Evesham Solar Storm Windows Vista PC
Evesham ships its latest Core 2 Duo rig. Guess what, it runs Vista
Review By current standards the Solar Storm is very conventional and uses a Core 2 Duo processor, as Intel's silicon offers both superb dual-core performance as well as value for money. In this case it's an E6400 model that runs at 2.13GHz on a 1,066MHz FSB. There are two 512MB PC2-5300U modules to give 1GB of dual-channel memory, and a Foxconn P9657AA-8EKRS2H motherboard to tie it all together.
As the name suggests, this is an Intel P965-based mobo, so it fully supports the Core 2 Duo as well as the Core 2 Quad, which is handy when upgrade time comes around. On the I/O panel there are four USB 2.0 ports, one Firewire, eSATA and Gigabit Ethernet, as well as five 3.5mm sockets and optical output for the integrated HD audio. You'll also find parallel and serial legacy ports and two PS/2 connectors.
On the front of the case there are two more USB ports, one Firewire and sockets for headphones and a microphone. Evesham has installed a Winfast 7900GS graphics card with 256MB of memory and a Hauppauge Hybrid Nova-DT TV Tuner Card which has a single RF input for a TV antenna. In this package Evesham supplies a Microsoft Media Center Edition remote control and USB receiver.
There's still plenty of expansion room on the Foxconn motherboard as it has one PCI Express x1 slot, one PCI Express x4 slot and two old-style PCI slots available for use, although one of the PCI slots is hard up against the graphics card's cooling fan and is probably best left unpopulated. The hard drive is a Western Digital SATA unit with 320GB of space and there's room in the case for three more drives as Evesham hasn't included a floppy. The ICH8R South Bridge chips supports six SATA connections with RAID so you have plenty of options if you fancy increasing your storage capacity at a later date.
You get two Sony optical drives in the shape of a 16x DVD-ROM and an 18x dual-layer DVD writer. That leaves plenty of space inside the black and silver Chenbro ATX case and based on our experience with the Core 2 Duo we'd be happy that it would remain cool, calm and collected with a minimal supply of cooling air. But Evesham has taken a more cautious approach. In addition to the Intel heatsink, which is beefy enough to keep the processor under control and to also move air across the passive cooler on the North Bridge chip, there's a 120mm fan at the rear of the case, and a duct in the side of the case to pull air in through a perforated panel. Add in the fan in the power supply and the fan on the graphics card, and there's a moderate level of background noise. That's not to say that the Solar Storm is raucous - it's not - but we'd prefer an unperforated case and would consider unplugging the case fan.
The Solar Storm is based on a reasonable set of specifications so it's no surprise that the Evesham achieved a PCMark05 score of 5,718 marks. To put that in context, a high spec Core 2 Duo PC typically achieves a PCMark05 score of 6,500-7,000 marks while a GeForce 8800 GTX graphics card scores 11,000 marks in the graphics part of the test. In short, the Solar Storm is a strong performer without being exceptional.
Turning to the peripherals, we were unimpressed by the Creative I-Trigue 3220 2.1 speakers as the satellites stand on a tiny base that causes them to wobble alarmingly. However, they sound fine and dandy. We found the widescreen 20in Viewsonic VG2030WM was a pleasure to use at its native resolution of 1,680 x 1,050, and the combination of height adjustment and tilt makes it simple to set up.
The screen has both VGA and DVI inputs, and as the Winfast 7900GS has dual-DVI outputs the choice of connection wasn't a difficult decision. In one respect we were a trifle bemused by the choice of TFT as the large lower bezel houses integrated speakers on this model which is obviously an irrelevance when you have the Creative speakers.
As for the wireless Logitech mouse and keyboard, they work well enough but they're very basic models and bring nothing to the Vista party. We can't help but feel that a high-end Logitech VX mouse might have been a better choice to show off the Aero flip interface, but of course that would raise the price past the critical £999 point.
Ah yes, Windows Vista.
This is the first Vista PC we've seen up close and personal, although we've given various Beta builds of Vista a run for their money. Windows Vista Home Premium uses the Aero interface so it's loaded with various slick cosmetic bits and pieces and it was a pleasure to use a new version of Windows that didn't hammer the hardware to within an inch of its life. Unfortunately we couldn't help noticing the odd glitch here and there.
For instance, at start-up Windows Defender blocked a number of programs - including the control panel for the Realtek HD audio and Evesham's preferred anti-virus software, BullGuard. You can train Windows Defender like any other firewall and malware filter, but in this case the Allow button was greyed out. We also found that Internet Explorer 7 caused the PC to thrash away for a couple of seconds when we opened the browser, but the worst annoyance is that the hard drive is active almost all of the time.
This is especially clear with the Evesham as it has one bright blue light on the front for power and a second blue light for hard drive activity and the wretched thing was flickering a great deal of the time. Perhaps it's a cunning ploy to persuade Vista users to put their PC to sleep when they have an idle moment as it awakens quite speedily.
Our initial impressions of Windows Vista are unfavourable and that unnecessarily colours our judgement of the Solar Storm. This is unfortunate, as it's a highly capable PC that is suitable for the entire family.