First Thoughts, Microflex 66B

As reported earlier, I recently bought a new computer. I ended up ordering Micro Express‘ Microflex 66B.

Specs of the system (as ordered) are:
Intel MoBo, with onboard GB ethernet and HD audio;
Core 2 Duo E6600 (2.4 GHz)
450 Watt Power Supply
2 GB DDR II RAM @ 677 MHz
250 GB, SATA Hard drive
Universal Media Reader
DVD +/- Writer
NVIDIA Geforce 7100, 512MB
No Keyboard/Mouse
No Monitor
No Speakers
No Floppy

Price: 1038 USD
Price + Tax/Delivery: 1179 USD

This initial look is after only 2 days of use. These comments are posted early to provide impressions to a few commenters who asked for it in previous posts.

General Impressions: The case is big black and bulky, with a bright blue LED surrounding the power button. The case stands about 5 inches taller than a mid-tower HP media center. The case is not tool-less, it requires 3 screws to pull off the side panel. Delivery took just over 2 weeks from the time I ordered it.

The “front mounted” USB/Firewire/Audio inputs are actually on the top of the box, near the front under a plastic flip lid. There is another USB front mounted with the card reader.

The box has lots of fans, combined with the side vents it moves a lot of air. It is not exactly quiet. It is no where near as loud as the Dell Optiplex that it is replacing, but not nearly as quiet as the HP media center. It is not too bad sitting under a desk, but would be too loud in a studio or combined with an entertainment center.

Inside, the box is spacious, orderly, and has lots of room for expansion. It has 3 PCI, 3 PCIe and 1 PCIeX16. There is space to mount 4 more internal drives, another external 3.5″, and 2 extra 5.5″ external (in addition to the 2 that contain DVD writer and DVD ROM). There are a total of 4 RAM slots, two of which are empty.

The box has 6 USB on the back, 1 Firewire, Parallel (no serial), support for PS2 Keyboard/Mouse, and the standard I/O that one would expect.

The box seems like it will be a pleasure to work on, lots of space, everything accessable, the cables neatly tucked away, and plenty of extra power adapters (remember that I upgraded the power supply.)

I did not order it with an OS, so I got 2 disks with Windows drivers. A driver disk for the graphics card and another from Intel for the MB and onboard sound and ethernet.

Windows XP: Installed on a 75 GB primary partition. A very fast install, installed the drivers from the disks and all hardware was recognized. I intend to use this for games and virtualization, neither of which I will get to for some time, so I don’t have much else to report on XP.

Windows Vista: Download 4 (just released) drivers from Intel and let Windows get the most current Nvidia driver from Windows Update. Everything works flawless. Except for the next paragraph, the rest of this post relates to Vista.

Linux: Attempted Opensuse, 64-bit was unusable, 32-bit had problems with getting the Nvidia driver installed–works but no hardware acceleration. Ubuntu 6.1 and Xandros would error out of install in graphic mode. All of my previous graphics problems were with ATI, I’ve never had such grief from Nvidia, so I don’t know what the deal is. I did not attempt anything in text only mode. I will return to this following vacation.

Back to Vista. The Windows Experience Score is a 2.3, broken down by:
Processor; 5.3
Memory: 5.5
Graphics: 2.9
Gaming Graphics: 2.3
Hard Disk: 5.3

All of the scores are remarkably high except for the graphics, Nvidia has not released a final driver for Vista–so this may improve. Ironically, the score was higher on the graphics with the default driver from the install DVD than it was from the updated driver.

The machine is fast and responsive, even running full Aero and sidebar with 6 gadgets.

I won’t go into full review of Vista here, but I must state that this box shows me that most of my previous Vista complaints were hardware based. 95% of my previous problems do not appear on this setup. While a few minor annoyances mostly related to audio and video do remain, I have hope that these will be resolved soon with updated drivers.

Since I ordered this box, Micro Express has updated the base system with Vista and Dual Layer DVD Writer.

Overall I am very impressed with the machine, but my main concern is the price/performance ratio. I don’t think I could have built this box myself for the price that I paid, and the few problems that I mentioned above (noise, less than stellar graphics, bright LEDs) are not that terribly important to me.

I am replacing a Dell Optiplex (3.2 GHz Pentium 4, 1.5 GB of RAM, 128 MB Ati grahics card) and subjectively, this box is much more responsive and faster.

Had I it to do over again, I would upgrade the video card.