We’ve written about Falcon Northwest’s new Core i7-based gaming PC, and now Velocity Micro gets a turn to showcase Intel’s new mainstream-priced desktop chip. Our Velocity Micro Edge Z30 review unit comes in at $1,349 and features an overclocked Intel Core i7 860 chip. It also outperforms a pricier Dell system, and comes in with the best value so far of the handful of vendors that have adopted Intel’s new CPUs. With strong and stable performance, no major sacrifices, and Velocity Micro’s typical high build quality, we’re compelled to give this desktop an Editors’ Choice award. We’d recommend this system to anyone looking for a midrange gaming PC.
Velocity Micro has earned a reputation in our lab as one of the better desktop builders, and the Edge Z30 gives us no reason to change our opinion. The inside of the case is as clean as can be, and there’s little about the overall design we would change. The Edge Z30 also strikes an interesting contrast to the Dell Studio XPS 435, a much larger tower system that Dell introduced a few months back.
We like the aesthetics of the Studio XPS 435, and it gives you plenty of room to expand, but with no second graphics card slot, Dell could get away with losing a bit of upgrade room and making the case smaller (its new Studio XPS 8000 seems to be going in that direction). The Edge Z30 cuts a more compact profile, measuring only 15 by 7.5 by 17.57 inches, and still manages to allow for a second graphics card slot, two more hard drives, a second optical drive, as well as an extra 1x PCI Express slots for card expansion.
It’s worth pointing out that despite the second graphics slot, the new Intel P55 Express chipset in this system has some performance limitations with two 3D cards. A single card works as normal on a single 16x PCI Express slot. But adding a second 3D card gets you no extra bandwidth, so instead of two 16x slots, you effectively only get two 8x graphics data paths on a P55 Express-based motherboard like this one. You will probably still see a performance gain if you add a second graphics card, it just won’t be as much as you’d get from a full dual 16x motherboard.
Side by side the Velocity Micro and Dell systems look similar. The Edge Z30 has no Blu-ray drive, and its Intel P55 Express motherboard has only dual-channel memory support, as opposed to the Dell’s triple channel interface by way of its Intel X58 chipset. Unless you’re performing professional-level, memory-bandwidth-intensive tasks (large Photoshop treatments, for example), you likely won’t notice the difference. If you discount the Edge Z30’s lack of a Blu-ray drive due to its lower price, the features comparison comes out even, if not in Velocity Micro’s favor due to the fact that it will overclock for you. Dell won’t.
If you’re concerned about the stability of the Edge Z30’s overclocked CPU (set to 3.2GHz from its 2.8GHz base clock speed), you shouldn’t worry. Thanks to the LinX benchmark, we found this system was able to maintain both its clock speed and its stability throughout the course of that testing. You can overclock the Dell system yourself, so it may hold a hidden performance bonus if you’re willing to look for it. Still, we must credit Velocity Micro for doing the work for you, and for doing it reliably.
The advantages of the Edge Z30’s overclocked Core i7 860 chip become apparent on our performance charts. Coming in second only to the $2,495 Falcon Northwest Talon, the Velocity Micro system easily surpasses the Dell Studio XPS 435 on our tests, and also outpaces systems from Asus and Maingear in its price category. To put the Velocity Micro in a larger perspective, its application scores are in the same ballpark as a $6,500 Alienware system we reviewed last November. There’s no mainstream task you can throw at the Edge Z30 that it can’t handle.
The gaming scores are slightly less dramatic, but still positive. We don’t expect a $1,350 PC that pitches itself as a gaming box to set benchmark records, but we do expect it to provide decent performance on the more demanding games out there. The Edge Z30 lives up to that expectation, and again outperforms the more expensive Dell, with scores above our 60-frame-per-second litmus test on Far Cry 2 at 1,440 x 900.
Interestingly though, Velocity Micro can’t overtake the $1,199 Asus Essentio CG5290-BP007 on the 1,920 x 1,200 Far Cry 2 test. The Edge Z30 is close enough to 60 fps that we’re not too concerned about its performance, but if you have a 24-inch LCD in mind for this system you might have to sacrifice a few image quality settings in order to play at full resolution with smooth frame rates. A 22-inch display at 1,680 x 1,050 might be a surer bet to pair with the Edge Z30, at least for more demanding games.
We’ve already mentioned the internal expansion options. And while the exterior connectivity of the Edge Z30 is similarly unremarkable, at least it’s more or less complete. You get eight USB 2.0 ports on the back of the case, along with 7.1 analog audio jacks and a pair of digital audio outputs. The graphics card has two DVI out ports, so you’ll need an adapter if you want to connect to an HDMI display. External storage options include FireWire 400 and a single eSATA jack. That should let you connect pretty much anything you’d like to this system.
We found some interesting results in our power testing. On balance the Edge Z30 is as efficient as we expect, drawing no more power than its relative performance might indicate. What’s interesting are its individual power scores. Its average off and idle power draw are more than twice those of the Falcon Northwest Talon. It’s only the Velocity Micro’s draw under load that keeps it from surpassing Talon, whose load measurement came out to 391.4 watts on average, compared to 286.78 for the Edge Z30. Time constraints (and, we suspect, a lack of broad audience interest) prevent us from hunting down the component-level power consumption figures, so we’ll leave the real detective work to the vendors. But while the Velocity Micro will technically draw less power than the Falcon Northwest system over the course of a year, it still seems as if the Edge Z30 has some efficiency to gain.
Like Falcon Northwest, Velocity Micro offers in-house technical support via a toll-free phone number, in Velocity Micro’s case open from a reasonable 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. PT during the week, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. It also has what it calls its Concierge service that it says will try to accommodate nonstandard requests. Velocity Micro’s Web site offers a comprehensive set of support resources, and the system itself is backed by a one year parts-and-labor warranty.