Carrera – Octan Ultimate review

fast system with PCI Express
Photo of Carrera – Octan Ultimate
£999 + VAT

First there was ISA, then PCI, then AGP and now PCI Express. The evolution of the graphics interface in PCs reflects the increasing importance of fast graphics for games, video editing and digital photography (but mainly games). With the Octan Ultimate, Carrera is one of the first companies to incorporate PCI Express into a desktop PC at under £1,000 plus VAT.

Though a comparatively low price-point for a machine using this new, high-performance interface, Carrera hasn’t skimped on the components it has built into its standard, boxy-but-stylish, black and clear-acrylic case. There’s a 3.4MHz Pentium 4 processor with 512MB of DDR2 memory running at 533MHz, for starters. The new memory standard and memory bus speed increase the bandwidth to 8.6GB/s in this dual-channel configuration, which looks set to give the system a performance boost.

Permanent storage is provided by a 160GB Hitachi DeskStar hard drive, using a serial ATA interface for extra speed and convenience. There are twin DVD rewriter and DVD reader drives in the front of the machine and the DVD rewriter is a 16-speed, dual-layer device, enabling you to write over 8GB of data to a single dual-layer DVD.

There’s a floppy drive in there too, but no memory card reader of any kind, which is a shame. Worthy of specific mention, though, is the inclusion of 802.11g wireless networking, built into the Asus system board and giving you direct, cable-free connection to other devices, such as a notebook or PDA.

There’s not much point in having a new, faster graphics interface unless you slot a worthwhile adapter into it and Carrera has chosen an Nvidia 6600GT card with 128MB of GDDR3 memory to do the job. This card gives a very good account itself, producing an index of 7,864 from 3DMark 03 at the default resolution of 1,024 x 768 pixels. Average frame rates were around the 60fps level throughout.

A clear and detailed picture is reproduced on the 17-inch Sharp LCD monitor, one of the new models with a smart silver stand and including a direct digital input (DVI) to reduce the amount of graphics signal conversion involved.

SYSmark 2004 produced an overall index of 192, which is also very commendable and means the machine won’t be hanging around running any of today’s software. Talking of software, a full version of Works Suite 2005 is bundled with the system, providing Microsoft Word as well as useful extras such as AutoRoute.

Company: Carrera

Contact: 0871 222 3456

This is a well-conceived system using the latest components throughout, but choosing hardware from respectable and reliable manufacturers to produce a fast and stable PC. It's good value, too, with wireless networking and dual DVD drives built in, and is rounded off well by the inclusion of a strong software bundle based around Works and Word.