A Katana is a thin Japanese sword with graceful lines, fashioned for slashing-and-thrusting melee. Although impressed by Kick Ass Gaming PC's Katana SLi, we’re of the opinion that another weapon would be a more appropriate namesake.
The Katana SLi, you see, isn't a machine to be used in the early morning, with a shimmering mist shrouding Mt. Fuji and a Shakuhachi—Japanese flute—playing softly in the background. This machine is more of a battle-axe, made for hacking into armor and smashing skulls and bones with its massive blade.
You'd think of broken bones, too, if you had to heft this 50-plus pound machine onto a bench. A good portion of that weight comes from the eight drives inside the huge Cooler Master CM Stacker case. Kick Ass Gaming PC (an arm of Space Center Systems) actually put two power supplies in the box just to run all the hardware. One powers the main components, while the second spins up the majority of the hard drives. Four of the drives are the hot new Seagate 400GB NCQ SATA drives. The formatted capacity of the array is just under 1.1TB in a “just a bunch of drives” configuration.
The remaining four SATA ports are occupied by a quad WD Raptor set running in RAID 0+1. KAGPC configured the 74GB Raptors as the primary boot, while the Seagates are used for bulk storage.
An Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe motherboard with 2GB of Corsair Micro DDR400 RAM serves as the system’s foundation. AMD's hero of the day, the Athlon 64 FX-55, powers the machine, and the Katana SLi of course supports SLI.
While the machine has SLI, it’s the videocard selection that's a little controversial: Instead of two uber-fast nVidia 6800 Ultra cards, the machine features two nVidia 6800 GT cards.
The Katana SLi performs well for its class, but it doesn't have muscle enough to KO either the Voodoo Rage F:5 reviewed this month or even last month's Velocity Micro SLI machine. Because our outdated gaming benchmarks can't truly reveal the power of SLI, we’ve taken to running FutureMark's 3DMark05. Here Voodoo’s F:5 scored just under 10,000 3DMarks (9,965, to be exact) while the Katana SLi scored about 15-percent lower (8,431). All told, the Katana SLi ranks number three out of four SLI machines we've reviewed so far. In apps, the Katana is near the top, but not at the very top. We were unable to run SYSmark 2004, but that benchmark is twitchy at times, so we don't hold it against KAGPC (the individual apps run just fine).
Our most serious ding against the Katana SLi is the noise. With a total of 13 fans (including those for the GPU and chipset) whirring away, the system borders on intolerable—and that's in our noisy lab. In a home environment with the PC right next to you, the racket might well drive you batty.
We're a little conflicted over the Katana SLi. Although we’re sure some users will appreciate the over-the-top storage, KAGPC seems to have sacrificed a few other options to get all those drives into the box. The machine's optical drive is double layer, but its single-layer burns are limited to 8x when 16x drives are readily available. For $6,000, we expect to receive the top-of-the line optical drive and videocards.
To be fair, it seems KAGPC strived to deliver a machine that serves actual needs, versus one that’s simply over the top in both performance and price. Because 16x single-layer media is rare, for example, you probably won't be burning at those speeds for some time. Likewise, none of today’s games need the extra power that dual 6800 Ultra cards offers over dual 6800 GT cards. Sure, you might say the same about eight hard drives, but it actually isn't hard to fill a 400GB drive these days.
The Katana SLi is the exact opposite of the ultra-refined and quiet Voodoo Rage F:5—it’s loud, heavy, and in your face. Each machine has its purpose; it just depends on what you want. --Gordon Mah Ung