We’ve long maintained that no all-in-one could ever satisfy a Maximum PC reader’s primary desktop computing needs because design limitations lead to compromises that impact gaming. To accommodate the space constraints and cooling concerns of these compact systems, AiO designers typically rely on mobile CPUs and GPUs that lack the horsepower needed for maximum performance in games.
Maingear challenges that assumption: The Alpha 24 Super Stock is outfitted with a desktop CPU (a 3.5GHz Intel Core i7-3770K), a desktop GPU (Nvidia’s top-shelf GeForce GTX 680), and 16GB of DDR3/1600 memory. Should any of those components cease to float your boat over time, you can upgrade them. We suppose that goes for the 24-inch two-point touchscreen, too, since you could plop a new and larger display in front of or next to the Alpha.
The Maingear Alpha 24 Super Stock has plenty of room to accommodate seven USB ports (two of which are USB 3.0); a media card reader; and a pivoting, bezel-mounted, 1.3 MP webcam.
The first thing you notice about the Alpha is its bulk: It’s a throwback to the early days of all-in-ones. Lenovo’s IdeaCentre A720 looks heroin chic by contrast, measuring less than 1-inch thick. Maingear’s Alpha looks ready to burst out of its 3.75-inch enclosure. And Maingear took maximum advantage of the Alpha’s big-boned architecture, packing in extra features such as a bay at the top of the chassis that can accommodate a removable SATA hard drive. Unless you intend to rely on the cloud or NAS for storage, however, you’ll want to take immediate advantage of that bay. The only permanent storage inside this beast is a 480GB Corsair Force GT SSD.
Maingear’s decision to use a desktop CPU and GPU didn’t just increase the Alpha’s cooling needs, it also boosted the machine’s power requirement. Unpacking a second box, we were stunned to discover not one, but three large power bricks, helpfully imprinted as System Power 1 of 3, GPU Power 2 of 3, and GPU Power 3 of 3.
The presence of those desktop components enabled the Alpha to tear through our Metro 2033 benchmark like a silver-back at a banana plantation, scoring a cool 117 frames per second, compared to the anemic 29fps score that the otherwise excellent Asus ET2701 delivered (that all-in-one is built around an Intel Core i7-3770S and a discrete Nvidia GTX GT 640M).
We did hit a snag during testing, though. The Alpha failed to run 3DMark 11 and nothing we could do would correct it. We sent the box back to Maingear and the replacement also gave us a problem. After much head-scratching, the problem was solved: Make sure you have the power bricks fully plugged in. D’oh!
The Maingear Alpha 24 Super Stock is by far the fastest all-in-one we’ve laid our hands on, but we’d like it even more if it sported a 27-inch display—or if its 24-inch panel were based on IPS or PLS technology rather than TN.