Packed with AMD's new 64-bit Athlon 64 FX-51 processor, Nvidia's top graphics card (the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra), and 1GB of DDR400 memory, the iBuyPower Zillion-FX's strong benchmark performance came as little surprise. What shocked us was that all this power, plus a fine accompaniment of peripherals, amounted to only $2,699. Sure, we could complain about the lack of a DVD-recordable drive and the lackluster software bundle, but with performance that only competing FX-51-based machines can match, these gripes seem trivial. Gamers looking for a powerful system for today's 32-bit titles--and one that can play the 64-bit apps of tomorrow--will find lots to like about the Zillion-FX.
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The case offers geek chic--even before the neon lights begin flashing.
The iBuyPower Zillion-FX uses the new RaidMax Scorpio-668 case. Though it is very functional, the aesthetic is definitely offbeat. The flashing lights--from the side-mounted fan and from two sources on the front door--are distracting, and the door itself is made of cheap plastic emblazoned with an odd-looking Z emblem. Its geek chic may appeal to gamers, but not to mainstream home users.
Nevertheless, the design has its upsides. You'll find plenty of expandability inside, with three free 3.5-inch bays, two open 5.25-inch bays, and three available PCI slots (a daughtercard blocks a fourth). The Zillion-FX allows for ample external expansion, too, serving up six USB 2.0 ports (two are front mounted), two FireWire ports, and an S/PDIF connector to the setup. Three audio ports on the back panel--line in, line out, and microphone--also serve as jacks for the 5.1-speaker set. This was a bit confusing at first; we had to install a driver found on the included Asus motherboard driver disk to get all of the necessary audio channels in operation.
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The tool-free case, which also has front-removable drive bays, was relatively easy to access, although you'll have to unplug a side-mounted fan to remove the side panel altogether. For quick shots in and out of the case, the fan's wire is long enough to allow the panel to lie flat even if the fan is still attached. You'll encounter a tangled mess of wires inside, but the full-tower case gives you enough room to work around them.
iBuyPower built the Zillion-FX around AMD's new 64-bit processor, the Athlon 64 FX-51. Until we start seeing 64-bit apps and a 64-bit version of Windows (due sometime early next year, according to Microsoft), the FX-51 has no room to stretch its legs. For now, you're stuck with excellent 32-bit power.
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Beneath the black cooling fan resides the Athlon 64 FX-51. Just below that is Nvidia's screaming-fast GeForce FX 5900 Ultra.
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Any and all graphics--text, games, and video--looked great on the ViewSonic UltraBright e90f+.
The system's performance advantage was obvious during our hands-on testing. Video editing was extremely smooth, and Unreal Tournament II play was awesome, even with advanced settings enabled. Of course, the system's 1GB of 400MHz DDR memory and Nvidia's GeForce FX 5900 Ultra graphics card helped; so, too, did the 120GB Seagate Serial-ATA drive and its 8MB cache.
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A DVD burner will add to the cost: only DVD-ROM and CD-RW drives here.
Beyond the core components, iBuyPower surprised us with some high-end peripherals. The 19-inch ViewSonic UltraBright e90f+ CRT showcased sharp text and excellent games and video. And we've long been fans of the potent Klipsch ProMedia 5.1 speakers that accompanied our system.
Some features were merely lackluster, however, starting with the cheap, plastic Mitsuko keyboard and roller-ball mouse. The Zillion-FX's software bundle was limited to Windows XP Professional and copies of Ahead Software's Nero Burning ROM 5.0 and CyberLink's PowerDVD. Conspicuously absent from such a high-power PC was a DVD-recordable drive; our test system included a DVD-ROM and a 52X CD-RW drive. Gamers might not miss a DVD burner, but everyone else can select among the three that iBuyPower offers on its online configurator, including the Editors' Choice award-winning Sony DRU-510A. Even with this addition, the Zillion-FX's price remains safely less than $3,000.
One of the first two systems we've tested with AMD's new 64-bit processor, the Athlon 64 FX-51, the iBuyPower Zillion-FX turned in blazingly fast SysMark2002 scores, particularly on the office-productivity portion of the test. Before we get into detail, we must explain that the Zillion-FX was using a 32-bit OS (Windows XP Pro) and running 32-bit apps on our benchmarks. Until 64-bit apps and a 64-bit version of Windows appear, you won't reap the full rewards of the Athlon FX-51 processor. But there are other new features built into the chip that offer a significant performance boost today.
Aside from its ability to process data in 64-bit chunks, the two most notable innovations on the Athlon FX-51 concern memory processing. First, AMD has moved the memory controller from the motherboard to the processor, removing the bottleneck between the memory and the CPU known as the frontside bus. Now the speed at which data is transferred between the memory and the processor travels at the clock speed of the processor--2.2GHz in the case of the Athlon FX-51. Second, AMD has doubled the Level 2 (L2) cache found on Athlon XP processors to 1MB. The L2 cache essentially lines up instructions in memory before sending them to the CPU for processing; the more cache you have, the more information can be herded toward the CPU, thereby increasing performance.
The Zillion-FX's benchmark performance on our 32-bit tests was impressive. Although its overall SysMark2002 score of 323 trailed by 5 percent that of our best-performing 3.2GHz Pentium 4, the Gateway 700XL, the Zillion-FX topped the fastest Athlon 3200+ system, the Polywell Poly 880NF3-3200, by 13 percent. What really jumped out at us was our test system's office-productivity score of 250, which bested the Gateway 700XL and all other 3.2GHz Intel Pentium 4-based systems we've seen to date. The Zillion-FX is a definite step up from AMD's top 32-bit chip, the Athlon XP 3200+, and it's on a par with Intel's high-end 3.2GHz Pentium 4 with today's 32-bit apps. It also has an eye on the 64-bit-computing future.
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 iBuyPower Zillion-FX uses Nvidia's latest high-end graphics card, the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra. It's an extremely fast card, with 256MB of memory, and it did surprisingly well in our 3D benchmarks. In fact, the Zillion-FX was the first system to top the 20,000 mark on 3DMark2001, and its astronomical Quake III frame rate of 351.6 topped the next-best-performing system by more than 6 percent. That may not seem like a tremendous boost, but we rarely see jumps in performance of more than one percentage point. It's safe to say that the 5900 Ultra will have no trouble playing any of today's titles or those on the horizon. A few trial Ghost Recon missions clearly demonstrated this fact: animation moved very smoothly, even with the graphics complexity turned all the way up.