Three High-End Gaming Systems Compared

The idea that “time is money” often escapes all but the wealthiest of enthusiasts, and even a few bucks-up buyers would prefer the experience of building things themselves. But game time is worth far more than build time to the folks who buy fully-configured gaming systems. These results-oriented buyers typically place high value on their leisure time and have no problem paying someone with more experience to deliver an often higher-quality product with backing in the form of a warranty.

Boutique builders have catered to high-end buyers since the earliest days of PC whiteboxes, but only the most competitive survive. Among these are VoodooPC, Falcon Northwest and Vigor Gaming, which are responsible for the three systems in our lab today…almost.

VoodooPC was so successful that it couldn’t escape the lustful eyes of the big-box builders and was acquired by HP to be the jewel in an otherwise boring behemoth’s crown. The name lives on in original VoodooPC models along with “VoodooDNA” for high-end HP branded gaming systems. Both Voodoo-branded product lines use popular, high-end, industrial-standard architecture components of the highest quality.

Thus, our final line-up includes custom configurations of the HP Blackbird 002 LC, Falcon Northwest Mach 5, and Vigor Gaming Colossus.

High-End Gaming System Configurations
System HP Blackbird 002 LC Falcon Northwest Mach 5 Vigor Gaming Colossus
CPU Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770
3.20 GHz, FSB-1600, 12 MB Cache
Overclocked to 3.60 GHz, Stock FSB
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650
3.00 GHz, FSB-1333, 12 MB Cache
Overclocked to 4.00 GHz, FSB-1776
2x Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9775
3.20 GHz, FSB-1600, 12 MB Cache
Overclocked to 4.00 GHz, Stock FSB
CPU Cooler Asetek LCLC with Dual 120 mm Fans Asetek LCLC with Single 120 mm Fan 2x Cooler Master Hyper 212
Motherboard EVGA nForce 790i Ultra SLI
790i Ultra SLI, BIOS P05 (05/16/2008)
Asus P5E3 Premium WiFi-AP
Intel X48, BIOS 0505 (06/11/2008)
Intel Skulltrail D5400XS
Intel 5400B, BIOS 0821 (01/22/2008)
RAM 4x Corsair CM3X1G1600C8D4
4x 1024 MB, DDR3-1600, CL 8-8-8-24
Underclocked to DDR3-1333 9-9-9-24
4x Kingston KHX14400D3/1 G
4x 1024 MB, DDR3-1800, CL 8-8-8-24
Underclocked to DDR3-1333 6-6-6-15
4x Kingston KVR800D2D4F5/2 G
4x 2048 MB DDR2-800 ECC FB-DIMM
Stock Clock, CL 5-5-5-18
Graphics 2x EVGA 01G-P3-1282-AR (SLI)
Nvidia GTX-280 GPU (621MHz)
1024 MB GDDR3-2268 (Per Card)
2x Radeon HD 4870 X2 (Crossfire)
2x ATI 4870 GPU (Per Card) 750 MHz
2x 1024MB GDDR5-3600 (Per Card)
3x Nvidia GeForce GTX 280 (SLI)
Nvidia GTX-280 GPU (650 MHz)
1024MB GDDR3-2300 (Per Card)
Hard Drives Western Digital Raptor WD1600ADFS
160 GB, 10000 RPM, 16 MB Cache
2x WD WD3000GLFS (RAID 0)
300 GB, 10000 RPM, 16 MB Cache
2x WD Raptor WDC WD1500ADFD
150 GB, 10000 RPM, 16 MB Cache
Seagate Barracuda ST3750640AS
750GB, 7200 RPM, 16MB Cache
Sound Integrated Realtek ALC888S Codec Integrated ADI 1988B Codec Integrated IDT STAC9274D Codec
Network Integrated Gigabit Networking Integrated Gigabit Networking Integrated Gigabit Networking
Power Topower 1100W Modularized Silverstone SST-ST1200 Modularized Thermaltake Toughpower 1200W
Optical TSST DVD-R/RW TS-T632L
6x BD-R, 2x BD-RE, 16x DVD±R
Asus DRW-2014L1T DVD-RW
16x DVD±R, 8x+RW/DL, 14x DVD-RAM
4x BD-R, 2x BD-RE, 8x DVD-R
Keyboard Not Included (Optional) Not Included (Optional) Not Included (Optional)
Mouse Not Included (Optional) Not Included (Optional) Not Included (Optional)
OS Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit
Warranty One Year Three Years (One Year Overnight Ship) Three Years
Support One Year Lifetime Lifetime
Price $5869 $6097 $8160

With Intel’s fastest processor and a few extra drives, the HP system appears, at first blush, to be a value leader among “Elite Gaming” systems before considering its short warranty period and differences in tuning. Vigor Gaming, on the other hand, offers eight cores for the ultimate in application performance, plus 3-way SLI at an appropriately high price. Falcon Northwest chose the CrossFireX alternative for its Mach 5 configuration, with four Radeon HD 4870 processors and the potential to speed right past the SLI configurations of its competitors. This should make for an interesting comparison.

Note that all three systems are built-to-order, so buyers who favor one system but would prefer a graphics configuration similar to another system should be able to find what they need from any of these companies. And with that disclaimer out of the way, we’re ready to take a closer look.