Mesh Matrix Fireblade SLI-R Inverness
Mesh Matrix Fireblade SLI-R
Mesh probably isn't the first company most enthusiasts would think of when trying to decide where to buy a new PC - it's all 'Voodoo this' and 'Alienware that.' However, as one of the UK's largest PC manufacturers, Mesh is able to buy large quantities of components at far cheaper prices than the normal retail cost, enabling the company to build great value PCs.
The Fireblade is a good example of this, although it has an added twist. It ships with a single graphics card as standard but, because it has an SLI motherboard, you can add a second card later to dramatically improve game performance.
The card in question is a GeForce 6800 GT, which has been slightly overclocked from 350MHz on the GPU and 500MHz (1GHz effective) on the RAM, to 360MHz and 515MHz (1.03GHz effective) respectively. It sits in an Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe motherboard, one of the best SLI boards that money can buy, which also sports an Athlon 64 4000+ CPU and 1GB of Nanya PC3200 memory. The Athlon 64 4000+ is almost the fastest Athlon 64 money can buy, running at a storming 2.4GHz, with 1MB of Level 2 cache - pretty amazing, considering the PC's price tag is only three figures long. Only an Athlon 64 FX-55 will be faster than the 4000+ in games.
Other components include a spacious 300GB Maxtor DiamondMax 10 S-ATA hard drive and a Sony dual-layer DVD writer. Mesh has also sensibly stuck with the motherboard's decent on-board sound, which uses the Realtek ALC850 chip.
Also along for the ride are a Logitech wireless keyboard and mouse bundle, and a pre-installed copy of Windows XP Home. For some reason, Mesh has seen the need to include a 56k modem, so you can experience what it was like to play games online when the Tories were last in power. However, it only adds a fiver to the overall price and you can hardly accuse the Fireblade of being pricey.
All of these components are housed in the standard Mesh midi-tower case, which isn't particularly attractive. It's based on the Chieftech Apollo, but has the added benefit of an 80mm fan and duct on the side panel that blows straight into the CPU HSF.
There's a 120mm exhaust fan at the back, but unfortunately, Mesh hasn't fitted a 92mm fan to the front mount. This means that the only source of air coming into the case is from the 80mm fan on the side panel and, as this air is blown directly into the CPU HSF, the graphics card(s) don't get much fresh air. If you intend to add a second GeForce 6800 GT then we'd definitely recommend buying a 92mm fan and mounting it on the front intake. Disappointingly, despite the FireWire header on the Asus motherboard, there are only two USB 2 ports on the front of the case.
With a floppy disk drive mounted in the top bay, there's space inside the case for two more hard drives and two more optical drives.
The 525W HEC power supply should be able to handle two GeForce 6800 GTs, as it has twin 12V rails, capable of producing 17A and 18A.
Other than the slightly overclocked graphics card, all the other components in the Fireblade run at their default frequencies. Perhaps this is why the Fireblade's results in the Custom PC Media Benchmarks were reasonable but unspectacular, despite its scorchingly quick Athlon 64 4000+. The video encoding score of 1.24 and image editing score of 1.63 are just a smidgen different from those of the similarly specified Holly AMD 64 Water-cooled SLI. The CD ripping score of 1.30 is pretty poor though - the Sony optical drive may be a fast DVD writer but it's a rubbish CD ripper.
It was while attempting to overclock the Fireblade that it all started to unravel. Initially, the PC wouldn't even boot with the FSB raised above 210MHz, but by dropping the memory's latency timings to 3 - 4 - 4 - 8, the Fireblade made it into Windows with a 220MHz FSB. The Nanya RAM is obviously only suited to mild overclocking. This overclock boosted the CPU frequency from 2.4GHz to 2.64GHz, but we also had to raise the CPU vcore from 1.55V to 1.6V. Initially, the Fireblade seemed fine, as it completed the video encoding benchmark with a much improved score of 1.35. However, after running overclocked for about 15 minutes, the CPU became an all-too-literal manifestation of the Fireblade name, overheating and crashing the PC.
With the CPU and RAM calmed to their default frequency settings, the Fireblade churned through our Far Cry benchmark at 1,280 x 1,024 with 2x AA and 2x AF at an average frame rate of 69.2fps. Using Coolbits, we managed to eke out a little extra performance, and raised the score to 69.8fps by increasing the GPU speed by 33MHz to 393MHz, and bumping the RAM from 515MHz to 545MHz (1.09GHz effective).
Out of the box, the Fireblade has two fundamental limitations that make stable overclocking difficult. First of all, the Nanya RAM won't run any higher than 220MHz, even with incredibly relaxed timings and lots of extra voltage. The second issue is the very basic Akasa AK855 CPU HSF. This was a reasonable Athlon 64 HSF a couple of years ago, but it's totally unsuitable for overclocking an Athlon 64 4000+.
However, the Fireblade is still worth considering. Because of Mesh's purchasing power, the Fireblade costs about £170 less than buying all the parts separately.
So, when you decide to tweak the PC, you could sell the RAM and use the money, and the £170 you save by buying from Mesh, to buy some decent low-latency PC3200, such as 1GB of Corsair TwinX CMS512-3200XL for £175.08 from scan
This would then allow you to overclock the Fireblade by dropping the CPU multiplier and raising the FSB. To take it to the next level, you'd then need to spend £20.32 on an Akasa AK913 CPU HSF. With these two small upgrades, you'd end up with a truly overclockable monster of a PC, which would still be cheaper than a machine you could build yourself.
Out of the box the Mesh is a capable PC and a real bargain at only £999. And with a couple of well-chosen upgrades later on, it could easily become a real power PC.
Author: James Gorbold