With buying power comes buying responsibility.
Processor: AMD Phenom II X4 940 Quad-core 3.0 GHz
RAM: 4 GB DDR-2 800 MHz RAM
HDD: 500GB SATA-2 7200 RPM
Video Card: ATI Radeon HD4870 1GB
Ethernet: Integrated Gigabit Ethernet
MoBo: MSI DKA790GX
Gentlemen, behold! A water-cooled gaming desktop with oodles of power! iBuyPower's been in the custom rig business for quite some time now, and they're one of the names worth talking about. This rig they sent me proves that clearly. It wasn't perfect sailing, but after some initial troubles, I found myself approving of the machine as a whole and had a great gameplay experience with it.
[image1]Okay, let's get the niggling bit of shittiness out of the way first. These guys either don't know how to pack a computer or mucked it up when they sent their sample to me, because I had to reseat half the cables before the box would boot. Maybe UPS dumped the thing off a cliff? I imagine this is obvious to everyone, but if the reviewer has to open the machine up just to make it work, something didn't go right, eh?
Fortunately, after doing that bit of scutwork, the machine booted pleasantly enough, and I was able to get it going on a number of downloads off Steam while I went into another room to get away from its Fans of Doom. The machine dumps out heat like mad, especially when overclocked, and I quickly found myself flinging open all the windows of my tiny apartment to maximize airflow. Admittedly, I live right over the furnace, so my apartment heats up naturally, but this machine (in conjunction with my own beastly desktop) generated enough heat to cook breakfast. No wonder it has a liquid cooling system!
Part of its preposterous heat generation is that the machine can be overclocked by a great amount without even batting an eye. The cooling system does a great job of shunting the heat away from the processor, RAM, and video card – I don't think I saw the temperature get above about 26 degrees Celsius, despite my best efforts to make the bastard sweat.
Necessarily, after downloading all the demanding games, I booted up an emulator for a game with which I must christen every computer I own: Chrono Trigger!
[image2]I tried out an array of games on the rig, including Crysis, Crysis: Warhead, TF2, L4D, Empire: Total War, and Company of Heroes. It handled almost everything thrown at it quite admirably, though the infamous train section of Crysis: Warhead did bog the framerate down to 25 frames per second. I have yet to see any machine that can run that section smoothly, mind, and 25 frames per second is good, all things considered. My own desktop only pulls 24 frames per second on that section. [Every frame counts! ~Ed.]
Company of Heroes performed especially well, pulling 40+ frames per second even in the midst of some extremely heated battles. With settings all the way up, the HAF 91B was able to orchestrate artillery strikes, tank pushes, and advancing infantry smoothly. In the rain. With fog. Uphill, both ways. While it strangles you.
Gameplay advantages aside, the machine also comes with a HD-DVD drive (oops), a DVD-RW drive, a micro-SD slot, a XD slot, a couple other stupid camera memory format slots, a e-SATA port, enough USB ports to dock every iPod ever made, and a small thermo-nuclear missile. Don't worry, folks, it's not intercontinental; you'll only be able to threaten your neighbors or nearby opponents with it. (We wish). Given how heavy the rig is, though, you could probably do just about as much damage flinging the machine at somebody's house.
There are some aspects of the rig that are a bit questionable, though. For one, iBuyPower decided to use a quad-core 64-bit CPU, but only put 4 gigs of RAM in the sucker. Why not 8 gigs, especially given the prices on 800 MHz DDR2 these days? The machine comes with a 64-bit copy of Vista, too, so there's no real reason not to that I can see. I also wasn't overly impressed with disk access – they relied heavily upon the advantages of a RAID-5 array over shelling out for faster hard drives. When everything but level loads move at blazing speeds, it becomes obvious who the odd-man out is.
[image3]Between the Radeon 9800 Pro and the recent Radeon HD series, ATI was in a pit of poor quality and inferior performance. The HD series has redeemed ATI considerably, though if you want to eke out the absolute best performance, nVidia still has the lead with the GeForce GTX295 – but in terms of power for price, the Radeon HD series (and especially the 4870 1GB) is incredible, pulling off nearly the same performance for less than half the price. It's a solid call for the HAF 91B, and the overclocking potential makes the card seem all the better.
It's also worth mentioning that this machine is a gigantic black monolith that threatens to blot out the sun. I set the sucker up next to the 2-foot-tall table that my TV rests on, and the Dark Icon of Dominance easily towered another six inches above it. I mean, it's two and a half feet tall! This computer is bigger than some robust four-year-olds! And could probably beat one up. Actually, I could easily picture this computer one day rising from its restful place on the carpet, the previously unknown mechanical legs unfolding beneath it, arms sprouting from the fans, and striding out to the local game store to begin a reign of terror over the nerds, reminding them that games are best played on PC in notes scrawled with their own blood.
Okay, maybe that's just my private fantasy and not a vision of the future.
The thing that actually strikes me about the machine, however, is the value. The MSRP on this puppy is $1,277 – a pretty good deal for this level of capability. As is my habit when looking at pre-fab compies, I took a browse through NewEgg and tallied up how much the component parts would cost – about $1095 from my eyeballed tally, counting California state tax and shipping. So overall, iBuyPower is charging you about $180 for labor and frills – so it's a good value, even if you try and account for bulk pricing deals they might be getting on parts.
While those who want to squeeze the absolute highest amounts of power from their hardware might find a few things to nitpick over – hard drive choices, using older RAM standards, and not maxing out the RAM all come to immediate mind – but the machine as a whole makes up for it with its overclocking potential and the solid set-up across the board. I can happily recommend this computer for folks who want to have a rig that can rival the hardcore enthusiasts without dropping two months' rent.