In a world in which laptop sales are outpacing desktops, a PC has to work very hard just to get noticed. Some manufacturers rely on stunning price points, others on peripherals, such as huge, widescreen monitors, while others go for all-out performance. But the Pacstar DDR5 Gamer is the first system we’ve seen to make brashness a point of distinction: the lurid orange fascia and window on the side of the case aren’t exactly subtle.
The DDR5’s looks aren’t exactly crowd-pleasing: a straw-poll of the PC Authority office revealed very few would willingly have the DDR5 Gamer anywhere passers-by might see it; although aesthetes should note that it’s also available in a rather less eye-catching black.
It’s a good thing, because the orange case distracts from the DDR5’s true purpose: performance. At its heart is an Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 running at 3.16GHz, backed by 2GB of Corsair Dominator 1066MHz RAM. Each DIMM has a rather ostentatious heatsink attached: whether these do much good in terms of performance or overclocking is open to some debate, but they certainly give the otherwise bland interior a point of interest.
Pacstar hasn’t skimped on the core specifications of this powerful PC. Storage comes via a pair of 750GB Samsung Spinpoint F1 drives, striped in a RAID 0 array for a total of 1.5TB of storage. It all told in our benchmarks: the Pacstar ran to an exceptional result of 1.75: more than enough for high-definition video editing, and certainly good enough, considering the amount of storage, to run as the hub of an advanced media network.
Its networking abilities are advanced further by the inclusion of a pair of gigabit ethernet ports on the backplane of the Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3P: the name of this Intel P45 motherboard is unwieldy, but then so is its specification list. Besides its networking capabilities, the backplane offers no fewer than eight USB ports, plus eight-pin and four-pin FireWire ports, optical and co-axial S/PDIF ports and 3.5mm jacks for the integrated 7.1 HD audio chip.
The spare serial ATA ports on the motherboard are connected to another backplane offering two e-SATA ports and a four-pin Molex connector. The loud fascia of the DDR5 also offers a few welcome surprises: four more USB ports, plus microphone and headphone jacks, plus another eight-pin FireWire port.
There’s a single optical drive, but we’re pleased to say it’s a high-end model. The LG GGC-H20L can write all kinds of standard CD and DVD, including DVD-RAM and all kinds of rewritable DVD. It’s also compatible with both Blu-ray and HD DVD: with the HD format war won by the former, its ability to play HD DVDs isn’t going to be tested much, but those who adopted a collection of HD DVDs early on may appreciate the inclusion.
Graphical performance is provided by the ATi Radeon HD 4870. The inclusion of the current A-listed choice of graphics card is welcome, and the DDR5’s results in our 3D benchmarks spoke for themselves. Crysis, at High settings and at 1600 x 1200, scored 47fps. To get a playable result at the LCD’s native resolution we needed to drop the detail down to Medium, but 55fps at 1900 x 1200 is still excellent.
High-definition gaming and film-watching is possible thanks to the 24in LG 246WH monitor. Its native resolution of 1900 x 1200 makes it 1080p-compatible, and it’s a clear step up from the 22in, 1680 x 1050 LG that accompanies the TI.
It’s extremely bright: excessively so, in fact: even in a well-lit room we needed to turn the brightness down. That done, we were impressed by the LG’s colour-handling and, of course, that expansive desktop. The HDMI and D-SUB only LG also comes with a pair of USB ports and a microphone jack, cutting down on the number of wires that need to be trailed to the main system.
Unfortunately, the DDR5 is loud. Most of the time it produces the relatively quiet whoosh of air being moved around an empty space, but every now and then –particularly when pushed hard – the stock Intel CPU fan fired up, leaving us in no doubt as to whether the DDR was earning its crust. It’s a shame, as a quieter, non-stock cooler wouldn’t have added too much to the price. For some, of course, the DDR5 will be destined for underneath a study desk, but for those looking for a system for the living room or another busy, family area, it’s a little obtrusive.
A bigger problem for the DDR5 this month, though, is the TI Extreme Power 260. The TI is more than $350 cheaper than the Pacstar, yet the core specifications are the same – right down to the exact same processor and hard disk array. You get comparable graphics power from the Nvidia GTX 260, and although the LG monitor accompanying the TI is 2in smaller and has a lower resolution, the difference in usability won’t be that pronounced unless you regularly work with very high resolution files.
Admittedly, you also lose the Blu-ray optical drive, but again: for a $350 saving we’d say it was worth it. If the Pacstar were a little quieter we’d more inclined to recommend it: as it is, the TI beats it this month.
This Review appeared in the September, 2008 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine
Source: Copyright © PC Pro, Dennis Publishing