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
CyberPower Black Pearl
Black Pearl Review, by Nate Ralph April 8, 2010
Strong six-core performance
No multiformat card reader and no bundled extras
Bottom Line: Equipped with Intel's six-core Core i7-980X processor, this high-performance machine could be a power user's best friend.
Armed with premier components and wrapped in a stunning shell, CyberPower's Black Pearl ($4200, as of March 30, 2010) ascends to the upper echelons of our Performance Desktop PCs category, despite fierce competition there.
The Black Pearl we reviewed is built around Intel's Core i7-980X processor, and packs components befitting its high price--such as 6GB of DDR3-1600 RAM, and three ATI Radeon HD5870 graphics boards aligned in Crossfire configuration. A 2TB hard drive handles storage, while a pair of 64GB solid-state drives arrayed in RAID 0 position host the 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium operating system.
The Black Pearl's performance during our lab tests came tantalizingly close to the best we've recorded in the category. It earned a score of 171 on WorldBench 6, just behind the 175 earned by the six-core Polywell Poly X5800A3. Maingear's quad-core Shift remains the performance king, with a WorldBench 6 mark of 181, but it's also the most expensive of the three by almost $2000.
That leaves the $4500 Poly X5800A3 as the Black Pearl's closest competitor, dollar for dollar. The X5800A3 comes with twice as much memory as the Black Pearl, but its RAM is clocked at a lower speed. And though the X5800A3 provides an extra 600GB of storage space, its pair of slower 300GB drives can't match the Black Pearl's pair of SSDs. Finally, whereas the X5800A3 provides two USB 3.0 ports (and nine USB ports of all types), the Black Pearl has a total of 12 USB ports and includes an eSATA port, which the Polywell machine lacks.
On the graphics front, the Black Pearl's triple-Crossfire setup outpaces the Poly X5800A3's dual-GPU ATI Radeon 5970. In our Unreal Tournament 3 tests, it racked up 193.9 frames per second, as against the X5800A3's 172.5 fps (at 2560 by 1600 resolution and highest quality, in both cases).The tradeoff, of course, is that three physical cards take up virtually all of your expansion space.
Beyond adding a few more sticks of RAM, you won't have room for many upgrades on the motherboard. And the monthly electric bill for firing up three beefy graphics cards every time you boot your machine may lead you to suspect that someone is secretly running a small air conditioner in your garage. The Polywell machine does better here, with spare PCI Express x16 and PCI slots.
The rest of the Black Pearl's chassis is a tinkerer's playground. The model we reviewed occupied a Corsair 800D case, a tool-free behemoth (aside from thumbscrews that keep the graphics cards in place). You unlock the case's side walls with the push of a button, revealing a pristine interior.
The Black Pearl's wires are completely hidden from the end user. CyberPower routes cables into what's essentially a secret compartment, snaking along the side of the machine and popping back into the chassis's interior where necessary, through grommets. Swapping out components is effortless as all cables are held in place, and the machine's transparent sidewall always reveals a tidy interior--though you may have a bit of a nightmare on your hands if you decide to swap out the 1000-watt power supply with one that isn't modular.
The tidy cable management is great for airflow, but the case is equipped with a number of rather large fans anyway. Like the Shift, it's slightly elevated off of the floor, pulling cool air in from the bottom of the chassis, and pushing circulated air out through the top and rear. Like the X5800A3, the Black Pearl lacks manual fan controls; and though CyberPower's machine doesn't get quite as loud as Polywell's, it is by no means a whisper-quiet PC.
The three free 5.25-inch drive bays (of five total) lock into place with plastic tabs. A Blu-ray reader and a DVD-burner occupy the remaining two bays; both the Maingear Shift and the Poly X5800A3 include a Blu-ray burner, instead. The machine's hard drives sit in hot-swappable bays behind a panel on the front of the machine, with room for up to four 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch drives.
A second panel on the front of the machine hides the microphone and headphone jacks, a FireWire port, and four USB ports. The remaining eight USB ports are clustered on the rear of the case, accompanied by two gigabit ethernet ports, integrated 7.1 surround sound, S/PDIF coaxial and optical outputs, an eSata port, and a PS/2 connector (for keyboard purists). The graphics cards supply a total of six DVI ports, three DisplayPort connectors, and three HDMI ports.
Oddly, this otherwise well-equipped machine lacks a multiformat card reader--an increasingly popular addition to desktops in all price ranges. The model we reviewed also lacked a mouse and keyboard, and the only documentation was a user guide for the Corsair 800D case.
On paper, Polywell's X5800A3 wins the features arms race, at a more-or-less equivalent price. But when scores are so tantalizingly close, other factors come into play. Already a well-equipped machine, the Black Pearl makes upgrading relatively painless, thanks to its spacious case and hassle-free cable management. The lack of USB 3.0 is regrettable, but the inclusion of eSATA compensates to some extent.
In the grand scheme of things, both machines are sure to please power users looking for a performance desktop that taps into Intel's six-core technology. But the Black Pearl finishes slightly ahead, offering almost identical performance with a superior case that improves the overall end-user experience.