The bottom line is that the system is definitely worth the price-tag. It will slaughter every game currently on the market with ease, and chew up your daily computer-centric routines. If you have always been interested in having a superior gaming rig, but don't trust yourself to build one, or just want someone else to blame when things inevitably go wrong, then you can't really ask for much more than this.
+Serious bragging rights
+Ability to smoke any game currently on the market
+Support staff behind it, should anything go wrong
-Rather pricey build
-Caters to an unusual crowd (enthusiasts that don't DIY)
Over the last couple of weeks I've had the honour of test-driving Memory Express' first over-clock PC build. It was left in my 'capable' hands to try and break the thing, while also testing out what kind of performance it could deal out as both a home computer (handling my day-to-day tasks like editing podcasts, writing, video editing, and other such boring-talk), as well as a gaming rig. Fans of gaming rigs in general are likely to appreciate everything that went into this, but it was also a phenomenal improvement to my work-life, increasing my workflow about 50 times over... and thus allowing for that much more time on Reddit.
The Experience of the PC
The thing about a PC build review is that it's pretty hard to provide an opinionated review. Hardware is generally pretty clearly benchmarked, compared, and at the end of the day it will all come down to what the best the industry has to offer is, versus what kind of money you have to shell out. With those two being the primary notes of comparison shopping, what Memory Express has attempted (by specifically building a rig for the purposes of overclocking) isn't a real bad idea, and the short of it is that if you're looking for a power-house out of the box for around $3,000, the system that their build experts have thrown together isn't a bad one.
In full disclosure, because this is a first-attempt at building an over-clocked PC for the company, I did experience some hiccups with the machine during the course of my "hands-on" with it. The most notable issue being that the original operating system drive that was installed (a Patriot 120GB SSD) tended to have some small issues... with being read as connected to the system. A minor problem, in that if the PC was left on for more than 4 hours it would blue-screen, after which restarting the computer became hit-or-miss as to whether it would start back up again.
The fortunate part of the story is that it allows me to talk a little about the customer service experience of Memory Express. Because there was such a large issue with the build straight out the gate, it meant an opportunity to find out what the builders would do about resolving the problem.
Sceptics out there are probably already folding their arms and leaning back in their chair to look down their nose at the experience I had: "But Casey," I hear you say, "As a reviewer you would of course be given preferential treatment, a speedy-turn around and all the bells-and-whistles." Which is a fair point, and part of the reason I discussed with the team that it might not be fair of me to rate the customer service experience as someone that was provided materials for review.
However, I will say that within an hour of me bringing the PC in, I was able to swap out the existing Patriot drive for a more stable Crucial M4 128GB. This included having all my info cloned from the original drive. When asked if this was standard, employees confirmed this would be exactly the same for anyone that had purchased the PC from them outside of the media, with the only difference being that I didn't have to wait in line at the service counter.
So other than a few minor bumps in the build that needed to be ironed out, how does the thing run? A great question and personal thanks from me to you for asking!
To compare the rig I currently have (a 5 year old Dell that I picked up through an employee discount at the job I was working previous to Shogun) would be ridiculous. It's like stepping a thousand years into the future. There is no comparison because it smokes my current PC on every level. To be fair though, it is a reason to look at upgrading. The excuse of "well it does everything I need it to" really no longer flies after playing with this customer-built over-clocked monster for a couple of weeks, and it's become abundantly clear it's time for a personal upgrade at home as well.
The time to render video has been cut down from hours to minutes. The rendering of audio takes mere seconds. Every single "current gen" game in existence can be run on the highest of settings without any frame-rate loss at all (remind me to tell you about Crysis 2 with the Direct X 11 and High-Res Texture Pack add-ons running at a steady 60fps later on). Which is important, because while generally people may specifically talk about what goes into a computer, and how it can run the current-gen game (or in the case of games like Crysis, next-gen) it's important to remember that the PC is going to be handling a wide variety of other task which can also be improved by having a proper PC (okay, so you might not render video/audio on the regular, but knowing that you can do it in a much shorter span of time is a testament to this things power).
In short, the thing has been a god-send, and I'm not really looking forward to giving it up... but I definitely appreciate the time I have spent with it and at the very least it's turned me on to the idea of building a custom gaming PC again for proper.
So, I'm happy with it, but what's in it?
Let's Talk About Specs
Ah the break-down... To be honest, this is a little more in-depth than I've done in the past for the site, but I am a fan of hardware, always have been. For people that aren't overly concerned with PC hardware, but are for some reason interested in cars, I've often compared a LAN party to that of a car show. It's bunch of guys getting together to talk about their rigs, the power behind it, and more often than not there's a bit of case-pride as well.
So, what do you get for shelling out 3Gs of your hard-earned coin? In short: Bragging rights. I had the opportunity to take this thing to a LAN during my time with it, showed it off to a bunch of enthusiasts, and wound up looking like the bell of the ball. That alone might be worth it to some consumers... but in case any else asks, here's the skinny on everything the build has to offer:
Maximus IV Extreme-Z - A gaming-centric board with all the bells and whistles. It makes the rig look slick as hell, and keeps everything in place nicely. Honestly, the MotherBoard isn't something that'll get a whole lot of "oohs" and "ahhs" but it does help that it can work all the bits and pieces individually.
The Intel i7 2600K - The brains behind the computer. This chip is not only one of the best out there on the market currently, but one that's perfect for overclocking. During my time with the card I was permitted to push the boundaries of the chip, though never got too crazy with it. The boys in the lab (Memory Express) managed to get it up to 5.0 Ghz, but started to notice some performance issues, and backed it off slowly to find that 4.5 Ghz could be used without any performance issues and run a nice stable version of Windows 7 without problem.
Dual Radeon HD 6970 - The real bragging rights of the PC. Generally when PC gamers are talking about their rigs, the conversation turns quickly to discussion about their graphics cards. While this isn't currently the newest card in the Radeon line (the 6990s are out now), it is a card that is one of the highest rated out there, and there are TWO of these bad-boys in there cranking out top-notch graphics.
GSKILL F3-12800CL9D-8GBSR2 - A whole lot of numbers that boils down to two sticks of 4GB RAM. Sure, you can always do with more, but GSkill is reliable and efficient, and generally put at the top of most builder's lists these days; not to mention that 8GB of RAM is NOTHING to turn your nose up at.
Crucial M4 128 SSD - The OS for the system was installed on a Crucial SSD, and being someone that was late to the game (still using an old clunky HDD) it's ridiculous what a game-changer having an SDD run your programs make. You may take a bit of a hit on real estate with the smaller drive size, but the performance difference is nothing short of ridiculous.
Western Digital 1TB 7200 RPM Black Edition - If you're a media person like me, you're probably going to burn through that 128GB SSD rather quickly, and that's why there's a 1TB back-up in the form of a traditional HDD. Plenty of room for all your pictures, movies and whatever else you like to back up, with the option to expand further if needed through the rigs three other empty drive bays.
Corsair AX 850W PSU - If Tim Taylor only knew... Talk about getting more power. My previous PC ran 600W, and I remember thinking that seemed like a lot at the time (that computer being built about 6 years previous), this thing out-puts like no one's business and Corsair has itself a pretty high mark for reliability.
Thermalright Silver Arrow CPU Cooler - As a child of the 90s I remember the days when it was all about water-cooled systems, and to be fair there are still plenty out there, but Silver Arrow has taken the top position with most builders. I was sceptical when the guys at Memory Express told me the Silver Arrow was more efficient then a lot of water-cooled systems, but after putting this thing through its paces over a couple of weeks and never needing to even increase the fan-speed, I'm quite impressed.
Thermaltake Level 10 GT Snow Edition - This case is constantly referred to by all I know who have seen it as 'unique.' Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and whether you like the case or not is a personal call at the end of the day. For my money though, I appreciate the design and I like that when this beast is brought to a LAN party everyone rushes over to check it out.
So there you have it, the order-list of everything that went into the machine. Enthusiasts will probably be able to tell right away why I said the machine comes with bragging rights, we'll talk about performance here shortly for the rest of you.
Another point that the enthusiast market may have picked up on by this point is that you could easily build this rig with the parts listed for cheaper. It's a fair point, but you get what you pay for. Sure you could buy all the parts together individually and build the thing yourself for less, but this is a consumer model, built in-house with the added benefit of having a team behind it that will take care of it.
The real meat of the review, below is where I'll break down the actual performance of the rig. I've included several benchmarks of a couple of major game titles, along with some comparisons of load times for a few programs and tasks versus a cheap "that'll do" rig.
Note: The images below represent the scores given by the individual benchmarking tests (Windows/3D Mark/Heaven). If you're unfamiliar with their systems and what the numbers mean, it's highly recommended to take a look at their sites : Windows Performance, 3D Mark 11, Heaven Benchmark.
The images have also been shrunk to fit on the page, click the picture to enlarge any of the images to full-size.
Windows 7 Perfomance Results:
3D Mark (Low Test for CPU):
3D Mark (Medium):
3D Mark (High):
Heaven DX11 Benchmark (Low): Heaven DX11 Bench (Med):
Heaven DX11 Bench (High):
Explanation of the Build:
Generally speaking there are certain 'archetypes' that most builders will adhere to. Intel processors will generally go hand-in-hand with an Nvidia Card, while AMD tends to match with itself (processor and graphics card). However, this build bucks the tradition and takes a little from the best of both worlds, and I managed to get a little information about the build from the designer directly, which is included in the short video-walkthrough below.
The portion of the build that impressed me the most are the small touches to the case design and the way the system is set up. The interior of the case is clean and easy to view/get at any individual part of the PC. The ports are plentiful, easy to access and are USB 3.0; which smokes the transfer speed of the traditional 2.0 that we've all come to accept as the industry standard. There are plenty of other small touches as well, like the contact-wiring that lines the outside of the case so that you don't need to worry about severing a wire when you pull the side-panel open; along with a host of other elegant touches that keeps everything clean and simple. Together it makes for an extremely hassle-free system, which has the support of its builders behind it... The only real downside that I could come up for the system, as a relative outsider, was who it was meant to be for.
In total the system will run about $2,900.00, which is nothing to scoff at. It's a fair investment, and considering the guys at the shop were able to get the CPU up to 4.2 GHz safely, you're going to be set for years to come. However, the price is a bit of a barrier for entry. Generally the enthusiast market is a "build your own type" and those will recognize that you could build this system for cheaper if you slapped it all together yourself.
Of course that would mean you're accountable yourself for whatever goes wrong in the system, but still the fact remains you're going to be paying a bit of a premium to have Memory Express put it all together for you... Which leads me back to my original point: The machine seems to be marketed towards a gaming enthusiast crowd, but those that lack the technological knowledge or desire to build their own rig, which seems like a weird sub-set of PC gamers.
The bottom line is that the system is definitely worth the price-tag. It will slaughter every game currently on the market with ease, and chew up your daily computer-centric routines, laughing while it does it. The system will guarantee you being at the top of the food chain for quite a while yet, PC gaming wise, and also ensures that you're going to be set for a personal work computer for years to come as well. If you have always been interested in having a superior gaming rig, but don't trust yourself to build one, or just want someone else to blame when things inevitably go wrong, then you can't really ask for much more than this.
Interested in picking up one of these bad-boys, or just want to look at the system break-down from Memory Express directly? Here's the link to the system on their site: