NEC Powermate C9500-2401

Neat and simple, yet armed with a quad-core CPU and 1TB of hard drive space, the NEC Powermate C9500-2401 is aimed at small office and home office users who want a small, inconspicuous PC on which to store plenty of data.

The NEC Powermate C9500-2401 is not a flashy system, but it does have decent components supporting the quad-core CPU and 1TB hard drive array. It has 2GB of RAM, a GeForce 8500GT-based graphics card, a DVD burner, but it ships with Windows XP instead of Windows Vista. However, Vista is an ordered if you so desire. Because of this, we couldn't run WorldBench 6, and instead used the older WorldBench 5 benchmark suite. It performed admirably in this benchmark, scoring 99, and it also produced solid times in our MP3 encoding tests.

The 1TB of storage is made up of two 500GB Seagate hard drives, which are united in a RAID 0 array. Unfortunately, this array produced a relatively slow transfer rate of 35MBps during our tests when we were hoping for a result somewhere in the forties. Furthermore, this array doesn't provide redundancy for the data that will be stored on it, which is risky for a PC that's aimed at office workers. We'd rather see NEC adopt a RAID 1 (mirrored) array, to give business users peace of mind

Its graphics score was low, but not bad for a machine aimed at business users. In 3DMark06, the machine scored 2302. However, it should be able to run a few older game titles without any major problems. For example, running F.E.A.R. at a resolution of 1024x768 and without any anti-aliasing, returned a rate of around 40 frames per second, which is smooth enough for enjoyable game play. Because it's a DirectX 10-based card, it's also a good match for Windows Vista.

Physically, the Powermate stands less than 40cm tall, sits less than 40cm deep and it houses a microATX-sized motherboard. This board has one PCI Express graphics slot, in which the aforementioned GeForce 8500 GT sits, yet it also has two PCI slots and one PCI Express x1 slot free for expansion. So there's room to install a FireWire card or an internal wireless adapter, for example. NEC has installed a large shroud over the CPU fan, which directs a steady supply of cool air from a vent in the side panel onto the CPU.

The hard drives are installed at the front of the case, vertically, but unfortunately, they aren't cooled as there isn't room for a front-mounted case fan. Because they are in a RAID 0 array, it's worth getting a large external hard drive for data backups; or, another internal hard drive can be installed in one of the case's two free 3.5in internal drive bays. There are six SATA II ports on the motherboard, and there's one free SATA power cable on the power supply.

On the front panel, NEC has included two USB ports, as well as microphone and headphone jacks, but a media card reader has been overlooked. On the rear panel, there are five more USB ports, as well as a gigabit Ethernet port, a parallel port, and DVI and VGA ports. It's a fairly bare panel actually, and it doesn't even have PS/2 ports. It also lacks FireWire, so digital camcorder users will have to add a FireWire card if they want to transfer video taken at conferences or other events.

For its $2100 price tag, the PC is supplied with a relatively comfortable keyboard and mouse, but not with a monitor. As such, it's a fairly expensive system when compared to others we've looked at, but it's worth considering primarily because of its small stature. It also ran quietly during our tests. NEC has pre-loaded all the software that's required to run DVDs, burn discs and back up data to disc.

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