If we asked you to name three boutique PC vendors, we’re pretty sure that Origin PC wouldn’t make your list. Hell, you’ve probably never even heard the name Origin PC.
But that’s to be expected. The company has only been selling PCs since November. That’s not a lot of time to jump into a game dominated by the likes of Falcon Northwest, Digital Storm, and Maingear.
Origin PC isn’t just a typical startup, though. The three founders of the company are ex-patriots of one of the oldest names in gaming PCs: Alienware. That’s the old Alienware, too, before it was sucked into the Dell mothership and relocated to Austin, Texas.
Most readers know the name iBuypower by now, but they don’t know our nickname for the company: iStealpower.
OK, that’s not really true, we just made that up to make this story sound sexier, but there is some truth to our jest. Over the years, we’ve often wondered how the hell these guys can offer PCs for less than the cost of the parts. You know, like getting $2,900 worth of parts in a machine that cost $2,200.
We’re not sure if the cost of the parts in iBuypower’s Paladin F exceeds the price of the machine, but it probably gets close. The Paladin F sports Intel’s new hotness: the hexa-core 3.33GHz Core i7-980X (clocked up to 3.8GHz). Even with AMD’s new hexa-core CPU now on the market, Intel’s Core i7-980X is still clearly the recognized fastest CPU in der verold! To the 980X, iBuypower adds Nvidia’s top-dog GeForce GTX 480 card, aka Fermi. Also aboard are 6GB of Kingston DDR3/1600, a 1-kilowatt PSU, an LG Blu-ray combo drive, a 1.5TB hard drive, and RAID 0 SSDs, along with Windows 7 Home Premium. The entire system is embedded in a Zalman GS1000 Plus enclosure.
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.
When we introduced our new system benchmarks last month, we thought it might be at least six months before review machines began stomping the holy crap out of them. Unfortunately for us, Digital Storm couldn’t wait to pile it on. The company has unleashed a rig so damned powerful that we’re wondering if our new benchmarks and zero-point system aren’t already obsolete.
But what would you expect of a rig named HailStorm Black Ops Edition that’s equipped with Intel’s new hexa-core Core i7-980X CPU? The Core i7-980X normally clocks in at 3.33GHz, but Digital Storm pushes the CPU to 4.4GHz, with the help of an impressive dual-radiator and large ID hose water-cooling system. For graphics, the company combines three Radeon HD 5870 cards, which have been clock-bumped as well, thanks to the beefy water-cooling. Along with the CPU and GPU cooling, Digital Storm water-cools the chipset and voltage regulators on the EVGA X58 Classified motherboard. We still haven’t reviewed one of these EVGA boards, but its selection by several high-profile OEMs is making us want in on that action. Get the hint, EVGA? We should also mention that for the amount of hardware the HailStorm packs, it’s one of the quietest machine’s we’ve tested.
Evaluating successive generations of HP’s TouchSmart series reminds us of shopping for a new car. If you fall in love and buy this year’s model, you must never, ever visit the showroom to look at next year’s model or you’ll be hit with a bout of buyer’s remorse faster than you can say “planned obsolescence.”
We’re not suggesting that HP is intentionally designing these machines to have a shorter-than-normal useful life or that it’s been adding frivolous features to new models; it’s just that the company’s engineers keep making design improvements that are significant enough for us to wonder why we heaped such praise on the previous iteration. The changes this year are a wee bit more incremental, but HP gets a major assist from Microsoft in the form of Windows 7, which is not only vastly superior to Vista but also offers far better native support for HP’s touch applications. Fortunately, owners of previous-generation TouchSmarts have the option of upgrading to Windows 7 and downloading the latest version of HP’s software.
But let’s get back to the matter at hand: Just what makes the TouchSmart 600-1055 so damned sweet? There’s the display, for starters. Last year’s model had a 22-inch display with a native resolution of 1680x1050; this one has a 23-inch screen with a native resolution of 1920x1080, making it the perfect partner for both the slot-feed Blu-ray drive and the integrated HDTV tuner.
Last year, we came up with an idea for a living room PC that was so small you could Velcro it to the back of your HDTV. This PC would be capable of streaming all things TV and would allow you to finally tell your cable provider where to shove that RJ6 cable. That machine, unfortunately, never materialized, as the hardware just wasn’t ready for prime time.
Little did we know that Polywell was reading our minds when it designed the Giada Ion-100. About the size of a double-decker DVD case, the Giada Ion-100 is a mostly full-featured PC featuring a dual-core processor, 2GB of DDR2/667, a 250GB hard drive, five USB 2.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and even Windows 7. So, what sets this apart from other book-size PCs? The graphics. The Giada is the second PC we’ve tested so far with Nvidia’s impressive Ion chipset (the first being HP’s Mini 311 netbook, last month). Other small systems have featured Intel’s pathetic GMA integrated graphics. Ion is far more powerful than the GMA945 graphics found in most nettops and is capable of accelerating Blu-ray content. The system’s dual-core processor is Intel’s Atom 330, which runs at 1.6GHz and features Hyper-Threading and a 64-bit instruction set.
One of the PC’s weaknesses is the tendency to be generic. That’s certainly not a weakness of Alienware’s new Aurora ALX. Using a new redesigned chassis, there’s no way your Aurora ALX will be confused with a bland black box.
And how could it, given its signature Xenomorph look? Previous Alienware cases have felt like rebadged commodity cases, but this new case is clearly unique. When we plugged the PC into the wall socket, the set of ventilation vents on top slowly flapped open and closed—as though the ominous black creature were alive and just took a breath.
Getting inside of the case added to the mystery. Like a caveman hammering away on a flying saucer with a rock, we just didn’t know how to open the thing. We finally found that lifting the very last ventilation flap unlocks the side hatch. With the door off of the blowing, pulsing, and breathing Aurora ALX, was it alien technology we saw? Fortunately, it was more Earth-bound. Inside, we found a water-cooled Core i7-975 Extreme Edition on a custom Micro ATX X58 motherboard. Graphics were in the hands of the latest hotness, two CrossFired ATI Radeon HD 5870s. Along with 6GB of RAM and a Blu-ray combo drive, there wasn’t much wanting in the rig. We do take issue with the storage configuration, which comprises two 1TB drives in RAID 0, with no local backup drive. Scary. However, we like the mounting system, which gives you easy access to drives.
What sets a boutique builder apart from a huge OEM? Taking risks with hardware, that’s what.
Unfortunately, taking risks doesn’t always pan out. Take AVADirect’s Custom PC. Hot on the heels of numerous Core i7 rigs tipping the 4GHz and 4.2GHz range, AVADirect went a step further by clocking its Custom PC gaming rig at 4.4GHz. The company even goes so far as to include a custom profile for 4.7GHz—a speed the company had originally promised it would hit out of box, until cooler heads prevailed.
The bad news is that even at 4.4GHz, we were able to break the AVADirect machine with our stress test. The good news is that the machine remained stable in our benchmarking runs. Still, if we could stress it enough to reboot in two hours, someone else could, too. Working with AVADirect, we were able to get the machine to rock-solid levels at 4.4GHz, but it took several days of testing and more than 25 different BIOS combinations—which somewhat tarnishes the feat.
When Falcon Northwest submitted its Talon PC to us instead of its top-gun Mach V, we didn’t think the machine stood a chance of taking down the spate of ripping-fast 4GHz Core i7 rigs we’ve seen in the last few months.
And we were right. But the point Falcon was trying to make with its Talon was that its machine could deliver 90 percent of the performance of those big LGA1366-based Core i7 rigs at half the cost, half the noise, and half the energy consumption. Impossible? We thought so.
But that was before we’d ever heard of ATI’s new Radeon HD 5970 card. Code-named Hemlock, this new card features not one, but two of the GPUs that power the Kick Ass Radeon HD 5870.
It is, perhaps, fitting that Velocity Micro’s new rig is called a Raptor. That’s because anyone who has ever seen the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor in person and on afterburner knows just how overkill the F-22 is.
The same can be said of Velocity Micro’s Raptor Signature Edition. With people overjoyed just to have a $99 Athlon II X4 620, Velocity Micro decided to go shock-and-awe on the spec lists—and the wallet.
First up is Intel’s stellar Core i7-975 Extreme Edition. With a stock speed of 3.33GHz, Velocity Micro uses a custom CoolIt Domino ALC to get the processor to a very stable 4.2GHz. To “balance” this $1,000 CPU, Velocity Micro throws in probably $1,500 in GPUs in the form of three EVGA GeForce GTX 285s. Still not impressed? How about four SLC-based Intel X25-E Extreme 64GB SSD drives in RAID 0?
Mind you, these are not the pedestrian X25-M consumer drives; they’re enterprise-class drives that offer more than twice the write performance of the X-25M version and peg the read speeds at the SATA 3Gb/s limit. If you’re afraid of a four-drive RAID 0, you might feel better that the X25-E’s are designed for server use and should have 10 times the life of a consumer drive.