Asus Essentio CM6870 review: Ivy Bridge performance, mediocre gaming

The new Asus Ivy Bridge desktop outruns Sandy Bridge budget systems, but “first” or “fastest” doesn’t always equal “best.”

Here comes Ivy Bridge. The Asus Essentio CM6870 is one of the first budget desktops hitting the PCWorld Labs to run one of Intel’s brand-new Ivy Bridge processors and receive testing under the brand-new WorldBench 7 benchmarking suite.

The good news? This $999 system is plenty speedy, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Gaming and upgrading are a hassle; however, these dull bits are balanced by the system’s Blu-ray support and impressive storage--two areas that tend to underwhelm on systems in the budget category. That said, you’re paying a premium for the perks.

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The key to the CM6870’s speeds is its Ivy Bridge processor, one of Intel’s Core i7-3770 chips clocked at 3.4 gigahertz. Eight gigabytes of memory (made usable by 64-bit Windows Home Premium) supplement the speedy chip and help the CM6870 achieve killer speeds within its category.

Here’s where it gets complicated. The CM6870 is the first budget desktop to face PCWorld’s new WorldBench 7 tests, which, unfortunately, can’t be compared apples-to-apples against their WorldBench 6 predecessors. As a silver lining, however, the CM6870’s final score of 106 indicates that it’s all of 6 percent faster than WorldBench 7’s baseline PC: an Intel Core i5-2500K rig with 8 gigabytes of memory and a single Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti card. That’s slightly better than the 4 percent difference in clock speed, but not really significant.

The baseline system is a pretty similar configuration to Lenovo’s H330 budget desktop: Same processor, same gigahertz, same memory, equally dreadful graphics. At the time of its testing last year, the H330 crushed WorldBench 6 to deliver the strongest performance the budget category had yet seen. This gives the Ivy Bridge-based CM6870 the new speed crown in the budget category, an expected outcome given the 5 to 10 percent estimated performance boost between an i5-2500K CPU and an i7-3770.

It’s hard to offer much praise about the CM6870’s gaming capabilities--due to the general lack thereof. The system’s simple Nvidia GeForce GT 545 card holds its own on a DiRT 3 benchmark run, delivering a playable 40 frames per second at a 1920 by 1080 resolution (high quality). But don’t expect to fire up a game like Crysis 2 without turning everything ugly: The CM6870 finally coughed up a playable 45.0 frames per second at a 1024 by 768 resolution (high quality).

Limited Upgrades

The CM6870 doesn’t give you the ability to supplement the system’s graphics: Its included 300-watt power supply will up and die should you attempt to replace the GeForce GT 545 with one of Nvidia’s top-of-the-line cards--though Asus offers upsell options to slightly more powerful cards. Replace is the right word, for the CM6870 only comes with two additional PCI Express x1 slots--hardly fitting for a second graphics card, even if you could add a second GT 545 for SLI dual graphics.

The wiring job on the CM6870’s inside is ugly, clumped, and haphazard. Installing a new 5.25-inch or 3.5-inch device into one of the system’s single free bays (one for each) requires a screwdriver, just like the CM6870’s PCI devices and case door. At least the system’s included 2-terabyte hard drive is an excellent (and unexpected) amount of storage for a typical budget desktop.

You can probably thank Intel more than Asus for the inclusion of two lovely USB 3.0 ports on the system’s front: New processors breed new motherboard chipsets and, thankfully, the speedy USB 3.0 connection specification now has a chance to find mainstream appeal. Two more USB 2.0 ports and three inputs for various storage card formats appear on the system’s front as well.

The rear of the CM6870 comes with a number of handy connections, including two more USB 3.0 ports, four USB 2.0 ports, gigabit LAN, integrated 7.1 surround sound, and connections for DVI, VGA, and HDMI (on the GeForce GT 545 and via the CM6870’s motherboard.) However, a nod to the two other storage connection types would have been welcome: sorry, but no FireWire or eSATA. There’s also no DisplayPort connector on the CM6870, although the system does take networking the extra mile by integrating Wireless-N via an included PCI card.

As for the mouse and keyboard that ship with the CM6870: They’re wired and generic, offering no additional buttons or elements to play with beyond what you’d find on a keyboard or mouse in your local retailer’s electronic bin. The CM6870’s case also carries a bit of a generic look to it. The stealth front drives, glossy paneling, and tray on top are great elements, but there’s still not very much “wow” about the overall design.

For its first big Ivy Bridge desktop, Asus has packed a good deal of fun into a system that just squeaks its way into the definition of a “budget” PC. The CM6870 is a fine, general system that performs admirably for most tasks you throw its way. You can’t do much awesome gaming or easy upgrading, but the CM6870’s Blu-ray support and ample storage help soften the blow.

This story, "Asus Essentio CM6870 review: Ivy Bridge performance, mediocre gaming" was originally published by PCWorld.

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