Top 10 performance desktop PCs

You'd be hard pressed to beat the overclocked monoliths that dominate the Performance charts -- but power doesn't come cheap

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MicroExpress MicroFlex 97B
MicroFlex 97B Review, by David Murphy August 16, 2010

Pros:
Strong price-to-performance ratio
Good upgradability
Comprehensive connections

Cons:
Internal wiring could be better organized
Few front-panel connections

Bottom Line: With a few minor exceptions, the 97B provides most of what you'd expect from a reasonably priced high-performance PC. Few can match its combination of power, gaming prowess, and cost.

REVIEW:
The Micro Express MicroFlex 97B cruises into the performance PC category at a relatively inexpensive price of $2099 (as of August 12, 2010), but it offers impressive performance and design trappings that are in line with those of systems priced considerably higher.

Micro Express goes to the very top of Intel's consumer-CPU lineup with its inclusion of a 3.2GHz Core i7-970 processor. Combined with 6GB of DDR3 memory and an 80GB solid-state drive for system boots (alongside a 1TB drive for storage), that processor helped the 97B nail a score of 155 on our WorldBench 6 series of tests.

The HP Pavilion Elite HPE-390t, which at $2049 shaves about $50 off of the 97B's price, achieved a slightly higher score of 160. Micro Express's offering had an advantage over the HP, however, in graphics performance: Equipped with nVidia's GTX 480 graphics card, the 97B hit 126.1 frames per second on our Unreal Tournament 3 benchmark (run at a 2560-by-2100-pixel resolution and high quality). On our Dirt 2 benchmark, it produced an average of 175.5 fps. The HPE-390t, using an ATI Radeon 5770 graphics board, generated a comparatively paltry 67 fps in Unreal Tournament 3 and 59 fps in Dirt 2.

Micro Express's chassis is relatively plain, with few adornments. Aside from a wee glint of blue light emanating from a front grille as a result of the system's LED-illuminated fans, the case is jet black.

The generic look is lamentable, but the accessible, semi-screwless case makes working inside fairly hassle-free. Locking mechanisms assist you in securing 5.25-inch devices to your system, and the 97B comes with four free bays for additional upgrades; one bay is occupied by the PC's Blu-ray/DVD-burner combo drive. The same mechanisms help you install two 3.5-inch devices, as well, with one bay taken by the system's front-facing multiformat card reader. Finally, drive rails make hard-drive installations effortless, though the interior has space for only one extra storage device.

The 97B comes with two free PCI Express x1 slots, two PCI Express x16 slots, and a single PCI slot. We weren't thrilled with the roughshod wiring job, but it's forgivable--especially when compared with how much room the system's Cooler Master V8 CPU cooler takes up. Given the sheer size of this cooling device, installing additional sticks of RAM will be tricky, to say the least. It's a shame, too, that Micro Express doesn't make better use of this monstrosity by overclocking the CPU a bit.

As we often see on pricier systems, the 97B comes completely equipped to handle any external device you want to link to it. The desktop's front is a touch anemic, however, with a mere trio of USB ports and a multiformat card reader to its name--a stronger chassis would have addressed that.

The system's rear is a bit more generous. Six USB ports--including two USB/eSATA combination ports--join an S/PDIF coaxial and optical connection, dual gigabit ethernet ports, integrated 7.1 surround sound, one mini-FireWire 400 port, one FireWire 400 port, and two USB 3.0 ports. The system's nVidia GTX 480 graphics board carries two DVI ports and one HDMI port, as well.

Though the mouse that ships with the 97B is generic and boring, the bundled Microsoft keyboard comes with a number of additional buttons for launching applications, controlling multimedia playback, and raising and lowering the system's volume. That isn't anything new, but it is appreciated, considering the generic keyboards often packed with systems at this price point.

While it's neither the fastest nor the best-designed PC on our performance-PC charts, Micro Express's MicroFlex 97B delivers substantial, enjoyable computing without blowing up your bank account. Its price-to-performance ratio on general tasks and gaming is equally impressive, and the system comes with all the connections to make for a rich, next-generation desktop.

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