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The Systemax Venture VX2 uses a midtower chassis that looks more like your basic, black business PC than something used to play Company of Heroes. You won't find any molded plastic or custom paint options--there aren't even any drive doors or covers to hide the optical drives or the front-panel ports, if that's your thing. We like that the two USB 2.0 ports, the six-pin FireWire port, and the mic and headphone jacks are located right in the middle of the front panel and not placed along the bottom, where they collect dust and are harder to reach. And the data archivist will appreciate that there are two optical drives--a DVD burner and a DVD-ROM drive--which makes for quick disc-to-disc copies.
Look inside the case, and you'll soon discover one way in which Systemax was able to keep the price so low. Where boutique gaming companies, such as Falcon Northwest (we can't really call Alienware and Voodoo "boutiques" anymore, since they are really just divisions of Dell and HP, respectively), take great care in neatly tying up and routing the cables out of the way, Systemax does not look at cabling as an art form. There are a few clasps to group the power and SATA cables, but you will need to wrestle with a tangle of power cables from the optical drives to gain access to the memory slots, for example. On the other hand, the system's two PCI slots and three PCI Express slots are free from any obstruction. Systemax has successfully built one of the quieter gaming systems we've come across; you can barely tell the thing is running because the cooling fans spin in near silence.
The Systemax Venture VX2 uses Intel's D975XBX motherboard. While most enthusiasts prefer Nvidia's 680i boards and their support for SLI, Nvidia's dual-card technology, Intel's 975X chipset supports only ATI's CrossFire for a dual-card setup. And that helps explain why the Venture VX2 ships with a 512MB ATI Radeon X1950 XTX card. The card is tops in ATI's lineup, and it gets you halfway to a CrossFire config. If we were setting out to build an affordable gaming PC with a single graphics card, however, the obvious choice is Nvidia's recently released GeForce 8800 GTS, which costs roughly the same as an X1950 XTX card while also providing DirectX 10 support; the older X1950 XTX is a DirectX 9 card. (The Venture VX2's midtower chassis looks like it's too small to accommodate the huge 8800 GTX card.) At any rate, you'll have to keep your CrossFire dreams in check because the Venture VX2's 500-watt power supply won't be able to handle to high-end Radeon cards. When it comes time to upgrade, we'd recommend replacing the X1950 XTX with a single 8800 GTS rather than creating a CrossFire setup by adding in a midrange Radeon card.
Enough about upgrades--let's talk about what your $1,999 gets you with the Systemax Venture VX2 out of the box--an important discussion given that there is no way to customize the system prior to purchase. The system uses the highest-end, mainstream Core 2 Duo chip, the 2.66GHz E6700. You get 2GB of fast 800MHz (PC 6400) DDR memory, which positions you well for the transition to Vista (more on that later), and there are two free DIMMs for adding more memory down the line. While the system doesn't supply any of the 10,000rpm drives that are commonly found on other high-end PCs, the two 7,200rpm drives are in a RAID 0 array for a total of 500GB of capacity. There's also room to add four more hard drives, should your storage needs suddenly explode. All in all, you couldn't ask for much more in a $2,000 PC.
We priced out a Dell XPS 410, and the only way we could beat the Systemax Venture VX2's price was by outfitting the XPS 410 with an entry-level GeForce card. Likewise, we priced a Gateway FX530XV system, and with a comparable 512MB GeForce 7950 GT card, the system cost $80 more than the Systemax Venture VX2. A few months back, we reviewed a similarly specced Alienware Area-51 5500, which had a bigger power supply but less hard drive space, and it costs hundreds more than the Venture VX2.
So, we can forcefully say that the Systemax Venture VX2 is a good deal, but what about its performance? The Alienware Area-51 provides the best comparison since it's nearly identical to the Venture VX2, despite costing more. The Venture VX2 beat the Area-51 5500 on nearly ever test (the two systems ended our iTunes audio encoding test in a statistical tie, and the Alienware posted slightly better frame rates on Quake 4)--an impressive feat, given the custom tweaks and the level of detail that Alienware puts into its systems. The Venture VX2's frame rates illustrate that you can play current OpenGL and DirectX 9 games at modest resolutions and expect very smooth frame rates. For higher-resolution gaming on larger displays and for making the leap to the upcoming DirectX 10 games, we refer you to our earlier recommendation of upgrading to a GeForce 8800 GTS card.
|Rendering Multiple CPUs||Rendering Single CPU|
|F.E.A.R. 1,024x768 SS 8xAF||Quake 4 1,280x1,024, 4xAA, 8xAF||Quake 4 1,024x768, 4xAA 8xAF|
Aside from a CyberLink suite of disc creation and viewing apps, the software bundle is nonexistent. This Windows XP Pro system qualifies you for a free upgrade to Windows Vista Business after it is released to consumers on January 30; Systemax includes the coupon with instructions on how to obtain your free copy of Vista. The Venture VX2 system will not migrate to Vista, but Systemax tells us that the company will soon be selling similar Vista-based systems.
In a nice touch, instead of bundling a cheap, clacky keyboard and a lame mouse, Systemax instead chose to include Logitech's Cordless Desktop EX110 set, which includes a compact, wireless keyboard and a wireless optical mouse. Most gamers, however, will want a wired laser mouse for optimum performance.
Systemax's support for the Venture VX2 is average at best. The warranty covers parts and labor for one year, and online help at the Systemax-owned TigerDirect.com help is minimal.
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Alienware Area-51 5500
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6700; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 512MB ATI Radeon X1950; 250GB Samsung 7,200rpm Serial ATA hard drive
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6600; Intel P965 Express chipset; 1,024MB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7900 GT; (2) 250GB Hitachi 7,200rpm Serial ATA hard drives
HP Pavilion m7690n Media Center TV PC
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 SP2; 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6400; Intel P965 Express chipset; 2,048MB 533MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7600 GT; (2) 250GB Seagate 7,200rpm Serial ATA hard drives
Systemax Venture VX2
Windows XP Professional; 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E6700; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 512MB ATI Radeon X1950 XTX; (2) 250GB Western Digital 7,00rpm Serial ATA hard drive.