One of our favorite scenes in Pulp Fiction takes place when Samuel L. Jackson’s character, the ever-so-eloquent Jules Winnfield, describes the wonderful gourmet taste of his friend Jimmie’s coffee. Of course, Jules and his partner have just pulled up to Jimmie’s house with a body blasted all over the backseat of their car. But for the briefest of moments, nothing else mattered, save for the sweet flavor of something that wasn’t freeze-dried Taster’s Choice.
ABS’s Ultimate X8 III might not be a splattered corpse, but it’s hard to appreciate the machine’s deliciousness when the rig comes with problems of such unbelievable proportions. On paper, the X8 looks amazing; in reality, this rig is far from it.
In that context, writing about the specs and performance of the machine just makes us feel bad. Thinking about the guts of the X8 reminds us of that time—so long ago—when we opened the box and got our first glimpse of the system’s potential.
We’re really not trying to taunt you, but you have to understand our predicament. Who wouldn’t be excited by the chance to put an Intel QX6700-based quad-core system—overclocked from 2.6GHz to 3.47GHz—that’s also paired with two GeForce 8800 GTX cards in an oh-so-sweet SLI configuration through its paces. While the cards are at stock-clock speeds, that’s probably a good thing—any faster, and this rig might catch on fire. Two sticks of 1GB Corsair RAM round out the equation on the gaming end, and two 140GB 10,000rpm hard drives give you a lot of space (and speed) to work with. This system isn’t just a great cup of coffee; it’s a Big Gulp. You can only imagine our surprise when our initial round of benchmarks registered scores we’d expect from a much less worthy machine.
Our first FEAR test pulled in a whopping (not!) 32 frames per second. That’s less than a single 8800 card should be capable of, let alone two working together. Something was clearly amiss. When Quake 4 showed similar performance peculiarities, we resorted to Maximum PC Fix-It Technique #1: reseating hardware. We plugged and replugged, seated everything, and made sure that every possible connection was as connected as it could be. And all was well.
Or so we thought. Our second run of Quake 4 yielded double the performance of the first, capping out at an average of 191fps. That’s the kind of result we expected to see on a machine of this caliber, which made us all the more excited to see what the rig would score in the more-punishing FEAR benchmark. And we weren’t disappointed; we’ve never seen FEAR crash with such an interesting display of black graphical artifacts, and the psychedelic light show, which replaced the familiar BIOS load screen, was unexpected but neat looking. Not so good for ABS though.
ABS suggested we restore the image and assured us that the system it shipped was pulling scores of near 17,000 in 3DMark06, and 256fps in Doom 3. And we believe it—after we swapped the videocards and finished a second round of cable-jiggling, we were getting comparable results in 3DMark06. Our FEAR benchmark capped out at an average of 147fps, Quake 4 was a few frames faster at 193.8fps, and our Photoshop, Premiere, and Nero Recode benchmarks actually ran to completion. We patted ourselves on the back and started an overnight run of SYSmark.
And when we walked into the Lab the next morning, we were once again greeted with a chorus of graphical anomalies—not only did the system crash, but this time, it refused to display anything but a trippy collage, even after a cold boot. We clocked the system back to stock values, pointed a house fan at the graphics cards, and crossed our fingers. Go figure, SYSmark ran perfectly.
But this was more an exercise in futility than anything else. We could talk all day about the X8’s noteworthy performance and its amazing specs. We could write up a storm about its beautiful Gigabyte case and its water-cooling setup, which complements the case’s blue-lit theme. And we’re still salivating over the price. The X8 is nearly $2,000 cheaper than last month’s Maingear, with performance equitable to—and in some cases topping—the machine we dubbed “the fastest ever benchmarked.”
Unfortunately, the X8 left both us and ABS, which was given multiple opportunities to troubleshoot the system, completely dumbfounded. The X8 just goes to show that even the best of the best are fallible without a little foresight.
+ THE WOLF: One of the fastest (if not the fastest) machines we've tested.
- MARVIN: Does. Not. Work. In fact, it doesn’t work in ways an average user would likely never notice; that’s even worse.