Price Analysis & Conclusion
Steiger Dynamics sent us a curve ball with its high-priced Era Reference gaming PC, equipping it with an Intel Core i5-7600K processor and an EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founder’s Edition graphics card. Many enthusiasts (and perhaps even uninitiated consumers) would see this combination as a mismatch; when you think of the ultimate in graphics cards, you go for a GTX 1080 Ti, but when you look for the best in CPUs, a Core i5 isn’t usually the first chip that comes to mind, especially at a budget of $2,958.
And yet the Core i5-7600K has great value, with the price-to-performance ratio of Intel CPUs plateauing a bit after the $250 mark, unless you are specifically out to gain better multi-core performance. Most games won’t miss the hyperthreading of a Core i7 (especially at higher resolutions), and once you overclock the Core i5, it’s one of the top gaming CPUs on the market. However, if you absolutely must have a Core i7, you can upgrade the Core i5-7600K to an i7-7700 or i7-7700K for an additional $69 or $131, respectively.
The company reached out shortly after we received our review sample to let us know it had changed its base GeForce GTX 1080 Ti offering from the EVGA Founder’s Edition in our review unit to a blower-style card with a custom BIOS from EVGA that effectively makes it an SC-branded factory overclocked GPU. We don’t have that card in front of us, so we don’t know what kind of performance differences we’d see, but Steiger Dynamics speculated that it would be similar to the performance we’re seeing with the overclocked Founder’s Edition GPU we tested. The primary reason for this change of inventory was to accommodate the front-panel HDMI pass-through; the new GPU offering has two HDMI 2.0 ports, giving you the ability to use the front panel and still connect to an HDMI port on a display.
Despite this component change, the sample we have in the lab performed at the top of the heap, with the GTX 1080 Ti providing top-tier performance throughout our benchmark testing. The Core i5-7600K fell behind Core i7-7700K equipped systems in apps and games where hyperthreaded cores can have a noticeable impact, but the Era was still competitive when it did lose out to systems with the pricier processor.
The 16GB (2x8GB) kit of G.Skill Aegis DDR4-3000 memory is more than sufficient for the latest AAA games, and the above-average frequency gives it impressive performance in memory-intensive workloads. The 500GB Samsung 960 EVO M.2 NVMe SSD is impressively fast (check out our Storage Test results), even if we can’t easily get to it, physically (it’s mounted on the underside of the motherboard). A 3TB storage volume is also gratuitous in capacity, but we’re disappointed it’s the 5,400 RPM version of the WD Red HDD. However, Steiger offers this drive for its quiet operation (a recurring theme with this particular build), and you can easily change to a 7,200 RPM WD Black HDD if you intend to load a large game library on your secondary storage.
We appreciate Steiger’s unique chassis design, which forgoes flashy RGB lighting and offers a more professional look with the hand-brushed aluminum case. The company didn’t shy away from loading our review unit with several add-on components and services, with the aforementioned VR-ready front panel (HDMI pass-through), silencing foam (sound dampening), and CPU and GPU overclocking services each adding $49 to the bill. There’s also a slim-profile Blu-ray RW optical drive, which adds another $117 (for a total of $313).
The pass-through is considered a premium feature, but we’re disappointed it comes at an added price. However, it is worthwhile for those intending to use the Era Reference as their living room VR machine. The sound-dampening foam indeed reduces noise, and even at full load, the Era Reference is no louder than a tower PC at idle, and it’s worthwhile for someone looking for a powerful system that isn’t as loud as a jet engine. We’re not a fan of Blu-ray players (it’s a decidedly old technology, becoming less relevant with all the streaming platforms available with rich movie libraries), but there are some who would welcome replacing a Blu-ray player with a powerful PC that can play Blu-ray disks, but $117 is a lot of money for this optional optical drive.
We’re not thrilled that the processor and graphics card each warrant a separate overclocking fee ($98 is a lot of money to OC), and we’d be happier to see both components moderately overclocked for a flat $49. However, the overclock does indeed give a boost in performance, and for average consumers who don’t tend to tinker, it may be a viable option if they want to get the most out of the hardware under the hood.
Alternatively, you could also go for even more overclocking, with Steiger Dynamics offering an extreme OC service where the company delids and shims your CPU and guarantees up to 5.0 GHz, even on the Core i5-7600K. This unconventional (but really cool) service goes for $199, and Steiger Dynamics surprisingly warranties the CPU, so long as you don’t remove the cooler.
The add-ons in this configuration of the Era may only have appeal to a handful of customers with specific goals for their system, so you could save some money (and easily upgrade to that Core i7 CPU) if you forego the specialized front panel, Blu-ray drive, sound isolation, and overclocking services. However, we haven’t seen many custom shops offering warrantied delidded overclocking services, and Steiger seems to be extremely flexible with its range of practical optional upgrades, appealing to professionals and enthusiasts alike. And that Couchmaster is pretty sweet, too.
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