top-notch hardware at an eminently reasonable price but skimps on service and support. iBuyPower's parade of high-end components include your choice of five Athlon XP processors (our evaluation unit arrived with an Athlon XP 2700+), 512MB of DDR memory, the GeForce4 Ti 4200 graphics card, and a motherboard based on Nvidia's new nForce2 platform. Indeed, the system provides enough muscle for its intended audience--budget-minded gamers--but it falls short of the likes of the ABS Ultimate M4. Nor does the Gamer Force-2's lackluster service and support make it a good system for novices--unless they have a helpful geek living next door.
|Eight, count 'em, eight drive bays.|
From its silver keyboard and mouse to its brushed-aluminum case with side window, the Gamer Force-2 is slick-looking. It's easy to get into, too: just pull a thin piece of aluminum trim off the front facade to expose the side panel's thumbscrews. In an unusual design choice, the case has an astounding eight 5.25-inch drive bays and no 3.5-inch bays. (You'll need mounting adapters for 3.5-inch drives.)
|FireWire and USB ports live only in back.|
With five free bays, our test system had plenty of room for expansion. Look past the multitude of drive bays inside the case, and you'll find a blue-neon light tube that shines through the window on the side panel and responds to system sounds, which begs you to shut off the lights and just work in the rhythmic glow.
You'll find four free PCI slots below the Ti 4200 graphics card.
Unfortunately, none of the Gamer Force-2's five USB 2.0 ports and one FireWire port are front-mounted, so you'll have to grope around the back of the machine to hook up peripherals. There is, however, an integrated Ethernet connection--a welcome inclusion for those with cable or DSL modems.
At the heart of the iBuyPower Gamer Force-2 lies an Athlon XP 2700+ processor and an Nvidia nForce2-based motherboard. The GeForce4 T1 4200 graphics card is a good choice for a budget gaming system, delivering the oomph that gamers need without the high premium of today's speediest cards. But if you think you'll need a little extra graphics muscle to vanquish those aliens, iBuyPower offers GeForce4 Ti 4600 and ATI Radeon 9700 Pro graphics cards as upgrade options.
Filling three of the Gamer Force-2's eight available 5.25-inch bays are a 16X DVD drive, a 48X/16X/48X CD-RW drive, and an 80GB hard drive. iBuyPower claimed to have included an 80GB drive with an 8MB buffer in our test system, but we found an 80GB drive inside with only a 2MB buffer. This difference will affect performance, especially if you're dealing with large files such as video clips. The mistake also indicates some quality-control issues at the company.
Watch DVDs; burn CDs.
ViewSonic's E95 is a gamer's delight.
Our test unit's bundled 19-inch ViewSonic E95 CRT monitor is a visual treat. iBuyPower also offers a handful of LCDs, but we were thrilled with the crisp graphics and brilliant video of the E95. Plus, the included Creative Inspire 5.1 5200-series speakers thump the walls with 75 watts of audio supplied by the integrated 5.1 sound from the motherboard.
iBuyPower offers software à la carte. Our test system arrived running Windows XP but didn't include a shred of productivity software. If you think you might want to get some work done between games, you can select either Microsoft Office XP or Works Suite 2002 for an additional cost.
Our iBuyPower Gamer Force-2 review unit was the first system to arrive at CNET Labs with an Nvidia nForce2-based motherboard. With its nForce2 board powered by an Athlon XP 2700+ processor and loaded with 512MB of DDR SDRAM running at 400MHz, we had high hopes for the Gamer Force-2's performance. The system's application performance, however, came in firmly sandwiched between two Athlon XP 2700+ processor-based systems, the Polywell Poly 884RF-2700 and the ABS Ultimate M4. Curiously, both the Polywell and the ABS use Via KT400 chipsets. As far as the iBuyPower is concerned, the nForce2 chipset isn't delivering any performance premiums.
In terms of overall application performance, the Gamer Force-2 performs similarly to 2.4GHz-based Intel P4 systems. With Content Creation applications, the iBuyPower acts more like a 2.0GHz P4; with office-productivity apps, however, the iBuyPower delivers performance comparable to that of a 2.66GHz P4-based system.
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
An Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200 might not be the speediest graphics card available today, but unless you're a hard-core game enthusiast, the Ti 4200 should have no problems driving your 3D games and educational titles, even at high screen resolutions.
3D graphics performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark 2001 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.
ABS Ultimate M4
Windows XP Home; 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 2700+; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB; two Western Digital WD1200JB-75CRA0 120GB 7,200rpm; Highpoint HPT372A UDMA/ATA133 RAID
Dell Dimension 4550
Windows XP Home; 2.66GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200 64MB; Western Digital WD120JB-75CRA0 120GB 7,200rpm
Gateway Profile 4X
Windows XP Home; 2.4GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce2 MX 400 32MB; Western Digital WD120BB-53CAA1 120GB 7,200rpm
iBuyPower Gamer Force-2
Windows XP Home; 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 2700+; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB; Western Digital WD800BB-00CAA1 80GB 7,200rpm
Polywell Poly 884RF-2700
Windows XP Professional; 2.17GHz AMD Athlon XP 2700+; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB; two Western Digital WD800JB-00CRA1 80GB 7,200rpm; integrated Promise FastTrack133 Lite RAID
First-time PC buyers or those with more thumbs than fingers should look twice before purchasing the iBuyPower Gamer Force-2, considering iBuyPower's limited tech support. Getting the system from box to desk is relatively simple, but you'll need to be familiar with the icons on the back of the case, as there's no system manual or setup guide in the box.
Thankfully, iBuyPower offers slightly more-respectable tech support service. The Gamer Force-2 carries a three-year parts, one-year labor warranty. iBuyPower will pay for shipping one-way during that year, and onsite service is an option for an added cost. Toll-free technical support is available 24/7 during the first year that you own the system, then it reverts to West Coast business hours only.