Custom PCs – anyone can build them, but not everyone can build them well.
A lot of NZ suppliers are offering custom built computers at a range of prices, and under the knife today we have one such machine from North Shore based retailer PlayTech. PlayTech has a reputation for quality and service, so we were only too keen to get our hands on a system for evaluation. Weighing in at $2599 excluding monitor and accessories, this rig is aimed at the enthusiast gamer and features high-end products from the current underdog of the PC world, AMD/ATI.
My first impression of the machine had a lot to do with the choice of case. I'm a bit of a budget gamer so I've worn my way through several low-to-mid range gaming cases, and in comparison the Antec Nine Hundred is a beautiful, sturdy case. It's a full aluminium shell finished in a matte black coat, with a full solid-meshed front for ventilation and a 140mm exhaust fan mounted above the CPU.
Normally the power supply unit would block the placement of this fan but the Nine Hundred has the PSU placed at the bottom of the case. Other than those two unusual features it's configured like your standard ATX case, with the addition of entry and exit holes on the back of the case for watercooling. The USB, firewire and front audio connections are located conveniently on the top of the case next to a recessed area useful for placing CDs, screws, coffee cups etc.
The side window gives a good view into the case and it has fittings for a 120mm case fan. It would have been nice to see a fan fitted into this but there's already two 120mm intake fans on the front of the case plus one 120mm and one 140mm exhaust fan at the rear and top of the case so ventilation shouldn't be a problem.
The cabling job is perfectly functional if not completely aesthetically pleasing. The cables are routed and tied down in a very logical and efficient manner, but only some have been hidden from view and cables are a definite visual feature when you look in through the side window. Open your average store-bought PC and you'll likely find a terrible bird's nest of wires so this is definitely above-average craftsmanship, but I feel it's an area with room for improvement.
Powering up the PC was a pleasant experience - the case fans are virtually silent and the Zalman CPU cooler is configured to run at low speed until the CPU heats up under load, which means it is silent during Windows boot up. In fact throughout testing the fan noise remained completely acceptable, with only the CPU and video card fans spinning up during extended gaming sessions - at which point I rarely noticed the noise anyway as I was usually preoccupied with filling someone or something full of lead at full volume.
A quick peak at the BIOS settings shows the overclocked settings of the CPU (stock speed is normally 2.5 GHz), and the settings for the overclock are saved as a reloadable profile which is good for those of you prone to tinkering.
From powering on the PC to getting to the Windows desktop took just under 40 seconds which is pretty quick for Vista, and once there I was presented with a blank slate install of the 64-bit Home Premium edition, with SP1 pre-installed which was a bonus. What a lot of people don't realise about SP1 however is that it actually contains a bug fix designed to address an issue which older AMD Phenom CPUs experienced called the TLB errata bug. The bug fix actually lowers performance of the CPU by about 10%, even if the CPU installed is the latest "B3" stepping CPU like the 9850 which is installed in this system. There is a program that you can download and install that disables this bug fix which can be set to run automatically and personally I would have like to have seen something like that pre-installed on the system, but this is not something that PlayTech has decided to do, for this machine at least.