||ABS Ultimate M1 Review
December 30, 2002 Chris Angelini
Summary: Want to build a killer gaming rig, but don't want to deal with the hassles and/or the lack of a real warranty? ABS has been building PCs for over a decade, and their prices are comparable to the lowest prices you'd find on Price Watch. In today's article, we take a look at two of their gaming rigs, including the nForce2-based Ultimate M1. This system comes equipped with an Athlon XP 2800+, RADEON 9700 PRO, and one really sweet case! Not only will you learn about ABS's gaming systems, but you can enter our quiz for a chance to win the Bravado 2150 that we have reviewed. Check it out in our review!
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 14 )|
Why do we build our own computers? As gaming enthusiasts, we know what hardware will provide us with the most performance and we are able to customize a system based on our budgets. We can take a relatively inexpensive processor, a flexible motherboard, and overclock the pair to attain phenomenal frame rates. Using tools like www.pricewatch.com and www.pricegrabber.com, we can find the best prices to maximize our spending dollar. Never mind the fact that building a new PC is downright enjoyable (or is that just for me?).
Without naming manufacturer names, many of the pre-built systems I’ve used have been colossal disappointments. The most common faux pas made is to match a powerful processor to an outdated graphics card. However, it isn’t uncommon to run across insufficient RAM, proprietary power supplies, and motherboards that don’t offer any level of upgradeability. Most homes and businesses are fine with these systems because the cases will never be cracked open. Gamers are more discriminating, though.
But what if a system builder used the components we would buy anyway if we were piecing our own machine together? For those who may not have the time to research, buy, and then build, purchasing such a PC is a very viable option. ABS has been in business since 1990, focusing mainly on desktop PC manufacturing. Like any other business, it started as a small outfit and has expanded. It may not be the size of Dell or Gateway, but it rivals many other manufacturers more commonly associated with high-end gaming systems. ABS recently decided to leverage its relationships with top-tier hardware manufacturers to begin designing PCs that cater to hardware enthusiasts. The Ultimate M1 is the product of this effort.
Specifications and the System
Of course, one of the most important considerations in buying a new PC is its specification list and the 1220’s breakdown reads like a “Who’s who” in the gaming enthusiast market. AMD’s Athlon XP 2800+ may be hard to come by on retail shelves, but many of the larger manufacturers are already offering complete systems based on AMD’s current flagship processor. ABS is no exception; the Ultimate M1 includes a 2800+ in all of its 2.25GHz, 333MHz front side bus glory.
SIDEBAR: ABS’ home page
Answer the quiz questions found at the end of this review and enter to win the Bravado 2150 complete gaming rig.
| Specifications (Continued)||Page:: ( 2 / 14 )|
The performance of a powerful gaming PC is contingent on more than the processor, though, which is why we were impressed to see the Athlon XP residing on an ASUS A7N8X Deluxe nForce2 board. If you’d like more information on that board, check out our own review. There are less-expensive boards available, but including the A7N8X results in high-performance and such extras as DualNet (two 10/100Mbps Ethernet ports) and NVIDIA’s SoundStorm audio subsystem. It supports two, 64-bit channels of DDR400 memory (though the second channel is most effective on platforms with integrated video), which ABS has populated with a pair of 256MB modules from Corsair. Each stick of PC3200 RAM is capable of DDR400 speeds, but as you may know, the nForce2 chipset favors low-latency DDR333 over the faster speed grade, detuned.
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All of the components are housed in an attractive Kingwin 13-bay mid-tower case. The aluminum case has a bit of an “edge” to it, with three blue-tinted windows and blue cold-cathode lighting. Cooling comes compliments of five 80mm fans, two of which are mounted on the back of the case, two are in the front, and one up top. In addition to the ports you’d expect to find on the back of a case, the front of the Kingwin hosts four USB ports, an IEEE 1394 port, and audio connectors for microphone input and speaker output. I’ve dealt with my share of cases over the years and I can attest to the value of a lightweight aluminum case.
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Alan recently highlighted the importance of a reliable power supply in a recent guide. However, many of you may have already experienced problems with a shoddy unit. In fact, we’ve run into issues with a couple of our supplies and RADEON 9700 video cards (mainly the initial batch that shipped out). We were again impressed to see ABS’ use of a 350 watt Enermax power supply. Hip Lee, the ABS Marketing Manager, hit the nail right on the head, observing, “Either you pay now or you pay later.” For components as important as power supplies, quality is important and from our experiences, Enermax is a great way to go.
And while we ran into power problems with early RADEON 9700 Pro cards, we have experienced much better luck as of late. ABS keeps the Ultimate M1 true to its lineage by including Sapphire’s 128MB version of the card. We received the review unit equipped with the Catalyst 2.4 drivers, indicating that ABS manages to stay fairly current with the software used for preloading.
SIDEBAR: 2004 will be the next Leap Year.
| Specifications and Mainstream||Page:: ( 3 / 14 )|
We would have loved to see the Ultimate M1 ship with Serial ATA hard disk drives, but supply is still nonexistent for the most part, despite expectations that the technology would emerge before the end of the year. The ASUS A7N8X Deluxe doesn’t include Parallel ATA RAID capabilities, so an add-on HighPoint IDE RocketRAID 133 controller is used. Two Western Digital 80GB Special Edition drives are organized in a performance-oriented RAID 0 configuration, giving the disk-subsystem a particular knack for powering through intensive content creation applications.
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In addition to expansive storage space, the Ultimate M1 sports a pair of optical drives that should take care of everything except DVD burning. A Lite-On 52X write, 24X re-write drive fits the bill for CD burning and a Pioneer 16X DVD drive facilitates a cinematic experience with the help of the RADEON 9700’s decoding capabilities.
The Ultimate M1’s asking price includes a few peripheral devices as well, like a Viewsonic G810 21” CRT with a .21mm dot pitch. It also supports a maximum resolution of 2048x1536, albeit at a hard-to-bear 61Hz. Moreover, the system includes Logitech’s Z-680 speaker system. For those unfamiliar with the 500W RMS system, it includes a 188W subwoofer, four 62W satellites, and a 69W center channel. It also decodes Dolby Digital and DTS audio for use with a PC, PS2, Xbox, or standalone DVD player (the decoder can be connected to four input devices at the same time). There’s also a wireless remote, though it isn’t nearly as useful when you are in front of the PC anyway. The package is topped off with a Logitech Access keyboard and Microsoft optical mouse.
Covering the mainstream
We also had the opportunity to test ABS’ Bravado 2150, a more conservative desktop that costs less than half of the Ultimate M1 at $1,050. You can win this Bravado system by entering our quiz giveaway at the end of this review. Of course, armed with an Athlon XP 2200+, we didn’t expect it to compete with the gaming rig. The Bravado sports an MSI KT4 Ultra with 256MB of Kingston PC3200 memory. Like the powerful Ultimate M1, the Bravado 2150 includes an Enermax power supply, this time rated at 330W. It’s also got an ASUS V8420 GeForce4 Ti 4200 card that will appeal to casual gamers and overclocking enthusiasts alike thanks to its proven flexibility. ABS anticipates most home users will pick a system from the Bravado line, so it equips the machine with a 10/100Mbps Ethernet adapter and a modem. A 40GB IBM Deskstar covers disk storage, and a Lite-On 48x CD-RW / Pioneer DVD drive combination takes care of the system’s optical capabilities. The asking price for the Bravado 2150 also includes an economical 17” Samsung 753DF monitor and Logitech’s 33W Z-340 2.1 speaker system.
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There are a couple of important notes about the lower-end Bravado. First, the case isn’t aluminum and consequently, it’s extremely heavy. Secondly, as an intelligent cost-cutting measure, the system utilizes onboard audio, which we’ve been taught to shun. The KT4 package includes an optical/coaxial output header that ABS has put to use here, though. If you must have an add-on audio card, then by all means make the upgrade, but the system will output a digital signal in addition to six-channel analog.
We have included the Bravado 1250 in our tests of the Ultimate M1, but try not to make direct comparisons between the two – one system costs nearly $2,500 and the other is just over $1,000.
SIDEBAR: Ants don’t sleep
| Setup and Value||Page:: ( 4 / 14 )|
First impressions are always the most important; ABS knows this and has put together a very professional-looking package. The Ultimate M1 ships in ABS’ branded box, well insulated against damage. Further, a yellow binder is included with several color-coded envelopes. Each envelope contains documentation that corresponds to a different hardware component, including recovery software that works with an installed drive image. After unpacking the high-end Ultimate M1 system, setup was as easy as connecting the monitor, keyboard, mouse, and speakers. If you aren’t versed in making the basic connections, a large poster is included to walk you through initial setup of the system. ABS has paid special attention to detail by covering each port on the back of the case with a protective plastic cover. In addition, unused power plugs inside of the case are covered with electrical tape to avoid inadvertent contact with other metal surfaces once power is applied. All of the case screws and bay covers are affixed with thumbscrews, so you won’t need a screwdriver every time you want to perform an upgrade or clean out your case.
Upon booting each system, we were greeted by the Windows XP desktop and several icons. Generally, one of the most annoying aspects of a pre-built machine is the hodgepodge of software cluttering the hard drive. It was a pleasant change to see that the ABS system hosted a few useful titles like Ahead Nero Burning ROM, Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0, PowerDVD, and ATI’s Multimedia Center.
There are several ways we can judge the value of a new computer system. To start off, a high-end PC can be compared to systems from other manufacturers. Or, we can add up the cost of each component and base value on how much is being paid for the convenience of a pre-built gaming rig. Better yet, we could do both.
As closely as possible, we configured systems from Alienware and Falcon Northwest. Both cost more than the price ABS quotes for our Ultimate M1, though in all fairness, each system has its own strengths and weaknesses. More important is the difference between the price of the Ultimate M1 and the cost of the individual components. Using the online tools at our disposal, we were unable to build a comparable system for less than what ABS is asking. And that doesn’t even take into consideration that the Athlon XP 2800+ is still unavailable on the retail market! Providing ABS stays true to its word on the Ultimate M1’s price of $2,560 or so, the value is unquestionable. Here’s a quick breakdown:
Kingwin 436 Case - $140.00
ASUS A7N8X Deluxe Motherboard - $138.00
ATI RADEON 9700 Pro (Sapphire) - $308.00
High Point RocketRAID 133 - $77.00
Enermax 350W Power Supply - $47.00
Athlon XP 2800+ - $397 (according to AMD.com)
Corsair 3200C2 x 2 - $178.00
Mitsumi Floppy - $8.00
Western Digital WD800JB x 2 - $214.00
Logitech Access Keyboard - $13.00
Microsoft Intellimouse Optical - $19.00
Viewsonic G810 21" - $467.00
Liteon 52x24x52 - $66.00
Pioneer 16x DVD - $40.00
Logitech Z-680 - $342.00
Windows XP Home - $84.00
Taisol Fan - $20.00
$2558 (Note: This price does NOT include the Cold Cathode modifications performed by ABS to the case.)
SIDEBAR: Have you ever started your computer and seen “Keyboard not detected – press F1 to continue?”
| System Setup||Page:: ( 5 / 14 )|
ABS Ultimate M1 Athlon XP 2800+ System
ABS Bravado 2150 Athlon XP 2200+ System
Windows XP Home
Desktop resolution 1024x768, 32-bit color, 75Hz refresh
All power saving options were turned off, as were the Automatic Update and System Restore services. Graphics options under the ‘Performance’ tab were all disabled for maximum performance.
Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo
3D Mark 2001 Second Edition Build 330 – 32-bit color
Quake III: Arena version 1.17 ‘Demo001’ demo
Serious Sam: The Second Encounter – 32-bit color, Elephant Atrium demo
PC Magazine Content Creation 2003
PC Magazine Business Winstone 2002
The Ultimate M1 system utilized CAS2 memory settings. The Bravado system shipped with DDR400 memory settings, but we found that the board performed better running at DDR333, also CAS2. For the purpose of platform testing, audio controllers and Ethernet controllers are disabled.
SIDEBAR: Most household dust particles are made of dead skin.
| 3D Mark 2001 SE||Page:: ( 6 / 14 )|
3D Mark 2001 SE v.330 – DirectX 8
The high-end Ultimate M1 does well in 3D Mark, just as it should with a RADEON 9700 Pro graphics card. Even the Bravado system performs respectably, considering its GeForce4 Ti 4200.
SIDEBAR: The A7N8X Deluxe motherboard has been our favorite nForce2 board thus far.
| 3D Mark 2001 SE – Frame Rates||Page:: ( 7 / 14 )|
3DMark 2001 - Car Chase
3DMark 2001 - Dragothic
3DMark 2001 - Lobby
3DMark 2001 - Nature
SIDEBAR: ABS includes its own mouse pad with the Ultimate M1.
| Serious Sam SE||Page:: ( 8 / 14 )|
Serious Sam SE (Elephant Atrium) – OpenGL
SIDEBAR: ABS’ headquarters are located in Whittier, California.
| Quake III: Arena||Page:: ( 9 / 14 )|
Quake III v.1.17 Demo001 – OpenGL
We put together an nForce2 system identical to the Ultimate M1 in order to compare the two in Quake III. In each resolution, the ABS system is just a bit faster that our own system for some reason, although they each sport identical BIOS settings and driver files.
SIDEBAR: If your all-wheel drive car makes 250 horsepower to the crank, it probably puts about 200 horsepower down to the ground.
| Comanche 4||Page:: ( 10 / 14 )|
Comanche 4 – DirectX 8
SIDEBAR: The Ultimate M1 system will be available from ABS starting January 1st.
| Unreal Tournament 2003 Demo||Page:: ( 11 / 14 )|
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby – DirectX 8
Unreal Tournament 2003 Botmatch – DirectX 8
| Winstone testing||Page:: ( 12 / 14 )|
Content Creation 2003
Business Winstone 2002
The performance difference between the high and low-end systems stems from processor speed, of course. But, the fact that the Ultimate M1 sports an IDE RAID array also helps.
SIDEBAR: ABS also offers a line based on Windows XP Media Center Edition, complete with a Philips remote control.
| Ballistics Report||Page:: ( 13 / 14 )|
Performance: It goes without saying that a top-end systems performs, well, like a top-end system. The ABS Ultimate M1 is built from all of the parts we’d use if we were building our own gaming rig. It even managed to edge out the best system I could put together using components from my own laboratory.
Convenience: I like to cook my own food as much as the next guy, but I can also appreciate a quality Vegas buffet. Similarly, as much as we may like building our own systems, it’s tough to argue with a fully configurable desktop that is delivered to your door, ready to churn out record-breaking benchmark numbers.
Value: It may be hard to recognize the value in a $2,500 PC, but consider we pieced the same system together online for a scant $75 less. And no, we wouldn’t give you a warranty with our system. As a package, including a 21” monitor, a 500W sound system and a brutally fast desktop, $2,500 is a value.
Professionalism: Having had no prior experience with ABS, I was impressed at the overall level of professionalism put into total package. Regardless of how savvy you are, putting the system together should be no problem thanks to the easy-to-follow instructions. The color-coded manual is ideal, as you’ll always know where to find pertinent documentation and recovery software.
Support: We called ABS’ tech support to get some help with a bios setting on the A7N8X motherboard. Within minutes, we were up and running with the Q-fan feature functioning as intended, cooling the Athlon XP 2800+. The three-year parts warranty also gives us peace of mind, as does the lifetime labor warranty.
Price: There is no way around it, $2,500 is a lot of money to spend for an entirely new system. If your computer is beyond a simple upgrade, though, there may be no other way to avoid the inevitable – trash the 486 and get something new.
Noise: With five 80mm fans, a processor fan, a cooling fan on the video card and a power supply fan, the Ultimate M1 makes a fair bit of noise. If we had one piece of constructive criticism for ABS, it would be to incorporate some sort of thermal management, be it with a Baybus that provides variable voltage to each fan or more simply some sort of ducting for more efficient airflow with less fans.
Customized technical support: If you buy a system from ABS, such as the Ultimate M1, you have access to technical support. Further, there is a list of qualified hardware that can be swapped either in or out of the predefined system. If you want to go beyond that list and have ABS customize a box, tech support will be unavailable, though.
SIDEBAR: To chip or not to chip, that is the question.
| Final Verdict||Page:: ( 14 / 14 )|
Last month, I contributed the cover story for Computer Power User Magazine. My assignment was to construct a Dream PC using commercially available components and break down the technology. As complete coincidence would have it, the recommendation was an Athlon XP 2800+, ASUS A7N8X motherboard, RADEON 9700 Pro, 512MB of Corsair DDR400 memory, and a few other odds and ends. Sure enough, the ABS Ultimate M1 uses a lot of the same hardware. The difference is that my Dream PC cost nearly $6,000 and this one can be had for $2,500. To make matters worse for my own custom hot-rod, the ABS system is actually faster by more than 500 points in 3D Mark 2001! At least it had a 19” LCD display, right?
ABS doesn’t have much experience as a manufacturer of gaming PCs, but it doesn’t show. The Ultimate M1 comes fully equipped, is easy to set up, powers through whatever you throw at it – gaming or office related – and it does so at a reasonable price. If ABS could find some way to cut some of the excess fan noise out of the equation, we’d be dealing with a near-perfect machine, under warranty for three years with lifetime labor. On the flip side, if you decide to customize your system beyond the hardware that ABS has qualified, technical support isn’t offered. There are simply too many hardware combinations for ABS to troubleshoot.
Getting used to the budget-oriented Bravado 2150 was a little more difficult. After benchmarking the Ultimate, the Bravado certainly didn’t have the same “zip,” even though we knew it wouldn’t. Moreover, lugging the case between rooms was a cumbersome task because of the weight. It performed as well as we could expect from a midrange gaming rig, and for $1,000, that says a lot.
Both systems arrived, packed in Styrofoam to avoid shipping complications, along with similarly insulated monitors and speaker systems. Each came with an installation guide and a comprehensive manual that my little sister could wade through in a matter of hours. And to top it off, each PC is priced very reasonably for the hardware that is included. Both systems were remarkably stable throughout testing and performance was second to none. Do we still love building our own computers? Sure, that won’t change. ABS did a lot of things right with the Ultimate M1, though, and for that, we salute a job well done.
Enter our latest quiz giveaway and you can take home the Bravado 2150 system from ABS. You'll have to put on your thinking caps cause this quiz has a few twists!!
SIDEBAR: We were impressed with the Ultimate M1, but what did you think? Let us know!