Velocity Micro Vector VX-W review: Velocity Micro Vector VX-W

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The Good Strong application and 3D performance; quiet; warranty includes onsite service.

The Bad Standard warranty recently dropped from three years to one; anemic Web-based support.

The Bottom Line With its Springdale chipset, the Vector VX-W brings cutting-edge PC technology to the mainstream.

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8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Support 8


Like the Vector VX PC we saw a few months back from Velocity Micro, the Vector VX-W is adept at small-office chores and 3D gaming. It's also among the first systems we've tested with Intel's new 865 chipset (formerly code-named Springdale). Marketed as the lesser sibling of the 875 (Canterwood) chipset, the 865 chipset turned in similarly blazing benchmarks. Moreover, Velocity Micro has done a lot of hard work to beef up its service-and-support options and now backs its systems with a strong warranty-and-service package, though in the process, the standard warranty decreases in length. Although our test system's price was well north of $2,000, it included an assortment of upgrades and extras that justfy its increase over the $769 default configuration. Using Velocity Micro's flexible online customization tool, the Vector VX-W lets consumers from small-business owners to 3D gamers indulge their champagne tastes on a beer-and-pretzels budget. The Velocity Micro Vector VX-W's big, blue full-tower Antec case won't win many beauty contests, but it does keep open any future expansion plans you may harbor. It's also remarkably quiet for a system with three exterior cooling fans (two in back and one on the side panel). If you don't think that you can squeeze the Antec case under your desk, Velocity offers a black-and-silver SX midtower case. Or if you like the Antec VX model but not the color, you can choose among four additional colors: silver, black, yellow, and green.

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USB 2.0 and FireWire ports can be found on the front and back panels.

Getting inside the Antec case for repairs or upgrades is a snap--just remove a couple of thumbscrews and take off the windowed side panel. You'll find a roomy, well-ordered interior with cables tied back and routed efficiently, making everything easy to access. Our evaluation model shipped with 6 of 10 total drive bays, two of four DIMM slots, and four of its five PCI slots available for expansion.

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The 865PE chipset integrates many features on the motherboard, leaving plenty of PCI slots free for future expansion.
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The large Antec case gives you room for adding more drives.

Why is there so much room for expansion cards? Because the Vector VX-W uses a motherboard based on Intel's new 865PE chipset, which incorporates almost everything you'll need right on board, including four USB 2.0 ports off the back (and two up front), FireWire connectors in the front and the rear, built-in Ethernet, an S/PDIF digital-audio port, and even support for 5.1-surround sound. Our system added only an AGP graphics card and a PCI sound card to deliver a serious multimedia punch in the form of 6.1 sound. Central to the story of our Velocity Micro Vector VX-W is its new Intel 865PE chipset (the 865 family was formerly code-named Springdale), which counts among its many new features an 800MHz frontside bus that allows the processor to communicate more quickly with system memory. The Vector VX-W's two 256MB DIMMs of 400MHz DDR SDRAM take advantage of another feature of the chipset: dual-channel memory support. With two memory channels, the PC is able to process memory requests more efficiently than if it were using only one memory module.

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The system's 512MB of memory comes packaged in two DIMMs.

Our evaluation model came tricked out for serious gaming and multimedia tasks, featuring a high-end 128MB Radeon 9800 Pro graphics card, supporting a whopping 1,792x1,344 maximum resolution and delivering smoking 3D frame rates. If you anticipate spending more time working on spreadsheets than playing games in 3D environments, however, you can save a couple hundred dollars by scaling back the graphics card; Velocity offers a handful of lower-cost options. After all, the Vector VX line is listed on Velocity's Home and Small Business Systems page. To that end, we encourage you to purchase a more robust productivity suite. The company provides only the open-source OpenOffice as a default, which is available for free download to anyone who wants it. Rounding out the software bundle on our Windows XP Home test system was Veritas's RecordNow and CyberLink's PowerDVD.

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Our test system included a 4X Pioneer DVD-R drive and a 52X Lite-On CD-RW drive.
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Supreme sound: Velocity offers Logitech's Z-640 set.

In addition to a 200GB Western Digital hard drive, our Vector VX-W test system came equipped with a 4X Pioneer DVD-R drive and a fast 52X/24X/52X Lite-On CD-RW. The system's 19-inch NEC FE991SB monitor provides a very sharp image, along with two blinding SuperBright modes that are great for gaming or watching movies. The Logitech Z-640 5.1-speaker set doesn't take up much space, sets up quickly, and delivers clear, crisp, well-balanced sound. Though the 865 chipset has onboard support for 5.1-surround sound, Velocity outfitted our test system with an Audigy 2 sound card, which goes one better with 6.1 sound (adding a rear-center-channel speaker) and supports DVD audio formats. While the Z-640 speakers are booming, if you absolutely need that extra speaker, Velocity sells a Creative Inspire 6.1 set. Application performance
The Velocity Micro Vector VX-W is one of the first systems we've tested that uses Intel's new 865PE chipset (one of three versions of the 865 chipset, formerly code-named Springdale). It replaces the 845 chipset for mainstream PCs and features an 800MHz frontside bus (up from 533MHz) and support for dual-channel DDR400 memory.

The new chipset showed off its power in the Velocity Micro Vector VX-W's performance scores. The Vector VX-W is one of the faster systems we've seen to date--it even held its own against the 875P systems we've tested. Granted, there's no major difference in the chipsets, but for the Velocity to keep pace with more expensive systems such as the Dell Dimension 8300 and Alienware Area-51 is quite a feat.

Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark2002 rating  
SysMark2002 Internet-content-creation rating  
SysMark2002 office-productivity rating  
Dell Dimension 8300 (3.0GHz Intel P4, Intel 875P, 1024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Velocity Micro Vector VX-W (3.0GHz Intel P4, Intel 865PE, 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Alienware Area-51 (3.0GHz Intel P4, Intel 875P, 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Polywell Poly 880NF3-3200 (AMD Athlon XP 3200+, Nvidia Nforce 2, 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz)
Dell Dimension 4600C (2.8GHz Intel P4, Intel 865G, 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz)

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 and gaming performance
The Vector VX-W uses the new ATI Radeon 9800 Pro graphics card. The 9800 Pro is all that the 9700 Pro was and more. The system's 3DMark2001 performance is among the fastest we've seen to date and beat Nvidia's new GeForce FX 5800 Ultra by a healthy margin. Quake III performance did not change significantly, but then again, it didn't need to. The bottom line is that the 9800 Pro can handle anything and any game you throw at it.

3D graphics performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Futuremark's 3DMark 2001 Second Edition Build 330 (16-bit color)  
Futuremark's 3DMark 2001 Second Edition Build 330 (32-bit color)  
Dell Dimension 8300 (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
Alienware Area-51 (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
Velocity Micro Vector VX-W (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
Polywell Poly 880NF3-3200 (Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra)
Dell Dimension 4600C (Intel 865G)

To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark2001 Pro Second Edition, Build 330. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8 (DX8) interface at both 16- 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 8300 (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
Alienware Area-51 (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
Polywell Poly 880NF3-3200 (Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra)
Velocity Micro Vector VX-W (ATI Radeon 9800 Pro)
Dell Dimension 4600C (Intel 865G)

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

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Alienware Area-51
Windows XP Professional, 3GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; two Seagate ST3120023AS 120BG 7,200rpm, Serial ATA; integrated Intel 82801ER Serial ATA RAID controller

Dell Dimension 4600C
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Intel 865G 64MB; Seagate ST3120023A 120GB 7,200rpm

Dell Dimension 8300
Windows XP Home; 3GHz Intel P4; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; WDC WD2000JB-75DUA0 200GB 7,200rpm

Polywell Poly 880NF3-3200
Windows XP Professional, 2.2GHz AMD Athlon XP 3200+; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5800 Ultra 128MB; two Western Digital WDC WD360GD-00FNA0, 36GB 10,000rpm; Highpoint RocketRAID 1520 SATA RAID controller

Velocity Micro Vector VX-W
Windows XP Home; 3GHz Intel P4; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro 128MB; WDC WD2000JB-00DUA0 200GB 7,200rpm
Velocity Micro's service philosophy is quality over quantity. Since we last reviewed a Velocity Micro system (the Vector VX), the warranty for all Velocity PCs has gotten shorter but with better options. Instead of the standard three-year warranty that includes lifetime depot-labor service, Velocity PCs now ship with a standard one-year warranty that includes onsite service. (You can opt for up to four years of coverage for an added charge; the price of our test system included a three-year warranty.) Velocity's toll-free phone support is now 24/7, rather than weekday business hours only. While we were disappointed to see the length of the warranty drop by two years, it's a fair trade for the improved service.

In addition to phone support, you also get a lifetime of Web-based support. You'll find, however, that the company's online support center leaves something to be desired: It's basically a set of links to manufacturer sites where you'll find component-specific drivers and help. There is no FAQ, user answer base, or interactive support--save the requisite link allowing you to send e-mail to the company.

The folks at Velocity Micro have clearly been reading CNET reviews of the past. We are outspoken supporters of vendors who collect in a single three-ring binder a system's printed docs, application and recovery CDs, and warranty and support information. Velocity Micro now does this, and we love it.