High-end, high-price gaming PCs such as the Dell XPS 700 and the Falcon Northwest Mach V with Intel's new Core 2 Duo CPUs grabbed headlines with their record-breaking performance, but there are more affordable mainstream systems, such as the $999 Velocity Micro Vector GX Campus Edition, that also feature Intel's new chips. The PC Club Enpower Sabre Extreme, part of the house brand of retail chain PC Club, runs with the mainstream crowd. At $1,399, it's a little more expensive than the Velocity Micro but includes a 19-inch LCD monitor and a speedier Core 2 Duo processor. While the Enpower Sabre Extreme's plain-Jane looks aren't exactly inspiring, the system's upper-end CPU and video card make it an attractive deal for mainstream shoppers who seek a good power-to-dollar ratio.
The PC Club Enpower Sabre Extreme's generic-looking midtower case has been personalized with a glowing Enpower logo on the front--perhaps not the first brand name you'd want to advertise to friends and family, but the gray-and-black case should otherwise blend inoffensively into most home computer setups. The front panel is largely featureless, except for a single DVD burner and a multimedia card reader. USB 2.0 and audio ports are hidden on the side of the front panel.
Inside, there are four 5.25-inch drive bays (three free), two 3.5-inch front-accessible bays (one free), and five 3.5 internal hard drive bays (four free), leaving plenty of room for expansion down the road. The lone hard drive in our review unit was 250GB, and the system only had 1GB of RAM (two 512 modules, with two free slots remaining), which is the bare minimum we'd recommend these day for a new PC--particularly one that features a Vista-ready 64-bit processor.
The single x16 PCI Express slot on our review unit was taken up by an Nvidia GeForce 7900 GT video card, leaving two (fairly useless at the present) x1 PCI Express slots and three standard PCI slots free. You could easily add a dedicated sound card or TV tuner to one of those PCI slots. PC Club offers sounds cards such as the SoundBlaster X-FI Platinum (a $179 upgrade) and a generic single-tuner TV tuner card for $39.
Because of its powerful Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 CPU, we expected the PC Club Enpower Sabre Extreme to perform impressively. Of course, it can't hold a candle to the overclocked Core 2 Duo E6700 CPU in the $4,000 Falcon Northwest Mach V, but it was also surprisingly slower than the Dell XPS 410, which has the same Core 2 Duo E6600 CPU (but costs about twice as much at $2,405). The Dell's 2GB of RAM to the PC Club's 1GB is definitely a contributing factor, leaving the PC Club only marginally faster than the other budget Core 2 Duo system we've look at, the Velocity Micro Vector GX Campus Edition. For the price, however, the PC Club Enpower Sabre Extreme's overall application performance satisfied us. It'll ably run the vast majority of today's apps with aplomb, and--with a dollop more memory--it should stand up to the rigors of Vista and the 64-bit apps of tomorrow.
Gamers will be pleased with the Nvidia GeForce 7900 GT card, which is near the top of the line for single-GPU graphics solutions. With Quake 4, we saw 111.1 frames per second (fps) at 1,024x768, which is more than adequate for even serious gamers. The overclocked dual-GPU GeForce 7950 GX2 in the Falcon Northwest Mach V improved on that by only 3.1fps, but you can expect a bigger differential at higher resolutions.