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MV Cubik GamePro small form-factor PC

Performance worth the price?

1GB of Corsair XMS3200C2PT TWINX RAM, rated 2-3-2-6 at DDR400 and run in dual-channel mode, further boosts the Cubik's performance credentials. However, with the SN95G5 boasting locks for both AGP and PCI buses, synchronous frontside bus overclocking may well be limited by the RAM. I mention overclocking because of the GamePro's AMD Athlon 64 3500+ 90nm CPU. Rated at a nominal 2.2GHz with 512KB of L2 cache, retail examples of this lower-wattage CPU have scaled to 2.5-2.6GHz without the need for esoteric cooling. That makes it an excellent choice for a gamer-orientated cube. Having the ability to raise speeds to near FX-55 levels, albeit with less on-chip cache, makes it an eminently sensible choice. We'll see just how well the system overclocks later on.

MV GameProShuttle's ICE cooler uses a heatpipe. The 240W PSU also has a single fan that blows over the CPU area, so cooling has been well thought out.

The associated software bundle is more functional than extravagant. Windows XP Home is slightly cheaper than Pro, and Ability Office 2002 is less expensive than Office XP, although the latter would rarely be specified in an £1100 machine. Panda Titanium AntiVirus 2005 includes a full 12-month update, and disk-burning software comes in the form of Roxio's Easy Media Creator 7 Basic VCD edition, which is a reasonably comprehensive all-in-one solution.

Build quality, both from Shuttle and MV, is excellent. MV offers a three-year limited warranty - the first year includes on-site parts and labour, with years two and three offering return-to-base fixes with parts and labour included. That's on a par with most other system integrators.

Is the package worth the price? One method of ascertaining value for money is to add up all the constituent parts, assuming a self-build, and see how competitive MV's price is. With purchases made from competitive online retailers, the DIY approach, including software but excluding warranty support and costs incurred in building, would come in at £950-1000. So the £1127 asking price is reasonable, and it would make sense for all but experienced builders to contemplate a pre-built approach.

MV hasn't tinkered at all with the SN95G5's BIOS - every parameter is left to default. That's not to say that you can't change each setting for increased performance. CPU FSB speeds range from 200-280MHz, and inputting explicit AGP speeds effectively function as a bus-locking measure.

MV GameProAgain, settings in the DRAM configuration screen are left to default. Oddly, the default parameters, according to CPU-Z, are 3-3-3-8 at DDR400. That's not making the most out of the 2-3-2-6 rated Corsair RAM, and it seems more of a Shuttle SPD-detection problem than anything else.

Here's where MV and Shuttle score well: fan speeds. You have a range to choose from. Smart Fan is usually the best in most cases. You can set a CPU temperature tag of anywhere between 30-60°C, and the fan speed rises, gradually, above the 900rpm default when the set temperature is exceeded. I found that a CPU temperature tag of 40°C was sufficient to keep the fan spinning at the slowest speed, even when the system was under load. That's evidence of both how well the cooler works and just how cool 90nm Athlon 64s are. System temperature consistenly hovered 20°C above the CPU's, suggesting that the latter is probably being under-read. In Windows, Nvidia's temperature-reporting tab showed the GeForce 6800 GT idling at between 50-55°C and rising to 65-75°C when under strenuous 3D load, which is well below the card's operating tolerance and core-shutdown threshold.

Next page: Overclocking

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