- ✓Tool-free access to case and internal components
- ✓room for future expansion.
- ✕No high-capacity floppy or CD-RW drive
- ✕moderate 3D graphics performance.
AMD's Duron processor, launched back in June, is providing Intel's Celeron with stiff competition in the budget PC market. Mesh's Matrix D750 Pro is a good example: a well-specified system that costs just £799 (ex. VAT).
Based on the Athlon core but designed from the ground up as a low-cost part, the Duron has several advantages over Intel's Celeron processors, notably a larger Level 1 cache (128KB versus 32KB), a more sophisticated cache architecture and superior floating-point performance. Intel is expected to respond by boosting the Celeron's clock speed and frontside bus speed before long, while another CPU set to make an impact in the budget PC market is VIA's Cyrix III.
However, at the moment AMD is setting the pace, and vendors are now feeding the latest 750MHz and 800MHz Duron processors into their 'value' product ranges.
The Matrix D750 is housed in a solid and roomy case whose side panel removes easily without requiring you to unscrew anything. This convenience is maintained inside, with tool-free access to the drive cage, drive bays and expansion card slots.
The system is built around an ASUS A7V ATX-format Socket A motherboard featuring VIA's KT133 logic chipset. The A7V has three DIMM slots, one of which was occupied in the review system by a 128MB PC133 SDRAM module, giving a maximum memory capacity of 1.5GB. There are five PCI slots, two of which are occupied by a 56Kbit/s modem and a sound card. As well as a two serial ports, a parallel port and two PS/2 ports, there are no fewer than five USB ports, courtesy of a mid-board daughtercard carrying three extra ports.
The tower case provides space for three externally accessible 5.25in. drive bays, one of which houses an six-speed Panasonic DVD-115 DVD-ROM drive. Many users will want to fill one of the spare 5.25in. bays with a CD-RW drive. Removable storage is catered for by a standard 1.44MB floppy drive, which is fair enough at this price, although a high-capacity LS-120 or a HiFD drive would be more useful. The hard disk is a 5,400rpm Fujitsu Ultra ATA/66 drive, 1.4GB of whose 20.4GB capacity is taken up by the Windows 98 SE operating system and bundled software. Should you wish to upgrade the hard drive or add another one, it's worth noting that the motherboard supports Ultra ATA/100 drives.
The system's AGP slot is home to a Hercules 3D Prophet II MX card, a 32MB accelerator based around nVidia's mainstream GeForce2 MX chip. This delivers exemplary 2D acceleration, but the level of 3D performance delivered by the MX part will not satisfy hard-core gamers. The 3D Prophet II MX outputs to a 17in. Sony Trinitron monitor whose picture quality can't be faulted, but which suffers from an awkward control system for the on-screen display.
The software bundle includes Windows 98 SE preinstalled, plus Microsoft's Works Suite 2000 and Cyberlink's PowerDVD 2.5. A Microsoft Internet keyboard, an IntelliMouse and a pair of TEAC satellite speakers complete the specification. The system unit is covered by a 12-month on-site warranty.
As far as performance is concerned, the Matrix D750 Pro is comfortably fast enough to run today's mainstream applications, although comparative testing suggests that you can do just as well with a 700MHz Duron and a faster hard disk, all other things being equal. For just £799 (ex. VAT), there's not much to complain about here. If you're looking for a PC with which to connect to the Internet and run productivity/educational software, and you don't require top-notch 3D gaming speed, then the Mesh Matrix D750 Pro will do the job nicely.