After my own heart.
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E8400
RAM: 4 GB DDR2 800 MHz
HDD: 500GB SATA-2 7,200 RPM
Video Card: 2x ATI Radeon HD 4850
Ethernet: Integrated Gigabit Ethernet
MoBo: Asus P5Q
Okay, so how do I say this… the machine that Doghouse put together is essentially identical to my own custom-built rig at home, so that says something, right? There are some specific exceptions, of course, but nevertheless, this machine absolutely bears my stamp of approval. It works masterfully.
[image1]Let’s get down to brass tacks: I hooked this baby up to the HDTV in my living room and watched it whoop just about every game I played, all at 1920x1080 resolution. I tested out Team Fortress 2, Left 4 Dead, Crysis, Crysis: Warhead, Warhammer Online, Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor, City of Heroes, and of course, Chrono Trigger. All worked in varying flavors of ‘really, really well’.
Crysis Warhead performed great, after some initial difficulty making the software correctly recognize the CrossFireX setup. This is actually more a comment on Crysis than the machine – Crysis seems to recognize video cards in weird ways at times – but after the trouble, the set-up proved very well-built for handling Crysis, seeing average framerates in the high 30s (about 38 frames per second throughout most of the game). I was amazed to see that even the train section, my current definition of ‘system breaker’ in gaming, was handled gracefully, with the framerate holding at 26 frames per second, scoring two frames per second better than my own rig. This confuses and infuriates me, but my machine isn’t a CrossFireX setup – it’s lone-gunning a GTX280.
[image2]My play experience with TF2 was amazing – between a recent upgrade to my Internet and this machine, I was having the smoothest ride in any online game in my entire life, no joke. Framerate hovered around 61, delightfully, even in some of the spammiest bouts of Gold Rush. Left 4 Dead also performed pretty well, with some nasty zombie hordes making no apparent impact on the framerate – it’s really nice to see a couple hundred zombies swarming your four lonely survivors at 57 frames per second. Company of Heroes performed excellently as well, and Warhammer Online was handled on max specs with no problems.
As an overclocker, this machine performs solidly – I gave it the safe 20% overclock – though you’ll want to consider ventilation carefully with this machine, as in some positions it will heat up more than I’m generally comfortable with. All air-cooled means you can’t just wedge it wherever. Thankfully, it’s a standard tower form-factor, so it should fit in most normal desks. On a side note, it also has the Doghouse logo etched into the side, which makes for an interesting-looking case. Almost elegant, actually.
The one gray spot on the record for this machine is disk access speed – with 10,000 RPM hard drives available and solid state disks slowly becoming more and more affordable, a 7,200 RPM hard drive just feels sorta slow. It acquits itself fine for basic uses, but level load time is noticeable when compared to… well, everything else about the gameplay experience. It seems odd to take 15 seconds to load a level when the experience in-game is so very smooth.
[image3]The other consideration to bear in mind is one of cost. The machine, at minimum specs, has the asking price of $1,795. Touring around Newegg.com and getting prices on the individual components, it looks like all the components together cost a grand total of… drum roll please… about $1,360 counting California state tax and shipping. Even taking into account the 3-year warranty (parts and service) and the initial labor to set-up these machines – even accounting for the fancy custom case work – it still seems like a bit of a hike.
However, the machine does come with some interesting peripherals and bonus goodies, and they do know how to ship a computer right, so it may actually be worth it, but it bears thought before rushing out to order. If you’ve got the know-how and time to assemble a machine yourself, you may be able to accomplish the same performance for cheaper – though it absolutely wouldn’t be as simple as letting the professionals handle it, I will admit. Besides, if you're already building your own rigs, you wouldn't be reading this review.
On the whole, this machine is great. With the upgrade to a couple 10,000 RPM hard drives, preferably set up in a RAID10 array, the machine could be pretty wicked. As it stands, though, it’s still a platform for an excellent play experience, and worthy of attention if you’re looking for a strong gaming rig.