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.
|System||HP Blackbird 002 LC||Falcon Northwest Mach 5||Vigor Gaming Colossus|
|CPU||Intel Core 2 Extreme QX97703.20 GHz, FSB-1600, 12 MB CacheOverclocked to 3.60 GHz, Stock FSB||Intel Core 2 Quad Q96503.00 GHz, FSB-1333, 12 MB CacheOverclocked to 4.00 GHz, FSB-1776||2x Intel Core 2 Extreme QX97753.20 GHz, FSB-1600, 12 MB CacheOverclocked 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 SLI790i Ultra SLI, BIOS P05 (05/16/2008)||Asus P5E3 Premium WiFi-APIntel X48, BIOS 0505 (06/11/2008)||Intel Skulltrail D5400XSIntel 5400B, BIOS 0821 (01/22/2008)|
|RAM||4x Corsair CM3X1G1600C8D44x 1024 MB, DDR3-1600, CL 8-8-8-24Underclocked to DDR3-1333 9-9-9-24||4x Kingston KHX14400D3/1 G4x 1024 MB, DDR3-1800, CL 8-8-8-24Underclocked to DDR3-1333 6-6-6-15||4x Kingston KVR800D2D4F5/2 G4x 2048 MB DDR2-800 ECC FB-DIMMStock 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 MHz2x 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 WD1600ADFS160 GB, 10000 RPM, 16 MB Cache||2x WD WD3000GLFS (RAID 0)300 GB, 10000 RPM, 16 MB Cache||2x WD Raptor WDC WD1500ADFD150 GB, 10000 RPM, 16 MB Cache|
|Seagate Barracuda ST3750640AS750GB, 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-T632L8x DVD±R/RW/DL, 8x DVD-RAM||LG GGW-H20L BD-RE/HDDVD-ROM6x BD-R, 2x BD-RE, 16x DVD±R||Asus DRW-2014L1T DVD-RW16x DVD±R, 8x+RW/DL, 14x DVD-RAM|
|LG GGW-H10N BD-RE/DVD4x 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|
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.