At 14.6 inches wide, 5.8 inches tall, and 18.1 inches deep, the iBuyPower Value 640 is nearly twice as tall as the compact Shuttle XPC X200M and much wider and longer. Whereas the Shuttle is the size of a slim DVD player, the iBuyPower is closer in size to a big A/V receiver. The $1,149 XPC X200M is the more complete system, with a TV tuner and a wireless card inside, but Shuttle restricts access to the case--crack open the Shuttle's case, and you void the warranty. Only two thumbscrews separate you from getting inside the iBuyPower Value 640, and you won't void the warranty if you do pry inside. The NZXT Duet case provides easy access to the motherboard; the power supply and the DVD burner sit in the front of the case, leaving the motherboard completely unobstructed.
On the MSI P965 Neo board, there are two x1 PCI Express slots, three PCI slots, and two open DIMM slots. A wireless 802.11g card should have occupied one of the PCI slots--it's a standard feature on the Value 640--but iBuyPower forgot to include it on our review unit. This type of oversight makes us question the level of quality put into each PC that leaves iBuyPower's factory. If the company can't correctly assemble a system it is submitting for an in-depth review, how careful is it when building custom orders from its customers?
Also, while iBuyPower binds most of the cables to keep the interior somewhat neat, the small power cord for the fan on the CPU heat sink is not bound and coils a bit too close to the side-panel cooling fan; we could envision that cord eventually nudging the fan and creating an annoying racket if left as is.
On the case's exterior, a small, flip-down panel under the power button hides two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, and headphone and mic jacks. Behind a larger panel that takes up the right side of the front panel, you'll find the system's DVD burner, a free 5.25-inch drive bay, and a media card reader. iBuyPower told us the Blu-ray and HD DVD drives are still in tight supply, and the company didn't know when it would begin offering next-gen HD optical drives.
Overall, the NZXT Duet chassis is inoffensive and it's better looking than what we saw last year with the iBuyPower Viiv-350 system. Seeing that the Value 640 uses Vista, however, we were hoping to find some sort of auxiliary display that took advantage of Vista's SideShow feature a la the small LCD on the lid of this Asus laptop. Such a display would be especially useful in a living-room PC, where you could view track and album information, for example, without having to turn on your TV.
To connect the Value 640 to your television, you have your choice among VGA, DVI, and S-Video, all courtesy of the system's 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7600 GS card. The integrated Realtek audio chip provides 7.1 surround sound, though iBuyPower offers a number of Sound Blaster cards. Likewise, there's a long list of graphics cards from which to choose, though the 7600 GS strikes a good balance for the Value 640 intended purpose as a living-room PC. You'll need to add a TV tuner if you want to record your shows to the Value 640's hard drive; iBuyPower sells a handful of internal TV tuner cards and an external box on the Value 640's online configuration tool. If you plan to record and archive TV shows, we'd recommend choosing a larger hard drive than our review unit's 320GB unit, particularly if you plan to record over-the-air HD content, which will result in very large video files.
Included in our review unit's price is a 17-inch KDS LCD, tiny stereo speakers, and a wired keyboard and mouse set from Apevia. You'll save $141 if you don't need the LCD and you expect to integrate the Value 640 into your home theater. If that's the plan, we recommend upgrading the keyboard and mouse to a wireless set.
With what amounts to mainstream specs these days--Core 2 Duo E6400 processor, 1GB of memory, and the aforementioned midrange GeForce card--the iBuyPower Value 640 ran Vista Home Premium with nary a hiccup. It carried out standard Windows tasks and Media Center tasks without a pause. Thanks to its desktop CPU, it clearly outpaced the other two Vista-based PCs we've reviewed, the HP TouchSmart PC IQ770 and the Shuttle XPC X200M, both of which use mobile dual-core chips.
The iBuyPower trailed XP-based Gateway DX420X on all of our benchmarks, which shows the power the Core 2 Duo E6600 processor; although it's clocked only slightly faster than the Value 640's E6400, it features twice the L2 cache. The Gateway also enjoys the advantage of having a more powerful graphics card while also running Windows XP, which isn't as resource intensive as Vista Home Premium. To be fair, the Gateway DX420X is $650 more expensive than the Value 640, so you should expect it to outperform the cheaper iBuyPower PC.
The Vista-based Dell Dimension E521, similar in price and specs to the Value 640, serves up a faster AMD processor and double the RAM for a clean sweep of our benchmarks when matched head-to-head with the iBuyPower Value 640. With frame rates below 30 frames per second on our Quake 4 benchmark at a modest 1,024x768 resolution, neither system is geared for 3D gaming as configured. Don't let the Value 640's 25fps dissuade your from putting it in your living room; it has more than enough graphics muscle to power 2D media center graphics and Vista's AERO effects.
iBuyPower backs the Value 640 with its standard warranty, which covers labor for an impressive three years and parts for one year. Onsite service is offered for the first year. Online FAQs and drivers are nonexistent, although iBuyPower does provide a list of manufacturer links for those in search of a driver update. Toll-free telephone support--available Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT--is offered for the lifetime of the system.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)