The last time we saw a PacStar system, it appeared in our labs at the same time as an almost equivalently specified TI Computers system, which pipped it to the A-List. TI and Pacstar go head to head again, this issue with Core i7 Systems.
We were keen to see which would take out the honours, given that the PacStar system opted for ATI Radeon HD 4870 and a $2200 price, while the TI costs $3500 with an Nvidia GTX 295.
We've been waiting for a well-priced Core i7 system to land in our labs, given the incredible value in bang-for-buck terms that the Core i7 920 presents (see page 76). At $460 for the processor, it's been only the price of the motherboards that's kept Core i7 systems above the $2200 that marks a relatively affordable system.
This month, we've finally seen one with only a few small drawbacks. One of those drawbacks is the low-rent case that's supplied with the Pacstar system. Huntkey systems are notable, so our colleagues at Atomic tell us, mainly for their erratic power supplies.
The PSU will amply cope with the system we received, but if you plan to start adding a second GPU, for example, it's worth considering a PSU with more power and reliability. The front offers 4 USB ports and firewire, while at the back, 6 USB ports and FireWire are joined by - surprisingly - both DisplayPort and HDMI as well as the usual DVI monitor connection.
The components are more pleasing than the drab case; starting with the processor, a 2.66GHz Core i7 920 overclocked to 3.33GHZ. The overclock sounds more impressive than it is; it's essentially a stable boost to a 940 spec.
The addition of 3GB Kingmax triple channel 1333MHz RAM is a perfect complement - it takes advantage of the maximum RAM that Windows Vista 32-bit can handle, without underselling the processor. The resulting performance is impressive - it rated 2.37 in our benchmarks, equal to 940 performance.
Another excellent addition is the Palit 4870 512MB graphics card. The 4870 is our pick of the high-end bang-for-buck options right now and it helped the Pacstar get a fantastic 140fps in our Crysis Low Settings test benchmark. Even on the 1600 x 1200 Very High Settings test the PacStar managed a playable 28fps.
Pacstar has also included our former A-listed W2252TQ LG monitor in the package. While our A-list has now changed, when the PacStar system arrived in Labs, the LG was still our best monitor pick, and we hope that PacStar, like the TI Computers system opposite, switches over to the great value BenQ that replaced the LG last issue.
The W2252TQ is an impressively bright and crisp monitor, and it's a fine addition.
The MSI X58 Pro board is a canny selection, too; it doesn't have the overclocking potential of the higher end MSI X58 Platinum or Eclipse, and has less cooling and fewer SATA and USB ports, but even so, it's a solid choice and eminently suitable for a budget system.
It allows some scope for overclocking and expansion, including a second graphics card, without attracting a price premium.
But it's not all good news. The two 640GB Western Digital hard drives are good quality parts, but they look a little underdone in comparison to the rest of the system. We'd have liked to see 1.5-2TB in RAID array, but it's not like 1200MB is a major crime. Opting for higher capacity discs with your system at build won't cost the earth, either.
The build quality from PacStar is outstanding - the inside of the case is neat, with cables well laid out and the entire system easy to delve into.
It's a plain system, lacking some of the more ostentatious bells and whistles that you might expect in a pricier system. There's no Blu-ray drive, and there's no additional soundcard or TV tuner to give more entertainment options. Even so, this may be plain, but it's far from unimpressive, with excellent performance in 2D and 3D benchmarking as well as clever, affordable choices in components and peripherals.
It's a system that we wouldn't be unhappy to take home and spend the weekend gaming on, and for that reason, as well as the great-value price, we're awarding it the A-list.