Top 10 performance desktop PCs
Intel's Sandy Bridge processors are still the popular kids on the block, but the new Sandy Bridge Extreme Edition has arrived, to take top honors on our Performance PC benchmarks
Micro Express MicroFlex 79B Review, by Sarah Jacobsson Purewal December 20, 2011
Weak power supply
Bottom Line: This Micro Express machine packs Intel's new Sandy Bridge Extreme Edition processor, serving up tons of power and great performance, for a mere $2000.
Intel recently pulled back the curtain on its enthusiast-level Sandy Bridge Extreme Edition processor, and Micro Express has built its new MicroFlex 79B around it. This hulking machine is surprisingly wallet-friendly (okay, it's still $2000, but you get a lot of power for the price), and unsurprisingly excellent in performance, both generally and graphically. You'll also find 16GB of RAM, a ton of ports, and a roomy interior, though a meager power supply may limit your upgrade options, unless you swap it out.
Our review model, priced at $1999, comes packed with an Intel Core i7-3930K processor, as well as an Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 graphics card and 16GB of RAM. Also inside is a 1TB hard drive and a 120GB solid-state boot drive. Finally, this model has built-in Bluetooth and runs a 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium.
In our WorldBench 6 benchmark tests, the MicroFlex 79B scored 219. That number will place the MicroFlex 79B right near the top of our Performance Desktop list when it's updated, though the machine is still a few points behind the Origin Genesis 2011. Of course, the Genesis 2011 costs well over $4000 more than the MicroFlex 79B.
Graphics performance is strong, care of that beefy graphics card. On our Far Cry 2 high-quality graphics tests, the MicroFlex 79B averaged a frame rate of 80.7 frames per second. When pitted against S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat at the Ultra settings, it earned 37.1 frames per second. Pripyat is still one of the most hardware-intensive titles around, and those scores are certainly impressive.
The MicroFlex 79B is housed in a hulking black chassis. Though the front end looks a bit like an insect's carapace, the case is pretty standard. Its left side has a large, irregularly-shaped Plexiglas window, while the right side is plain.
For convenience, a few ports are on the front of the machine (near the top, so you can use them when the system is below your desk). These ports include headphone and microphone jacks, plus two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports. The "carapace" part of the front is actually a door, which opens up to reveal your optical drive (in this case, a Blu-ray burner), along with a multi-format card reader and an additional USB 2.0 port.
The rest of the ports are on the back. Here you'll find five more USB 2.0 ports, as well as one USB 2.0 Bios Flashback port, plus four more USB 3.0 ports. So that's nine total USB 2.0 ports and six total USB 3.0 ports. The back also has a gigabit ethernet port, two power eSATA ports, an S/PDIF-out, and support for 7.1 surround sound. On the graphics card are two DVI hookups as well as a mini-HDMI port.
Opening up the MicroFlex 79B is extremely easy--unscrew two thumbscrews (not hard to do), and the side panel practically falls off. The inside of the machine is roomy and very neat, thanks to black mesh tubing around most of the cables. As for expansion room--you'll find a lot of that, too, including four 5.25-inch bays (one of which is full) and six 3.5-inch bays (two of which are full). Also inside: four PCIe (x16) slots (one full), one PCIe (x1) slot, and eight RAM slots (four full). The Corsair cooling system has a physical button that lets you control the speed of the fans.
With all this, we found one problem: The model we reviewed has just a 550W power supply. That's positively anemic for the hardware in question here--if you decide to take advantage of all of the empty space (to tuck in a second GPU, say) or take advantage of the processor's overclocking capability, you'll have to swap it out for a more capable PSU.
The MicroFlex 79B may be huge, but it's a good kind of huge. Barring that meager power supply, it's a very upgradable kind of huge. And at $2000, you'll have plenty of cash (well, some) left over for a proper power plant, making this a relatively inexpensive gateway into the power that Intel's Extreme Edition CPU affords.