Today, we take a crack at an enthusiast gaming system from Maingear one of the premier boutique builders out there today.
Many people these days when looking for a gaming computer usually look to big box retailers and well known brand names. The problem with that is that most of the big box retailers and top tier OEMs have mostly abandoned high-end PC gaming. As such, many gamers are either left with having to build their own system and hope they do it right, or find one of the many custom system builders available online.
Many of these online builders show a plethora of options that enable users to build basically any rig they want, many of which seem to copy each other in what they offer. Most system builders nowadays simply take whatever components are available on the market and effectively offer to put them together for you and then send it to you. That’s the extent that many of them effectively operate at. Maingear has decidedly taken an extremely different approach. Rather than build the computer and send you on your way, they want to make sure that you, the consumer are always a few seconds away from reaching Maingear if need be. They go the extra customer service mile that most system builders are generally criticized for not even bothering with.
The Maingear Experience (we wrote this not realizing they had a part of their site dedicated to just this). Maingear does everything with the latest and greatest possible hardware available. Many times when we get a PR from a hardware manufacturer, it is commonly followed by a PR from Maingear already offering that part as an option in their systems. This proves that Maingear is not only keeping up to date, they are as up to date as it is physically (and legally) possible. This is in addition to their unparalleled customer service and technical support which we will detail later in the article since customer service and technical support will always be a part of our system reviews. Their customer service and technical support are only supplements to their impeccable build quality and innovative testing and build techniques.
In this review we will detail every facet of the system including our experiences with the computer, the company, and what we thought of the overall experience.
So, as is with any decent system, there are a few key technologies that differentiate the Maingear Shift from all of its competitors. Furthermore, some of these technologies and innovations also allow for a unique way of building a computer and could in theory improve performance as well.
One of the great things about the Maingear Shift is the case, Maingear uses a case that has a motherboard tray that has been rotated 90 degrees in order to aim all of the components exhausts upward instead of out the back. This also means that all of the connectivity is at the top of the computer rather than in the back. For some this may be a good idea and for others, not as much. So when purchasing a computer from Maingear take this into account. This case is actually very similar to the original Silverstone Raven case, except for the fact that the raven has almost an entirely plastic outside, while the Shift is all aluminum. Furthermore, the shift is visually cleaner and less obnoxious since it has very clean lines, etc. Because this case has components exhausting out the top, that means that the graphics cards actually don’t get as hot as they normally would since they’re exhausting nearly every ounce of heat right out of the top because, after all, heat rises.
Another key technology that Maingear has implemented on this build of the Shift is their implementation of their EPIC 180 watercooling solution. This watercooling solution is a solution that they developed in conjunction with CoolIT systems out performs any air cooling solution on the market and many similarly designed closed loop water cooling solutions. The EPIC also doesn’t add much weight, like some of the high-end air solutions as it only weighs 450g and the majority of the weight doesn’t even bear on the motherboard as it is screwed to the case. Furthermore, it has a microfin coldplate used in conjunction with a silent pump (in one housing). The main purpose of implementing this solution is to have the best cooling without taking up much space and not creating much noise. We will see how effective it is in allowing higher clocks and quieter sound.
For a detailed explanation, we actually wrote about it when Maingear launched it back in late April.
The Beginning Experience
So, for this review we didn’t necessarily get to choose the components that went into the system, but the words that we told Maingear were to the effect of, “Build us a system that is going to be good enough to play all the latest games, and play them fast, period.” Once we got that ball rolling, Maingear built us our system and took a few days to burn in the system and kept us updated during the entire process from build, to completion, to burn in. We were also notified of exactly when it shipped and immediately supplied with a tracking number.
Chassis –Shift – Maingear Shift with advanced vertical heat dissipation
Exterior Finish – Brushed Black Aluminum with Acrylic and Black matte accents
Motherboard – Intel DP67GB Extreme Series Featuring USB 3.0 and SATA 6G (B3 Stepping)
Processor – Intel Core i7 2600K 3.4GHz/3.8GHz Turbo 8MB L3 Cache
Processor Cooling – Maingear EPIC 180
Maingear REDLINE – Yes, Redline™ Overclock My System!
Memory – 8GB Patriot Division 2 G2 DDR3-1600 (2x4GB)
Graphics and GPGPU Accelerator – 2x NVIDIA GeForce 560 Ti in SLI
Power Supply – 850 Watt Seasonic X-850 80+ Gold Certified Modular PSU
HDD 1 – 120GB OCZ Vertex 3 SSD (later replaced by 120GB Intel 510 SSD)
HDD 2 – 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black SATA 6G and 7200RPM
ODD 1 – 8X LiteOn BluRay Reader and DVD Lightscribe Combo Drive
Memory Card Reader – All-in-one integrated USB 2.0 Flash Card Reader and Writer
Audio – Integrated Audio
Network Adapter – Onboard Gigabit Ethernet
Wireless Network Adapter – Integrated 802.11 b/g/n @ 300Mbps
Bluetooth – Integrated Bluetooth Module
OS – Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit
The Final Finesse – Design, Manufactured, and Supported in the USA – Flawless Craftsmanship and Wire Management
Angelic Service Warranty – Lifetime Angelice Service Labor and Phone Support with 2 year hardware warranty
Upon receiving this system, we were properly prompted by the FedEx delivery guy who made sure that someone was home to accept the package since it weighed a hefty 69lbs. Upon receiving the package we decided to do a little unboxing and see what was included with the Maingear system other than the computer itself.
On the outside of the packaging itself, you have two boxes. These consist of protective main box and the inner Maingear Box. Double boxing is definitely a great idea considering how often packages get manhandled during shipping and a full system is no different.
On the outside of the inner box, you see all of the awards that the Maingear Shift has won as well as a picture of the computer and the definition of a ‘Personal Super Computer’. There’s also their email address and phone number on the outside of the box, if you ever need help or lose any of the provided documentation.
Open popping open the box, you notice a few flaps that give you extensive information on how to help your system through its most traumatic experience of its life (shipment). They then instruct you on how to properly remove the system from the box without damaging the computer which involves understanding gravity and how it can help you. Side flaps aside, at the top of the box is the handy dandy binder. This binder is Maingear branded and contains all of the useful information about your system. We will go into more detail regarding what is included inside of it once we cover the accessories.
The accessories are numerous but not cluttering or superfluous. They primarily consist of the binder and its contents and the extra cables that may have come with the power supply or motherboard.
The binder itself is really the key accessory as it holds a plethora of accessories, unexpectedly so. Included inside of the binder is a Maingear T-shirt, Mousepad, a multi-tool, and a series of installed software including the OS, component manuals, troubleshooting guides, and the regular expected paperwork (user manual) from a system builder. The multi-tool comes in handy if you ever need to unscrew anything (like the top) in order to plug things in or unplug them.
The nice thing is that Maingear went through exhaustive testing and documented their testing procedures and gives customers scores to compare against if they ever think that their computer is running slow. Furthermore, the testing is signed by the agent who tested the system and has verified that the numbers are indeed correct. Maingear puts an extremely important focus on quality and testing and their product information binder is no different. So much so, that in the testing they actually indicate what version BIOS is installed as well as graphics card and motherboard drivers. The guy that tested our system was Gustavo as we can see with his signature. They also include the motherboard layout stickers on the inside of the binder if you ever need to find something on the board or don’t know what something may be.
System Build Quality and Design
The Maingear system itself is built upon a steel body encased by an aluminum outer shell. This enables the case to look very sleek, and be slightly lighter than other cases that would be entirely steel. If you compare this case to its close brother the raven, this case is significantly better because it isn’t made of a plastic shell which makes it more durable and honestly better looking.
When we took a look at the system, we noticed that Maingear neatly taped the door hiding the optical disk drives shut with a single piece of scotch tape. This thoughtful thing will prevent the door from swinging out during shipment and unpacking and, heck, even installation. Going around the case we notice that they opted for a two-button setup with the power and reset buttons in the front of the case.
They also opted for a top-mounted card reader with headphone and mic jacks to make access easy. The one thing that we wished that they had included or had as an option was USB 3.0 ports on these front ports since the motherboard has USB 3.0 and accessing those isn’t necessarily easy since they’re covered by the top grill. That brings us to the next aspect of this case.
Remembering one of the key features of this case, the 90 degree rotation of the motherboard tray, it results in all of the connectivity being at the top of the case. This creates an interesting conundrum because it provides better cooling, but it also creates an aesthetic problem. Maingear resolves this issue by creating a top plate that covers the cables from plain view but still retains the case its ventilation advantages. This top plate is aesthetically very well designed and improves the overall look of the case while improving functionality as well. Our only gripe with this aspect of the case’s design is that it requires a Phillips screwdriver in order to remove the panel as it is secured by 4 screws. We would have rather liked them to have used some tool-less mechanism to avoid needing to find a screwdriver every time we need to unplug or plug something in. Yes, Maingear does provide a multi-tool with a Phillips head, but it would make the user’s life easier if they were some sort of tool-free mechanism.
Inside of the case, we take a look at the quality of the cable management and the overall design of the case. Taking a look at the snapshot of the inside we can see that the case is indeed quite spacious for components and drives. The case supports up to 6 internal 3.5 or 2.5” drives and 3 drives in the drive bay with a spot for a floppy drive. Looking at the actual cable management we can see that Maingear did their best to get cables neatly tucked away and out of sight. Their cable management of the power cables and SATA cables was definitely some of the best we’ve ever seen in a computer and the utter lack of visible cables made looking at the internals just that much more appealing.
Even on the back of the motherboard tray, we can see how they managed to achieve such nice cable management and even behind the motherboard tray the cable management is quality. Everything is properly zip tied and secured to the case to prevent any sort of vibration, knocking, or unsightly appearances. Also, the water cooling setup is done so well that at first most people wondered where the radiator was for the water cooling system since it was so well integrated into the chassis.
The configuration that Maingear opted for was that they installed the primary SSD in the 2nd bay(empty one) from the left and the data drive in the 1st bay from the left. Furthermore, they pre-wired the 1st 4 bays with backplanes to make installation easy for anyone wanting to add more storage. On top of that, they made sure that both hard drives were plugged into the SATA 6G ports (colored blue). They also installed the Blu-ray drive in the bottom of the 3 expansion bays as well. Beyond those observations we decided to move onto the next part, setting it up for the first time.
Setup and First Boot
Upon actually placing the computer on our desk we realized something. Because of the inherent design of the computer... even though it was taller and a bit wider than our Lian-Li case, it did not exhaust heat in the back which allowed us to orient the computer in such a way that we gained quite a bit more desktop space which allowed us to more comfortably place our keyboard, mouse, and monitor.
Also, immediately upon hooking everything up and powering the computer on all of our devices immediately worked and only one driver update was needed for our Logitech Orbit Cam. Otherwise, our keyboard (G15), mouse (G500), dual monitors (24”), and other devices connected flawlessly.
Upon boot, the computer booted effortlessly on first boot regardless of the devices connected and our dual monitor setup automatically configured itself without issue. After that, we immediately jumped to the BluRay drive that this computer had pre-installed and worked after an update had been applied to the Cyberlink BluRay DVD software. This did take a bit of time and would have been nice to possibly already have updated, but nevertheless but it took but only a few seconds.
We also thought that that a link to a program like Ninite would be pretty nice. It would help users quickly customize their computers with the software that they like without actually installing anything before they get the computer meanwhile still making it extremely quick and easy.
While using the computer we noticed that it was quiet enough that we could comfortably leave it on at night and barely even hear it. It is nearly inaudible outside five feet. One interesting fact that seemed to be a little unique that most builders don’t even consider is Bluetooth. This system has built in Bluetooth which enables the easy connection of Bluetooth mouses, keyboards, and headsets allowing for even more seamless and wireless enjoyment.
Technical Support and Customer Service
When it comes to technical support and customer service, a system manufacturer must surpass expectations and do everything they can do make the customer feel taken care of. Maingear is no different; during the course of our review we experienced some issues with a Solid State Drive. We promptly called their support on a Saturday and ended up talking to Gus (we believe the same guy that built our system). Yes, Maingear is a relatively small system builder… but they’ve been around for a while and they put a very personal touch to every system they build. This is why they offer the lifetime technical support and do extensive burning on all systems for 24 to 48hrs before they go out.
The wait time for our technical support calls was nearly instantaneous almost every single time we called and they actually knew their technical support procedures and were good at explaining what they wanted done. Furthermore, they didn’t treat me like an idiot and frankly, I don’t think he realized that I was a reviewer calling about a review system until towards the end of the call.
Eventually it was determined that the SSD was bad and needed to be replaced. Instead of making me send the system in, they overnighted out a replacement SSD already formatted and OS installed with necessary drivers. All that one would need to do would be to swap the hotswap bays and reboot. That simplicity and shortness of downtime is clearly one of the reasons that Maingear’s technical support is above all others. These were indicated to be standard procedure for a system that has a hardware failure. Of course, for more major failures like a motherboard or CPU they would likely take shipment of the whole system rather than have the customer re-build the system entirely.
Synthetic Benchmarks and Gaming
We decided to opt for PCMark7 since it literally came out a few days after we began writing this review. From here on out, all of our system reviews will utilize PCMark7 since the last version was PCMark05 and that is a fairly dated benchmark. Since PCMark7 is so new, you will find it hard to quantify this against other systems and system reviews. We consider this a beginning of the comparisons and it will be helpful to use to compare against our other system reviews in the future as well.
We ran PCMark7 on an Alienware M14X with a Core i7 2630M and Nvidia GeForce GT555 and that system got around 3000, approximately half of this system. We mostly attribute that to the fact that this system is running both SLI and the CPU at 4.8GHz. We then checked our score against the current HWBot records and saw that this system would have placed 18th in the world for PC Mark 7 on HWBot. That is no small achievement and we believe with a few tweaks here and there it could easily make its way to the top 10.
3DMark Vantage – All 4 Tests
For Vantage, we ran the system with PhysX disabled and at ‘stock’ settings. Meaning we didn’t tweak any settings beyond how the system shipped to us. Here are our results.
As you can see, in all three tests the Maingear Shift scored quite well, but lacked some GPU umph since the GPUs were stock clocked and as a result got similar scores to most other Core i7 2600K + SLI GeForce 560Ti systems. These scores aren’t bad at all, but they are also still synthetic and as a result don’t necessarily fully represent the gaming capability of the system but rather the graphical capability. We also checked HWBot to confirm our performance score was about right and it seemed to be quite accurate.
3DMark 11 – 3 Tests
For 3DMark 11 we disabled PhysX as well just to be sure, but the scores should be unaffected by PhysX as 3DMark 11 removes the Nvidia advantage with the CPU test and PhysX with a different Physics engine. Below you can see our results from all three tests and the results (when compared to similarly built systems) were in middle of the bell curve of systems. So, this system didn’t graphically outperform others by much, but it also didn’t underperform either. Since this test is mostly a test of graphical capability and the GPUs were not overclocked, it isn’t necessarily surprising to see such performance. Once again, checking HWBot yields a similar result in 3DMark 11 showing that against similarly clocked and built systems it performs properly.
In SiSandra, we ran three different benchmarks to compare and contrast the 2600K against other processors as well as a stock clocked 2600K. This way it would be a little easier to see the benefit of getting an overclocked system over a fully stock clocked one.
In the Arithmetic Test, the Shift attained 113.35GFLOPS compared to the stock clocked 2600K at 68.64GFLOPS, this is an increase of 60% over the stock clocked model. Taking into consideration that this processor is overclocked 41%, this is a pretty nice achievement. It also more than doubles the AMD Phenom 2 X6 1090T (which is now considered a dated CPU as of a few days ago).
In the 2nd Arithmetic Test, the Shift performed well against against the stock 2600K and Phenom 2 1090T, but was still beaten by the Core i7 980X which is a 6 Core Intel processor with triple-channel memory bandwidth.
Finally, in the Multimedia Test, the same results occurred with the Shift beating out the Turbo Mode 980X in floating calculations but losing in integer calculations.
In Cinebench, the Maingear Shift system performed the best we’ve seen out of any system or CPU to date. This even outperformed a 12-Core Magny-Cours processor which scored a 7.95. Our Core i7 975 rig only scored a measly 6.04 compared to the 4.8GHz 9.37 score that the Core i7 2600K obtained. Needless to say, we were very impressed by this score and it proves that this CPU clocked at this speed is nearly untouchable.
For AIDA, we ran a series of CPU benchmarks to show the performance differences between the stock and overclocked CPU and to indicate the value of getting this system overclocked over stock speeds.
In the Queen test, the Overclocked 2600K beats both the 6-Core 990X and the 8-Core Xeon X5550 even though they beat the stock 2600 by a fair margin.
In the PhotoWorx test, the Overclocked Shift once again beats everything else, even if by a small margin. It beats out the 8-Core Xeon again, even though the Xeon beat the stock 2600 by a good 12%.
In the ZLib test, the Maingear system beats every single competitor out again. This time the Maingear beat out the Magny-Cours 12-Core CPU even though it beats the stock 2600K, 8-Core Xeon, and Core i7 990X. This shows that when overclocked and cooled properly, a $300 chip can outperform nearly anything thanks to impeccable design. Another thing to notice is that the Maingear overclocked CPU got a score of 374.5 MB/s compared to the stock 2600
In the AES test, the Maingear Shift system takes the cake once gain above all competitors and simply continues to obliterate everything in sight if even only by a small margin.
In the Hash test, though, the Overclocked Maingear Shift CPU cannot make up for its design differences and lack of cores and ends up placing in 6th behind the 8-Core Xeon, 6-Core 990X and 12-Core Magny-Cours. Clearly, Hashing is not the Core i7 2600K’s strong suit and almost appears to be a direct correlation to how many cores are used in the processor.
FPU VP8 test showing the Maingear Shift's dominance.
FPU Juloa showing yet another test where the Maingear Shift dominates.
FPU Mandel showing once again that an overclocked Sandybridge beats all.
FPU SinJulia showing that the Core i7 2600K doesn't always win mainly due to 6-Core and 8-Core intel chips having more memory bandwidth and raw processing power but not by much.
We also threw in some Floating Point Tests as well just to be fair since it is important to see Floating Point performance as well.
As you can see again, in all but one of the tests the Maingear System takes #1 and does so by a significant margin.
The simple fact is that the Core i7 2600K overclocked to 4.8GHz is a sweet spot beyond imagination and allows for nearly silent gaming while outperforming every single CPU in nearly every single CPU test. We also ran a stress test on the system to verify that the clockspeeds were indeed stable ones for gaming, rendering, etc.
We concluded that the system was indeed quite stable as you can see from the charts. You can see our full system stress test graphs to confirm the temperatures and fan speeds as well. We ran this test for nearly 7 hours, which we considered to be a ‘longer’ gaming session. If you can see from the tests, we were stressing the memory, hdds, and CPU. You can also see the voltages and how stable they remained during full load. Maingear obviously did quite a bit of quality testing on this system and it shows.
In Dirt 3 we played an entire level from start to finish running three laps and running everything at maximum settings at 1920x1080 resolution. We used fraps to record from start to finish and to measure the minimum, maximum and average frames. We got a minimum frame rate of 43 FPS, an average for 74 FPS and a maximum of 101 FPS. This translates to the fact that even though this is a brand new game, the Maingear Shift with Dual GeFore GTX 560Ti’s in SLI combined with the 2600K @ 4.8GHz manhandles it like it was an old game.
In Metro 2033, we played through the first level of the game once again on full settings. This game has been known to bring systems to their knees with all of its graphical features and detail. Even at 1920x1080 and at full settings the system was able to maintain an average FPS of 50 and a maximum of 114 while only dipping down as far as 24 FPS. Although 24 FPS does seem like it would be a worrisome frame rate, we did not once appear to experience any actual lag.
Since Portal 2 is also a newer game we chose to include it, even though the engine it is based upon isn’t necessarily as intensive as the other two. In portal 2, we decided to play through the first full level entirely and obtained expectedly sky high frame rates. The minimum frame rate for Portal 2 was 152 FPS and the Average was 249 FPS with the Maximum frame rate peaking at 302 FPS.
Based on our findings, you shouldn’t have any problems playing any new games on this system. Be those games that launch today, or months away… like Battlefield 3 or Skyrim.
When it comes to value, you first have to realize that this system costs $2,899 and that a lot of that price has to do with the quality of the build as well as the support that they offer since all Maingear systems come with a standard 2 year warranty and lifetime support, which is already something you know you can’t expect from most if any system builders without paying a couple hundred dollars. Then you consider things like build quality, documentation, and quality of service and you begin to realize that a lot of people will find the value of building such a computer without even worrying about whether or not the parts will work or if it’ll boot at first boot or having issues with something working. These things generally don’t happen with this kind of a system, and when they do. They do what any good customer service does, take care of it so fast that you don’t even remember that you even had a problem. As such, we consider that there are quite a bit of added values to the Maingear Shift system (like a 41% OC on the CPU for only $49) that really make it worth the sticker price and you won’t find yourself with sticker shock or buyer’s remorse. You know what you’re getting yourself into.
The Maingear Shift is by far one of the slickest and best built systems that we have encountered from recent history and we would gladly entrust our friends and family with a system from Maingear. There were admittedly some bumps on the road, but that happens. How those bumps were dealt with ultimately determined how Maingear was evaluated as a company and builder because no matter what, you ultimately only care about the company that builds your computer when you have problems. And since Maingear has been around for a while, we don’t really expect you to have to worry about them going anywhere but up. As such, we want to award the Maingear Shift our Editor’s Choice Prosumer because this system is obviously for the very serious consumer who already knows what they want.
A special thanks to the guys and girls at Maingear that made this review possible, they worked hard with us to make it happen.