Last night I had a proper chance to check out my new PC, a modified Cube247 Scorpius ST10. Here’s a quick review.
If you can’t be bothered to read it all just scroll down to the conclusion.
The system came neatly packaged in five boxes:
- PC case, Windows and drivers CDs and component manuals
- Creative 5.1 speakers
- Keyboard, cables, etc.
Everything looked well-packaged and protected, which is what you want.
What I received (4/5)
I promptly checked that everything was in order — to see if I’d received what I’d ordered. All was well until I got to the monitors. There was one VGA-to-DVI adapter missing. They look like this:
I telephoned Cube yesterday (Friday) who dropped one into the post; it arrived this morning (Saturday).
The case — a Foxconn TLA-570A — looks solid, well built and good quality. It’s just as it looks in the photo (above): black and silver, with four 5.25″ slots (two already filled with DVD drives), one 3.5″ slot for the floppy drive, 2 x USB and audio in/out ports.
It’s nothing special, certainly not the first choice of Custom PC magazine, I would guess! Not as sexy as the Antec Nine Hundred or A+ CS-188AF. But I imagine that it will sit quite happily under my desk keeping my PC components in the right place.
Opening the case up everything looks quite neat, allowing good airflow around shiny bits of metal that start to get really hot when you allow electricity to go racing through its components. One thing that I like is a funnel attached to the inside of the removable case-side that when closed ducts the air from the graphics card directly out of the case.
One disappointment is that while the website states that the PC comes with 12 USB ports there are only 10. (UPDATE: Actually, there were 12 but two of them were inside the machine.)
The two monitors are 19″ TFT models by Hannstar I-INC CY199. The monitor fits neatly into the base, clicking into place to keep it secure.
According to the “standard timing table” in the manual the monitor has a maximum resolution of 1280 x 1024 @ 75 Hz.
The first monitor I tried had one “stuck pixel”, but this was easily fixed by gently tapping the screen or rubbing it with a cloth.
Keyboard and Mouse (4/5)
The keyboard and mouse are good, solid Logitech input devices. They are standard devices with no extra multimedia buttons, but they feel really good to use.
However, I’ll be using my Microsoft Digital Media Pro keyboard and Microsoft Intellimouse Optical mouse.
The speakers are the Creative Inspire T6100 surround-sound speakers in a 5.1 configuration, that is five satellite speakers and one sub-woofer to handle bass.
- 8 watts RMS per channel (4 channels)
- 18 watts RMS centre channel
- 26 watts RMS subwoofer
- Frequency Response 40Hz – 20kHz
The satellite speakers plug into the sub-woofer, which connects to both the power cable and the soundcard. An on/off and volume control is built into the right hand front speaker.
So far I’ve only tried out the sub-woofer and front left, centre and right speakers, and they sound great, especially with the Creative X-Fi soundcard.
Drivers and component documentation (5/5)
Something that has impressed me about Cube is that, unlike some of their competitors, they send you the original discs, not just recovery discs. They sent me:
- Windows XP Professional SP2 OEM
- Asus P5N-E SLI motherboard support CD
- Asus software bundle CD
- Norton Internet Security 2007
- Corel Snapfire Plus SE 1.2
- Intervideo DVD Copy 5 Trial
- Acrobat Reader
- DirectX 9.0c
- Multi-language Installation Guide
- Asus GeForce 8800GT drivers CD
- Asus GeForce 8800GT manual CD
- Creative X-Fi drivers CD (Windows XP)
- Creative X-Fi drivers CD (Windows Vista)
- Windows XP Professional
- Asus P5N-E SLI motherboard user guide
- Asus P5N-E SLI motherboard quick start guide
- Intel Core 2 Quad processor installation instructions
- Asus Graphics Card SpeedSetup guide
- LCD monitor users manuals and warranty cards
- Creative Inspire T6100 quick start guide and warranty card
The only thing that appears to be missing is any documentation to do with the Creative X-Fi sound card. When I purchased a retail X-Fi card a few years back it certainly came with a quick start guide. Perhaps the OEM version doesn’t and it’s all on CD now.
Retailer documentation (0/5)
There was no documentation from Cube. No invoice, no instructions, nothing.
A telephone call on Friday morning revealed that the invoice would be posted to me separately. Which is fair enough, but a short note at least saying “hello, thanks for buying from Cube if you’ve got any problems then call us and we’ll do our best to answer your query” would have been courteous.
It’s just as well that I know my way around a PC. If this had been my first system then I may have been completely lost trying to work out what connected to what.
The motherboard used is the Asus P5N-E SLI, built around the NVIDIA® nForce® 650i SLI Northbridge and NVIDIA® nForce® 430i chipsets.
The motherboard supports the usual host of exciting kit, including
- 2 x PCI Express x 16 slots
- 1 x PCI Express x1
- 2 x PCI 2.2
- 4 x Serial ATA drives; 1 x External SATA (all 3Gb/s)
- 4 x IDE drives
All this new technology is great and all, but I still need a good old fashioned serial (COM) port for connecting my Psion.
While there isn’t a serial port on the rear panel there is actually a serial port built into the motherboard (verified by the BIOS, although not mentioned at all in the manual!) … assuming that you can find the correct motherboard header for it; it uses the IDC 10-pin connector. (Lose 1 point — a break-out backplate would have been a welcome addition, as well as information in the manual about it.)
Lindy sell the PC backplate serial adapter for around £6.00; also available Amazon UK.
The Asus P5N-E SLI motherboard uses the Phoenix AwardBIOS.
I couldn’t get access to it: it was password protected. And if you remember, I didn’t get any documentation from Cube, I don’t have the password. (Lose 5 points!)
I tried a few defaults: password, enter, sesame, cube, cube247, etc. Nothing I tried worked.
Computer Shopper magazine discovered the same thing:
To prevent potentially dangerous tampering, the BIOS is password-protected, although the password can be obtained from Cube’s technical support. (Computer Shopper review of Cube 247 Zeta ST4)
I phoned Cube this morning, but was told that I could only get the password from their Tech Support guys who work Monday – Friday. But why did I want the BIOS password? he asked me. The BIOS has been setup, he said, I didn’t need to change anything. It would violate the warranty, he told me. Which is interesting, because I didn’t actually get any paperwork about the warranty.
“But this is MY PC now,” I said. “So I want the BIOS password.” After all, the customer is always right.
UPDATE: As I recall the password was: letmein.
Switching on (3/5)
When I first switched on the PC I had to go through the initial Windows XP registration steps: XP licence key, PC name and network ID, user names, etc. But then as soon as I was into Windows XP I was presented with a couple of drivers still needing installed: network card and (I think) RAID or SATA drivers. Popping the Asus motherboard support CD into the DVD drive seemed to appease its driver-hungry craving and all was well.
I rebooted, and to my surprise had to go through part of the process again. Very odd. (Lose 1 point!)
Then I realised that the Creative X-Fi applications weren’t installed, although the basic drivers appeared to be. That took a few minutes (I’ve done it loads of times on my current machine) but it’s not the sort of thing that an inexperienced computer user might know to do. I suspect that a lot of users would expect it all to be installed and ready to go. (Lose another point!)
That said, one thing that did impress me is that there is absolutely no extraneous software installed. Each time I restore my Lenovo laptop to factory defaults I then have to spend the next 30 minutes uninstalling all the sponsored crap that’s also installed by default.
This is a very clean system when new, which is refreshing and to be commended.
All in all, I’m really impressed with this machine. While there were a few niggles (mystery BIOS password, sticky pixel, not all drivers installed out-of-the-box) they weren’t enough to make me think less of this PC or Cube.
I’m now really looking forward to unlocking the BIOS, removing the RAID 0 (stripe) configuration, repartitioning the drives as two independent/standard 500 GB drives, reinstalling Windows XP (on three partitions: general, games-only, video-edit-only) and migrating my data over.
This new PC is way faster and more capable than my current machine — I can now run Battlefield 2 with everything turned up to HIGH, Creative X-Fi sound effects on, Anti-Aliasing at 8x, and a resolution of 1280 x 960 @ 60 Hz and it hardly breaks a sweat!
This should allow me to do some serious gaming, video editing and Web development for some time to come.
As for Cube247 I would certainly recommend them. Their build quality seems to be very good, their customer service has been excellent the few times that I’ve had to call them, and their prices were excellent — there’s no way I could have got this spec of machine by building it myself. But that’s what I tend to do anyway: buy something that is as close to what I want as possible and then tweak it the rest of the way.
Update – Monday 28 January
Customer Service (5/5)
I phoned Cube this morning to ask for the BIOS password. They were (understandably) a little hesitant to give it to me but when I explained that I wanted to add a couple more hard drives to it (for data migration purposes) they gave me the password, which should now let me in.
One of the first things I always do when I get a new system is take a record of the default BIOS settings. Just in case.