As you may know, PlayTech are one of New Zealand's biggest computer and technology retailers with an extensive website and a large showroom on Auckland's North Shore. They also sell custom-built PC's to cater for all different budgets, and today we have one such machine targeted towards the "mainstream" gamer - the $1299 PlayTech LAN Box.
It turns out that calling this PC a "LAN Box" isn't just marketing kerfuffle - they are actually the offspring of a 48 hour LAN held at the PlayTech premises a few weeks back. Each one of these machines was purpose-built for the event so this means the one you buy has been 'tested' by some of NZ's top gamers.
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E7400 2.8GHz 3MB L2 Cache
Mobo: Asus P5QL Pro Socket 775 P43
RAM: 2x2GB Corsair DDR2-800 CL5
GPU: ATI HD 4770 512MB GDDR5
HDD: Western Digital Green 500GB SATA II
DVD: 20X Dual Layer DVD±RW/CD-RW Burner
Case+PSU: Cooler Master 'CM Storm' Scout w/ CM Extreme 550W
The E7400 CPU is at a sweet-spot for price vs performance, so is a good pick for a system like this. 2.8GHz is fast enough not to be a bottleneck in gaming for at least another year or two, at which point you could always overclock it, as these 45nm Intel chips are known to clock quite high with just the slightest encouragement.
The motherboard is a good solid Asus board with a P43 chipset, however the one thing that bugs me about it is the placement of the 24 pin power connector - right smack bang in the middle of the board. I have no idea why Asus choose to put this socket here on some of its boards, but it's a right pain in the neck when it comes to routing the main power cable from the PSU, as you can see from the photos.
While the RAM isn't top-speed, you get 4GB of it so you can take advantage of the 64bit versions of Vista and Windows 7. In fact, the fully-functioning Release Candidate of Windows 7 is available as a free download at the moment, so you could get yourself a copy of that to try out.
As for the GPU, the HD 4770 is flavour of the month in graphics land right now. Almost as good as the ubiquitous HD 4850 but cheaper, cooler, and more power efficient. Great overclocking potential too.
The HDD is a bit of a trade-off. The 'Green' series of drives are the more power-efficient, cooler, cheaper and quieter running models from Western Digital, however they don't have the same performance as the 'Blue' or 'Black' series. Some people may prefer a slightly lower-capacity but higher-performance drive like the 320GB WD Blue, but either way it's not going to affect your frames per second in-game, it just might take a few more seconds when moving large files around and that sort of thing.
Last but certainly not least are the case and power supply unit. The PSU tips the scales at 550W which is perfect for this type of system, but the real star of the show here is the CM Storm Scout gaming case. This is, by a huge margin, my favourite case right now. Steel construction, black matte finish inside and out, sturdy carry handle, bottom-mounted PSU bracket, side window and fans galore; for the price, it's perfect.
For the asking price of this system, you'd be very hard pressed to cram in any better parts, so I can definitely commend PlayTech's choices here.
Cable management is important not just for having a tidy looking system, but also to allow good airflow through the system to keep your components running cool. As you can see, PlayTech have done a perfectly adequate job with the cable routing, even down to cable-tying down the unused cables onto the back side of the motherboard tray, which then get hidden by the side panel of the case. The giant 24pin power cable is a bit of an eyesore but there's no way to get around that with this motherboard.
Overall, I've seen better looking cable management, but there's nothing specific I can complain about here.
After installing a 64bit copy of Windows Vista, I set the machine up to run through my standard suite of test games, at the same settings as our recent 4770 Crossfire review, only this time using slightly newer graphics drivers (Catalyst 9.5) and leaving out the Anti-Aliased tests.
As you can see, with the notable exception of Crysis, the rig can play all of these games at high resolution and high quality settings with ease, with five out of the six games returning over 45 frames per second even at 1920x1200. Great performance for the mainstream pricetag.
You could probably go out and source all these components and put together the rig yourself for a lower price tag, but for $1299 you'll get it built and tested by professionals, and you get the peace of mind of a one year warranty on all the parts.
So if you're after a gaming PC in the 'mainstream' price range, I can definitely recommend the PlayTech LAN Box.