Xi Mtower HAF-SLI
At a Glance
This rig sacrifices some graphical prowess to achieve blazing overclocked performance at a killer price.
The Xi Mtower HAF-SLI gaming desktop is an overclocker's dream. We haven't seen a vendor push a CPU as far as Xi has dared to go here, and it's a testament to the company's craftsmanship: It ratchets up a 3.33-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8600 to 4.5-GHz of computing power on nothing but a typical--albeit bulky--Cooler Master air cooler.
The surprisingly stable $3184 system (as of November 11, 2008), sports 4GB of DDR3-1333 memory and a striped RAID of the fastest consumer hard drives on the market, Western Digital's 10,000-rpm Velociraptors. The downside is that you only get 600GB of space to work with--actually less once you factor in the size of the included 32-bit Windows Vista Home Premium operating system. But that OS is a strange choice given its inability to use the HAF-SLI's full 4GB of memory. Xi includes a 24-inch Samsung 2443BWX LCD into the system package for an additional $365, although we don't include the performance of this above-average display in our ratings.
If you ignore the undersized hard-drive capacity and odd choice of OS, you'll enjoy the HAF-SLI's punishing performance. Its score of 163 on our WorldBench 6 benchmarks matches the top gaming desktop we've tested, Falcon Northwest's Intel Core i7-based Mach V--an impressive feat, given the technological gap between the HAF-SLI's older Wolfdale processor and the Mach V's brand-new Nehalem processor.
We only wish that Xi tuned up its graphics to match its system's breathtaking CPU performance. As it stands, the system's two EVGA e-GeForce 9800 GTX video cards--even in an SLI configuration--are beginning to show their age. The latest Radeon HD 4870 X2 offerings from ATI crush these cards into the dust, and the Xi's paired 9800 GTX cards fall a bit short on the higher-resolution gaming tests we run. The average of 46 frames per second that we saw in our Enemy Territory: Quake Wars test at 2500 by 1600 with 4X antialiasing turned on is almost half that of the performance we saw on systems using a single 4870 X2.
The HAF-SLI's name partly arises from the system's case, a Cooler Master HAF 932 chassis. On this, we commend Xi for selecting a case that's as beautiful as it is innovative and downright exciting. With built-in support for water-cooling reservoirs, and screwless options for all potential upgrades, there is nothing that this case can't do well. You can cram one more video card into the case's free PCI Express x16 slot, and it also offers open bays for three additional 5.25-inch devices and three hard drives.
Included with the system are two Lite-on DVD writers: a DH-20A4H with LightScribe and a DH-20A4P. The ample connectivity options in the case nearly equal those of the system's motherboard: The front of the case sports four USB ports, one Firewire 400, one eSATA, and a built-in multicard reader that should take just about any memory card you have on hand. The EVGA 790i motherboard supports 6 USB devices, one FireWire 400, and one eSATA, along with two ethernet ports, built-in 5.1 surround sound, and both optical and coaxial SPDIF outputs. The included Logitech keyboard and mouse trade away a little of the better "gaming" elements for wireless functionality. We like the handiness of it all, but it would nevertheless be nice to see DPI toggles on the mouse.
If you can stomach a bit of a loss on the graphics end of the gaming spectrum, the HAF-SLI's overclocked insanity of a system offers more than we'd ever expect to see at its floor-scraping price point.