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eVGA Personal Cinema FX5700
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Date: Jul 06, 2004
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: Jeff Bouton
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Introduction

It's been a long time since several pioneering companies bridged the gap between the TV and the PC.  What initially started out as a novelty is now driving the industry in a new direction with the merging of TV and Radio with the personal computer.  Today, thanks to faster hardware, and the advent of the mini-PC, manufacturers and users alike continue the push to merge the PC into our lives as a complete media device.

One of the components needed to make this possible is a TV/Video card.  Without a solid video card and TV card solution, the "home theater PC" could not exist.  While each component can be bought separately, space constraints can make a combination TV/Video card a much more attractive solution.  

When we think of an all-in-one solution, most of us think of ATI's "All-In-Wonder" product line.  The All-In-Wonder series has been around for years and has matured into a solid offering, backed by the seasoned Multimedia Center software.  Being pioneers in the TV/Video combo market, ATI has garnered the majority of the market, with little competition for the most part.  But that isn't to say there isn't competition, in fact, indeed there is.

While the All-In-Wonder family is arguably the most popular solution by name recognition alone, there are viable alternatives.  One of these choices is eVGA's "Personal Cinema" line of TV/Video cards.  The product line may not have the long history that ATI has, but it does offer various feature and performance levels to stake its claim as a solid contender.  As we've seen in the past, just because you're on top doesn't guarantee you'll stay there.  As we take a look at eVGA's latest offering, with a review of the eVGA Personal Cinema FX 5700, we'll show you that ATI is not the only game in town.

Specifications of the eVGA Personal Cinema FX5700
The Low-Down

AT A GLANCE
•256-bit GeForce FX 5700 (425MHz clock)
•128MB 128-bit 3.6ns DDR Memory (275MHz clock - 550MHz effective)
•AGP 8X/AGP 4X Compatibility
•DVI-I Connector for Analog/Digital Display
•Philips SAA7133HL for Video Capture In/Out
•Philips NTSC TV Tuner (coaxial out)
•FM Tuner for FM radio input and capture
•Digital Media Hub for Audio/Video Input/Output
•Supports component video (HDTV)
•8.8 GB per second memory bandwidth

2D/3D FEATURES
•NVIDIA Accuview™ Antialiasing - includes: FSAA(2X, 4X, 4XS, and Quincunx)
•Integrated Hardware Transform and Lighting engine
•NVIDIA Shader Rasterizer™
•True Reflective Bump Mapping
•Cube Environment Mapping
•32-bit Color with 32-Bit Z/Stencil Buffer
•DirectX(R) and S3TC(R) texture compression
•High Performance 2D Rendering engine
•Multi-Buffering (Double, Triple, Quad)
•2 dual-rendering pipelines
•4 texels per clock cycle
OTHER FEATURES
•NVIDIA nView™ multi-display technology
•NVIDIA UltraShadow Technology
•NVIDIA Intellisample (HCT)
•Video Mixing Renderer (VMR)
•NVIDIA Forceware (USE)
•Integrated Dual 400MHz RAMDACs
•NVIDIA Digital Vibrance Control™ (DVC) 3.0
•Video Acceleration (DirectShow, MPEG-1,MPEG-2, Indeo, MS Bob and Weave)
•True color 64x64 hardware cursor with alpha
•Optimized for 32, 24, 16, 15 and 8-bppmodes
•Integrated Full Hardware MPEG-2 Decoder
•Architected for Cg

DRIVER SUPPORT
•AutoInstaller with ADM* Technology
•ResChanger©
•NVIDIA Unified Driver Architecture (UDA) (Windows 98/ME/NT 4.0/2000/XP)
•Direct Draw • Direct3D
•DirectVideo • DirectX
•Full OpenGL ICD for All Supported Operating Systems

eVGA packed the Personal Cinema FX 5700 with everything you could need to take full advantage of the card's capabilities.  To start, eVGA included excellent documentation for installing and using the graphics card's entire line-up of features.  For a quick start, a large fold-out Installation Guide offered a complete breakdown of the package contents as well as step-by-step installation instructions for installing the card and connecting the various inputs and outputs.  Additionally, the Installation Guide included blow-up images of the card and the included NVIDIA Remote Control, highlighting the key components of each.

For greater coverage of the card's features, a User's Guide is included that breaks down the information clearly.  There is a recap of the installation process and a detailed breakdown of ForceWare Multimedia, the main component that ties all the functions together into one software package.  Two CDs are included with Drivers and ForceWare Multimedia along with ULEAD Studios DVD MovieFactory 2.5 SE and VideoStudio 7 software for capturing and authoring DVD media.  

   

eVGA not only provided a Breakout Box to handle the card's input/output needs, they included all of the cabling needed too, including a composite A/V cable, S-Video Cable and Component Video Cable.  Additionally, a fully functional RF Remote Control and USB receiver were included to easily control ForceWare Multimedia from up to 60' away, with 4 AAA batteries included.  Lastly, the package came with an FM-Antenna for the integrated FM Tuner and a DVI to DB15 VGA adapter for connecting the card's DVI out to a standard analog monitor.  And let's not forget two eVGA case stickers so you can proudly advertise what graphics card is in your system.

Overall, eVGA did a beautiful job of compiling a comprehensive package to accompany the Personal Cinema FX 5700.  Not only will the card bring TV to the PC, it includes all of the hardware and software you could ask for to make your PC the centerpiece of your home entertainment system.  Next we'll take a more detailed look at the Personal Cinema FX 5700.  

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The Card and Setup
Quality and Installation of the eVGA Personal Cinema FX5700
Seeing What its Made of

At first look, you almost forget that you are looking at a hybrid TV/Video card.  The tuner component chosen for the Personal Cinema is roughly one inch square in size, much smaller than what we typically see with competitor's TV products.  Below we've lined-up a comparison image with the ATI All-In-Wonder 9600XT we reviewed recently which is indicative of the typical size of the tuner used on ATI cards.  The reduced size does not sacrifice functionality, offering a full 125 channel line-up and FM tuner capability while maintaining good image quality.  Another by-product of the smaller tuner module is less heat being generated, where as the larger components can get quite toasty.

  

At the heart of the card is NVIDIA's GeForce FX 5700 GPU clocked at 425MHz which is coupled with 128MB of DDR memory set to run at 550MHz DDR (effective).  eVGA used Samsung K4D261638E-TC36 memory modules which are rated for 550MHz, leaving no additional headroom for overclocking.  Often we see manufacturers clock down the chips from there peak, possibly in anticipation of overclocking, but eVGA opted to run the memory at the speed it was designed for.  Nonetheless, a little later on we'll give overclocking a try and see what gains can be had with these particular memory chips.

  

The rear of the card comes with two F-Type connectors, the first for the integrated TV-Tuner and the second for connecting the provided FM Antenna.  Next, was a 10-Pin VIVO and Audio-In port that marries with the A/V Breakout Box to support a multitude of inputs and outputs as shown in the diagram below.

Below the VIVO port is the card's audio out which connects to the sound card or integrated audio of the system with a 1/8" male x 1/8" male adapter cable which is provided in the bundle as well.  The default video output is DVI although eVGA did include an adapter for analog monitor support.

Rounding out the package was the NVIDIA Remote Control, which is a Radio Frequency based remote, eliminating the need for line-of-sight operation like infra-red remote controls.  The NVIDIA Remote Control is preconfigured to control all facets of the ForceWare Multimedia software as well as being programmed to work with common programs such as PowerPoint, MusicMatch and Real Player to name a few.  Once the drivers have been installed, a shortcut to the remote control settings can be found in the Windows Control Panel where the remote can be configured for additional applications and various adjustments.

Software Installation and Configuration
Easy as Pie

When it comes to software installation, eVGA does a great job of simplifying the process with a clean menu interface that's easy to follow.  When we inserted the first CD, a Media Menu appeared with links to the drivers, electronic manuals and supporting software.  We simply clicked the Install Video Drivers link and we were on our way.  The ForceWare drivers and multimedia software completed installation in a matter of a few minutes.  After a reboot and subsequent hardware detection, we were on our way to using the Personal Cinema FX 5700.  What was interesting was how eVGA did not make the ULEAD software an option, instead having them integrated into the software installer.  The approach here is a little different than what we are used to.  This is not bonus software, but rather components integrated into the complete package, making them required for complete functionality.

  

Once the installation process completed, we could access each of the software components from another clean, easy to read Media Menu.  Each link opened its respective ForceWare Multimedia component, except for the "Edit a Movie" and "Burn a Movie" which launched either ULEAD DVD MovieFactory or VideoStudio 7.

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Setup Continued and ForceWare Multimedia

In the TV module of ForceWare Multimedia, there were options to alter the program's appearance upon launch.  User's can define whether the TV image defaults to a thumbnail or a larger view.  Time-shifting can be enabled which allows for pausing and seeking of live TV in both forward and reverse.  On first start up we selected the type of TV input (cable) and let the software scan for active channels.  Once complete, we were ready to go.  Additionally, we could adjust the audio playback profile for various speaker configurations including format, mode and range control.

      

      

While there are multiple facets to ForceWare Multimedia, the TV component is the one that required additional configuration before we could use it.  Now let's take a closer look at the different components of ForceWare Multimedia and touch on each of their roles.

ForceWare Multimedia - Overview
All That You Get

Like ATI's popular Multimedia Center Software, ForceWare Multimedia is the core software component for the Personal Cinema FX 5700.  With a fresh, modern interface, ForceWare Multimedia is a relatively new product compared to the seasoned Multimedia Center, yet it has a feel of a package that has had time to mature.  The software is comprised of six key components, being TV, DVD, FM, Music, Pictures and Video Clips.


TV

DVD

FM Radio

Music

Pictures

Video Clips

Along with the various components of ForceWare Multimedia, eVGA integrated GemStars Guide Plus+ which takes basic information such as your ZIP Code and provides an up to date listing of current and future television programming in your area.  The DVD player is a fully functional player that offers most of the functionality found in other commercially available products.  Additionally, we could view local video files, access picture files and catalogue and play various music files all within ForceWare Multimedia.

Additionally, eVGA includes VideoStudio 7 and DVD MovieFactory 2.5 SE.  The latter is integrated for handling recording from external sources or the TV-Tuner and burning them to DVD.  The software provides a good selection of customizable menus and can also be adjusted for various video compression quality.  The interface was quite intuitive and we had no trouble burning several TV shows to DVD without needing to reference the user's guide.  While the ForceWare package has integrated burning capability, it will only record in the format the video was recorded in, where as MovieFactory can convert various formats to a DVD, providing added flexibility to the package. 


VideoStudio 7

DVD MovieFactory 2.5 SE

If simply recording videos is not enough, VideoStudio 7 offers the ability to edit video files which can come in handy when users wish to add content or remove commercials from TV recordings.  This was a great addition to the Personal Cinema package, helping to make it a useful editing/authoring tool on top of its other features.

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Test Setup / AquaMark 3 and Halo Benchmarking
HotHardware's Testing Setup
Where it all begins

We tested these cards on an i875P based Albatron motherboard, powered by an Intel Pentium 4 2.4CGHz CPU (800MHz System Bus).  The first thing we did when configuring this test system was enter the BIOS and load the "High Performance Defaults".  Then we set the memory to operate at 200MHz (Dual DDR400) with the CAS Latency and other memory timings set by SPD and the AGP aperture size set to 256MB. The hard drive was formatted and Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 1 was installed.  After the installation completed, we installed the latest Intel chipset drivers and then hit the Windows Update site to download and install all of the available updates. Next, we installed all of the necessary drivers for the rest of our components and Windows Messenger was disabled and removed from the system. Auto-Updating and System Restore were also disabled, the hard drive was de-fragmented, and a 768MB permanent page file was created. Lastly, we set Windows XP's Visual Effects to "best performance", installed all of the benchmarking software and ran all of the tests.

Video Cards Tested:

eVGA Personal Cinema FX 5700 - 128MB
BFG GeForce FX 5700 Ultra - 128MB
Gigabyte
ATi Radeon 9600XT - 128MB

Benchmarks Used:

Aquamark3
Halo v1.031
Unreal Tournament 2004
Splinter Cell - Oil Rig Demo
Final Fantasy XI v2.0
Far Cry
Comanche 4 Demo
Wolfenstein - Enemy Territory

Common System Hardware:

Albatron 875P Motherboard
Intel Pentium 4 2.4GHz CPU / 800MHz FSB
512MB (256MB x2) Kingston HyperX PC3500 DDR
Western Digital 30GB Hard Drive
Artec Dual-DVD-ROM

 

Software / System Drivers:

Windows XP Professional Service Pack 1
DirectX 9.0b
Intel Chipset Software, v5.1.1.1002
ATi Catalyst Drivers, v4.6
NVIDIA ForceWare Driver v56.72


Performance Comparisons With Aquamark 3
DX8 and DX9 Shaders

Aquamark 3
Aquamark 3 comes to us by way of Massive Development. Massive's release of the original Aquanox in 1999 wasn't very well received by the gaming community, but it was one of the first games to implement DX8 class shaders, which led to the creation of Aquamark 2 - a benchmark previously used by many analysts. Since the Aquamark benchmarks are based on an actual game engine, they must support old and new video cards alike. Thus, the latest version of Aquamark, Aquamark 3, utilizes not only DirectX 9 class shaders, but DirectX 8 and DirectX 7 as well. We ran this benchmark at resolutions of 1024x768 and 1600x1200 with no anti-aliasing and then with 4x AA enabled.

From the start, we can see that the Personal Cinema FX 5700 is probably not going to be a stellar performer.  With AquaMark 3, neither it, nor the reference cards in its class, could break playable frame rates with max quality set in the drivers.  Granted, with the quality settings turned down the scores will increase, but from a quality of image perspective, none of these cards are up to the task.

Benchmarks With Halo
Halo - All Patched & Ready To Go!

Halo
For many gamers, the release of Halo marked the end of a long wait, since it was originally released as an Xbox exclusive a few years back. No additional patches or tweaks are needed to benchmark with Halo, as Gearbox has included all of the necessary information in their README file. The Halo benchmark runs through four of the cut-scenes from the game, after which the average frame rate is recorded. We patched the game using the v1.02 patch and ran this benchmark twice, once at 1024x768 and then again at 1280x1024. Anti-aliasing doesn't work properly with Halo at the moment, so all of the test below were run with anti-aliasing disabled.

Again we found the frame rates less than ideal, with the Personal Cinema unable to break 30FPS at 1024x768.  However, we will say that when we loaded the game and played it for a few moments, it did seem fine overall.

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More Benchmarking with UT2004 and Splinter Cell
Head-to-Head Performance With Unreal Tournament 2004
Epic's Next Smash Hit!

Unreal Tournament 2K4
Epic's "Unreal" games have been wildly popular, ever since the original Unreal was released in the late '90s. Unreal, Unreal Tournament, and then Unreal Tournament 2003, rapidly became some of our favorites, for both benchmarking, and for killing a few hours when our schedules allowed it! Epic recently released the latest addition to the franchise, Unreal Tournament 2004. We used the demo version of the game to benchmark these cards at resolutions of 1024x768 and 1280x1024, without any anti-aliasing, with 4x AA and with 4X AA and 8X anisotropic filtering.

Compared to the previous tests, these results were a bit more palatable, although, the Personal Cinema was challenged.  Clearly, the only card up to the task at 1600x1200 was the Radeon 9600XT, but at 1024x768, the Personal Cinema showed some spark.  Overall, though, the 9600XT and 5700Ultra offered more desirable frame rates.

Performances Comparisons With Splinter Cell
Stealthy Combat

Splinter Cell
Splinter Cell's version 1.2 patch includes three pre-recorded demos and incorporates a previously unavailable benchmarking tool. The demos included with the patch are somewhat limited by CPU performance, however, so we opted for the custom Oil Rig demo created by the folks at Beyond 3D to test with this game. Beyond 3D's demo removes two CPU intensive routines while increasing dependence on Pixel Shader performance. Shaders are used to render realistic looking ocean water surrounding an Oil Rig in the demo, as well as simulating a night vision effect for a brief period. Also note that anti-aliasing doesn't work with Splinter Cell. Due to this fact, we do not have any AA scores listed in the graphs below.

With Splinter Cell, the trend continued.  The Personal Cinema struggled to compete with the comparison cards.  It did save some face by sliding 7FPS at the higher resolution compared to 10FPS with the other models, but the scores were still too low to consider playable.

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Next Stop - Final Fantasy XI and Far Cry
Performances Comparisons With Final Fantasy XI Benchmark 2 v1.01
A Classic Console Franchise On The PC

Final Fantasy XI
The Final Fantasy franchise is well known to console gamers, but Squaresoft has since made the jump to the PC with a MMORPG version of this classic. The Final Fantasy XI benchmark runs through multiple scenes from the game and displays a final score every time a full cycle of the demo is completed. Although the demo is meant the check an entire system's readiness to play the game, the number of frames rendered scales when different video cards are used. The scores below were taken with the demo set to its "High Resolution" option (1024x768), with anti-aliasing disabled.

Here the Personal Cinema FX 5700 managed to break the 4000 barrier, although the strongest showing came from the FX 5700 Ultra which topped it by almost roughly 275 points.

Benchmarks and Comparisons With Far Cry
DX9 effects galore.

Far Cry
It almost goes without saying that Far Cry is easily one of the most impressive games released on the PC to date.  While we peer at leaked versions of Doom 3 and video clips of Half Life 2, Far Cry gives us a taste of what is to come in next generation 3D Gaming on the PC.  We benchmarked the graphics cards in our test, with a custom recorded demo run taken in the "Catacombs" area checkpoint, without AA or Aniso Filtering enabled and then with 4X AA and 8X Anisotropic Filtering enabled.

Far Cry represents one of the most graphically intensive games available today, so low scores should be expected with video cards of this caliber.  Again, these scores were taken with the in-game image quality options set to maximum.  As a frame of reference, I completed the entire game playing with a 9600XT with this same configuration and it was smooth except for some areas with really intense action.  Setting the quality in-game to medium sacrificed some of the beauty, but game play was much smoother throughout.  With the FX 5700, however, more cuts may be needed to get a smooth experience, making Far Cry a tall order.

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Wrapping it Up with Wolfenstein and Comanche4
Benchmarks / Comparisons With Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
Q3 Engine Based Freebie

Wolfenstein: ET
We also ran through a batch of timedemos with the OpenGL game Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. Wolfenstein: ET is a free, standalone multiplayer game that is based on the excellent Return to Castle Wolfenstein, that was released a few years back. It uses a heavily modified version of the Quake 3 engine, which makes it a very easy to use benchmarking tool. We created our own custom demo and used the built-in timedemo feature to check each card's frame-rate. The tests below were run at 1024x768 and again at 1600x1200, without anti-aliasing, with 4X AA and with 4X AA and 8X anisotropic filtering enabled concurrently.

Return to Caste Wolfenstein is the first gaming benchmark that was able to break the 60FPS threshold in this review.  Not only did all cards pass the grade with no Anti-aliasing enabled at 1024x768, the Personal Cinema teetered on the edge with 4XAA enabled as well.  Either way, the test results leaned in favor of the GeForce FX 5700 cards, with the Ultra taking the top spot.

Performance Comparisons With Novalogic's Comanche 4
Combat Helicopter Sim

Comanche 4
To give you sim fans a small taste of what these cards can do, we used Novalogic's combat helicopter simulator Comanche 4 for our next batch of DirectX tests. Comanche 4 uses DX8 class pixel and vertex shaders to produce some of the realistic visuals used throughout the game. Unlike some of the previous tests though, this benchmark is heavily influenced by CPU and system memory performance, especially at lower resolutions. However, when the resolution is raised and anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering are enabled, the current crop of 3D accelerators tend to slow down quite a bit.

At 1024x768 we see a degree of similitude due to the game being CPU limited.  There were fluctuations, but the general trend is even, with the GeForce cards holding the better scores over the 9600XT.  Once we increased the screen resolution to 1600x1200, each card's performance came into play, once again, with the GeForce cards holding the better scores, especially when Anti-aliasing and Anisotropic filtering was enabled.  Keep in mind, however, that an All-In-Wonder 9600XT is clocked at 525/650 compared to the standard 9600XT's 500/600, which would balance things out some.

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Overclocking and Our Final Conclusion
Overclocking the Personal Cinema FX 5700
We Had to Try...

We also spent some time overclocking the eVGA Personal Cinema FX 5700.  Using the Coolbits tweak, we tried the "Auto Detect" feature in the drivers which pushed the GPU from 425MHz to 461MHz and the memory from 550MHz DDR to 629MHz.  This equated to a gain of 8.5% with the GPU and 14.36% with memory.  Not satisfied, we took matters into our own hands and continued to increase the speed of each.  Using the driver test option, we managed to peak the GPU at 520MHz before the test failed, a more impressive gain of 22.36%.  With the memory we peaked at 650MHz before the test failed, leaving a gain of 18.18%.  It was encouraging to see that the Personal Cinema exceeded the GPU speed of the 5700 Ultra, giving us hope of better benchmarking scores.  On the flipside, the memory gains still could not touch the Ultra's 950MHz DDR.  We re-tested the card while overclocked with Wolfenstein: ET...

The Personal Cinema FX 5700 did manage to come relatively close to matching the 5700 Ultra.  But when you figure the GPU is running 45MHz faster than the Ultra, you see the effects of the slower memory.  Nonetheless, the card worked well at these speeds and we saw no odd behavior throughout the overclocked testing.

 

When we step back and reflect upon what we've seen so far, it's evident that eVGA is offering a great alternative to the ATi "All-In-Wonder" series.  With a complete package comprised of the hardware and software necessary to make the card the centerpiece of any multimedia PC.  ForceWare Multimedia was a refreshing alternative to ATI's Multimedia Center software, with a fresh, intuitive interface.  However, ForceWare doesn't have the advanced features Multimedia Center is known for such as Thruview, Channel Scan and MP3 encoding to name a few.  Kudos to the folks at NVIDIA and eVGA for coming up with powerful package whose components blend nicely with each other.  We also liked the added video editing options made available by ULEAD's VideoStudio 7 and DVD MovieFactory 2.5SE, both of which expand the card's ability to become a solid capture and editing device as well.

On a performance standpoint, the card was a little low-end for serious gaming in our opinion.  A 5700 Ultra configuration would have offered a bit more muscle for gaming which is needed with some of the newer titles becoming available.  If you are a serious gamer that is looking for a TV/Video card to install into your rig, you may want to seek another solution or wait for a future version of the Personal Cinema.  However, if your goal is to build a custom media center that can integrate into your entertainment center, acting as the core component, the Personal Cinema fits the bill.  With the RF Remote and external breakout box, the card can link up to various equipment, offering a broad range of options.  ForceWare Multimedia is right at home with the tools to manage music, DVDs and Radio while doubling as a VCR/DVD recorder with scheduling options, various recording formats and time-shifting capabilities.  

The Personal Cinema FX 5700 from eVGA retails for $299 at the eVGA website, $50 more than faster All-In-Wonder 9600XT which retails for $249 at ATI's store.  Street prices are much lower, however, putting the AIW 9600 XT and eVGA Personal Cinema FX 5700 on equal footing.  Each comes with a similar Remote Control, although the Remote Wonder II included with the All-In-Wonder 9600XT offers more functionality, greater range and a backlit keypad.  We were impressed with the Forceware Multimedia software, the functionality of the card and the bundled versions of VideoStudio 7 and DVD MovieFactory 2.5SE.  However, with a similar price-tag and lower performance than the 9600XT AIW, which is clocked even higher than our comparison 9600XT, eVGA will have a tough time convincing buyers that the Personal Cinema FX 5700 is the better choice.

We give the Personal Cinema FX 5700 from eVGA a Hot Hardware Heat Meter Rating of a 7.5.

___ ___
  • ForceWare Multimedia
  • Comprehensive Bundle and additional Software
  • RF Remote Control

 

  • Pricey
  • Lackluster Gaming Performance

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