A sound-activated interior neon light adds atmosphere.
Geared toward gamers on a budget and college students who crave power, the Cyberpower Gamer Ultra 8500 SE delivers both performance and customized style. The black-metal case and the Plexiglas side panel are complemented by six bright-blue, front-panel lights, a side-panel fan equipped with four different-colored lights, and an interior neon strip with three sound-sensitivity settings. The cumulative effect is more like being inside the glowing interior of a submarine than sitting in front of a PC. And using Cyberpower's online configuration tool, you can even choose the colors of the glow in which you'll bask.
Cooling won't be a problem with four case fans (two rear, one side, and one dorsal) and a front-panel LED CPU-temperature indicator, a nifty addition. In a nod to convenience, the front is home to two USB 2.0 ports, audio input and output jacks, and a six-in-one media-card reader. In a surprisingly amateur move, though not a deal-killer, an RCA cable runs from the audio jacks on the back of the system back into and through the PC in order to power the front-mounted audio ports.
|The internal-temperature LED provides early warning in case of overheating.|
|The external cable connecting the rear audio jacks to those on the front is a sloppy solution.|
Cyberpower leaves plenty of room for upgrading, however, with two of the four 5.25-inch bays free and four free PCI slots, although one is occluded by the graphics card, whose fan spills over from the AGP slot. A fifth PCI slot is occupied by a Creative 56K modem. If 120GB just isn't enough storage space, three 3.5-inch bays are free for future hard drives, and the out-of-the-way cabling ensures that installing new drives will be painless. The case interior is conveniently accessible with thumbscrews, but you'll require a screwdriver for the drive bays and the PCI mounts.
For a system that costs roughly $1,200, the Cyberpower Gamer Ultra 8500 SE hosts an impressive hardware lineup. The key piece responsible for this is AMD's Athlon 64 3000+, a significantly cheaper version of the 64-bit 3200+ processor. Complementing the 3000+ is the system's 1GB of 400MHz DDR SDRAM, a 7,200rpm Seagate 120GB Serial ATA hard drive, and a blazing Nvidia 128MB GeForce FX 5900 graphics card. Compared with the 2.8GHz Gateway 700X Gaming PC that we tested recently, the Gamer Ultra 8500 SE serves up similar performance. The Athlon 64 3000+ costs slightly more than the 2.8GHz Pentium 4 when you look at the average street price of both CPUs, but AMD's chip gives you the bonus of running the 64-bit apps we expect to start seeing this year.
|A world of drive bays just begging to be filled.|
|Even though two 5.25-inch slots are taken, you still have two to spare.|
We had nary a complaint about the internal components, but that doesn't mean we didn't take issue with some of the peripherals that Cyberpower bundled with our test system. The ViewSonic G90fb, a capable 19-inch CRT, performs adequately at standard resolutions but drops in image quality above 1,280x1,024. It's a stylish addition, but it does not complement the robust performance of the rest of the system. We also found the generic black wireless Internet keyboard and ball mouse disappointing. Keystrokes tended to lag or were even ignored at times; this misregistration was especially noticeable with fast typing. Both the keyboard and the mouse must be positioned precisely, or they will refuse to function, rendering irrelevant the best features of a wireless interface. Fortunately, several better options are available via Cyberpower's online configurator, such as the Logitech Cordless MX Duo mouse and keyboard, a $99 upgrade.
No PCI sound card was included in this configuration, instead forcing the Creative SBS 5.1 560 speakers to run off the integrated audio controller. This, too, can be remedied when configuring your system online, though it will cost you around $30 for a Creative SoundBlaster Live Value card.
Bundled software includes a demo version of Ahead Nero CD-burning software and CyberLink PowerDVD, giving you some immediate use out of the 16X DVD-ROM and the speedy 52X CD-RW. Our test system came with Microsoft Windows XP Home and Microsoft Works 2004, but Cyberpower provides a choice of Microsoft OSs as well as applications such as multiple versions of Microsoft Office 2003, Norton AntiVirus 2002, and a few slightly dated Microsoft games--an adequate bundle for the price.
The Cyberpower Gamer Ultra 8500 SE is the first system we've tested that uses AMD's Athlon 64 3000+, a mainstream 64-bit CPU released with little fanfare at the end of 2003. The budget-oriented 3000+ runs at the same clock speed as the 3200+ (2GHz) but has only 512MB of L2 cache, as opposed to the 1,024MB found on the 3200+. Due to this difference, we expected to see lower performance in the 3000+-based system when we compared it to a PC equipped with a 3200+ CPU, and the results were what we expected. The SysMark 2002 score of 214 posted by the Cyberpower Gamer Ultra 8500 SE was 17 percent slower than the 257 score of the Vicious PC Assassin SE, which uses the Athlon 64 3200+. Although the 3000+ represents the lowest end of AMD's 64-bit processor line, it does compare favorably to Intel's 2.8CGHz Pentium 4 processor and its system's SysMark score. It is also important to note that while our tests consist of 32-bit applications, Athlon 64 processors will be capable of running 64-bit software when it is released later this year, an ability that Intel's current chips do not offer.
Application performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2002, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).
3D graphics and gaming performance
The Gamer Ultra comes equipped with a GeForce FX 5900 graphics card, accompanied by 128MB of RAM. While its performance is not equal to that of a higher-end 256MB GeForce FX 5950 Ultra-based card, the FX 5900 posted more than adequate results, including 195.3 frames per second on Unreal Tournament 2003. This is easily enough power to play today's games, and it leaves the system well prepared for games down the road.
3D graphics performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Note: 3DMark03 v330 results may be artificially inflated because of driver optimizations.
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark03 Pro v330, an industry-standard benchmark. We use 3DMark to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 9.0 (DX9) interface at a 32-bit color-depth setting and at a resolution of 1,600 by 1,200. We also enable 4X antialiasing and 4X anisotropic filtering via Windows' Display Properties settings. A system that does not have DX9 hardware support will typically generate a lower score than one that has such support.
3D gaming performance (in fps) (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Epic Games' Unreal Tournament 2003, widely used as an industry-standard benchmark. We use Unreal to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8.0 (DX8) interface at a 32-bit color depth and at a resolution of 1,024x768. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are disabled. At this color depth and resolution, Unreal is much less demanding than 3DMark03 and is therefore an excellent means of comparing the performance of low-end to high-end graphics subsystems. We report the results of Unreal's Flyby-Antalus test in frames per second (fps).
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.System configurations:
Compaq X09 Gaming PC
Windows XP Professional; 3.2GHz Intel P4; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 256MB; two Seagate ST3120026AS 120GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Intel 82801ER SATA RAID controller
Cyberpower Gamer Ultra 8500 SE
Windows XP Home; 2GHz AMD Athlon 64 3000+; Via K8T800 chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5900 128MB; Seagate ST3120026AS Serial ATA 7,200rpm
Gateway 700XL Gaming PC
Windows XP Home; 2.8GHz Intel Pentium 4; Intel 875P chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5900 Ultra; Maxtor 6Y160M0 160GB Serial ATA 7,200rpm
Polywell Poly 900VF
Windows XP Home, 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 3400+; Via K8T800 chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5900 Ultra 128MB; two WDC WD360GD-00FNA0 36GB Serial ATA 10,000rpm; integrated Via Serial ATA RAID controller
Vicious PC Assassin SE
Windows XP Home, 2GHz AMD Athlon 64 3200+; Via K8T800 chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro XT 256MB; two WDC WD360GD-00FNA0 36GB Serial ATA 10,000rpm; WinXP Promise FastTrak 376/378 RAID controller
Cyberpower throws in a slew of hardware manuals and user guides with this system, covering everything from the keyboard to the hard drive. Driver disks and CDs are in abundance, and the package lacks only an overall system manual--on paper or on the hard drive. A company-branded XP Home recovery CD is present, but if serious problems arise, the default three-year parts-and-labor warranty includes one year of onsite support and 24/7, toll-free phone support during that first year. After that, you'll need to call Cyberpower phone support directly (toll-free), available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT.
Optional, additional years of onsite service costs $40 per year. This is a pretty comprehensive package from a lesser-known vendor.