Evesham Axis 2700+
Evesham gets the basics right.
The Axis has 512MB of RAM. At 120GB, its hard disk isn't the biggest here, but it's still roomy. The Western Digital model it has chosen doesn't use the latest SerialATA technology, but with 8MB cache, it's one of the fastest of the current generation of hard disks.
You get a Sony DW-U14A multi-format DVD rewriter, which can also write CDs and CD-RWs, although it's a bit slower than a dedicated CD writer. Unlike most of the other systems on test, the Evesham doesn't have a second drive to allow disc-to-disc copying.
The system also comes with the excellent HP PSC 1205 multifunction device. We gave this sleek little unit a Recommended award when we reviewed it in our August issue. Although it's a compact, low-cost model, it produces high-quality photos at a reasonable speed. Unlike some multifunction devices, it lacks a standalone fax function, but it will copy and scan quite well, and is very easy to use. It's not as fast as an office photocopier, but as long as you're not hoping to use it to publish your three-volume family history, it should do everything you need.
Evesham's software bundle includes Trend's PC-cillin antivirus software, the easy-to-use Pinnacle Studio video editing program and Microsoft Works Suite 2004. It's not a huge advance over the 2003 edition that comes with some of this month's PCs, but it does include the latest version of the Encarta encyclopedia. Creative Inspire P580 surround sound speakers round off the package.
It's not as feature-packed as some entrants, but the Axis gets the key printing and scanning requirement for this Labs bang on.
Evesham has also gone for a 19in CRT monitor. The Viewsonic GF90FB has excellent image quality, a very flat screen and rock-solid power regulation. It also offers a 'superbright' mode. Normal CRT monitors are duller than a TV (you don't really want garish colours when you're staring at a spreadsheet), so DVD playback and games can look a bit washed out. The superbright button neatly solves this problem.
You also get a quality Microsoft Cordless Desktop keyboard and mouse set. We're still not convinced that the effort Microsoft puts into adding shortcut buttons wouldn't be better channelled into improving the feel of its keyboards. Overall, though, this system is very enjoyable to use.
The case is easy to work inside if you fancy a spot of upgrading. Once you work out how to release the green plastic catch at the back, removing the side of the case is a doddle. Evesham has arranged the innards neatly, with cables clipped to the sides out of your way.
Because the system has only one optical drive (the DVD rewriter), there are three free external 5.25in drive bays. There's also room to fit three more hard disks - should the fancy take you. The motherboard supports SerialATA, so you'll be able to fit the next generation of hard disks when they become a good buy. There are also two free slots for RAM.
There's plenty of scope for external expansion too, with six USB 2 ports, one FireWire and one mini-FireWire port. Evesham deserves full marks in this category.
Although Evesham has used RAM that works at the standard 333MHz speed, and a mid-range 2700+ processor, its system performs well in our 2D performance benchmarks. Its score of 1,367 puts it in second place this month for everyday office performance.
The Evesham features a Radeon 9800 All-in-Wonder SE graphics card. It managed a 3DMark score of 13,722. If anyone in your family is eagerly awaiting the release of the next generation of games such as Doom 3, they'll be pleased to know that this system will do them justice.