Summary: Utron is introducing a unique concept to the gaming world - a fully- functional, upgradable system in a 10 lb. 2U rack configuration. Even if you don't have a server cage at home, just clip on a shoulder strap and carry the Lan Gear to your next LAN party. We check out a prototype design and put the machine through its paces.
We’ve gone to many a motherboard vendor and asked if small performance boards were in the works, and all we ever got were confused looks. Small and performance in the same sentence is unheard of when it comes to the crème de la crème of computers. Small is where the little OEM PCs scurry, cute little things with onboard everything, and Burbie fronts. These are the kinds of machines you hand to grandmamma. Enter stage right– the U-tron LAN Gear ES. Designed from the ground up to be a machine that performs like a demon and can easily be tucked under an arm to be carried to wherever your heart desires.
Arguably the best feature of this entire computer is the case. While not the most pleasing to the eye, it has a feature that no one else to date has brought to the table – portability. While most gaming machines are towering behemoths of power, the LAN Gear ES sits in a tiny 2U case. Picking it up requires as much as effort as hefting a gallon of milk. Weighing in at a scant 11 pounds, the entire machine fits like a binder under an arm. In fact we walked the building with it in just this manner while looking for a weight scale. In comparison, a typical mid-tower computer weighs over twice as much – 25 lbs, and that’s not even with a premium case. Comparing it to a small aluminum case is a joke – empty LianLi and CoolerMaster cases alone weigh more than the LAN Gear ES.
We’ve seen most of you guys out there. You’re just like us. Guys who play with computers aren’t exactly known for their feats of strength. Sadly enough, muscles grow not on the man who sits with a mouse in one hand and WASD in the other. To make this already light burden even easier to carry, U-tron has included a shoulder strap. Consider this to be a large, shiny, but powerful, purse.
What makes this system so light is the fact that it is made from aluminum. What makes this system lighter than everything else on the market is due to the fact that it is half the size of any tower or desktop system. In fact I’m pretty sure I could fit this entire system inside my current computer case (Antec 1030B) with room to spare. One also has to take into account that the system only accommodates two drives maximum. But since this machine is meant to be portable, it might not serve as your primary rig. Think of it as the Porsche you use for a night on the town. You can use the Civic as the daily driver, for all the mundane things in life like writing papers and burning CDs.
Your soul for a donut
The case itself is completely custom built. While this is still in the beta stages, the case does show some finishing touches. There isn’t a sharp edge to be found. In fact, most of the case is one single aluminum piece that has been folded in places. To get into the innards of the case, one has but to pull out four screws. You could easily replace these with thumbscrews, but then the sleekness of the machine would be ruined by four Frankenstein-esque protrusions.
To even consider the LAN Gear ES, you have to convince yourself that this is one system you don’t want to add parts to. The whole point of this computer is to lug, plug, and play. This doesn’t mean it isn’t upgradeable, it just means you can’t keep adding parts without removing the old stuff first.
SIDEBAR: The Xbox weighs 8 pounds.
Woe is me, the P4
Yes we have all heard that the P4 is about as quick as molasses. But even molasses gets quick once you get it hot enough. The early P4s were as slow as can be, especially for the price. While the price premium for an Intel processor is still there, the LAN Gear ES is quite a powerhouse. U-tron will also be offering their box with an 845DDR configuration. If something hasn’t clicked in that noggin of yours, let me spell it out. Combining the 845DDR or i850E with a lower clocked P4 Northwood does absolute wonders. Many people have reported running the 1.6A or 1.7A all the way up to 2.3GHz and higher. And yes - U-tron will be offering different speed processors.
This is one thing we definitely think is in the beta stages at the moment. While the system does run just fine, we experienced random slow downs when running benchmarks. Due to the fact that the Pentium 4 has a lovely feature that keeps the processor from frying itself in an orgy of processing power - the CPU steps down a notch, and nothing crashes. Our prototype LAN Gear ES was only equipped with passive cooling on the CPU (that's right, heatsink only), so in extreme external conditions, there were a few speed bumps.
The video card in the machine is a PNY GeForce3 Ti500. Not name brand stuff, but in the video card field, especially with NVIDIA, there isn’t too much difference between the various cards. The new GeForce4 cards might show some more distinction, but that remains to be seen. We’re also sure that U-tron will offer different levels of performance, most likely including the GeForce4 and friends.
The current motherboard offered is not exactly the best thing on the market. Running with a stock Intel i850 reference board, this board is essentially devoid of frills. While the performance is there, any of the extra overclocking features are most definitely not. U-tron is currently in the process of hunting down more motherboards that would fit the bill for the power user. One prospect that seems promising is the Asus P4T-E in a microATX format. As we mentioned earlier, U-tron will be doing this all in an 845DDR format too. Which boards out there that fit the bill remain to be seen.
With a scant 20GB of hard drive space, this is definitely one system that won’t house your burgeoning MP3 collections. For gaming this fits just fine. If at any point you are running more than 15 GB worth of games, it’s time to rethink your priorities and possibly see what that thing called “outside” looks like. We’re also quite certain that different size drives will be offered. We’re really hoping that the Western Digital SE drive will make an appearance. With 120GB of storage space, and a 8MB buffer that makes 10,000-RPM SCSI drives envious, this is THE fastest IDE drive in existence.
The CD-ROM is something that belongs in a laptop; this was used because of space constraints. Although it does seem that a normal drive might fit in there just fine. We’re told that a laptop burner could easily become an option. On the floppy end of things, we have just that – a floppy drive. This could actually be ripped out entirely we think. With bootable CDs, we think that a gaming rig could hold itself decently with just a CD-ROM. If you have the skills with the network doohickeys, you could just dust all the drives but the HD, and opt for an over the network setup.
SIDEBAR: Cranberry Jell-O is the only kind that contains real fruit.
(You mean purple isn’t a fruit? –ed)
Intel Pentium 4 2.2GHz ("Northwood")
3DMark2000 ver 1.1
We didn’t run too many tests this time around as the hardware hasn’t bee quiet nailed down yet. These runs essentially show the lowest this system can possibly go; if anything, it can only go up from here.
3Dmark2000 – Directx 7.0
3DMark 2001 - DirectX 8.0
Since these two systems are almost identical in terms of graphics pushing power, we weren’t expecting many differences.
Quake III - High Quality
More of the same here.
We didn’t run too many tests on this machine as the parts have yet to be finalized. When the system configurator on the U-tron page is up and running, we will have a better idea of what to expect. Until then, the performance is pretty much on par with our testbeds.
The only snags a person might run into with a machine like this is the fact that it doesn’t accommodate for much more than what is already there. But when you have a system this powerful rolling in at a paltry 11 pounds, you just have to stop and think. Do you really need all those extras? When was the last time you used five PCI slots? By your own admission, 60% of you use three cards or less. I’m guessing that one of those cards was a network card. Which means that the majority of you wouldn’t even use two slots by today’s standards. The drive problem is a little harder to solve. You can’t have everything in a package this small. The price of portability – are you willing to pay it?
SIDEBAR: What do you think of the LAN Gear ES? Too small? Just right? Is the lack of expandability in a gaming rig a valid concern? Give voice to yourself in the comments section, preferably with a name attached to you.
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