CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

Motherboard Express Glacier P50 review: Motherboard Express Glacier P50

Motherboard Express Glacier P50

Stephen Bigelow
7 min read
We doubt that you've heard of Motherboard Express. But even if you have, did you know that in addition to a plethora of peripherals, the company sells custom-built PCs? The Glacier P50 is one such system, and it's the first 3GHz P4 machine we've seen coupled with DDR SDRAM instead of the speedier RDRAM. It offers impressive performance on a par with that of other high-end PCs, but the Glacier P50 simply doesn't stand out in any one area. Its boxy case buzzes with fan noise, and its DVD-ROM and CD-RW drives are standard issue. Graphics acceleration is good but not leading edge. In short, capable though it is, there's nothing to distinguish this PC from others in the pack.

The Glacier P50 has plenty of ports, but all are located on the back panel.
The Motherboard Express Glacier P50's full-tower CoolerMaster case lacks the smooth lines found on competing PCs, such as those from Dell and HP. The case's square lines and dark, charcoal-gray color cause the unit to look like a network server, and its six cooling fans make for a noisy case. This machine's lack of front-mounted ports forces digital photographers and MP3-player owners to reach around to the back panel to connect their devices.
You'll find plenty of ports around back, however, including four USB 2.0 connectors, two serial ports and one parallel port, a 10/100 Ethernet port, and audio connections (output, input, and microphone). Additionally, the Glacier P50 provides two additional USB ports, two FireWire ports, two S/PDIF outputs, a game port adapter, and two dial-up modem connectors--all via four PCI expansion slots on the back. Unfortunately, all of these extra ports leave you with only two free PCI slots.

There are two free PCI slots to satisfy your expansion plans.

The big tower leaves some open drive bays.

Luckily, the P50's large case is well organized on the inside and leaves lots of room for expansion. A single hinged panel opens the unit for access. Inside, you'll find four 5.25-inch drive bays, two of which were free on our test system. The floppy drive takes up one of the two 3.5-inch external bays, and the hard drive uses one of the four available 3.5-inch internal bays.

The Motherboard Express Glacier P50 runs off an Asus P4 PE motherboard using the Intel 845PE chipset. Under the hood of our test system sat a top-of-the-line 3.06GHz Pentium 4 processor with a 533MHz frontside bus, but Motherboard Express offers a selection of slower, less expensive Intel chips, both Celeron and Pentium, for the Glacier P50. Our test system included 512MB of PC2700 DDR SDRAM, a departure from previous 3GHz P4 systems we've tested, all of which used faster RDRAM. An 80GB Western Digital hard drive provides ample storage space for applications, CAD drawings, photos, and other files. However, 80GB may prove to be too small for extensive video capture/editing tasks; if that's the case, you'll want to upgrade to the 120GB or 200GB hard drive.
The 128MB Gainward AGP card with an Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200 graphics chip on our test system provided enough muscle for just about any gaming application. More powerful video cards are available, including the ATI Radeon 9700 Pro offered on Motherboard Express's online configurator.

Your optical-drive options are limited.

A high-quality but small ViewSonic LCD.

Motherboard Express offers only a few optical-drive options. You get a grand total of six from which to choose, and no DVD burners are among the elections. Our evaluation unit came equipped with a Sony DVD-ROM drive and a 48X/12X/48X Lite-On CD-RW drive, a fine combo for DVD viewing and CD burning. (Motherboard Express recently replaced the Lite-On burner found on our test system with a slightly speedier 52X/24X/52X model.) Digital-video enthusiasts will need to purchase and install a DVD-recordable drive on their own.
Our Glacier P50 test system included a fine group of peripherals: a Logitech cordless keyboard and optical mouse package; a robust, three-piece Yamaha speaker set; and a crisp ViewSonic VE155b LCD monitor. At 15 inches, the display may be too small for gamers or power users. If you fall into either of those categories, opt instead for a 17-inch LCD or a 19-inch CRT monitor.
We tested the system with Windows XP Professional, although other operating system options are available. Gainward's bundled WinCinema utility provides DVD playback, MP3 playback, recording, and moviemaking features for aspiring directors. Nero Burning ROM is included so that users can burn their own CD-Rs. Microsoft Works 2003 and Norton SystemWorks 2002 Pro add to the system bundle. Thankfully, Motherboard Express provides the original OS, software, and driver CDs, along with three recovery discs.

Application performance
Motherboard Express has taken an interesting approach to its P4-based Glacier P50 desktop: instead of populating the system with speedier RDRAM system memory as many manufacturers do with their high-end desktop designs, Motherboard Express chose to use 333MHz DDR SDRAM. In fact, the P50 we tested is the first DDR SDRAM-based 3.06GHz P4 desktop we've seen. Up until recently, the Intel 850E was the motherboard chipset of choice for 3.06GHz-based systems, but the new Intel 845PE chipset found on the Glacier P50 supports DDR SDRAM and the 3.06GHz P4's Hyper-Threading.
Even with the DDR SDRAM running at 333MHz, our tests show that this type of memory isn't quite as speedy as RDRAM running at 533MHz (also known as PC1066). This puts the P50's application performance squarely between that of RDRAM-based 3.06GHz P4 and RDRAM-based 2.8GHz P4 desktops. While the P50 is not the speediest 3.06GHz P4 system on the market, its performance will still run circles around nearly any application that you're likely to load.
Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark2002 Rating  
SysMark2002 Internet Content Creation Rating  
SysMark2002 Office Productivity Rating  
Gateway 700XL (3.06GHz Intel P4, 512MB RDRAM 533MHz)
Falcon Northwest Mach V (3.06GHz Intel P4, 512MB RDRAM 533MHz)
Motherboard Express Glacier P50 (3.06GHz Intel P4, 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)
Dell Dimension 8250 (2.8GHz Intel P4, 512MB RDRAM 533MHz)
IBM NetVista A30 (2.8GHz Intel P4, 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz)
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-based graphics card and fast CPU all but guarantee high frame rates with even the most demanding games and educational titles. The P50 matches its 3.06GHz P4 processor with a GeForce4 Ti 4200 for impressive frame rates. Hard-core gamers, however, will likely prefer a speedier graphics engine, such as the ATI Radeon 9700 or the Nvidia GeForce FX.
3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Futuremark's 3DMark 2001 Second Edition Build 330 (16-bit color)  
Futuremark's 3DMark 2001 Second Edition Build 330 (32-bit color)  
Falcon Northwest Mach V (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
Gateway 700XL (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
Dell Dimension 8250 (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
Motherboard Express Glacier P50 (Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200)
IBM NetVista A30 (Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200)
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)
Quake III Arena  
Gateway 700XL (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
Falcon Northwest Mach V (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
Dell Dimension 8250 (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
Motherboard Express Glacier P50 (Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200)
IBM NetVista A30 (Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200)
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.

System configurations:
Dell Dimension 8250
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; 512MB RDRAM 533MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB; Western Digital WD1200JB-75CRA0 120GB 7,200rpm
Falcon Northwest Mach V
Windows XP Home; 3.06GHz Intel P4; 512MB RDRAM 533MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB; two Western Digital WD1000JB-00CRA0 100GB 7,200rpm; Promise FastTrack TX2000 RAID controller
Gateway 700XL
Windows XP Home; 3.06GHz Intel P4; 512MB RDRAM 533MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB; two Maxtor 6Y200P0 200GB 7,200rpm
IBM NetVista A30
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB; IBM IC35L120AVVA07 120GB 7,200rpm
Motherboard Express Glacier P50
Windows XP Professional; 3.06GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB; Western Digital WD800JB-00-00CRA1 80GB 7,200rpm; integrated Promise FastTrack 376 RAID controller

Motherboard Express provides particularly noteworthy service options. The standard warranty for the Glacier P50 is three years for both parts and labor, including one year of next-day onsite service and lifetime toll-free tech support. After the onsite service expires, you'll have to pay shipping one way should you need to return the system to Motherboard Express for repair. If you need a replacement part shipped to you, you'll first be billed for the part, then later credited when you return the defective part.
The Glacier P50 ships with a painful lack of documentation, however. You'll get no instructions for system setup, no printed manuals for the bundled software, and no instructions for the recovery CDs. Unfortunately, Motherboard Express's online support doesn't make up for the documentation gap: there's no support page for troubleshooting, nor are there FAQs or driver downloads on the company's site. All such support is referred to the manufacturer of each device. For example, if you need a driver for your video card, you'll need to find the maker of that video card from the index of manufacturers included with your printed system manual.

Motherboard Express Glacier P50

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 6Performance 8Support 6