SHIFT P55 and X58
Coming to the lineup itself, how are you positioning SHIFT, how many units are there in the product offering? Chris:
Currently, there are two different SKUs [Stock Keeping Unit] and they're both centered on Intel CPUs and Intel chipsets. Both SKUs are relying on Core i7 processors, with the SHIFT P55 being based on Core i7-800 series, and SHIFT X58 relying on i7-900 series. We decided not to include Core i5-750 into the line-up. The price difference between Core i5-750 and i7-860 is not that great and in the grand scheme of things we felt that the i7-860 is more embodied with what the SHIFT is. When you open a Task Manager and see eight threads… there are eight threads on P55 and eight threads on X58 system. The SHIFT P55 inside: The Power of 3 includes Lynnfield CPU, P55 chipset and nVidia graphics as a baseline option
We wanted to make sure… we just didn't want to let the P55 consumer have inferior experience. The SHIFT P55 features nVidia's The Power of 3
which is just the mainstream way of telling the customers that multiple nVidia cards plus a third card for dedicated PhysX, CUDA, OpenCL processing - is going to deliver you a great experience. We are also going to be offering ATI Eyefinity technology and what can you do with the latest Radeon 5000 series. Multiple monitors, DirectX 11 - again, we are focusing on the GPU and we are going to talk to our customers and offer them the best graphics technology can offer to date. Our customers will ultimately decide which way they want to go. BSN*:
If I understand correctly, both of the systems are hardware vendor-agnostic. You are going to ask the user which of the two paths he should take and you are supporting all of those technologies? Chris:
Exactly. It is not our job to shove a specific vendor or a technology to the consumer. There are customers out there that have very strong believes about different products and different companies. It is all about making the customer happy. We want to and we will give our opinions when asked, we will also help guide somebody if we feel like they may or may not know about what product can do. But if somebody says "this is absolutely what I want" - it is not a system vendor call to make. Our systems are agnostic and we will talk about all the great features that partners are bringing to the table. We want to educate the customer in a proper manner and let them make the choice. It is up to us to achieve top system performance regardless of the technology selected by the customer. It is all about price, performance, features and what the customer is going to be happy with.
On top of that, once we get past the difficult GPU decision, it's all about multiple SSDs or mechanical hard drives, it is your choice. We offer the best hardware there is out there, Intel's X25 solid state drives, Western Digital Black Edition drives… you can put up to 12 SSDs in this system, physically - we offer less than that on our on-line configurator but the customer can request additional storage. Our case features six actively cooled 3.5" drive bays, so you can put either two 2.5" SSDs or a single 3.5" mechanical drive. There are no thermal issues with this level of integration. You can put your choice of DVD burners, Blu-ray readers or burners - you can select the two of each.
We are also going to buck the trend
when it comes to audio. We tell our customers right now - majority of people out there do not need a dedicated audio card. There is no reason to buy Creative X-Fi right now. Really, there isn't. We are getting away from that. The way Windows Vista and 7 changed the fundamental hardware level hardware operates and the problems that ensued with things such as Alchemy, and some of headaches users had going from XP to Vista or to Windows 7. We feel that intrinsic value of audio hardware solutions have gone away. The only way we are going to offer an audio hardware upgrade is - Audio fidelity. We will tell our customers to upgrade their audio subsystem if the customers are discerning audiophiles and they need the best, cleanest audio signal coming out of SHIFT because they already have the best audio equipment out there. What we are going to do is offer Auzentech with OPAMP upgrade
. That is what we feel that will offer that tangible audio upgrade that a customer could buy. We thought about offering add-in audio cards and it is not about how many hardware voices is there, because that doesn't matter anymore. What matters is audio fidelity and we are offering just that. We ask our users what audio hardware they have. If the answer is something like a 2.1 speaker set, then why waste hundred or more dollars on buying audio hardware that he or she won't utilize.
The issue is the same with graphics cards - it all depends on what are you connecting your system to. The installed base you have dictates the hardware you need. BSN*:
What about the X58 platform? It is obviously the high end model… Chris:
With the whole range of Sockets Intel is currently offering, with the Socket LGA-1156 and LGA-1366, SHIFT X58 is for those users who need that extra kick in processing power, every ounce of performance. This is the best of the best.
With the integrated water-cooling system we are able to clock the Extreme Editions to 4.0 GHz clock. This is the platform you are able to get 3-Way SLI or 3-Way CrossfireX with true PCI Express Gen2 x16. That is our most powerful graphics platform. That is what X58 is meant for. BSN*:
You mentioned water-cooling on the SHIFT X58 system. Are all systems equipped with water-cooling solutions? Chris:
Yes. Each and every system is equipped with water-cooling setup. Our goal was not just performance, but silent running as well. BSN*:
Every technology has its price. What is the pricing for the launch models and what do you expect what kind of ASP you target? Chris:
The starting price for SHIFT P55 is $2199, while the starting price point for X58 is $2599. We are sure those prices compete well within traditional PC space. This proves its point when you start to configure up, where we actually become price competitive. Being price competitive wasn't our goal, we don't design to a price point - we design to a performance level. When you compare our systems with for instance, Apple Mac Pro - we think that we actually deliver better value, dollar for dollar. BSN*:
Technically, you also beat Mac Pro on hardware capabilities. We use Mac Pros in the studio and to far as my knowledge go, there is no way to configure more than four hard drives in a Mac Pro. You claim six to twelve? Chris:
Look at their baseline graphics. Their $150 dollar card is a GeForce GT 120. That is what, a 16 stream processors part? BSN*:
Nope, that is a rebrand of a rebrand of a rebrand… but lastly it was known as GeForce 9500GT. Chris:
In any case, they want $150 for each and every GT 120 they put in there? If you put four GT120s, you spent 600 dollars on what? BSN*:
Ok, point taken - Apple charges $150 for a $35 card in the PC world. But now that you start comparing, can you tell us what MAINGEAR offers as a $150 GPU part? Chris:
Our baseline graphics card on SHIFT P55 is nVidia GeForce GTS 250. That is a 128 shader card and the price for that card is $155. It is a significant increase of performance from Apple, but we don't stop between $150 baseline card and a 300 dollar upgrade. When you add $70, you get GeForce GTX 260-216. 216 shaders for $200 is still less than a single dollar per shader core. If you want DirectX 11, for $77 we are going to replace the GTS 250 with ATI Radeon HD 5770 with 1GB GDDR5 memory.
Going to X58 system, our default configuration starts with ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB because we believe that should be the baseline performance for an X58 machine. You aren't going to see us bundling a five hundred dollar CPU with $50 graphics card and claiming the system has performance. If you pay $158.00 upgrade we'll get you HD 5850 1GB, a card that we truly believe is the excellent choice for 3D performance. We still offer full range of nVidia graphics cards from the GTX 260-216 and up. Naturally, both P55 and X58 can be configured with multiple GPUs. BSN*:
Two questions for the end. First off, what is the expected ship date for these systems and secondly, what about the warranty? Chris:
I'll answer the warranty question first. Every SHIFT system comes with a two year warranty we called Angelic service. We feel that Angelic service is exactly our chance to shine. When the chips are down, when the system isn't working - it doesn't matter how good the system was, how expensive of cheap the system was - it is all about how good the company is will the company stand by its products. We make a promise to our customers and that starts with pre-sales. You are never going to speak with anybody who works on commission. I know I have talked about this, but let me repeat - you are only going to speak with people who have built systems, with our current workers, technicians, engineers… support personnel. You'll never get better advice than the one you can get from these employees. For the first 30 days of ownership, we will pay two-way shipping for all of our systems in case there is a problem. Another promise we made is that you are never going to have to pay for telephone support or labor for lifetime of the system.
There are premium companies that charge you for that after 90 days. At our discretion, we'll engage a third party service provider to provide on-site repairs at no additional cost. Sometimes it just makes sense to send somebody on-site. There are cases where you have heavily overclocked and customized systems and make no sense to send the 3rd party provider out here. In those rare cases, we are going to bring the system back in and have a person who made the system or an engineer of equal knowledge service the system. Also, during the warranty of the system - we are never going to replace the component with something of lesser performance. It will always be similar level of performance with what you bought.
Two years down the line, it is hard to find that exact component - sometimes it is very hard to find a specific graphics card two years later - we are going to replace that part with actual generation product of equal or even better performance. At our customer's request, we invested in creating a remote hardware diagnostic technology called Virtual On-site technology. We can take control of customers' computer - again, at their request only - these sessions can be recorded either for customer reference or for our future analysis if anything goes wrong with the system again, for auditing purposes, for training purposes and most importantly, for privacy insurance. This Angelic support, Angelic service is a perfect blend of pre and post-sales experience… it is what makes the whole customer experience we are wrapping the SHIFT in.
Coming to the SHIFT shipping agenda, we are accepting orders as of today, November 2, 2009. We are going to begin ship the first SHIFT's either the first week or the second week of December. We have targeted the launch date so that customers who pre-order the systems would be able to receive the systems by Christmas. BSN*:
Chris, thank you for the interview and good luck in this endeavor. Chris:
Thanks Theo, it was always a pleasure talking with you. Conclusion
MAINGEAR launched their new lineup today and Chris is bursting with enthusiasm for the new product line. In a way, guys are really right - a single chassis with subdued design. They have worked on the design with Silverstone for over a year now, and you could see the mainstream parts coming to market in the form of Raven RV01 and RV02 cases. Unlike Raven series, this part features special fans, customized Asetek liquid cooling… all in all, a potent combination for silent performance. The guys are looking into supporting liquid cooling on graphics cards as well, but the question is as always: is it worth it in such a case - given that the temperature load on the cards is much, much less than normal.
The big challenge will be how to enter the big world of workstations - if MAINGEAR is to challenge Apple, they will have to offer Xeon workstations and offer dual-Socket liquid cooling inside the existing case. From the looks of it, the goal is not to offer SHIFT as a $999 machine and honestly, we don't see why. Quality never came cheap and the whole focus of PC world on continuous cost reduction brought us into current dead end. Also, challenging Apple without peripherals such as MAINGEAR keyboard, MAINGEAR mouse and MAINGEAR displays is a tough cookie. The company currently uses peripherals made by Razer, but the company will need to dig in and get customized designs as well.
We do approve to see the innovation on the market - now you know that a premium PC would cost you $1999 if MAINGEAR installed crapware loved by Tier Ones, but instead of loading your system with trial versions of software that is known not to work - they offered you a optimized operative system that just awaits your applications.
The big question is - can this approach yield positive financial results? If the company succeeds, others will have no choice but to wake up and smell the coffee. Everything now lies on customers.
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