How far can you take a Sandy Bridge processor? We’ve heard that even extreme overclockers seem to hit a wall just beyond 5GHz with Intel’s darling new chip.
Whatever the limitations, Maingear seems content to take its Shift Super Stock to the brink of madness by clocking the 3.4GHz Core i7-2600K to 5GHz.
The company credits some of that high overclock to its new partnership with CoolIT and the use of a massive and exclusive 18cm EPIC cooler. EPIC, in this case, stands for Enhanced Performance InterCooler. Perhaps even more impressive, you can’t even find the cooler in the Shift SS.
The Shift sports a well-tamed quad-SLI setup.
When we cracked open the case, we scratched our heads as we searched for the new cooler. It happens to be hidden away between the bottom of the hard drive cage and the case frame’s center support. While inside, we also saw the reason the Shift SS’s two GeForce GTX 590s run so quietly: an 8cm fan sits atop the quad-SLI setup and blows cool air directly onto the GPUs. Another aid to system cooling is the inverted motherboard that allows air to rise straight up out of the case. Any hot air that doesn’t intend to leave is forced out by another large 12cm mounted at the base of the cards.
The case itself is Maingear’s custom Silverstone enclosure with an attractive paint job applied. It’s not the most refined we’ve ever seen, but it’s certainly good and sets the machine apart from the standard black or off-the-shelf aluminum systems. The case interior is wired tight and two sets of LED interior lights are tastefully set into the rig.
Performance is what you’d expect of a Sandy Bridge rig running at 5GHz with a pair of GTX 590s. In our Vegas Pro 9 test, it was fastest of the Sandy Bridge–based boxes that we’ve tested to date. However, our Vegas Pro 9 test favors threads, so the record continues to be held by the hexa-core Velocity Micro rig we reviewed in March. The Maingear set the record in our ProShow Producer benchmark. It also smashed right through the record that had been held by—believe it or not—a Digital Storm system we reviewed back in May 2010. In our STALKER: CoP benchmark, the quad-SLI GTX 590s still couldn’t muscle past AVADirect’s monstrous machine from our Holiday 2010 issue. That rig used two Xeons paired with four GeForce GTX 480 cards. The Shift SS is close, very close, but it’s still a couple frames behind. Against our zero-point, a 2.66GHz Core i7-920 overclocked to 3.5GHz, it’s a slaughter, of course. Basically, expect tasks to take half the time with the Shift SS and games to run, well, from 90 percent to 213 percent faster.
The only serious ding against the Main-gear Shift SS is its price: At $5,640, it’s a big chunk of change. Especially when you consider that the CPU is the bargain burner Core i7-2600K. Much of the price comes from the GPUs—a $1,500 commodity. But the paint job, a $650 option, is also to blame. This is all academic, though. If you’re the kind of person that can even consider buying a custom-built, tuned-to-the-max gaming rig, you’re probably not the kind of person to quibble too much over price.
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 1750MHz, 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.