It’s become a cliché in hardware reviews to call a PC “the fastest machine we’ve ever seen,” but there are no better words to describe Maingear’s ePhex.
It truly is the fastest machine we’ve ever seen. And you would expect that from a parts list that looks like someone just checked the “bestest” box before clicking the buy button.
Peep these specs: Intel’s new Core i7-975 Extreme Edition CPU. This new CPU may seem like it’s just 133MHz faster than the Core i7-965 Extreme Edition CPU, but it’s actually a new stepping of the core that enhances overclocking. Maingear overclocks the chip from 3.33GHz to a very stable 4GHz. To the new i7, Maingear adds 12GB of Kingston DDR3/1600 on the Asus Rampage II Extreme board, a 2TB Western Digital drive, two Intel 80GB X25-M SSDs in RAID 0, and not two, but three GeForce GTX 285 cards in tri-SLI. To keep it all running, Maingear water cools all three GPUs and the CPU, and then tosses in a 1,200 watt PC Power and Cooling Turbo-Cool PSU.
The package is stunningly fast, as you can imagine. The majority of our benchmark records, surprisingly, have been held by a Velocity Micro 3.66GHz Core i7 machine that we reviewed late last year. That’s an amazing feat in itself, but the Maingear box not only bumped the Velocity Micro from the top spot, it set new records in every single benchmark. Premiere Pro CS3? Fastest. Photoshop CS3? Fastest. ProShow Producer? Fastest. MainConcept? Fastest. UT3? You get the picture. The most impressive scores were perhaps in Crysis. We run the CPU bench section of this punishing game because it’s closest to an in-game experience, but we’ve long wondered if it’s been the CPU that’s shackled performance. We haven’t seen the needle move past 54fps in months—even with tri-SLI machines we’ve reviewed previously. The Maingear’s water-cooled GPUs spiked up to 70fps at 1920x1200 resolution with quality set to Very High. With 16x AA enabled, the rig’s scores dip to just 59fps.
Look out, there's a new benchmark sheriff in town.
Needless to say, it’s impressive when a machine captures every single benchmark record. Compared to last month’s Polywell Core i7 machine (overclocked to 3.6GHz), the Maingear represents well, turning in scores from 20 to 68 percent faster than the Polywell rig. We’d be remiss, however, if we didn’t point out that the Polywell cost $5,000 less. In an age when people are happy to scrape pennies together to buy a netbook, that kind of savings is nothing to sneeze at.
Performance aside, the Maingear’s not perfect. The paint job was good but far from flawless. We’ve seen much better work from the likes of Smooth Creations or Falcon Northwest. There were just enough blems that someone who put out $8K might be bummed. And even with the water-cooled components, the Maingear is quite audible under long, heavy loads. Part of that comes from the Turbo-Cool PSU, which sounds like an F-15 on afterburners, but the fact is, keeping this much hardware cool and running reliably can’t be done silently.
The machine was definitely reliable. Adrenaline junkies might wonder why Maingear didn’t push it to, say, 4.5GHz, but we demand stability. We put the box through an overnight Prime95 run and it never crashed. Likewise, we subjected it to a burn-in using a wickedly mean double-secret Intel utility and the machine ran rock solid.
So, if you’re able to swallow the price and the noise, you’re unlikely to find a faster machine today.
Outpaces all other machines we've tested in every benchmark.
A tad loud and priced higher than most people's cars.
Intel 3.33GHz Core i7 975 @ 4GHz
Asus Rampage II
Three water-cooled GeForce GTX 285 in tri-SLI
X-Fi Titanium Fatal 1ty Pro
Two 80GB Intel X-25M SSD in RAID 0, Western Digital 2TB Caviar Green
Pioneer BDC-202, HL-DT-ST GH22LS30
Silverstone TJ-10 / PC Power and Cooling Turbo-Cool 1200
Premiere Pro CS3
Unreal Tournament 3
Our current desktop test bed consists of a quad-core 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6700, 2GB of Corsair DDR2/800 RAM on an EVGA 680 SLI motherboard. We run two EVGA GeForce 8800 GTX cards in SLI mode, Western Digital 150GB Raptor and 500GB Caviar hard drives, LG GGC-H20L, Sound Blaster X-Fi, and PC Power and Cooling Silencer 750 Quad. OS is Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit.