Micro Express Microflex 88B: Not the Best, but the Most Connected
At a Glance
Micro Express Microflex 88B
The Microflex 88B may not win any speed races, but it cruises to the finish line in Blu-ray and USB 3.0 style.
The raw performance of the Micro Express Microflex 88B desktop is admirable, and the system's price of $1299 price (as of June 7, 2010) is quite reasonable for the category. But competing systems on PCWorld's Top 10 Performance Desktop PCs chart trump it on general performance and on gaming-test frame rates. Nevertheless, PCs that deliver the Microflex 88B's performance numbers at its price and with the array of next-generation connection options that it offers are hard to find.
The 88B's 3.06GHz Intel Core i7 880 processor outpaces competing PCs that stick with slower-clocked CPUs--but not by a lot. Of course, the machine's general performance undoubtedly reflects the heavy load it bears: 4GB of DDR3 memory, a 60GB solid-state drive for booting, and a 500GB hard-disk drive for storage. The 88B turned a score of 156 on our WorldBench 6 test suite--10 points higher than the mark of 146 earned by the HP Pavilion HPE-170t, which offers a 2.80GHz Core i7 860 processor and 8GB of DDR3 memory for just over $1400.
The 88B's ATI Radeon HD5770 graphics board helps the system reach an average frame rate of 68.5 frames per second on our Unreal Tournament 3 benchmark run (tested at 2560 by 1600 resolution, at high quality). That's not the best score on the charts, but it beats the HPE-170t's average of 65.4 fps.
Where next-generation connectivity is concerned, the Microflex 88B shines. The front of the case offers three USB ports, a FireWire 400 port, and a multiformat card reader. On the rear of the system, you'll find eight USB ports, two USB 3.0 ports, two eSATA ports, two Firewire 400 ports (one mini), two gigabit ethernet ports, SPDIF out, and integrated 7.1 surround sound. The video card offers two DVI connectors, one HDMI connector, and one DisplayPort connector. Few machines in the Performance PC category have begun to offer USB 3.0 (Polywell's Poly X5800A3 is another example), and its presence is sure to appeal to users in need of high-speed interfaces.
Though the system's internal wiring takes up some space, it's relatively neat. Better yet, the chassis's four free 5.25-inch drive bays and one free 3.5-inch bay come with screwless locking mechanisms preinstalled. Should you want to replace the system's combined Blu-ray reader/DVD burner, you'll be able to slide in and secure a new component in a matter of seconds.
In contrast, the system's free PCI Express x4 slots (two), PCI slots (two), and PCI Express x16 slot (one) all use screws to lock in additional cards.We can't complain about the upgradability, however: Should you want to fire up a CrossFire setup to boost the 88B's gaming capabilities, you're free to do so.
The mouse that ships with the 88B is drab and generic,. but the Microsoft-branded keyboard comes with a substantial number of extra buttons for one-touch application launching, volume adjustments, media playback control, and zooming.
You can find faster systems than the 88B, and you can find better gaming rigs than the Microflex 88B (the aforementioned Polywell PolyX5800A3, for instance, or the CyberPower Black Pearl). But the 88B's combination of performance, gaming smarts, and low price, plus wide-ranging connection options, may be unique.