Maingear F131

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Maingear F131

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Hoo-hoo! That’s an exact recreation of the noise we made when opening the box containing Maingear’s F131 desktop rig. But “rig” might be too generic a description for the bright-blue machine; “behemoth” seems more appropriate. For in every direction—processor power, graphics, and even the freakin’ weight of the beast—the F131 seems to dwarf its competition.

But while the F131 will always hold a special place in our heart as the first quad-core machine to give the Maximum PC Lab its number, the experience was a wee bit short of a perfect date. The F131 is fast—oh, is it fast—but do its assets justify $6,500 worth of hard-earned cash? If you’re a player—a game player, that is.

As mentioned, the F131 rolls with a quad-core setup on top of an EVGA motherboard running Nvidia’s nForce 680i SLI chipset. The four cores on the Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 let you run either one multithreaded app or four resource-hogging, single-threaded applications concurrently at 2.66GHz. But if that’s the ice cream, then Maingear’s overclock to 3.47GHz is the sweet, sweet fudgy topping.

Instead of sprinkles, Maingear drops two, sugary lumps into the mix: a pair of GeForce 8800 GTX cards in an SLI configuration. Add in two 1GB sticks of Corsair Dominator DDR2 RAM running at 1,155MHz, and your gaming dreams are absolutely answered. The F131 spit out nigh-unbelievable numbers in our benchmarks, charging through FEAR at 146 frames per second, and nearly hitting 200fps in Quake 4. That’s hella fast, yo, and it beats the current record-holder, Dell’s XPS 700 (103fps for FEAR and 153fps for Quake 4).

We’re inclined to believe that the insane gaming performance is mainly a result of the Nvidia cards. On the applications side, the F131 made a nice little sploosh, but it hardly blew its competitors out of the water. In fact, the system clocked speeds comparable to some of the other high-performance machines we’ve tested—including PCs running Intel Core 2 Extremes at stock-clock levels with RAIDed hard drives.

Whenever the F131 topped a machine in our Photoshop test, it typically fell behind in our Premiere Pro benchmark, or vice versa. SYSmark scores were similarly unimpressive. It’s not that they weren’t fast, we just didn’t see as big of a competitive boost for applications as we saw for gaming. We attribute this mainly to the simple fact that the F131’s two hard drives are linked up SATA 2-style, not in a RAID configuration. Sure, you get nearly a terabyte of space—900 gigs, to be specific—but at the expense of some speed.

Of course, we ran these benchmarks in an environment that’s yet to technologically realize the wonders of quad-core performance. Most of today’s applications are optimized to run on a single thread; the few that venture beyond that wall really only dip into dual-thread territory. Once truly multithreaded applications (and games) come along, we expect the overclocked Maingear to utterly destroy the benchmarks of its dual-core brethren.

Maingear_guts.jpgYou’re basically investing in a the future when you shell out $6,500 for the F131. But that’s a good thing, as the machine’s plenty capable of handling just about anything you throw at it today. And when more demanding games come along, you’ll be ready; the GeForce 8800s already support DirectX 10, so you’ll be prepared for Crysis and Hellgate London, as well as games like Company of Heroes that will be updated to support DirectX 10 later this year.

Plus, you could always tweak the speed of the included videocards. While we didn’t get one—much to our sadness—Maingear says it’s now shipping the F131 with overclocked 8800 GTXs. We have to ding the machine slightly for its setup upon arrival: a CPU voltage issue prevented us from successfully running our full benchmark suite at first. However, Maingear deserves props for sending us a fix for the voltage problem remotely, just a few hours after we sent a puzzled email.

As for the makeup of the case itself, we feel that the system’s blue paint job is just average. The lame “MAINGEAR” sticker running vertically down the case’s side further loses the rig style points.

On the inside, though, the F131 is a tight ship. Components and cables are well-hidden, and two huge-ass, crazy-loud 140mm fans suck air in and out the case. We question why Maingear didn’t just go for a total water-cooled setup, especially since Maingear used a Coolit Freezone to chill the CPU.

Still, when you’re running with a frame rate in the hundreds on some of today’s most punishing games, we doubt that fan noise will be much of a concern. You’re certainly getting what you pay for with the F131. With just a wee bit of additional tweaking, this machine would be perfect.

Month Reviewed: January 2007
+ ROAD RUNNER: Oh man, PC gaming doesn't get much speedier than this.
- COYOTE: A wee loud, no OC’d videocards, and no Raid. Boo-urns to the big case sticker.
Verdict: 9
kickass=yes
URL: www.maingear.com

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