Maximum PC Staff May 14, 2010

Maingear Shift

At A Glance

Main Street

Tri-SLI Fermi and 4GHz Gulftown equals pure joy.

Wall Street

Loud in gaming; puts out enough heat to cook bacon.

Tri-SLI Fermi and Gulftown will make any boy smile

It’s no secret that Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 480 cards are the hottest piece of technology people want to gawk at right now. Hell, we were barely able to obtain one of these coveted babies for our feature on Fermi this month .

So we were pretty impressed to crack open Maingear’s new Shift system and find three GTX 480 boards running in tri-SLI. That the company could rate such bounty is testament to its street cred among power users.

The Shift isn’t just about the Fermi cards, though. Maingear also managed to get that other big star of the PC world in for the ride: Intel’s Core i7-980X, which, with help from the Acetek water cooler, Maingear pushes from the stock 3.33GHz to 4.2GHz.

Also in the box is 6GB of Kingston Hyper-X DDR3/1333, a massive 1,500-watt Silverstone PSU, and an EVGA Classified X58 SLI motherboard. For storage, there’s Crucial’s new C300 drive coupled with a 2TB Western Digital Caviar Black drive. The C300 is noteworthy because it’s one of the first SSDs to support SATA 6Gb/s data rates. And that’s where we ran into one of the first faux pas in the system. This iteration of the Classified X58 SLI doesn’t support SATA 6Gb/s speeds, only SATA 3Gb/s. Since there’s no room for an add-in card, no SATA 6Gb/s for you!

The GTX 480 cards are the highlight here, though. Although ATI’s Radeon HD 5970 is still the fastest card, the GTX 480 is the current fastest single -GPU card. The GTX 480 especially shines in DX11 titles at high resolution with antialiasing turned on. Even though our videocard benchmarks have shown the GTX 480 to be a cut above the Radeon HD 5870 cards, the gaming scores from the Shift were roughly even with those of the Digital Storm HailStorm rig we reviewed in May, which featured a three-way CrossFireX config.

Like the HailStorm, the Shift made a mockery of our zero-point’s gaming scores, with performance leads of more than 60 percent.

Maingear's slick new custom enclosure inverts the three GPUs to aid in cooling.

In our apps tests, the Shift’s scores were close to the HailStorm’s scores, but still slightly behind. That’s likely due to the HailStorm’s slightly higher 4.4GHz overclock. That 5 percent clock difference amounted to scores that were roughly 1 percent to 2 percent slower.

What are the Shift’s major flaws? Heat and noise. With the Digital Storm HailStorm , a double (but ungainly) radiator system cooled the CPU and three Radeon HD 5870 cards to make for near-silent computing. The Shift is equally quiet running CPU-heavy apps. But once you crank up a game, the howl from the GTX 480s lets you know your videocards are working. The hot exhaust from cards also makes the rear top of the case uncomfortably warm. We saw 120 F temperatures during tests.

What Maingear gives you over the Digital Storm is a pretty good price break. While the HailStorm pushed the $7,800 mark, the Shift eases in below $6,900. That’s quite a savings. Of course, for many folks that’s like getting a $10 million price break on a $60 million Gulfstream G550 jet—you still can’t afford it. But for those folks who can, the Maingear Shift is a pretty sweet deal.

Zero Point
Maingear Shift
Vegas Pro 9 (sec)
Lightroom 2.6 (sec)
ProShow 4 (sec)
1,112 886
Reference 1.6 (sec)
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: CoP (fps) 42
Far Cry 2 (fps)

Our current desktop test bed consists of a quad-core 2.66GHz Core i7-920 overclocked to 3.5GHz, 6GB of Corsair DDR3/1333 overclocked to 1,750MHz, on a Gigabyte X58 motherboard. We are running an ATI Radeon HD 5970 graphics card, a 160GB Intel X25-M SSD, and the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Ultimate.

Processor Intel 3.33GHz Core i7-980X (overclocked to 4.2GHz)
EVGA Classified X58 SLI
RAM 6GB DDR3/1600 in tri-channel mode
Three GeForce GTX 480 in tri-SLI
Onboard Realtek
256MB Crucial C300 SSD, 2TB Western Digital Caviar Black
LG Blu-ray combo drive
Custom / Silverstone 1,500W PSU

Maingear Shift

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