The Asus Essentio CM6870 ($999 direct) is a great entry-level gaming desktop whose potent combination of a dual-core 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 processor and Nvidia GeForce GT 545 GPU packs plenty of Molotov into its cocktail while still maintaining affordability for those on a beer budget. Although it doesn't come in a flashy package like high-end gaming desktops, its ability to nimbly outperform others in its class in multimedia-creation tasks makes it an able competitor.
Design and Features
Don't let the CM6870's low-key aluminum mid-tower design fool you: Just because it's not decked out with pulsating fluorescent lights and the razzle-dazzle typical of gaming desktops doesn't mean that it's any less suitable for tackling graphic-intensive applications. Although it looks like an ordinary desktop PC, the CM6870 embraces the iceberg philosophy: All of its flash lies just beneath the surface. This is not to detract from the sleek black chassis, whose understated simplicity is elegant in its own right. A glossy plastic panel adorning front of the system complements the matte-finished aluminum body and houses the CM 6870's Blu-ray combo drive and a vacant expansion bay. Ten USB ports are distributed between the front and rear of the system: two USB 2.0 ports and two USB 3.0 ports in the front for easy access, and four USB 2.0 ports and two USB 3.0 ports on the back of the system. The front of the CM6870 also features audio-out and microphone-in jacks and media card reader. The rear of the system is a treasure trove of ports, with four USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, DVI, and an eight-channel audio panel for surround-sound systems.
The CM6870 is ready for the future, with a good amount of internal expansion space that's easily accessed by removing two screws on the side of the system. Unscrew those, and you're faced with a solid range of empty slots. In addition to two free PCI Express (PCIe) x1 slots, the 8GB of installed RAM only takes up two slots on the motherboard. The only downside, and it's relatively minor, is the wiring, inasmuch as it's slightly bunched up and requires a decent amount of untangling before more involved upgrades can be made. Fortunately, the cords aren't bunched up into an intractable rat's nest and, moreover, their location on the motherboard's periphery means that they don't crowd the center and create unnecessary clutter. Hard drive space is munificently abundant in the CM 6870. Taken together, the internal dual drives nearly amount to 2TB of space, with one offering 750GB and the other 1TB. Although there's no shortage of ports to accommodate external drives, the sheer amount of total available drive space on the CM68760 means that, in all likelihood, valuable port real estate will be free for other external devices with plenty of ports to spare.
The system comes loaded with Windows Home 7 Premium 64-bit. There's a bit of bloatware to wade through, though thankfully it isn't on the heavy side. The usual suspects are here, like a Bing Bar and some proprietary software, including Asus Vibe 2.0 and Asus Music Maker. Annoyingly, the system only comes preloaded with Microsoft Office Starter 2010, so you only get "Starter" versions of Microsoft Word and Excel. In Microsoft-speak, "Starter" translates into some, but not all, of the programs' features and inescapable, built-in advertisements. It also means that you'll get neither PowerPoint nor Outlook in any shape or form. Still, limited functionality is better than none whatsoever. Keeping in mind that previous trial versions of Office 2007 would typically expire after 60 daysa practice that's unfair at best and charlatan-esque at worsta "Starter" version of Office isn't completely unforgivable. If you need PowerPoint or Outlook, though, you'd better be prepared to pay for it.
The combination of a 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-3770 processor, 8 GB of system RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce GT 545 with 3GB of RAM unsurprisingly provided the CM6870 with plenty of firepower to blast out impressive scores on our benchmark tests. Its Futuremark PCMark 7 score of 3,304 blew past the 3,055 score of the Editors' Choice Alienware X51 ($999 direct, 4 stars). Comparable entry-level gaming desktops fell even further short of the CM6870 on PCMark 7, with the HP Pavilion Elite h8-1124 ($549.99 list, 3.5 stars) earning 3,093 and the Dell XPS 8300 ($999 list, 3.5 stars) scoring 3,148.
When it came to multimedia tasks, the CM6870 almost uniformly outperformed the rest. It completed our Handbrake test in a blazing 1 minute 3 seconds, a solid 17 seconds faster than the X51, and slightly faster than the 1:12 it took the Pavilion Elite and the Dell XPS 8300's 1:13. The same goes for the CM 6870's respective CineBench R11.5 and Photoshop CS5 times of 7:50 and 2:51. It outperformed the others across the board on these tests, with one minor exception: The Velocity Micro Edge Z40 ($1,199 direct, 4 stars) completed the Photoshop CS5 test a scant 6 seconds faster. Ironically, this minor difference bodes well for the CM6870 when you take into account the fact that even though the Micro Edge Z40's Intel Core i5-2500K processor is overclocked from 3.3GHz to 4GHz, it still only barely squeaked by the CM6870.
But if you've read this far, chances are that you're more interested in the CM 6870's gaming chops above everything else. As an entry-level gaming desktop, the CM6870 held its own. In medium-quality settings, the CM6870 pumped out a silky-smooth 76 frames per second (fps) in
Although the CM6870's performance faltered when it came to gaming in higher quality settings, this is to be expected in an entry-level gaming system, so it's understandable that its benchmark scores fared worse in these benchmark tests. It struggled to gasp out 11fps in Crysis on Very High quality settings and 17fps in Lost Planet 2 on High Quality settings. This makes it exactly half as fast as the Alienware X51 under the same settings, which ran Crysis at 22fps and Lost Planet 2 at 35fps. Although the CM6870 was handily outpaced by all but the HP Pavilion Elite's 8fps for Crysis and 10fps for Lost Planet 2, it was mercilessly decimated by the Velocity Micro Edge Z40's 33fps for Crysis and 49fps for Lost Planet 2.
This review is in partnership with Ziff Davis Media.