capsule review

AVADirect Core i7 SLI/CrossFireX DDR3 Gaming System

At a Glance
  • AVADirect Core i7 SLI / CrossFireX DDR3 Gaming System

    PCWorld Rating

    For the price, this system is a killer performer that falters a little in graphics, but still rivals top gaming PCs overall.

AVADirect's Core i7 SLI/CrossFireX DDR3 Gaming System fails in the naming department, but I'll assume that the company's PC builders were too busy squeezing every last drop of performance out of this impressive machine to come up with a clever label. AVADirect's system isn't the fastest gaming PC we've tested, but it sure comes close. Factor in its $1840 price tag (as of 5/4/09)--nearly half the cost of the most inexpensive computers on our Top 5 Gaming PCs list--and it's hard to resist this system's allure.

Thanks to a CoolIT Domino A.L.C. liquid cooling system, AVADirect is able to crank the computer's 2.66GHz Intel Core i7 920 processor up to 3.32GHz. That's the fastest overclock we've seen on any of the Core i7-based gaming PCs that have come through the PC World Test Center, and it helps the machine achieve performance comparable to that of higher-priced rivals such as Falcon Northwest's 3.2GHz Mach V and Hardcore Computer's 4.0GHz quad-core Reactor. Our test model came with 3GB of DDR3-1600 RAM and a single Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1TB hard drive. There's room for more of both--a good thing, since each is a little substandard compared with what the top gaming PCs offer.

Our configuration's sole eVGA GeForce GTX 285 graphics card delivered excellent results on our two primary benchmarks. But the recorded frame rates, while great for the tested games, were anywhere from 10 to 30 percent lower than those of several other gaming desktops we've reviewed. What does that mean? While the 86-frames-per-second result on our Enemy Territory: Quake Wars benchmark and the 102-fps result on our Unreal Tournament 3 benchmark (both at 2560 by 1600 resolution, high quality) certainly made for a flawless gaming experience, this AVADirect system is nevertheless too underpowered to handle future titles, which will inevitably demand more graphical muscle. That said, with a WorldBench 6 score of 153, it's only 6 percent slower than the three $3200-to-$10,000 gaming PCs that were tied for the top spot on WorldBench 6 at the time of this writing.

A great amount of connectivity options are on the front and rear of the Antec Nine Hundred midsize-tower case. AVADirect has covered the bases, installing eight USB connections, one FireWire 400 port, and one eSATA connection on the back of the case; accompanying them are two gigabit ethernet ports, an audio optical-out, coaxial S/PDIF, and integrated 5.1 surround sound. Balancing extreme performance with usability, the company also put three USB ports and a single eSATA port on the front, and as if that weren't enough, it threw in an all-in-one media card reader for good measure.

The interior of this PC is one of the cleanest I've seen. The wires are neatly tied together and tucked away, leaving plenty of room for you to work even given how much space the Domino A.L.C. cooler takes up. The motherboard has a single free PCI Express x4 slot, two PCI Express x16 slots, and one PCI slot. No 5.25-inch bays are free, due to the presence of two Samsung SH-S223 disc burners. You might see having both drives as being somewhat pointless, so you may want to mark one for removal should you ever wish to add another 5.25-inch device (like a Blu-ray player). Five of six 3.5-inch hard-drive bays are yours for the tinkering, but be prepared to bring your toolbox--none of the upgrades I just mentioned is tool-less. Worse, each set of three drive bays has a total of 16 screws that you must remove prior to manipulating a single storage element. Yuck.

Our test model came with a plain Dell keyboard and mouse that provide no functionality beyond the essentials. AVADirect offers other mice and keyboards for purchase as part of the customized machine you order, so that's a mild relief.

The biggest redeeming quality of AVADirect's Core i7 SLI/CrossFireX DDR3 Gaming System is its cost. This computer performs remarkably well in general, which balances out its less-than-perfect graphical abilities. Even if you were to buy an additional GeForce card and link the two through SLI (or if you were to buy two ATI cards; the hybrid motherboard supports both CrossFire and SLI), you'd still undercut the price of most of the gaming PCs on our Top 5 list--and you'd end up with a machine that performs a hair's breadth away from the best in the class.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    For the price, this system is a killer performer that falters a little in graphics, but still rivals top gaming PCs overall.

    Pros

    • Great overall performance
    • A wide variety of connections

    Cons

    • Lots of screws: frustrating upgrades
    • Below-average storage capacity
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