When we saw that Systemax was selling a $299 Windows-based PC, we fully expected the specs to be very low-end. Nonetheless, we were still surprised to find such aging and second-rate components. The Venture C11R uses a 1.1GHz Intel Celeron processor, which we haven't seen in a system for more than a year and a half (it was introduced in August 2001). Systemax must have found a box of them in some dusty, dark recess of its warehouse and decided to sell them off in the Venture C11R, which holds the title as the least-expensive Windows-based desktop we've ever reviewed. Its minimal processing power is acceptable as only a second or third PC used for Web surfing or the most basic word processing.
To hit such a rock-bottom price, Systemax wasn't able to build much into the Venture C11R's midtower case. Beyond the Celeron processor, you'll find a small 20GB hard drive, a plain CD-ROM drive, and one 128MB DIMM of very old SDRAM memory. (Almost every system we've reviewed in the last two years uses the faster DDR memory.) One upside to the shockingly meager specs is the case, which features a respectable amount of expansion room, including three free PCI slots, two open 3.5-inch bays, and an available 5.25-inch bay. You won't find an AGP slot, however, for improving the integrated (and slow) Via graphics. The case serves up two USB 1.1 ports, though not the speedier USB 2.0 variety, in front and another two in back. However, the two front-mounted ports were not connected on our test system--an oversight to be sure, which is compounded by the fact that a budget buyer typically isn't the type of person who is comfortable getting his or her hands dirty inside the case.
As a bonus in the $299 package, Systemax includes the entry-level Lexmark Z705 inkjet printer at no additional charge. You'll have to buy a monitor separately, however. Our test unit arrived with a tiny 15-inch CRT, which added $84.99 to the price. It's small, but it showcased relatively sharp text at its 800x600 resolution. Rounding out the bundle is a wired keyboard without any shortcut or multimedia keys and a roller-ball mouse.
Given its price tag, the Venture C11R's performance is a secondary or even tertiary concern. The system was unable to complete any of our benchmarks, and it wouldn't even begin to run a somewhat recent game such as Unreal Tournament 2003. Although we noticed some sluggishness in our hands-on tests--possibly because Windows XP works best with 256MB of DDR memory--Microsoft Works applications (not included) ran adequately.
Systemax backs the Venture C11R with a respectable one-year warranty that includes 24/7 phone support. Online support resources are thorough, with a knowledge base, support FAQs, and driver downloads. The system ships with Systemax's own Tech-In-A-Box software, which you can use to help troubleshoot PC problems that might arise.
Although it's hard to criticize a $299 PC, Systemax's Venture C11R isn't the value that its price tag makes it out to be: the aging components and the subpar performance mean that competing, albeit higher-priced, budget systems from Dell, HP, and eMachines will serve you better in the long run.