True to its style of building tricked-out systems, Maingear has launched its first foray into AMD's Phenom II architecture: a souped-up, overclocked machine dubbed the Dash. Since the capacity for overclocking is a large component of AMD's Phenom II X4 940 Black Edition processor, we were quite curious to see how an overpowered system would fare against PCs based on Intel's Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad, and Core i7 processors. The Dash holds its own against most tested value PCs (rightly so, as its $1499 price is at the top end of the category), but struggles against most of the desktops in our Top 10 Power PCs chart, some of which cost only a few hundred dollars more.
On the Dash, the 3.0-GHz Phenom II Black Edition CPU has been overclocked to 3.4 GHz--not the most generous of overclocks, especially since enthusiasts have cranked the processor to a mind-blowing 6-GHz (using liquid nitrogen, of course, but that still leaves plenty of air-cooled leeway). The processor sits atop a DFI LanParty JR 790GX motherboard sporting 4GB of DDR2-800 RAM. (DDR2-1066 RAM would have been nice, but that omission isn't surprising in a $1499 machine.)
A single 500GB Western Digital hard drive provides the storage for the Dash, with a single Lite-On iHAS422-08 22X DVD-R burner serving as the machine's only optical offering. Keeping with the "extreme" feel of this value PC, the Dash comes with 64-bit Windows Home Premium preinstalled.
The Dash's graphical capabilities are absolutely potent. Two XFX ATI Radeon HD 4850 cards sit in CrossFire synchronization, offering a significant performance boost over all competing value PCs. We recorded average frames-per-second scores of 171 on our Doom 3 benchmark (1280 by 1024, antialiasing on) and 89 on our Unreal Tournament 3 benchmark (2560 by 2100 resolution at high quality settings)--performance that other value PCs, carrying single graphics cards, can't match. In fact, the Dash's gaming scores were good enough for it to place right in the middle of our power desktop PCs category: Only five other desktops beat its Doom 3 scores, and just three PCs surpassed its Unreal Tournament 3 scores. The Dash's WorldBench 6 score of 117 tied with the mark of the 3-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8400-equipped Micro Express MicroFlex 82B as the fastest score for a value PC.
Compared with the lengths Maingear goes to for the hardware inside the PC, the company's approach to the machine's external components feels a little underdone: For one thing, the accompanying two-button mouse and 104-button keyboard look like they're an afterthought. Thankfully, the Dash's external connectivity isn't as ill-considered. The system has four USB connections, one HDMI, S/PDIF coaxial and optical outputs, one ethernet, and 5.1 surround sound on its rear. On the front of the Dash, a single FireWire 400 port makes an appearance alongside two USB ports and a multicard reader.
Maingear has designed its minitower case with the element of stealth in mind. But it's a frustrating arrangement, as you have to pull away one of the side panels to access the hidden front-panel connections. We would have much preferred to see the connections on the outside of the case. The combination of trailing wires and open front panels is just plain ugly.
Though the external design is a fixable issue, the Dash's internal expandability is not. We can't fault Maingear for the extremely tight mess of components and wires created by stuffing all that hardware into a portable midtower case--there's just no way to tidy it up, given the cramped confines. But the Dash's upgradability is almost nonexistent. We made out a bit of space for adding one extra hard drive, but that's it. Be prepared for a configuration nightmare should you ever choose a more-complex task such as pulling out a video card or swapping out some RAM.
True to form, Maingear includes a comprehensive set of support documents and discs alongside this system. You get Vista CDs, separate recovery discs, driver discs, and games, as well as specific manuals that come with handwritten benchmark evaluations of your as-shipped PC and a signed-off checklist of steps that the builders took prior to the machine's leaving Maingear's facilities. We don't often see that level of support detail. It's reassuring to know that should anything hit the fan with your Dash--whether the first time you turn it on or the five hundredth--you'll be well prepared to deal with the results.
While the Dash's processing performance is slightly lacking compared with that of power PCs priced only a few hundred dollars more, we have nothing but praise for its excellent graphical performance. You might not notice the effects of a 10-point WorldBench 6 difference in your day-to-day use of the Dash, but you'll definitely appreciate the higher frame rates this system lends to your games. Had Maingear decided to crank this system's overclocking even higher, the company might have been able to upset the big players with an underdog.
Maingear's Dash minitower desktop PC packs an overclocked Phenom II CPU and provides excellent graphics performance.
- Overclocked Phenom II CPU
- Excellent graphics performance
- Slightly pricier PCs have greater non-gaming speed