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NEC POWERMATE X9320

NEC POWERMATE X9320

Quad-core PC with plenty of storage but weak graphics

Don't be fooled by the NEC POWERMATE X9320's short stature: inside it's packed with features that make it perfect for all home computing endeavours — except for high-end gaming. It's equipped with a quad-core CPU, a four-drive RAID 0 array and 3GB of RAM, not to mention a Blu-ray writer.

With these components, it's definitely a machine for the modern user, but we can't help but notice the lack of processing power in its graphics department. It ships with an NVIDIA GeForce 8600GT-based card, which is a capable card for playing many games at mid-range detail settings, but for the PC's $3000 price tag, we would've liked an 8800-based card to be installed, at least. Nevertheless, it scored 4094 in 3DMark06, which shows that it will do a good job with older games, but not necessarily newer ones.

A graphics card with an HDMI output would also be of benefit, considering this PC ships with a Blu-ray burner. We played Blu-ray titles on the machine without any problems, using an HDCP-capable 22in ASUS monitor, and Cyberlink's BD Advisor utility also passed the machine in every area for Blu-ray playback.

There is a heavy focus on entertainment with this PC: it ships with Windows Vista Home Premium, which includes the media centre component, you also get a media centre remote and a keyboard with a built-in mouse. Transceivers for the remote control and keyboard aren't built-in to the chassis — instead, they need to be plugged in to the PC's USB 2.0 ports. This will leave you with only three USB 2.0 ports free (two at the front and one at the back) if you also plug in the supplied mouse, which is corded.

A hybrid TV tuner allows you to watch either analogue or digital TV stations. This worked fine in Windows Vista Media Centre; however, it doesn't have support for FM radio. DVDs also play within Media Centre without any problems, but if you want to watch Blu-ray, you'll have to launch the supplied Cyberlink software by using the keyboard or mouse instead of the remote control.

We're pleased that the PC ships with an 802.11b/g wireless networking card, so you can get online without any further money outlay if you already have a wireless router, or you can use its Gigabit Ethernet connection to directly attach it to a router. The built-in wireless card means you won't have to waste another USB port on an external Wi-Fi adapter, nor will you have to venture inside the machine to install an add-in card yourself.

If you ever do pop the cover off the X9320, you'll be greeted by four 500GB hard drives, which face the side panel and are configured in a RAID 0 array. This isn't ideal as there is no fault tolerance in this array should one of the drives die; you will need to implement a backup solution as soon as possible. On the plus side, the array is quick — copying files from one location to another averaged a rate of 62.7MBps, which is more than double the rate achieved by most single hard drive configurations.

The RAID 0 array, along with the Intel Core 2 Quad Q9450 (2.66GHz) CPU and 3GB of DDR2 RAM, helped propel the system to a score of 122 in our WorldBench 6 benchmark, which indicates that it will handle pretty much any task you throw its way. Its DDR2 modules are slower than we'd like — 667MHz instead of 800MHz — and the machine could have possibly gone even faster if it had newer modules. It supports a maximum memory capacity of 8GB (although you'll have to use a 64-bit operating system to take advantage of that much memory) and the motherboard has four DIMM slots.

The motherboard itself is based on the micro-ATX form factor, so it's small compared to most boards found in PCs of the quad-core ilk and it has limited expansion possibilities: there is only one free PCI Express x1 slot, and there aren't any free SATA ports. This isn't a problem if the machine has all the components that you're likely to need now, but it will become a hindrance if you plan to upgrade or expand the system in the future.

The system has analogue video input ports (composite and S-Video) as well as a memory card reader, and you also get a free 160GB external drive (through a redemption), which fits into the PC-Dock slot that resides on the front panel, in between the memory card reader and the Blu-ray writer.


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