Top 10 performance desktop PCs

You'd be hard pressed to beat the overclocked monoliths that dominate the Performance charts -- but power doesn't come cheap

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Maingear Shift Gaming Desktop PC
Shift Gaming Desktop PC Review, by David Murphy January 11, 2010

Pros:
Jaw-dropping performance
Beautiful interior and exterior

Cons:
Limited PCI upgradability due to tri-CrossFire rig
Pricey

Bottom Line: You might not find a faster (or flashier) system than Maingear's Shift, but that doesn't mean this beautiful monster is perfectly priced for its performance.

REVIEW:
For its $7000 asking price (as of February 1, 2010), one would expect the Maingear Shift power PC to give you a backrub and wash your car while it goes about its day of high-performance computing. What you're really paying for is this system's graphics--three single-GPU XFX Radeon HD 5870 graphics cards delivering eye-popping CrossFire performance that's currently unmatched by any system PC World has reviewed. But even though it's stacked with all the latest components and chips, is the Shift overwhelming...or overpriced?

Here's the deal: The Shift's specs are extremely impressive on paper. The included 3.33GHz Intel Core i7 975 Extreme Edition processor is the fastest money can buy, and an unobtrusive liquid cooling system helps Maingear overclock it all the way to 4.0GHz. Coupled with six gigabytes of DDR3-2000 memory and two Intel X25-M 80GB solid-state drives in a boot-drive RAID configuration (with an accessory 2TB Western Digital Caviar Black drive for storage), the Shift is able to deliver dominating performance on our WorldBench 6 test suite. As you might expect, the tri-CrossFire graphics setup delivers a punishing blow as well: The 204 frames per second it spits out on PC World's Unreal Tournament 3 benchmark (2560-by-2100 resolution, high quality) sets a new performance record for any gaming or mainstream power PC we've tested.

However, the Shift's general performance is only 15 percent faster than the E&C Black Mamba power PC in WorldBench 6: 181 to 153. The Black Mamba costs a mere $1979--72 percent less. That's plenty of headroom for an extra dual-GPU GTX 295 video card and, if you're feeling crafty, a switch from the system's included 640GB primary drives to SSDs (or a RAID setup of multiple terabyte drives). Heck, replace the included Intel Core i7 920 processor with an i7 975. You could afford all these tweaks and still beat the Maingear Shift's price. You might not top its performance, but you'll come pretty darn close with a sack of money to spare.

To its credit, Maingear delivers a full complement of additional accessories and components on the Shift that does sweeten the deal a bit. Every possible permutation of connection is offered on this system--including two USB ports, a FireWire 400 port, and a multiformat card reader on the system's front, as well as three HDMI ports, three DisplayPort connections, eight USB ports, two gigabit ethernet ports, one eSATA port, one FireWire 400 port, and integrated 7.1 surround sound on the system's rear. The Shift's single optical drive is a Blu-ray burner--I would expect nothing less at this price, although it's a shame to see the Shift come with no fancy input devices of any sort.

The beautiful wiring job on the inside of this monster-size, full-tower chassis is a sight to behold, in that there are...virtually no wires to look at. This makes tinkering with the Maingear's insides a seamless, frustration-proof process. The Shift's four free hard drive bays lock into place using trays, and the system's three free 5.25-inch bays use huge a button to snap your components into place. One complaint: The case has only a single PCI Express x1 slot for motherboard cards--and good luck wedging a PCI card into place in an area that's dominated by the Shift's huge video cards.

The PC's case looks as smooth as silk, perfectly unadorned by any fancy external trappings or eye-catching glitz. The entire system itself is vertically mounted, in that the motherboard connections you usually find on the rear of a system are on the Shift's top. It's a unique design that improves the accessibility of these connections. A grilled top preserves the airflow of the chassis and conceals unsightly wires. It's a great way to eliminate unnecessary distractions in this otherwise beautiful box of a system.

Maingear's Shift takes a number of dramatic steps forward in the world of high-performance computing. From its tricked-out load-out, to its dominating graphics performance, to its interior and exterior that are as pretty as they are easily accessible, it's hard to find much fault with this well-designed system. But not everyone can easily afford this Lamborghini of power PCs. Of course, you could build a comparable system for less than the Shift's $7000 asking cost, but you'll never be able to get the kind of TLC that's been built into this beautiful monster.

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