- Excellent performance
- good USB connectivity
- sound card has IEEE 1394 port.
- Big, bulky system case
- some users may prefer a CRT monitor to the supplied LCD unit.
Mesh's Matrix XP 2100+PPC is the first system to reach ZDNet with AMD's new Athlon XP 2100+ at its core. Announced at CeBIT 2002 in Hannover, the Athlon XP 2100+ is the last of the 0.18-micron 'Palomino' processors to ship before AMD moves to a 0.13-micron fabrication process with the 'Thoroughbred' core.
Intel, of course, has been shipping 0.13-micron 'Northwood' Pentium processors since the beginning of the year, its fastest chip currently being the 2.2GHz part. AMD now uses a rating system rather than the true clock speed to identify its processors: the 2100+ is judged to be the equivalent of a 2.1GHz 'Thunderbird' Athlon (the core preceding the Palomino), but actually runs at 1.73GHz. This is only a 67MHz increase on the previous fastest Athlon XP, the 2000+, which runs at 1.67GHz. Since previous tests have shown the XP 2000+ to be more than a match for Intel's Northwood Pentium 4 on many benchmarks, we expected top-notch performance from Mesh's XP 2100+-based system.
The bulky tower-encased Matrix XP 2100+PPC is built around an ASUS A7V333 Socket A motherboard, which uses VIA's KT333 chipset. The A7V333 provides an array of up-to-the-minute features, including support for DDR SDRAM up to 333MHz, Ultra-ATA data transfers at up to 133MB/sec and USB 2.0 expansion. Our review system was fitted with 512MB of 266MHz DDR memory in two of the motherboard's three DIMM sockets. Storage is provided by an 80GB 7,200rpm Maxtor Ultra-ATA/133 hard disk, and there are two optical drives -- a 16X Pioneer DVD-ROM and a 24X write, 10X rewrite, 40X read TEAC CD-RW. There's also a standard floppy drive in the single external 3.5in. bay, and one external 5.25in. bay remains free for further expansion. Inside, the drive cage has room for another 3.5in. device. Two of the motherboard's five PCI slots are occupied, by a Sound Blaster Audigy that also provides an IEEE 1394 (FireWire) port, and a 56Kbit/s modem. The AGP slot is occupied by an ATI Radeon 8500LE graphics card fitted with 64MB of DDR SDRAM.
All the standard I/O ports are present and correct on the back panel -- serial (2), parallel, PS/2 (2) along with a good complement of USB connectors. Two USB 1.1 ports and two fast USB 2.0 ports are provided as standard, and Mesh has connected two further ports to the USB 1.1 header on the motherboard (which also supports a further two USB 2.0 ports in a similar fashion if necessary).
The monitor supplied with the Matrix XP 2100+PPC is NEC's 17in. flat-panel MultiSync LCD1700V, which saves desk space compared to an equivalent CRT monitor and delivers a bright, clear 1,280 by 1,024 pixel image. An LCD monitor is great for everyday applications, but gamers or users of graphically demanding software may prefer a CRT monitor, which can deliver a superior refresh rate and better colour fidelity.
When it comes to overall performance, the Athlon XP 2100+-based Mesh system beats the fastest Pentium 4 PC we've tested (Dell's 2.2GHz Dimension 4400), returning Business Winstone 2001 and Content Creation Winstone 2002 scores that are 8.9 per cent and 11.8 per cent better respectively. However, it's worth noting that Dell's Pentium 4 system had 256MB of RAM compared to the Mesh's 512MB. Graphics performance is excellent, the 64MB Radeon 8500LE delivering the fastest 3DMark 2001 score we've seen so far -- although we've yet to test a desktop PC with a graphics card that uses the new nVidia GeForce4 chip.
With Windows XP Home Edition pre-installed and Lotus SmartSuite 9.7 bundled, the Mesh Matrix XP 2100+PPC delivers top-notch performance and is good value at £1,399 (ex. VAT). It's not especially pretty to look at, but there's room for expansion, and the supplied components certainly deliver the goods.