Penryn, Phenom PCs: Fast, Not Phenomenal
Not surprisingly, each of these high-end systems had a handsome case design. Like the first War Machine M1 Elite we tested, the new QX9650-equipped M1 Elite we looked at comes packaged in an impressive, all-black case with lots of free bays and blue bling lighting. Puget Systems' Puget Gaming Computer is a pricey newcomer ($5765 list), but it turned in very good performance and has one of the best-laid-out interior designs we've ever seen, starting with an Antec P182 case. Assembled with virtually no obstructing cables and tons of easily accessible drive bays, it's a thing of beauty.
Meanwhile, the two Dell XPS 420 models we tested have great-looking glossy black finishes. Each model came configured with a Blu-ray drive (read-only), front-mounted S-video and RCA ports (which include a hardware video transcoding option dubbed the 'Xcelerator'), a top-mounted 2-inch LCD that employs Microsoft's Sideshow secondary display technology, and integrated Bluetooth to handle the bundled wireless keyboard and mouse. The 'X' in the 3-GHz QX9650's CPU name stands for Xtreme, and normally it indicates that you can overclock PCs with the chip. However, though Dell supports Extreme processors for the XPS 420, it does not provide utilities or BIOS support for overclocking. The QX9650 XPS 420 also costs $1000 more than its sibling equipped with the 2.83-GHz Q9550 chip.
If you're thinking about buying a Phenom-based system, you should be aware of a bug known as the TLB erratum. This flaw can cause a Phenom computer to lock up on extremely rare occasions-namely, when all four cores are working full bore. Right now, the only software known to trigger the freeze is VMware. In our testing, we didn't encounter a Phenom freeze; and most motherboard BIOSs have been patched to avoid it. AMD admits, however, that the BIOS workaround imposes a substantial performance hit on the PC, so we recommend that you not apply the patch unless your machine actually locks up. Since the BIOS for Polywell's Poly 790FX's Gigabyte GA-MA790FX-DQ6 motherboard hadn't implemented the patch, the scores it earned represent the chip's full performance potential at this time. AMD has promised to release a version of its software overclocking utility that will permit you to toggle the BIOS workaround on and off. That way you'll be able to choose between top performance and guaranteed stability.