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The Nerdery: A Day At Maingear's Custom PC Factory (Video)

When we recently covered the release of Maingear’s Drift, I had the realization that the boutique system builder’s headquarters are in close proximity to my location. I relished the idea of touring their facilities, and I was soon off to Kenilworth, NJ for a behind-the-scenes look at Maingear’s home base, where CEO Wallace Santos gave us some insight to the company’s philosophies, standards and practices for its brand of custom-built high-performance gaming PCs.

With Arms Wide Open (But Doors Closed Shut)

Upon arriving at Maingear’s Market Street campus, we were initially met by a locked door. It’s nice to know that the company takes appropriate security precautions in guarding its treasure trove of high-priced computer parts, but face-planting the glass nearly ended my tour early.

We were soon welcomed inside by the company’s Technical and Marketing Director, Ron Reed. While waiting for Wallace’s arrival, the conversation with Ron quickly turned to hardware and gaming. It was apparent to me that Ron was a genuine enthusiast, and we were in a deep conversation about the nuances of Rocket League when the CEO, Wallace Santos, joined us and also professed his mutual love for the game.

A Brief History

Santos started Maingear in 2002, after a long debate over whether to open a custom modding and tuning car shop or build high-performance computer systems. He eventually decided to combine the best of both worlds to form Maingear. This privately-owned and self-funded custom PC boutique prides itself on its build quality and its one-on-one customer support. Wallace and his team of system builders are the real deal: enthusiast gamers that build high-performance systems for enthusiast gamers.

The Nerdery

After some pleasantries and a minor geek out session in the lobby, we were given a full tour of the 20,000 square-foot facility, starting with the production floor, a workspace dubbed “The Nerdery.” This room is where the magic happens. Each custom PC is assembled, imaged and packaged by hand in this immaculately-clean system building facility.

Behind a locked door, yet visible through thick-paned glass, is the stock room -- a view that most PC gearheads would salivate over. Rows of shelves sporting parts from some of the most popular brands seem to taunt you from a glass prison.

Individual workstations contain a plethora of go-to system builder tools that would make even experienced do-it-yourself enthusiasts jealous. Santos' passion for the automotive industry is also put on display in the Nerdery, with black-cushioned red metal rolling racks and matching tool boxes adorning each workstation.

From Start To (Custom-Painted) Finish

Once an online order is received, the system’s parts are sorted from the inventory room and placed into a large plastic tote. These are not proprietary or OEM parts: These are retail components with retail warranties. Maingear uses brands such as Asus, Kingston and Samsung for most of its major components -- brands that are known for their generous warranty periods (Samsung Evo SSDs are covered for five years, and Kingston memory has a lifetime warranty).

Each part kit is assigned to a single technician. Maingear has a disciplined (and practical) one man, one machine policy when it comes to assembling a system. These builds range from the entry-level and sufficient all the way to the highest echelon of performance and aesthetics, and each system is prepared as if it was the technician’s own PC, which was apparent from just watching the Maingear team work. They had the same look of intensity I have when I get to handle high-end hardware and just build (eye of the tiger).

One Bench To Rule Them All

Once assembled, the PC is moved over to one of two custom-designed imaging and testing workstations. These massive benches house up to 10 systems, each on a sliding shelf and attached to their own individual displays so that each rig on the rack can be simultaneously monitored while being imaged, fine-tuned and tested. There are also two laptop racks, as well as additional imaging workstations to handle overflow. Maingear works closely with OEMs to ensure that its system images (configured for every possible combination of hardware the company offers) are up-to-date and perfect before shipping a system out the door.

Don’t let the term “custom-designed” trick you into thinking this is some sort of multi-thousand dollar, instructions-in-the-box retail PC rack – these are simply (and proudly) a bunch of basic shelving racks, sliding rails and screws that Santos and his team got on the cheap from the local Home Depot and assembled into an impressive, productive and practical workbench. These guys are true do-it-yourselfers.

Here Comes The Pain(t)

Maingear offers custom paint jobs for its custom-built PCs. These aesthetic highlights are applied in-house using a sealed automotive painting bay in a separate building with custom-mixed paints that can match virtually any color, and using the same tools and methods you would see in a professional auto detailing shop. This is likely because the company has a professional painter at its disposal.

Ray, Maingear’s resident painter (pictured above, reenacting a scene from Breaking Bad), brings over 30 years of automotive painting experience to the brand’s hot rod-inspired custom PCs. This is where even the most ambitious do-it-yourselfer falls short of the mark. Sure, you could grab a can of glossy enamel from the hardware store and give your case a coat or two, but to see a PC panel shine immaculately enough to show your reflection is a whole other level of expertise that only a boutique builder like Maingear can provide. There’s also a free-standing laser engraver for an even more personal touch.

For The Love Of The Game

As an active do-it-yourself system builder, I sometimes question the value of a custom shop PC. Smart shoppers are often able to copy the specs of these built-to-order rigs for significantly less money. Some of these massive beasts can exceed what practical enthusiasts would be willing to pay for the same hardware, at the burden (and/or joy) of having to build the set yourself.

However, after a tour of Maingear’s headquarters, I was quickly educated on the level of quality packed into each and every build that goes out the door of the multi-lot custom PC building facility, and I have a newfound respect for the craftsmanship and experience behind these unique and personalized computer systems.

Not every Maingear PC is a powerhouse with a custom paint job (its entry-level offerings seem reasonably priced), and not every person ordering from the company is going to be a seasoned DIY system builder. The elegance of a masterfully-crafted custom PC is often lost on a do-it-yourself enthusiast, who like me prioritizes practicality over customization on most days. However, Maingear’s appeal is like that of a high-performance sports car. Although you could just fix up your engine or buy a similarly performing product, sometimes you just want to buy the best and not have to do the work yourself. Sometimes you buy the BMW (if that’s in your price range, or if you have some kind of mid-life crisis).

By the end of my stay at Maingear’s headquarters, it was clear to me this company isn’t a big box brand with uninitiated grunts assembling cookie-cutter builds. Maingear is a custom shop, from hardware to paint job to fine tuning, and everything was hands on, personalized and professional.

With the pending release of the F131 (mentioned in the video above), Maingear seems to be marching to the beat of its own drum, with a band of professional builders and a veteran automotive painter led by a life-long automotive and computer enthusiast that was able to combine two respective dreams into one reality. 

Derek Forrest is an Associate Contributing Writer for Tom’s Hardware and Tom’s IT Pro. Follow Derek Forrest on Twitter. Follow us on Facebook, Google+, RSS, Twitter and YouTube.

  • By gamers, for gamers. Hmm, that gets me wondering are most of the people who use a PC gamers or enthusiasts?
    Reply
  • tiagoluz8
    Guys, get with the times. Your gallery and video player suck! feels like early 2000s.
    Reply
  • thundervore
    Guys, get with the times. Your gallery and video player suck! feels like early 2000s.


    You realize that this is the site that places a clickable medium sized thumbnail in an article, then when you click on the medium sized thumbnail it takes you from the article you are reading to another page with a smaller thumbnail of the same image. Then you click on that smaller thumbnail to open a whole new popup window to a huge image that almost takes up your whole screen.

    This article is a prime example of the above........SMH
    Reply
  • Rheotome
    That's Kenilworth ( with one "n") , NJ. Nice article about a company building some real nice PCs. There is more to NJ than a bad joke on late night TV.
    Reply
  • stoned_ritual
    I want to work for them.
    Reply
  • TechyInAZ
    Sweet! I wish I could buy their cases by itself, the paint job looks awesome!
    Reply
  • jakjawagon
    Guys, get with the times. Your gallery and video player suck! feels like early 2000s.
    The video player doesn't even load on the UK version of the site.

    I'm always impressed with the cable management in these custom jobs. I would never have the patience to make things look so tidy in one of my builds.
    Reply
  • turkey3_scratch
    Are those Corsair CX power supplies I see on the shelves of this "high-end enthusiast" gaming facility?
    Reply
  • turkey3_scratch
    Otherwise, they do make some sick looking PCs! I like this company. Just a bunch of dudes making PCs. I always wondered how these prebuilt companies worked, I always pictured assembly lines. Of course, this is going to be different from a Dell factory, but still an interesting read! And I realize now that the CX could be used in the low-end systems. I can just only imagine how expensive that water cooled PC in the NZXT H440 would be :O
    Reply
  • alidan
    just on the note of the paint, you are able to get more or less the same variety on your own, it may not be as fast or clean but the end results will be the same.

    also, as for clear coat, you can get the same finish through a spray can, or if you have an airbrush you can use automotive clear coat, it's a bit of a smaller spray radius, but its doable.

    the only real difference is the amount of finishing work you have to do when you don't know what your doing/aren't as skilled.

    i'm on their website now. their paint costs 400$, 500$ for custom...
    led strips are 60-80$
    the motherboard upgrade are an extra 150$ minimum over retail at least it seems.
    the cpus are 100$ overpriced to 500$ overpriced at least
    memory isn't bad till you hit the 128gb and that goes way over price.
    oh wow the moment you hit gpus they go way of the rails. a 970 is around 300$ so lets use that as base.
    a 390X is 40$ over
    fury x is 150 over
    980 is at least 50 over
    980ti is a good 150-200 over
    dual gpu is where it gets fun with a 980ti costing 1165 on top of what the 970 already costs,
    quad fury x = 2,765.00
    quad 980ti = $2,740.00
    quad titan x = $4,770.00

    all added to the already probably over priced 970.

    6tb seagate is 270$ they charge 530$ on top of whatever they charge for the 1tb... just found it out 100$

    a 16x bluray burner is over 100$, i know i bought the best one available for under 60$

    every time i look at a custom pre build system anymore i'm disappointed, they weren't always this huge a ripoff.

    ok ok lets look at it this way, bare bones, what do i get.
    -case with a window (no paint)
    -asus x99 a mb
    -i7 5820
    -custom loop water cooling
    -magical thermal compound
    -16gb ram
    -970
    -no water cooling on the gpu as its cheaper
    -a 1200 watt psu
    -a 1tb seagate
    -remove a prewire
    -24x dvd drive
    -on board audio
    -win 10
    -removed the free antivirus
    -a shirt
    -1 year warranty
    -premium packaging

    all for the price of....
    5280$

    just wow.
    Reply