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.

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SystemHP Blackbird 002 LCFalcon Northwest Mach 5Vigor Gaming Colossus
CPUIntel Core 2 Extreme QX97703.20 GHz, FSB-1600, 12 MB CacheOverclocked to 3.60 GHz, Stock FSBIntel Core 2 Quad Q96503.00 GHz, FSB-1333, 12 MB CacheOverclocked to 4.00 GHz, FSB-17762x Intel Core 2 Extreme QX97753.20 GHz, FSB-1600, 12 MB CacheOverclocked to 4.00 GHz, Stock FSB
CPU CoolerAsetek LCLC with Dual 120 mm FansAsetek LCLC with Single 120 mm Fan2x Cooler Master Hyper 212
MotherboardEVGA 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)
RAM4x Corsair CM3X1G1600C8D44x 1024 MB, DDR3-1600, CL 8-8-8-24Underclocked to DDR3-1333 9-9-9-244x Kingston KHX14400D3/1 G4x 1024 MB, DDR3-1800, CL 8-8-8-24Underclocked to DDR3-1333 6-6-6-154x Kingston KVR800D2D4F5/2 G4x 2048 MB DDR2-800 ECC FB-DIMMStock Clock, CL 5-5-5-18
Graphics2x 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 DrivesWestern Digital Raptor WD1600ADFS160 GB, 10000 RPM, 16 MB Cache2x WD WD3000GLFS (RAID 0)300 GB, 10000 RPM, 16 MB Cache2x WD Raptor WDC WD1500ADFD150 GB, 10000 RPM, 16 MB Cache
Seagate Barracuda ST3750640AS750GB, 7200 RPM, 16MB Cache
SoundIntegrated Realtek ALC888S CodecIntegrated ADI 1988B CodecIntegrated IDT STAC9274D Codec
NetworkIntegrated Gigabit NetworkingIntegrated Gigabit NetworkingIntegrated Gigabit Networking
PowerTopower 1100W ModularizedSilverstone SST-ST1200 ModularizedThermaltake Toughpower 1200W
KeyboardNot Included (Optional)Not Included (Optional)Not Included (Optional)
MouseNot Included (Optional)Not Included (Optional)Not Included (Optional)
OSWindows Vista Ultimate 64-bitWindows Vista Ultimate 64-bitWindows Vista Ultimate 64-bit
WarrantyOne YearThree Years (One Year Overnight Ship)Three Years
SupportOne YearLifetimeLifetime

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.

  • xx12amanxx
    That crossfire sure blazes through games!
  • johnbilicki
    Falcon's overnight shipping is just plain juicy, nothing is worse then having a thousand dollar plus paper weight for two to six weeks doing nothing though why not the full three years of the warranty at these prices?

    Why only three years warranty for the entire systems? Why not extend those warranties per part in the very least. This is a major turn-off for those of us who have had parts die three days after a two or three year warranty has expired negating a full system if we can't replace the part (such as the motherboard). Especially considering Socket B will be due out in what, a month or two?

    I've seen a Mac or two that are (slightly) more affordable, would it really kill most people to replace an Intel EE with a Q9550? It's got the same amount of cache and I'm sure it'll OC to the same frequencies. I don't think someone buying one of these systems is going to care too much if it's OCed by FSB or simply the multiplier. My old 754/3200 CRUSHED my 939/3500 a few years ago 15 seconds to a full minute (and that's with single channel memory versus 939's dual channel) on several processor intensive tests such as AWStats (web statistics) pushing a 120 megabyte Apache access log and the 3500 had half the cache but a 200MHz advantage. Switching those two CPU's would easily knock off about $700 on the price tag.

    Just under six grand up over eight and no keyboard and mouse with any of these systems?

    Windows Vista is weak but then again if someone is going to spend that much money (and tax and probably shipping on TOP of that) they probably are going to be spending the vast majority of time using the system to play video games any way so mute point really. I've seen some impressive (older systems) though including a system with a 6xxx SLI setup that was being used for word documents...these are clearly intended for games.

    I'd really like to see an article here on Toms Hardware about PSU's. It'd be sweet to say, "Yeah my rig has a 1500 watt PSU" though it'd be sweeter to say, "Yeah I have my (one of these) rig running OCed and stable with a 700 watt PSU" in example. It'd be nice to see what happens when systems don't get enough power and how to determine how much power a system will need before one purchases individual parts.

    Why is Falcon's rig the only one with a BD burner?

    I like the Falcon system the most between the specs provided. The WD Raptors at 300GB might be enough if you're only playing a handful of games (at any given time) though for that price tag I'd expect at least a TB drive through in. I'd never have my music collection or work files on the same drive as any OS. Crossfire is owning there too and it's great to see ATI back in the game. Thanks for posting the review! Now how about posting some FRAPS footage of games from these systems and post them in HD on YouTube? ;-)
  • neodude007
    Speaking of FRAPS, I can't get decent framerates in Vista x64 with it... If I install XP I can FRAPS my WoW at 60 FPS but it chugs down to like 25 and below on Vista and the games appear to lag really badly.

    Also, this article goes to show the failure of tri SLI vs a CF of X2 cards. I am very happy with my 8800GT SLI though since it beats a GTX 280 last I checked for half the price.
  • lucuis
    Great review, i was actually thinking about what kind of performance an 8 core processor would have in today's games, regardless of optimization. Clearly we aren't ready, lol. Especially seeing as how Quads are just barely getting used.

    What was nice to see is that Quads are almost always fully utilized in non-gaming applications. Makes me feel better for buying a quad early in the game. I'm just hoping more games will come equipped with quad support.
  • sparky2010
    well when it comes to extended warranties on custom, or "boutique" systems, you really don't need more than three.. i mean, people who buy these things want to them so that they can brag and all that, but in three years? you can easily buy a system for a quarter of the price and probably get more performance. So, there's no use for more than three years warranty because many of those people would have already updated those pcs (the insides, like mobo, cpu, gpu, ram, etc..), or the ones with deep wallets would have bought newer ones...

    Also, there are many people who like pcs, new technologies, games, and so on but don't know how or don't have the guts to build and overclock their own machines.. well, it's probably the overclocking part that weighs down on most people, so they'd rather opt to buy a machine built by.... experts.... who overclock it for them, at a nice premium.. if you can afford it, why not? not many people complain at the price of a Mercedes S 65 AMG now do they?
  • neiroatopelcc
    I'm surprised the 3sli system did so badly. 8 cpu cores, 3 gpu cores, and yet so slow. Ofcourse a problem is the software unable to utilize them all, but I wonder how much of the fault is down to the windows kernel only running on one? or the graphics in a game only using one cpu core and treating the 3 gpu's as one etc? In any case, why are the ati cards that much faster? 3x 280 should be faster than 4x 4870 sharing two slots? does the skulltrail feature 3x16 pcie v2 lanes for the cards? or are they bandwidth starved ? and what about hte 2x 4870x2's ? are they being limited by two slots running 16x (or 16/8 / 8/8)?
    Appearently 2 x2's is better than 3 280's .... I didn't expect that. Perhaps driver's cpu overhead in the x2's is significantly lower than the nvidia driver handling 3 gpu's ? or is it just crysis and vantage that don't know how to use the gpu's without being limited by cpu power of a single core?
  • sparky2010
    also.. ATI FTW!!!!!!!
    I hope they keep it up with their new gpus in 2009..!!!
  • sparky2010
    well.. the 4870 X2 is better by about 10-20% (if not more) than the GTX 280, on average.. but i believe that on tri sli, the third card won't be of much help because that third pci-e slot is usually a 4x or even 1x.. so the bandwidth available to that third card is pretty low.. plus i believe that ATI has concentrated alot more on multi-card compatibility and performance, drivers wise.. so maybe that's the reason why.. maybe it's the nature of Crossfire vs. SLI that gives Crossfire the advantage, because they're two different methods in combining two cards..

    also, i wonder when they'll start coming up with dual and quad core gpus... instead of multi-gpu solutions... which would be better?
  • ravenware
    Falcon's are always fast :) That vigor gives me a hard on, too bad its overkill.
  • neiroatopelcc
    Could be that the ati drivers simply are better in multi card configs than nvidia. For the longest time they've had to release x2 cards to keep up withe nvidia after all, so they must've worked their arse off to make sure they actually work :)

    ps. I hope nvidia releases a new card to trumph the 4870, so that I can have proper drivers again. ati may be good at cf, but nvidia knows how to deal with multimonitor setups