by Svyatoslav Soloviev
10/28/2003 | 03:35 PM
Intel’s “center of the digital universe” talk about its own processors is essentially true. We have any kind of information – music, movies, and books – in the digital form nowadays. To live in this digital universe, we need a computer with a speedy processor.
With the time, however, the computers grew strong enough to make this universe rolling even without the topmost processor, the biggest memory amount, and the fastest graphics card. Many users today don’t want an ultra-fast system, roaring as hell and costing a nice sum of money, because they can get a small, relatively inexpensive and quite noiseless device for performing simple office tasks, for watching movies and for playing games, instead. These machines have even acquired a generic name, “Small Form-Factor PC” or “barebone”.
We have already posted several reviews of such barebone systems (you can find them in our Mobile section). Let us now introduce to you another one – the stylish EZ Watcher 3060 from PC CHIPS.
262x162x310 mm, (Height x Width x Depth)
Power supply unit
External, Chi 200. (200W)
1x 5.25” 1x 3.5”
Front panel ports
Line out (headphones jack)
Rear panel connectors
2 PS/2 connectors (keyboard/mouse)
Supports reading from CF I / CF II / M.D./ SMC / SD/MMC / MS
Cooler, user’s guide, power supply unit and power cable
S4-2 (244mm x 205mm)
Socket478, only 400/533MHz system bus
SiS 651 North Bridge + SiS 962 South Bridge
Supports up to 2GB PC2100/2700 DDR SDRAM (266MHz and 333MHz respectively)
SiS 315 graphics core
AC-97 version 2.2-compatible 8bit stereo full-duplex codec, supports up to 6 output channels (for 5.1 audio)
Uses SiS 962 features, 10/100Mbit solution, RJ 45 port
Up to 4 IDE devices ATA 66/100/133, 2 channels
6 USB 2.0 ports
2 IEEE 1394a compliant ports
The case of the EZW-3060 has many traces of what is usually called creative design, and what we don’t often see in system cases of ordinary PCs. The silver-colored case and the black-lacquered front panel with an informational LCD-display are a treat by themselves, but there is also that wheel, which controls the processor clock-rate “on the fly”! The compact size of the computer allows it to fit well into the definition of a barebone: the height of the system case doesn’t even reach 30cm.
The cooling solution is very thoroughly designed. The system is equipped with a noiseless 70mm fan that blows the hot air off the CPU and the graphics card. The power-supply unit is taken out of the case altogether. I should admit that PC CHIPS engineering team did a really good job: the EZW-3060 system has no temperature-related problems whatsoever.
The front panel of the case is well designed, except maybe for the 5.25” bay. This bay stands vertically, which is a non-standard stance. Some CD/DVD drives may find it difficult to work properly when placed in such a position or refuse to take in or eject the media. So, you will have to get careful when shopping and choose a drive that allows vertical disk load. In every other respect, fa?ade of the EZW-3060 gives no cause for any criticism on my part. The power-control buttons are all placed conveniently. There is the reset button, which is sometimes absent on many modern system cases. Microsoft may be doing quite well, but the hang-ups are an everyday thing still.
In this snapshot, to the right, you see headphones and microphone mini-jacks, a USB 2.0 and FireWire ports. The lower bay accommodates a universal flash-card reader, which supports such standards as CompactFlash I and II, MicroDrive, SmartMedia, Secure Digital/MultiMedia Card and Memory Stick.
The informational LCD-display can tell you about: the effective CPU frequency, how far above the nominal this frequency is (during overclocking), CPU and North Bridge temperatures. Here is a piece of iconography to you: the green symbol of a mainboard implies that it’s here and running. If any device goes down, you will get a warning in the form of a spanner against a threatening red background above the device’s icon. The available icons denote the system memory, optical drive (when it’s working, the icon becomes animated), and power supply unit.
The final touch to the whole picture is the EZ CPU Tuner. It is a wheel to control the FSB frequency “on the fly” by setting it over or below the nominal. We will test this curious function in practice soon.
Now, we find ourselves looking straight at the rear part of the barebone. You might have guessed we would see nothing very interesting here. Really, we have only the connector for the external power supply and a set of standard I/O ports. They are all covered in the specification table above.
So, here is one more original solution from the PC CHIP engineers! The power-supply unit of the EZW-3060 is external. It is attached to the barebone with a cable, which plugs into a special expansion card on the mainboard. The PSU has nothing remarkable about it, though, giving out its scanty 200W or thereabouts. However, this is enough for stable work of this computer. It even didn’t lose any of its stability when I installed a RADEON 9800 Pro graphics card into the AGP slot.
The PSU has one peculiarity about itself. It is capable of supplying the necessary power for about two seconds after the power source has been disconnected. Thus, it serves as a safety measure against short-term voltage drops in the mains.
Now that we pointed out all those advantages and drawbacks, let me spend some time describing the assembly process of this system.
The simple red package contained the following items:
The barebone computer we are reviewing today is based on an Elitegroup S4-2 mainboard which supports Intel Pentium 4 processors working with 400MHz and 533MHz FSB frequencies (Socket 478, “Willamette” and “Northwood” cores). Thus, the most powerful processor this system can run is the Pentium 4 3.06GHz, with its 533MHz FSB and Hyper-Threading technology.
For a thorough description of the chipset (SiS 651+ SiS 962) and the integrated graphics core (SiS 315) you may refer to ourMSI MEGA: Mini-System with Maxi-Features Review. Let me only note that the use of the SiS651+ SiS962 duo as a chipset doesn’t fully satisfy the processor’s need for the memory bus bandwidth. The memory bus is clocked at 333MHz at the most (PC2700), when the 533MHz FSB is used. There are two 184-pin DIMM slots on the mainboard, while the maximum supported memory amount is 2GB. That’s quite a lot for a barebone system, since they don’t usually require that much of system memory.
There are only two expansion slots: AGP 4x and one 32-bit PCI. That’s again pretty usual for a mainboard of such form-factor. The user of the EZW-3060 is unlikely to have any problems with USB devices connection. There are six USB 2.0 ports available, and two FireWire (IEEE 1394a) ones, to the bargain.
The small dimensions of the system case slow down the assembly process a little bit. Particularly, memory installation and IDE cable connection become a daunting task. The HDD and optical drive fitted in and could be screwed up to the case without any problems. Note also that the optical drive is covered with a curtain at the front panel, so you don’t need to seek for a black-colored device: you will not see its front panel when the curtain-lid is closed.
The CPU heatsink cannot be installed in any way: there’s only one right position, because the cooler’s wire is short and the power connector is placed perpendicular to the memory slots on the mainboard. The retention mechanism of the cooler is designed with metal braces. You may have already seen them in the Spark cooler series from Thermaltake. By the way, Thermaltake patented this cooler retention.
When you install an external AGP graphics card, you at the same time block the only PCI slot with the cooling system of the card (the cooler on the RADEON 9800 Pro has quite small dimensions, by the way). The installation of a full-size graphics card may be also pretty difficult sometimes.
There is nothing really exciting about the connection of other devices, so we will skip this part and pass over to the benchmarks and performance of our EZ Watcher 3060.
We ran our benchmarks on the following testbed built inside the EZ Watcher 3060 barebone system:
The first thing you learn about a new computer, right after you turn it on, is how loud it is. The EZ Watcher is practically noiseless due to its external PSU and low-speed case fans. It’s like the good old days of the first Pentium returned…
BIOS. The BIOS Setup is based on the Phoenix Award microcode, is not really informative and cannot please us with any fine-tuning or tweaking options. From the memory timings, we are only allowed to play with CAS Latency, while the CPU Vcore and FSB frequency controls are missing altogether. Otherwise, it’s all quite routine, just an ordinary Award BIOS.
Sound. The next thing to mention here is the quality of the integrated audio. Of course, our verdict here is quite subjective, because we evaluate the sound quality by ear. However, there is not much I could tell you about the integrated audio of the EZW-3060. It does exist, and that’s it. Yeah, it may be better than other AC’97 solutions. Yeah, it is six-channel and supports EAX 2.0. But the representation of high frequencies is hard to describe in words. Just a lot of squeaking and frenzy shrieks. :) Low frequencies, on the contrary, are too dull and incomplete. You can make up for it somewhat by enabling the low frequency amplification mode… that inevitably leads to misbalance in the entire composition scene. I think you won’t be too pleased to listen to music on this platform. At the same time, this integrated audio suits quite well for movies and games. Background and static noises are absent. They have probably implemented Spread Spectrum correctly enough.
Graphics. As for graphics, the integrated chip provided a good 2D picture up to 1280x1024@100Hz resolution, which is definitely a plus. The chip slices off 32MB of the system memory to use it for its own graphics needs, so we are only left with 480MB in our case. I couldn’t run OpenGL applications. It seems to be the driver problem, and a rather annoying one. Although the solution itself doesn’t boast a high level of performance in 3D applications, it is sad we are devoid of Quake 3: Arena anyway. :)Overclocking. Now let’s discuss the key feature of the EZ Watcher system: overclocking. If you want to use the “on-the-fly” FSB overclocking feature, you should go to the BIOS Setup first and enable the “EZ Watcher clock adjust” option. Every turn of the wheel increases or decreases the FSB frequency by 1MHz. That’s all. The voltages of the CPU and memory always remain the same, nominal ones. The system cannot use a divider for the memory frequency to avoid over-overclocking the memory.
Of course, this method of speeding up the system cannot be called Overclocking in the full meaning of this word. Our Pentium 4 2.4GHz could only work at frequencies up to 2.7GHz. So, the slogan for this feature, “Get More CPU Power”, goes little beyond a mere promotional talk. Anyway, it’s a good feeling when you are boosting the power of your computer by a slight motion of your thumb and watching the “speedometer” hit a new mark.
Performance. Speaking about performance, I should say that we have carried out our performance tests with both: the integrated graphics solution and with an external AGP graphics card, RADEON 9800 Pro. The card was working in its hardest mode – 16x anisotropic filtering, 6x full-screen anti-aliasing. You can view the results below:
When the integrated graphics solution is used, we can witness the overall slowdown of the memory subsystem. It shows worst in the PCMark2002 test set. The CPU speed is always at the same level, with minor deviations, which can be considered measurement errors.
Well, that’s how things are: the RADEON 9800 Pro working in the hardest possible mode is more than four times faster than its integrated competitor (which is not loaded with any additional operations) in 3DMark2001 SE, not to mention the DirectX 9 supporting 3DMark2003 test set.
The tests we ran in Unreal Tournament 2003 and Quake 3: Arena once again emphasize the weakness of the integrated SiS 315 solution. The scene-rendering speed is going to be much below the accept able gaming performance mark in modern 3D applications. On the other hand, this integrated core does its direct job – output of a good-quality 2D picture – quite well. The last fact is most important for using this barebone as a basis for a home theater. The manufacturer underlines this fact, too, and even recommends you to watch movies on the EZW-3060.
The installation of a full-size AGP graphics card brings about a considerable CPU temperature growth (by 10oC, in average). You shouldn’t worry about this difference, though. The temperature doesn’t reach any critical point. Even those 47oC we have when the system is working in the hardest mode are considered a perfectly safe operational temperature.
The overall impression from the system is highly positive. PC CHIPS made a good product, which is quite worth the money. The EZ Watcher 3060 is small, handy, and silent. It is a barebone to the bone. With the integrated solutions implemented in this computer, you can enjoy movies and music and perform simple office tasks. Do you want the center of your “digital universe” to be that elegant and cozy? :)
You can find more info about the product here.
We would like to thank ATACOM.COM for the opportunity to test this exciting product. To visit ATACOM.COM site, click on the logo below: