Neither fast nor flashy, the Nutrend Centra 4 AMD PC nonetheless has features that will satisfy budget buyers. Our test system was powered by an Athlon XP 2100+ processor, but with only 128MB of DDR SDRAM, its performance lagged; you should see strong performance gains with the Centra 4 simply by upgrading the memory to 256MB. Unfortunately, you're stuck with the beige minitower case. (If you crave something fashionable in a budget PC, take a look at Gateway's 300 series.) The Centra's case leaves plenty of room for expansion and even includes an AGP slot for advanced graphics. Our test system arrived with both DVD-ROM and CD-RW drives, a welcome tandem in any budget system. The Centra 4 covers the basics and will meet the expectations of budget buyers.
The USB ports are on the back panel and don't support USB 2.0.
Inside, you'll find that all three of the Centra 4's PCI slots are unoccupied, as are two (one 5.25-inch, one 3.5-inch) front-accessible drive bays. The only interior bay is filled by the 40GB Western Digital hard drive. A free DIMM slot lets you add more memory, and an AGP slot allows you to upgrade from the integrated GeForce2-level graphics.
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|An AGP slot and three PCI slots lets the Centra grow with you.|
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|You have room to add one 5.25-inch drive and one 3.5-inch drive.|
The Centra 4 provides the standard complement of ports, including four USB, all of which we were disappointed to find were located on the rear panel and support only USB 1.1. If Nutrend had placed at least one port on the front, that would make it easier to quickly plug in peripherals such as digital cameras. Curiously, our test system included an S/PDIF output on a backplane card for adding a Dolby Digital speaker system. We construe the S/PDIF output as a hint to replace the anemic-sounding Cyber Acoustics stereo speakers that came bundled with our test system.
A budget-box blessing: both DVD-ROM and CD-RW drives.
The system's 40GB 7,200rpm hard drive was exactly what we'd expect to find in a budget system, as was the 128MB of DDR memory. However, since the system's Asus Nforce A7N266 motherboard shares system memory for the integrated graphics, 256MB of RAM would have been a far better choice. We'd strongly recommend opting for another 128MB if you buy your own Centra 4. Nutrend's thin-sounding, two-piece bundle from Cyber Acoustic screams "cost-cutting," too. These are also worth an upgrade.
Still, Nutrend did manage to squeeze in a Logitech wheel mouse, a welcome addition to a budget system. The Centra 4's software bundle covers the basics and consists of Corel WordPerfect Office 2002 suite, Ahead Software Nero Burning ROM, and CyberLink PowerDVD playback software.
It's no coincidence that the two slowest-performing systems we've reviewed recently come with only 128MB of shared system memory. Not only does a shared memory architecture (where system and graphics memory are one and the same) introduce additional overhead, but the amount of memory actually available for normal computing tasks is reduced. With disappointing application performance similar to that of the 2.1GHz-based Gateway 300S Plus, the Athlon XP 2100+-based Nutrend Centra's performance is more on the level of what we'd expect to see from a 1.8GHz Celeron-based desktop. We upped the Centra's memory to 256MB and put the Centra through a few anecdotal tests. We were startled to see a nearly 60 percent jump in office-productivity performance, bringing the performance level to that of other Athlon XP 2100+-based systems with 256MB that we have tested--comparable to the performance of the Cyberpower AMD Value XP.
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
More often than not, integrated graphics solutions don't supply enough graphics processing power for games or education titles with heavy-duty 3D graphics demands. The Centra's Nvidia Nforce 220 chipset is an integrated solution, and this therefore limits the functionality of the Centra as an all-around home system. If you have your heart set on the Centra, the system has an empty AGP slot that you can populate with a much speedier graphics engine, though you'll have to do the upgrade yourself, since Nutrend doesn't offer any graphics card upgrades for the Centra.
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.
Cyberpower AMD Value XP
Windows XP Home; 1.73GHz AMD Athlon XP 2100+; 256MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 MX 440SE 64MB; Western Digital WD400EB-00CPF0 40GB 5,400rpm
Freeway Innovation A2800M
Windows XP Home; 1.67GHz AMD Athlon XP 2000+; 256MB SDRAM 133MHz; ATI Radeon 7000 64MB; Maxtor 6E040L0 40GB 7,200rpm
Gateway 300S Plus
Windows XP Home; 2.1GHz Intel Celeron; 128MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; integrated Intel 845G/GL 32MB (shared memory); Western Digital WD400EB-11CPF0 40GB 5,400rpm
MicroPro MicroHome 199B
Windows XP Home; 2.0GHz Intel Celeron; 256MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; integrated SiS 650 32MB (shared memory); Western Digital WD400EB-00CPF0 40GB 5,400rpm
Nutrend Centra 4 AMD
Windows XP Home; 1.73GHz AMD Athlon XP 2100+; 128MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; integrated Nvidia GeForce2 32MB (shared memory); Western Digital WD400BB-00DEA0 40GB 7,200rpm
Nutrend backs the Centra 4 with a generous three-year-parts and lifetime-labor warranty--a rarity these days, even among high-end systems. The company also provides toll-free tech support for the life of the system, but it's available only weekdays during West Coast business hours. Driver downloads are the only online help you'll find at the Nutrend site. According to the site, a knowledge base section is coming soon.