Altech NRG Hydro

Altech's NRG Hydro is one of the first water-cooled PCs to make our Best Buys chart. While it may be priced well beyond the normal punters' budget, it makes the Best Buys chart because of its excellent build quality, high-end components and speedy performance.

Designed for the high-end gaming market the NRG Hydro is the fastest performing PC we have seen to date. This is mainly due to Altech's configuration of the CPU settings, using an AMD Athlon FX-60 - the fastest desktop CPU on the market. It has a standard clock speed of 2.6GHz, but Altech has overclocked it to 2.9GHz with great success.

Our tests using PC WorldBench 5 showed the machine is very stable under heavy workloads and its overall score of 143 in this benchmark is about five per cent faster than Plus Corporation Altera FX60.

The stability of the machine can be attributed to the use of a water-cooling kit. Unlike a heat sink, which conducts heat, and a fan, which radiates the heat away from the heat sink, water conducts the heat and moves it away from the CPU, almost immediately, as it cycles past it. The water itself is cooled by a radiator attached to the rear vent of the machine. A small reservoir sits inside the case just under the hard drive bays.

Altech cools the dual 512MB 7800GTX graphics cards using the same reservoir. All tubing is precisely installed and neat. The graphics cards are connected in scalable link interface (SLI) mode and sit in an ASUS AN32-SLI motherboard. This provides support for two 16-lane PCI Express slots for a total graphics bandwidth of 32 lanes in SLI mode. They ensure the best available rendering power for today's games.

In Quake 4, they helped the machine record 104 frames per second (fps) at a resolution of 1280 x 1024 without anti-aliasing (AA) enabled, and with 8x AA enabled, a score of 57fps was achieved. F.E.A.R, at a resolution of 1280x960 with 4x AA, scored 85fps.

Adding to the machine's speedy performance was its RAID 0 array of 80GB Samsung hard drives. Rather than installing two large hard drives, Altech opted to install four 80GB drives giving a total capacity of 320GB. As a RAID 0 array reads and writes data across all four disks, instead of only one, the time it takes to read and write data is shortened considerably. In our hard disk transfer tests, where data is copied from one location on the disk to another (Windows XP sees it as one disk), the four disks in this system averaged a transfer speed of 28MBps. This is about 10MBps better than what a single drive would have been able to manage. These drives also run very quietly and, even though they are installed close together in the Antec server-sized case, there is some airflow in between the drives, which keeps them cool. The Antec case has two drive cages that can support up to six hard drives. However, the reservoir for the water cooler is situated underneath the drive bays and its tubes extend upward, which means the bottom two drive bays are unusable.

Expansion is not possible on this machine as all mounting slots on the rear of the case are in use. The two graphics cards each have a double-thickness mounting bracket, so the adjacent motherboard expansion slots can not be used. In the one usable PCI slot between the graphics cards, Altech has installed a Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Fatal1ty sound card. There are plenty of external ports available for expansion, including six USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire port and one external Serial ATA (SATA) port. The latter can be used to plug in an external SATA hard drive. Two gigabit Ethernet jacks are also available. They are perfect for connecting to broadband and also connecting your PC to a gigabit switch, for example.

Physically, the Antec server-sized case is more than 500mm tall and has an imposing look. Concealed front-loading USB and FireWire ports are located about half-way up the case so they can be relatively easily reached if the machine is placed on the ground.

This machine should ideally be located in a visible area, as the blue cold-cathode lights inside the case illuminate the internal workings through the windowed side-panel. Even though it's a water-cooled machine, it's not a silent PC. There are plenty of fans installed which keep the temperature down, and the noise level up.

Verdict: Price wise, this machine is out of reach for most enthusiasts, but if you are in the market for a top-end machine, then the NRG Hydro delivers top-end performance. It produced the fastest scores we have ever seen in our benchmark test and a lot of effort has been put into its design and assembly.

Altech NRG Hydro
Price: $7729
Phone: (02) 8831 9999
SPECIFICATIONS: AMD Athlon 64 FX-60 dual-core CPU (watercooled), nForce4 SLI chipset, 2x water-cooled 512MB GeForce 7800GTX graphics cards, SLI, 19-inch Samsung LCD monitor, 4x 80GB Samsung hard drives, RAID 0, 2GB RAM, DVD burner, Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Fatal1ty sound card, 6 x USB 2.0 ports, 1 x FireWire port, 2 x Gigabit Ethernet ports, 2 x cold cathode lights, 4 x 5.25-inch and 6 x 3.5-inch drive bays, cordless Microsoft mouse and keyboard, Windows XP Professional, Warranty: 1 year RTB