Neither of the other PC categories offer the same no-holds-barred performance as the Power division. Neither, for that matter, do they provoke the same debate about what represents value for money.
With its £1,799 price tag, the Serpens weighs in at the higher end of the PC market - although, it's certainly not the most expensive on offer.
The Serpens aims for high-calibre components without taking them to excess. The Athlon 64 X2 4400+ isn't the ultimate processor for performance, but it is terribly close, as personified by its spellbinding 111 points in our WorldBench 5 tests - making it pretty much the fastest machine ever to pass through the PC Advisor Test Centre. Throw in the dual-core facilities and you have a multi-purpose CPU that should more than satisfy your needs.
The 1GB of memory is acceptable, although not exceptional. The hard drive storage space is very much in keeping with the high price tag, though - and you get not one but two 200GB Seagate drives carefully arranged in a Raid configuration.
We've already talked about the graphics setup (see Hot CrossFire, below), but it's worth mentioning again. Twinning a Radeon CrossFire Edition X800 card with a standard X800 XL isn't the most expensive of dual-card setups, and shouldn't be expected to offer as much oomph as the Alienware's pair of GeForce 7800 GTX cards. However, frame rates still impress. We tested the Cube under the most trying of conditions - 4x antialiasing and 16x anisotropic filtering has sent a shiver down the silicon spine of plenty of previous high-end cards - but it still came out fighting.
Even at 1,280x1,024, it was still exceeding 90fps (frames per second) on titles such as Halo, Half-Life 2 and Unreal Tournament 2004. Considering the high detail levels used in these tests, these are extremely good results.
Of course, you are restricted to a resolution of 1,280x1,024 because of the flat-panel. The GNR TS900H lacks a DVI (digital visual interface), but it's a shining example of 19in LCD technology. Smooth text definition and rich colours result in an impressive overall effect. Cube247 hasn't stinted on the sound, and the Audigy2 ZS and Creative Inspire T7900 speakers form one of the most appealing audio setups you can get. High marks are also due for the NEC ND-3540A DVD writer - running almost the full gamut of formats, it offers tiptop speeds.
The huge range of components does have its drawbacks - there's little room for upgrade. That said, Cube247 has provided almost everything except the kitchen sink - even a memory card reader has been built in - while 10 USB and three FireWire ports offer plenty of potential. The warranty is reasonably ample, too; although, for the price, we wouldn't mind some onsite cover.
CrossFire is ATI's alternative to nVidia's SLI (scalable link interface) technology and, although it's early days, we found the initial results very promising. Essentially CrossFire works like SLI in that it daisy-chains two graphics cards together, making them work in tandem to cope with the most demanding graphics.
Testing a range of games with 4x antialiasing and 16x anisotropic filtering, we found that, even at a low resolution of 1,024x768, CrossFire generally upped the performance quite considerably. In Splinter Cell, we got 86fps (frames per second) rather than the 69fps of single-card mode, for instance. Halo went from 80 to 123fps, and Doom3 60 to 95fps. These gaps remained fairly consistent at 1,280x1,024, with Halo's 68.54 to 114fps increase the most dramatic.
The Cube247's flat-panel won't allow a resolution at 1,600x1,200, which is a shame, since here the difference is the biggest of all, with a number of the titles almost doubling in frame rate. Even Half-Life 2 (which didn't see much of an improvement at earlier resolutions) received a decent increase.