Vicious PC's eye-catching transparent case.
The case is as functional as it is breathtaking, with six external drive bays (only two of them occupied) and four spots for hard drives (again, two occupied). All five motherboard PCI slots are vacant, though the video card obstructs one of them. Should you need more than the included gigabyte of RAM, one memory socket remains available, with overall support for up to 1.5GB.
|Plenty of expansion space and a remarkably clear view of how all of the pieces come together.|
The Assassin pulls no punches when it comes to external expansion, serving up two USB 2.0 ports in front and five in back. It also sports a pair of FireWire ports: one standard (six-pin) and one mini (four-pin). Legacy ports are provided, as well.
Vicious PC's jet-black keyboard and two-tone Altec Lansing 251W speakers are attractive complements to the clear tower, although we think the system would look even more noteworthy if these components were clear as well. The monitor, on the other hand, has an odd, cheap-looking front bezel. From an aesthetic standpoint alone, we highly recommend a different display.
We also take issue with the way Vicious PC packaged the tower, with nothing more than a few layers of bubble wrap. Our system arrived unscathed, but we think the company should strongly consider more robust packing material. The Assassin SE packs in AMD's muscular Athlon 64 3200+ processor, 1GB of 400MHz DDR SDRAM, and a pair of striped 36GB Serial-ATA Western Digital hard drives. This loadout helped the Assassin achieve some killer benchmark scores, although anyone planning on recording or editing video will want more storage. Fortunately, the motherboard also includes three IDE controllers (two free) for adding more hard drives. Gamers will appreciate the Assassin's ATI Radeon 9800XT, one of the fastest graphics cards on the planet.
|We'd rather see a DVD-recordable drive and a media-card reader.||The unsatisfactory display is one of several components we would upgrade.|
It's too bad that the Assassin's entry-level supporting players don't do its brawny guts justice. Though NEC's FE991SB flat-screen monitor kicks glare to the curb, the image becomes seriously fuzzy at resolutions above 1,024x768. (At lower resolutions, the NEC's vibrant colors and the SuperBright control features help light up dark dungeons.)
The Assassin includes a DVD/CD-RW combo drive, but there's no DVD burner at a price point in which you'd usually find one. CyberLink PowerDVD and Ahead Nero Express handle watching and burning chores, respectively. In addition to Windows XP Home, the only other noteworthy software inclusion is a certificate that you can redeem for Half-Life 2 when the game becomes available.
We particularly dislike the keyboard, a generic affair with oodles of quick-launch and media-control buttons but woefully stiff keys. It has a half-size backspace key, some strangely labeled function keys, and no manual. For an extra $19, you can get a Microsoft Elite keyboard--though Vicious offers only clashing beige, not black.
The Altec Lansing 251W speakers are better than you'd expect from a $75 5.1 bundle. Things get a little raw when you crank the volume, but you can still bug the neighbors without distorting the sound. Surprisingly, the Assassin doesn't include a high-end audio card; it relies on the motherboard's adequate 5.1 audio circuitry instead. Fortunately, Vicious PC's online configurator offers sound cards and other upgrade options. Application performance
The Vicious PC Assassin SE gives us our first look at AMD's lower-end 64-bit CPU, the Athlon 64 3200+. The two main differences between the Athlon 64 FX-51 and the 3200+ are the clock speeds and the fact that the 3200+ allows for only single-channel memory, while the FX-51 has dual channel. With Athlon 64 chips, the processor memory now resides on the CPU itself, rather than the chipset. This provides a few more tweaking capabilities with the CPU through the BIOS, a fact that Vicious took advantage of when it sent us a system with the clock set to 2.10GHz, as opposed to the 2GHz default speed of the Athlon 64 3200+. With an overclocked system, we expected to see relatively high performance, perhaps on a par with that of the FX-51 systems, and we were right. While not quite equal to the ABS Ultimate M6, our FX-51 comparison system, it was close and fell well within our 3 to 5 percent margin of error. So what have we learned? By slightly overclocking the Athlon 64 3200+, you can expect performance from the Assassin that's close to that of its higher-end brother, the FX-51. All in all, the Assassin SE should be able to handle anything you throw its way.
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
Vicious has also decided to overclock the graphics card in its Assassin SE. Using ATI's Radeon 9800 XT, Vicious has raised the core speed to 446.54MHz, up from 412MHz, and boosted the memory from 365MHz to 384.23MHz. Surprisingly however, even overclocked, the 9800 XT did not produce very good numbers. All of our other systems, except for the Compaq X09 Gaming PC, outperformed the Vicious. We suspect that this has more to do with driver variation among the cards than with the hardware. The bottom line is that any game played on this system will bring great pleasure to whoever is using it.
3D graphics performance (Longer bars indicate better performance)
To measure 3D graphics performance, CNET Labs uses Futuremark's 3DMark03 Pro, 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 1,600x1,200. 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).
Performance analysis written by CNET Labs technician David Gussman.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
ABS Ultimate M6
Windows XP Professional, 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-51; Nvidia Nforce-3 Pro 150; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800 Pro XT 256MB; two Seagate ST380013AS 80GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; WinXP Promise FastTrak 376/378 controller
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
Polywell Poly 900NF3-FX1
Windows XP Professional, 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-51; Nvidia Nforce-3 Pro 150 chipset; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5900 Ultra 256MB; two WDC WD360GD-00FNA0 36GB Serial ATA 10,000rpm; WinXP Promise FastTrak 376/378 RAID controller
Velocity Micro Raptor Extreme Edition
Windows XP Professional, 3.2GHz Intel P4 Extreme; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 256MB; two WDC WD360GD-00FNA0 36GB Serial ATA 10,000rpm; one WDC WD2500JB-53EVA0, 250GB, ATA/100, 7,200rpm; integrated Intel 82801ER SATA 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 While the printed materials are sparse, Vicious provides a rather large warranty-and-service safety net. A three-ring binder containing a few pages of FAQs, some manuals for the motherboard and video card, and some driver CDs is the only support material included with the Assassin. There's no documentation for the system itself, nor is there a Windows CD or even a restoration CD.
Toll-free tech support is available 24/7 for the first year, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (PT) weekdays after that. The system warranty covers parts and labor for three years, with onsite service included for the first year--an impressive coverage umbrella from a smaller vendor.