As PCs get more powerful, they also get noisier. Powerful components generally run hot and plenty of fans are required to cool them down. We haven't seen too many machines that address the problems of noise make our Best Buys charts, mainly due to the performance hit associated with low-end, cooler running components, so this Universe Pro system from APUS is unique in that respect.
To make the machine quieter than the average mid-range PC, APUS has ditched the stock CPU cooler used for the AMD Athlon 64 3500+ CPU. In its place is an Arctic Cooling Freezer, which comprises a large aluminium-finned heat sink and a fairly powerful cooling fan.
For graphics, APUS has installed a passively cooled Gigabyte GeForce 6600GT graphics card, which uses a heat-pipe design to disperse heat over two large heat sinks. Additionally, each memory module has its own heat sink. The 6600GT chip packs plenty of punch for users who want to play the latest games and is one of the best "bang for buck" chips on the market. With this graphics chip and with the Athlon 64 3500+ CPU, plus 1GB of DDR400 SDRAM, the machine scored 3728 in 3Dmark 2005, which compares well against systems with faster CPUs. In PC WorldBench 5 the machine scored 95, which makes it one of the best mid-range performers we have seen.
To aid in overall system cooling, a 12cm extraction fan has been installed at the rear of the Antec Sonata 2 case, and its speed can also be regulated in three steps: slow, medium and fast. Unfortunately, the switch for this fan is on the inside of the case, so removing the side panel is required to change the speed.
Storage in this machine is handled by a RAID 0 (striped) array built using two 250GB Western Digital hard drives for a total of 500GB! These drives are very quiet operators and are among the coolest running drives we have tested this year. The 500GB onboard is the most storage space we have seen in a mid-range machine thus far, and it's perfect for users who work with large media files. Be warned though: 500GB of data is a lot to lose if one hard drive in the array falters. We recommend a decent backup plan be in place for anyone with a non-fault tolerant RAID array.
One option for backups is storing your critical data on DVDs. This machine comes with a double-layer burner. Likewise, any of the many USB 2.0 ports can be used to connect an external hard drive or other USB 2.0 devices. A memory card reader on the front of the unit makes for convenient file transfers from devices such as digital cameras, while FireWire ports can transfer data from devices such DV camcorders.
On the inside, the Antec Sonata 2 case has room for two more hard drives and two more optical drives. The Gigabyte motherboard, that APUS has used as the foundation of the machine, ships with SATA cables that have secure clips. This means that drive cables will not accidentally come loose during transit or if you knock one during a hardware upgrade. The hard drives are situated on rails and face the side of the case, rather than the rear, which makes it easy to remove or add drives. The cabling could have been neater by APUS, but as it stands, it does not get in the way of any critical airflow.
VERDICT This machine is an excellent buy for under $2500. It offers plenty of storage space, it's expandable, it's a good performer and a very quiet operator.
APUS Universe Pro 3500A9-64
Phone: (02) 9663 0349
Warranty: 1 year parts, 3 years labour RTB
Specifications: AMD Athlon 64 3500+ with Arctic Freezer cooling; NVIDIA nForce4 SLI chipset; 256MB GeForce6600GT PCIe graphics card with passive cooling; 19in BenQ FP91G LCD monitor; 2 x 512MB DDR400 SDRAM; 2 x 250GB Western Digital hard drives, RAID 0; floppy drive; memory card reader; Ports: 9 x USB 2.0, 2 x FireWire, 1 x FireWire800; 10/100/1000 Ethernet; integrated sound, Logitech X-530 speakers; Windows XP Home.