PC Progress X-Theory Platinum review: PC Progress X-Theory Platinum

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The Good Strong performance; excellent internals; front-mounted USB and FireWire ports.

The Bad ATI drivers don't come installed; no USB 2.0 support; poor keyboard layout; tinny-sounding speakers; middling support policies.

The Bottom Line The PC Progress X-Theory Platinum delivers excellent performance for the price, but its poor support policy holds it back.

6.8 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8
  • Support 5

If the X-Theory Platinum PC is any indication, little-known PC Progress is bound for bigger things. For less than $1,500, the X-Theory packs a 2.53GHz Pentium 4 processor, 512MB of speedy DDR memory, and ATI's rockin' 9700 Pro graphics card--enough muscle to satisfy even the most ardent gamers and multimedia mavens. The X-Theory's external peripherals don't quite sync with its high-class internal components, but overall, the system is remarkably well configured for the price. Alas, like many smaller PC vendors, PC Progress offers only middling support policies, so if you're a PC novice, we simply can't recommend the X-Theory. Nevertheless, the system is a worthy choice for self-confident power users on a budget.

Sadly, none of the six USB ports supports 2.0.
Clad in stealth black, the X-Theory Platinum comes in a sleek Antec case, which offers a few nice touches and more than enough room for future expansion. As a whole, the CPU matches nicely with its external peripherals, and the tubular black-and-silver speakers add a bit of sci-fi elegance to the picture.

Plenty of empty PCI slots below the 9700 Pro graphics card.
A lockable, left-swinging door on the front panel hides the X-Theory's optical and floppy drives. Two front-mounted USB 1.1 ports and a FireWire port live behind another smaller door below. On the back of the machine, you'll find the traditional collection of legacy ports and an Ethernet port, as well as four additional USB 1.1ports. The Radeon 9700 Pro graphics card serves up a DVI-I port as well as S-Video and VGA ports, and the onboard sound inputs include line-in, line-out, and microphone-in.

Unlike many PC cases, the X-Theory Platinum's doesn't offer tool-free entry. Instead, you'll have to wrestle with three screws on the right side of the case to access the X-Theory's guts. Then, pull on the handle on the side of the case and you're inside, where you'll find two free external 5.25-inch bays and three open 3.5-inch bays (one external, three internal). Five of the six PCI slots are available for use; a USB port bracket blocks the sixth. As with the door to the optical drives, you can lock the side panel with a key to prevent would-be intruders from getting inside the system.

Free bays allow for expansion.
The X-Theory Platinum's Asus P4S533 motherboard allows the system to combine a 2.53GHz Pentium 4 with 512MB of fast DDR 333MHz memory--a powerful setup by any standard. The included ATI Radeon 9700 Pro graphics card provides tremendous gaming power, but we ran into one difficulty: PC Progress didn't install the 9700 Pro's Catalyst software before shipping the system, which meant that we had none of the software to configure the card. Sure, ATI offers driver downloads from its Web site, but the omission is a significant oversight on PC Progress's part. A 60GB Western Digital hard drive, a fast Lite-On 48X/12X/48X CD-RW drive, and a 16X DVD-ROM drive round out the system's solid internals.

A 2.53GHz P4 and a Radeon 9700 Pro card highlight the inside.

Unfortunately, the system's external peripherals don't quite live up to its internals. On our tests, the bundled ViewSonic E90fb 19-inch CRT monitor showcased text, video, and games nicely at 1,024x768, but at higher resolutions, we saw some minor geometric distortion and fuzzy text.

The X-Theory's three-piece AOpen speakers certainly look interesting (the tubular satellites would work perfectly as paper-towel dispensers), and they're fairly loud to boot. Still, they're best for only casual listening, because vocals sound tinny and muddy at any volume. Although we'd prefer an optical mouse, at least the bundled roller-ball mouse has forward and back buttons for easy Internet surfing, as well as two scroll wheels; the second wheel can be used for side-to-side movement in gaming. The only accessory that we'd recommend replacing right from the get-go is the blocky keyboard, which includes no additional multimedia or application controls and houses a backspace key that's small and easy to miss.

Speakers or paper-towel holders?Not one but two scroll wheels.
The X-Theory Platinum runs Windows XP Home Edition and bundles copies of Ahead Software's Nero Burning ROM 5.5.9 and CyberLink's PowerDVD--both great entertainment-oriented apps. Don't expect to get any work done on the X-Theory, though. An office suite wasn't provided on our test system, but PC Progress does offer an assortment of added-cost options. Application performance
The configuration of the X-Theory Platinum that PC Progress sent us is fairly impressive: a 2.53GHz P4 processor, 512MB of DDR SDRAM running at 333MHz, a 60GB ATA/100 Western Digital hard drive, and an ATI Radeon 9700 Pro graphics card. And not surprisingly, impressive components add up to impressive performance. The Platinum's memory subsystem gives the X-Theory a slight advantage over similarly configured systems that use slower 266MHz DDR SDRAM--albeit RDRAM-based systems still run a tad faster. The Platinum delivers more than enough power to drive nearly any app that you might choose to run on it.

Application Performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark2002 Rating  
SysMark2002 Internet Content Creation Rating  
SysMark2002 Office Productivity Rating  
Dell Dimension 8250 (2.8GHz P4, 533MHz RDRAM)
Atlas Micro GS9800 (2.53GHz P4, 333MHz DDR SDRAM)
PC Progress X-Theory Platinum (2.53GHz P4, 333MHz DDR SDRAM)
Gateway Profile 4 (2.4GHz P4, 266MHz DDR SDRAM)
Polywell Poly 884RF-2700 (AMD Athlon XP 2700+)

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 performance
The ATI Radeon 9700 Pro has proven itself a top-notch 3D graphics performer, and this continues to hold true with the X-Theory Platinum. Although the Radeon 9700 Pro is capable of running at up to AGP 8X, the Platinum's SiS 645DX-based motherboard supports up to only AGP 4X; nonetheless, this limitation doesn't seem to have any adverse effect on the X-Theory's speedy performance. This level of 3D graphics performance will satisfy even hard-core gamers.

3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
MadOnion.com's 3DMark 2001 Pro (16-bit color)  
MadOnion.com's 3DMark 2001 Pro (32-bit color)  
Dell Dimension 8250 (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
Polywell Poly 884RF-2700 (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
PC Progress X-Theory Platinum (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
Atlas Micro GS9800 (Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200)
Gateway Profile 4 (Nvidia GeForce2 MX 400)

To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses MadOnion.com's 3DMark 2001 Pro. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8 (DX8) interface at both 16-bit 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  
Dell Dimension 8250 (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
Atlas Micro GS9800 (Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200)
PC Progress X-Theory Platinum (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
Polywell Poly 884RF-2700 (ATI Radeon 9700 Pro)
Gateway Profile 4 (Nvidia GeForce2 MX 400)

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-end to high-end graphics subsystems. Quake III performance is reported in frames per second (fps).

System configurations:

Atlas Micro GS9800
Windows XP Home; 2.53GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce4 Ti 4200 128MB; two Maxtor 6L040J2 40GB 7,200rpm; Acard AEC-6880 PCI ATA-133 IDE RAID

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

Gateway Profile 4
Windows XP Home; 2.4GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; integrated Nvidia GeForce2 MX 400 32MB; Western Digital WD120BB-53CAA1 120GB 7,200rpm

PC Progress X-Theory Platinum
Windows XP Home; 2.53GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Radeon 9700 Pro 128MB; Western Digital WD600BB-00CAA1 60GB 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 The X-Theory Platinum's Achilles' heel is its warranty and support policy. PC Progress covers the system with only an average nonupgradable one-year warranty. Onsite service isn't an option, and phone support is available from only 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. CT, but at least the call is toll-free. PC Progress also offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, but the guarantee doesn't include shipping or handling costs. While under warranty, the customer pays for shipping the system one way for returns and repairs; PC Progress foots the return bill.

When we called tech support to inquire about the lack of ATI drivers, a pleasant support rep picked up the phone in less than one minute. Unfortunately, the rep didn't understand the problem and simply suggested we continue looking in the Display Properties' Settings menu.

Documentation is only slightly better. The system comes with a binder that contains warranty and contact information, as well as a simple diagram laying out the PC's ports and drives and software CDs. Beyond that, documentation is limited to two motherboard manuals. PC Progress's Web site provides no further support.