Micro Express MicroFlex 68B: One of the Best Values Gets Better
At a Glance
Micro Express MicroFlex 68B
This mainstream desktop is low on price and high on just about everything else. Talk about a Sandy Bridge system to beat!
Once again, Micro Express has beat itself at its own game. And that’s a good thing: The MicroFlex 68B desktop PC ($1200 as of October 19, 2011) is a variation on a theme previously established by the company’s Top 10 mainstream desktop, the MicroFlex 25B. The not-so-subtle differences between the two PCs include a brand-new case (we love it!), a lot more storage this time around (we love it!), and--finally--support for all the Blu-ray titles you can watch (we love it!).
As you might be able to guess, we’re big fans of the changes.
The 68B and its predecessor have the same CPU, an Intel Core i5-2500K. This time Micro Express doesn’t opt for a huge overclock: The 68B ships with its processor running at stock speed, a standard 3.3GHz. What you do get, however, is a lot more memory--16GB of DDR3 RAM, or four times the memory of the Micro Express MicroFlex 25B. We also appreciate that Micro Express took one of our big criticisms of the 25B to heart: The company has bumped this system’s total storage to a 1TB hard drive and a 128GB solid-state drive, a great improvement over the 25B’s paltry 300GB drive.
“No overclock, you say? But what about the system’s performance?”
Strange as it might seem, we saw virtually no difference in performance between the overclocked 25B and the stock-clocked 68B on our WorldBench 6 suite of tests. The 68B’s score of 184 was just four points below the 25B’s mark, allowing it to share the spotlight as one of the fastest sub-$2000 mainstream desktops we’ve tested. And in graphical capabilities, the 68B is no slouch, either: The same AMD Radeon HD 6870 graphics card powers both Micro Express machines, and it’s still just as good at delivering excellent frame rates on our Unreal Tournament 3 benchmark (112 frames per second, tested at a resolution of 2560 by 2100 with high quality settings).
Micro Express packs the guts of the 68B into one of Cooler Master’s beautiful Storm Enforcer chassis. We love the case’s near-silent ventilation, which is mostly attributable to a large, 20cm front fan that delivers both red accent lighting and quieter airflow. A side-panel window gives you the opportunity to admire the system’s tidy insides from afar, and a swinging front door conceals the 68B’s Blu-ray combo drive and multiformat card reader (plus one USB port).
The 68B’s primary front-panel connections--four USB ports, split between two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0--are located right in front of a large indented tray on the computer’s top. This would be a wonderful place to stash screws for in-progress upgrades to the 68B--if this system actually used many screws. Its three free 5.25-inch bays are completely screwless, and its four free hard-drive bays offer easy-to-install rails for integrating new storage into the system. It’s a slight oversight on the designers' part that the free PCI slots--two PCI, one PCI Express x16 (running at x8), and one PCI Express x1--still require screws for device installation. And, yes, we would have loved to see a total of two, full-speed PCI Express x16 slots in the 68B.
We love the 68B’s diverse smorgasbord of connection types: seven USB 2.0 ports, one combination eSATA/USB 2.0 port, two USB 3.0 ports, one additional eSATA port, a FireWire 400 port, one gigabit ethernet port, and a combination of optical and coaxial S/PDIF ports and integrated 7.1 surround sound. The included ATI Radeon HD 6870 graphics card gives you two DVI connections and two DisplayPort connections, but no HDMI--and that’s a big omission.
We’d normally use this space to discuss the 68B’s mouse and keyboard, but we received neither with our review model. Nevertheless, you’ll be able to select from a variety of input devices, if you so desire, when ordering the system on Micro Express’s website.
It’s hard to find something to dislike about the Micro Express MicroFlex 68B. Just a few omissions mar the excellent construction of this killer mainstream desktop, and they seem relatively minor in comparison with the computer's many strengths. It’s fast, it’s priced perfectly, and it’s a great improvement over one of our previous favorite mainstream desktops, the MicroFlex 25B. We can’t wait to see what else Micro Express has hidden up its sleeve.