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 ROM
DVD +/- Writer
NVIDIA Geforce 7100, 512MB
No OS
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.

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I found it…

I found a computer to fit my needs.  I was actually pointed to it by January’s issue of PCWorld, from an article entitled Top Ten Value Desktop PCs.

The number one value desktop is by MicroExpress, the MicroFlex 66B, PCWorld has a short review here.

Had to do a few upgrades to meet my needs, but I managed to meet or exceed every criteria I listed previously–and I only went over budget by $38.

If this box lives up to the hope that I have invested in it; I will be happy indeed.  In fact, if the box lives up to my hopes, I will become MicroExpress’ biggest evangelist.

That  is the end of this subject until my box shows up.

Still looking…

To quote a previous post, this is what I am looking for:

Something with basic hardware that supports Linux would be preferred.  I have a copy of Windows to transfer so it would even be great to get one with no OS or one with Linux preinstalled.

What do I want…maybe a Core 2 Duo with 2 GB’s of RAM, Gb ethernet, DVD Writer, lots of USB and firewire ports, X16 PCIe, midrange graphics card (minimum of 256 MB), and dump the legacy stuff (ps2, serial, parallel, floppy, and modem).  Lets not forget easy to work on with lots of room for expansion.  Oh yeah, $1000 is my budget.  I don’t need speakers, keyboard, mouse, or monitor.

After previously (see two most recent posts) ruled out Dell, HP, Apple, and the budget linux boxes; we can now add to the exclusion list Lenovo, and Gateway, among others.

Today I  surfed for small white box vendors who might meet my needs, but most of them would be better called small blue neon vendors…catering to the wannabe gamers.  I say wannabe ’cause you can’t be a real gamer on a $1000 pc.  While I found some worthy vendors, I just can’t see myself using a computer with windows in the case and neon light.

I also started pricing a build your own system….it would seem that for a mid-range conroe cpu, decent intel chipset on an namebrand board in a discreet case would run around $600 plus ram ($200) plus video ($200) plus DVD writer (70) plus time (???) plus no warrenty (???)….

Hmmmm……maybe I need to re-think my specs…any suggestions?  Should I look to AMD for the 64-bit dual core goodness?

Speccing myself into a corner…..

In my previous post I laid out what I wanted in a new computer.

I spent this morning reading the specs on Apple hardware.  I wish they made a computer to meet my needs.  I like their industrial design, I like the clean form, I like that they are Vista ready.  But damn they are expensive.  I know the mac folks think this is not true, but it is .  Read the previous post where I laid out what I need in a new computer, Apple does not make one that fits my needs; the closest I could spec out would be a 17″ iMac at $1500, way more than I intend to spend.  And there is zero upgradability.  The Mac Pro would meet my needs, but I am too poor.

When purchasing a computer, I am a firm believer in deciding what would meet your needs and then pricing it from there.  That is basically what these posts are about.

Lxer.com has a list of manufacturers that ship Linux PCs.  What a bunch of rubbish.  They mostly range in the sub $500 crap category or the +$2000 workstation category.  Neither of which meet my needs.

Am I atypical in my needs?  Did I set the bar too high?  Is it only the first tier Windows vendors who could meet my needs?  Did I spec myself into a corner?

Both Apple and Linux PC vendors play both ends of the market but leave much to be desired at the middle.  Still looking…..

Thinkin’ ’bout a new computer…

I sold one of my computers, so I can now enter the modern world of dual core computing.

I’ve mostly been a refurbished Dell fan, it is a Dell Optiplex that I am selling.  Basic hardware at basic price, maybe the GM of the 50’s.  But my most recent experience with them left a bad taste in my mouth.  I had to spend an hour per computer uninstalling all kinds of ad supported crap that Dell sent on the computer.  Way to go, way to make me feel good about unpacking and setting up a couple of new work computers.

I also have a 3 year old HP Media Center.  It has been a disapointment since day one.  No install disks are bad enough, but they did not even provide restore disks.  All it had was a restore partition…then they gave me an upgrade to MCE 2005.  After copying the restore partition to CD…after destroying the restore partition, it made a reinstall go something like this:
Restore from 6 CD’s
Uninstall all the extra crap HP bundled
Install XP SP2
Fix broken drivers, set up security
Install MCE 2005 Upgrade
Uninstall all the stuff HP added
Update broken drivers
Install windows update
Begin setting up new computer

It took like 6 hours.  So I upgraded that box to Vista to avoid all the hassle.  Since it is 3 years old, I added RAM and video card.  It pushes Vista…adequately.  Media Center is great, love the DVR and added functionality.  The inside of the case looks like R2-D2 exploded in there, very hard to work on and no air flow.  I would not buy another HP.  (I do love my iPaq though.)

So what do I get to avoid my previous experiences?  Something with basic hardware that supports Linux would be preferred.  I have a copy of Windows to transfer so it would even be great to get one with no OS or one with Linux preinstalled.

What do I want…maybe a Core 2 Duo with 2 GB’s of RAM, Gb ethernet, DVD Writer, lots of USB and firewire ports, X16 PCIe, midrange graphics card (minimum of 256 MB), and dump the legacy stuff (ps2, serial, parallel, floppy, and modem).  Lets not forget easy to work on with lots of room for expansion.  Oh yeah, $1000 is my budget.  I don’t need speakers, keyboard, mouse, or monitor.

I’ll report back with any success.