Project War Machine M1 Elite

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Project War Machine M1 Elite

Sometimes you go to war with the hardware you have, not the hardware you’d like to have, and that’s what newcomer Project War Machine does with its M1 Elite, making controversial trade-offs in the name of stability.

Although it may look like yet another Cooler Master CM Stacker, the M1 Elite’s case sports a number of accents that set it apart, including a menacing skull-and-gear logo that’s laser cut into both side panels and the front door and a skull under the machine’s power button.

The company told us reliability was of top concern, so the rig uses air cooling instead of water. While air is more reliable, it lacks maximum cooling power, so overclocking was kept to a minimum. The new 1,333MHz FSB Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6850 is bumped from the stock 3GHz to a mere 3.33GHz. That’s a pretty conservative overclock. The builders also ditched RAID 0 in favor of a single Raptor drive and a 750GB Seagate.

The M1 Elite’s strong suit is graphics; it sports a pair of “superclocked” EVGA GeForce 8800 Ultra cards in SLI that pushed all DirectX 9 games we tested at any resolution we desired. The problem with the superclocked cards, however, is the massive heatsinks on the backsides of the PCB, which prevent inserting an X-Fi card into the PCI slot; this forced the company to equip the M1 Elite with onboard audio. Project War Machine’s rationale for onboard audio is that most gamers use headphones anyway. That may be true, but the onboard RealTek audio part isn’t our first, or even third, choice for onboard sound.

Despite the reliability message PWM is promoting, our PC rebooted whenever we tried to copy benchmark files to it from a USB drive. We traced the problem to the Corsair Dominator RAM, which was clocked at a whopping 1,142MHz (stock is 800MHz). For this review, we ran the RAM at 800MHz.

The M1 Elite didn’t break any records, but it was very competitive with the latest crop of PCs we’ve reviewed. The M1 Elite loses to Digital Storm’s 3.46GHz quad box (reviewed in July) in our CPU-intensive tests by about 5 percent and takes a bigger hit in Photoshop CS2 due to the lack of RAID 0. In gaming, however, the overclocked Ultras are more than a match for the Storm’s GTX cards—FEAR ran 8.6 percent faster and Quake 4 came in 4.5 percent faster on the M1 Elite.

Although it is 5 to 10 percent slower than the recent quad-core boxes we’ve reviewed, it is considerably cheaper—about $5,000 less than the Falcon Northwest Mach V (reviewed in June) and $2,500 less than the Overdrive Core2.SLI (reviewed in August). But is it a good deal? We’d be OK with losing X-Fi if the board had competent onboard sound, but we can’t stomach RealTek. We were also a bit concerned that the company couldn’t immediately solve our problem with the RAM. It’s a pretty obvious sign that these builders are still a bit green.

The War Nerd

Unique case, despite it being the same model we've seen all year.

The Dogs of War

RAM problem initially caused reboots that the company could not solve.

5

SPECS
  War machine M1 Elite
CPU Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6850 (3GHz overclocked to 3.3GHz)
MOBO EVGA 680i SLI
RAM 2GB Corsair Dominator DDR2/800 (two 1GB sticks)
LAN Dual Gigabit LAN (Nvidia)
HARD DRIVES One 150GB WD Raptor (10,000rpm SATA) and one Seagate 750GB Barracuda
OPTICAL Lite-On LH18A1P
VIDEOCARD Two EVGA GeForce 8800 Ultras in SLI (655MHz core/1,200MHz RAM)
SOUNDCARD Onboard Realtek
CASE Custom Cooler Master CM Stacker, Silverstone 850 PSU
BENCHMARKS
  War Machine M1 Elite
SYSmark2004 SE WNR
Premiere Pro 2.0 1,607 sec
Photoshop CS2 159 sec
Recode H.264 1,308 sec
FEAR 1.07 164 fps
Quake 4 205 fps
Our current desktop test bed is a Windows XP SP2 machine, using a dual-core 2.6GHz Athlon 64 FX-60, 2GB of Corsair DDR400 RAM on an Asus A8N32-SLI motherboard, two GeForce 7900 GTX videocards in SLI mode, a Western Digital 4000KD hard drive, a Sound Blaster X-Fi soundcard, and a PC Power and Cooling Turbo Cool 850 PSU.
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