Sys TaskMaster S3100
With AMD's new low-end 3100+ Sempron processor, such as the one that came with our test unit, the final price for this system should hover around $1,000. But our TaskMaster S3100 boasted a ton of memory and some fancy extras, all of which brought its grand total to $1,669. Instead of this configuration, you're better off going with less memory or looking for a true budget PC from or some similar company.
The biggest snafu in the Sys TaskMaster S3100 is the memory-to-CPU matchup. It simply doesn't make sense to pair 1GB of RAM with a budget processor such as the Sempron: 512MB would be plenty, and you could put the $100 you'd save towards a faster CPU, which would get you better overall performance. You might also want to consider paring down the 128MB GeForceFX 5900 SE graphics card. This older high-end 3D card lends the TaskMaster S3100 some gaming kick, but if recreation is not a priority, the $200 you'd pay for this upgrade would be better spent on more processing power. Our benchmark scores show the disparity clearly, with the TaskMaster S3100 delivering impressive 3D numbers but mediocre application scores. Even if you do have designs on playing some games, we still recommend that you halve the memory and look at a TaskMaster that offers a better CPU.
Regardless of our test system's price and strange configuration, the TaskMaster S3100 can brag about its extensive upgradability. Two thumbscrews and a pair of quick-release latches allow tool-free entry into the wide-open interior of this midtower system. Inside, there are 10--that's not a typo--drive bays, 5 of which were available in our evaluation model (2 were 5.25-inch and 3 were 3.5-inch), as well as five free PCI slots and three DIMM slots, with one of the latter left vacant. Practically all the internal components are within easy reach, with cables strung neatly out of the way. As for the exterior, its black plastic case looks unremarkable, although it should blend into many different environments in the home or the office.
Sys paired our test TaskMaster S3100 with a crisp, 17-inch LCD monitor from ViewSonic and the ubiquitous Microsoft multimedia keyboard and optical mouse, all in basic black. The problem, if you're concerned about appearance, is that Microsoft's and ViewSonic's ideas of basic black aren't the same, so nothing really matches. A 6-in-1 flash-card reader along with two FireWire (one front, one rear), seven USB 2.0 (three in front, four in back), and one optical and two coaxial S/PDIF digital audio ports make the TaskMaster S3100 a veritable clean slate to which you can attach almost as many peripherals as you'd care to throw at it. A fast DVD drive and DVD burner also adorn the front of the case, along with an old-school floppy drive, lending you even more options for managing your digital media.
Beyond the weird hardware configuration Sys that sent us, Windows XP Pro makes a poor choice for the TaskMaster S3100 when Windows XP Home would suffice and save you $61. At least the WordPerfect Productivity suite provides a handy start for word processing. A one-year onsite warranty comes as the standard service package, but we highly recommend you pay the extra $147 to upgrade to three years of onsite service. In what may be a unique move for the industry, Sys offers 24/7 toll-free tech support during the warranty period, then a lifetime of toll-free technical support from noon to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, ET. While this support structure is generous, Sys's threadbare online help isn't much good to anyone.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating||SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating||SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating|
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2004, 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).
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,024x768|
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Epic Games' Unreal Tournament 2003, widely used as an industry-standard benchmark. We use Unreal to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8.0 (DX8) interface at a 32-bit color depth and at a resolution of 1,024x768 and 1,600x1,200. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are disabled during our 1,024x768 tests and are set to 4X and 8X, respectively, during our 1,600x1,200 tests. At this color depth and these resolutions, Unreal provides an excellent means of comparing the performance of low-end to high-end graphics subsystems. We report the results of Unreal's Flyby-Antalus test in frames per second (fps).