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.
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.