Unlike many vendors submitting their first system to us for a review, AVA Direct didn't try to blow the doors off our benchmarks. Instead, this $2,747 Core 2 Duo SLI system--while still a powerful, capable gaming machine--is a little more modest. It has a dual-core, overclocked Intel Core 2 Duo processor, a single GeForce 8800 GTS graphics card, and a towering, neatly assembled case with plenty of room for expandability. It's not without a few configuration and design issues, but nothing you can't fix by tweaking the build at AVA Direct's online configurator. Overall, AVA Direct has made a solid first impression on us. We recommend taking a look for yourself if you're in the market for a mid-to-high-end gaming PC.
We went to some of the better-known gaming PC vendors for a price check on the AVA Direct Core 2 Duo SLI and we found that it costs roughly the same as other, similar PCs. Alienware and Velocity's prices were nearly identical, Maingear's was about $3,100, while a similar rig from Falcon Northwest hovered around $2,500. So our AVA Direct PC costs about what it should.
For that $2,747, you get a Core 2 Duo E6600 overclocked to 2.6GHz (from 2.4GHz), 2GB of 1,066MHz DDR2 SDRAM, an overclocked 640MB GeForce 8800 GTS graphics card, a 150GB 10,000rpm main hard drive, and a second (non-RAID) 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive for storage. All of that is tied to an NForce 680i SLI motherboard with integrated audio. In other words, with this system, AVA Direct has taken an already-solid collection of midrange to high-end parts and beefed them up where possible to squeeze out more performance.
That tweaking pays off as well. Our performance charts might not position the AVA Direct in the best light in terms of comparisons. The problem is that the closest system we've seen in terms of specs is Velocity Micro's CineMagix Home Theater PC, which is hardly in the same category as a mid-to-high gaming box. The others are all more expensive quad-core PCs, with varying graphics card configurations. We think we can make a point or two, though.
First, the Photoshop test. We know that Photoshop takes advantage of quad-core CPUs, so it makes sense that the AVA Direct PC wouldn't top it out. It hangs in well enough, though. Its iTunes performance is just a few seconds behind the quad-core-equipped
Gaming is another story. That overclocked GeForce 8800 GTS card really pays off. First, at every resolution the AVA Direct delivered playable frame rates, even 2,048 x 1,536. That it beat the ABS Ultimate X Striker Elite on Quake 4 at every resolution speaks well of its overall power when you consider that the ABS PC has a faster GeForce 8800 GTX card and more memory. The AVA Direct's FEAR scores don't scale as well, but again, this system is every bit as fast as you'd expect given its configuration.
We mentioned that we had a few minor beefs with the design. Specifically, the ThermalTake Armor case comes with an outdated serial game port for ancient joysticks. We think most of you would rather lose that port and gain yourself a more useful expansion slot bay. We also think the internal cables could be bound a little more efficiently. As it is, each one has a thick plastic coil around it that definitely keeps the cables more organized than they might be otherwise, but a more efficient design might be to wrap multiple cables in one coil. The current plastic coil is thick, and putting one on each cable makes the interior a bit cluttered.
What's worse is the power supply. The Corsair HX620W PSU is robust enough to power a single GeForce 8800 GTS card with no problem, but the NForce 680i SLI motherboard in this system has room for another 3D card. We suspect that you could power two 8800GTS cards with that wattage, but it's under Nvidia's recommend total wattage for those two cards in SLI mode, and with all the overclocking, you'd be very close to the edge of stability. You'd be much more secure with at least a 700-watt model, if not higher. Fortunately, AVA Direct offers a number of options to choose from on its Web site.
Otherwise, we like the design of this system. Even if the cable routing coils are thick, the interior is still generally tidy. Between the card expansion ports, the spare memory slots, and the free hard drive bays, you have plenty of room to make upgrades after purchase. The DVD burner and standard DVD drive combo can limit your optical expansion room, but between those two drives you have your disc-burning and playing needs covered, unless you're looking to move to HD. We also always appreciate a parts drawer, which you'll find on the front panel, along with a media card reader and the standard array of ports.
For support, AVA Direct's Web site doesn't have a lot to offer. There's an e-mail form you can fill out, and a listing for the tech support number, but that's about all we could find. It could definitely use some more online offerings like FAQs, driver downloads, and other features. AVA Direct's phone support hours are also limited--9:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. EST--which especially hurts if you're a customer in a West Coast time zone. All that aside, we have to give AVA Direct credit for its default three-year parts and labor warranty. That's the standard plan for this system, and as we mentioned when we compared prices earlier, AVA Direct still keeps its PC in line with the prices of other vendors.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)