Labs roundup: Barebones PCs: Performance Analysis

Evaluating barebones systems is quite different from performance-based testing using benchmarks. As such, we opted to do a feature-based roundup, covering all aspects of the hardware, including but not limited to: build quality, ease of install, and included feature sets.

PERFORMANCE ANALYSIS

Evaluating barebones systems is quite different from performance-based testing using benchmarks. As such, we opted to do a feature-based roundup, covering all aspects of the hardware, including but not limited to: build quality, ease of install, and included feature sets.


We've broken the score into two categories: Quality and Features. Quality represents the overall build quality of the system, including materials used as well as other aspects like accessibility. The Features score includes all the actual features of the system, such as the number of slots on the motherboard, free bays and CPU support. As per our new Labs scoring method, a score of 100 is average, and a score of 115, for example, means that system scored 15 percent above average.


Below we have isolated a couple of the real sticking points in quality for the systems and gone into them in more detail. Also below is a graph showing the relative scores in the areas of Quality and Features.

CMOS

CMOS reset location was an important one for us to consider during testing, in some cases the reset is located on the inside of the AGP slot, making it impossible to reset once a graphics card such as a GeForce 4 Ti4600 had been installed. You may not be resetting your CMOS all that often (we'd be concerned if you were), but the inability to access it could certainly be a hindrance during installation.

 

Cabling

Internal cabling was another item we rated for quality, simply because sloppy cabling restricts access and leads to air flow issues - and let's face it, a case of this size doesn't have a high threshold for abnormally high heat levels. Units such as the Shuttle XPC series feature a small plastic clip below the optical bay rack for tucking away I/O cabling, an excellent feature to help keep the cool air circulating.

 

Layout

Going hand in hand, motherboard layout and accessibility relate to the ability to get hardware in and out without hassle. Furthermore, once installed you still need space to fiddle with the individual components. Accessibility includes removal of RAM DIMMs and optical and hard drive bays, while motherboard layout was all about accommodating items such as the AGP slot, PCI devices and how much room there was to work with.

 

Cooling

Cooling was another reason for concern, with many different methods implemented. Some barebones manufacturers chose to go with the stock standard P4 cooler, while others picked custom proprietary coolers such as AOpen and Shuttle's well-documented and effective ICE (Integrated Cooling Engine) system. One good reason for emphasising ventilation is you can afford to install a smaller and slower fan, which means a quieter overall system.

 

Build quality

We pushed and prodded the case and housing to determine the strength of the materials used. Ideally you want something with rigidity, but without too much weight.
Sharp edges might seem less important than cooling or accessibility, but trust us on this one, if you've had the occasional scratch or cut from working on standard sized ATX casing, you're in for a less than pleasant surprise if you pick up a dodgy small form factored housing. Given the tiny workspace, the manufacturers take on rounding or filing metal edges is usually a clear reflection of the build quality and overall quality of the product. Be sure to watch out for those nicks.

 

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This Group Test appeared in the December, 2003 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine

See more about:  labs  |  roundup  |  barebones  |  pcs  |  performance  |  analysis
 
 

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