- Excellent performance
- Surprisingly quiet
In a category satiated with impressive performance (and daunting price tags), Maingear tops the charts — for better, and for worse.
Maingear’s Shift has sat at the upper end of the Performance desktop category for nearly a year, besting the latest and greatest that competitors had to offer with a combination of top-tier components, a strong overclock, and painstaking attention to detail.
But quite a bit has changed in the last few months. The relative newcomers at Origin offered up a pair of desktops — the $7000 Genesis and the $3600 Genesis Midtower — that bested the original Shift in general performance on our WorldBench 6 benchmarks.
Maingear’s response: a new $8000 (as configured, as of 12/31/2010) Shift, fitted with “Super Stock” options. It’s an updated variant of the previous Shift, tailored for extreme performance, and style. The super stock Shift is powered by the venerable Core i7-980X Extreme Edition processor, a mainstay in the Performance category. The CPU has been overclocked to 4.35GHz, from its stock speed of 3.33GHz. There’s also 6GB of DDR3-2000 RAM, and four 128GB SSDs, arranged in RAID. That much solid state storage might feel a bit excessive, but you’ll be getting exactly what you pay for: the Super Stock Shift is the first machine to break 200 on PCWorld’s WorldBench 6 benchmark suite, earning a 203.
That’s a mere 9 points higher than the Origin Genesis, for an extra $1000. What gives?
First, there’s the signature Shift case. We’ve seen this chassis before: in the last Shift, and models sporting a similarly styled chassis, like Digital Storm’s Black Ops Assassin. But let’s review: Heat flows upward, and the Shift accommodates by rotating the motherboard 90 degrees. The latest variant adds a large, relatively quiet fan down in the case’s midsection. It pushes the heat generated by the massive GPUs up and out of the case through the roof, keeping the decibels low by preventing the cards from relying too heavily on their own cooling solutions.
While tool-free, the case is kind of a pain to get into — the side walls are latched securely, and take a fair bit of effort to tug off. That said, the Shift’s bold red interior is striking, and reveals a great deal of care. Wiring is tidy, as everything is routed from the main cabin over to a compartment on the opposite side of the chassis, where cables are tied down and arrayed against the side wall. Unlike the previous model, the innards are readily visible through a large window, and a bright white LED light strip illuminates the components inside. You’ll definitely want to show off your investment, as it all looks rather impressive.
Superior gaming performance comes care of Nvidia’s Geforce GTX 580 — three of them, to be precise. In our Unreal Tournament benchmark (2560-by-1600 resolution, highest settings), the Shift saw 226 frames per second — the Genesis’ three GTX 480s earned 208 frames per second. In Codemasters’ Dirt 2, the Shift cranked out 207.1 frames per second, against the Genesis’ 190 frames per second.
The overclocked CPU is kept in check with liquid cooling (complete with a custom, Maingear-branded reservoir), and the tubing is sparse enough to stay out of the way. If you decide to upgrade the CPU or swap out the motherboard later on down the road, you’ll need to be prepared for a bit of wetwork.
Three of the available RAM slots are free, as are two of the 5.25-inch drive bays; the Shift includes a Blu-ray burner, and a DVD burner. There are also four more hard drive bays — like its predecessor, hard drives are stored on sliding trays and can be slid in with ease. There’s room for four more 3.5-inch drives, or eight more 2.5-inch SSDs.
The rest of the hardare (optical drives and GPUs, specifically) aren’t tool free, so you’ll need to break out the screwdriver if you want to tinker. The massive GPUs take up all of the available PCI space on the motherboard, and also leave the case feeling a bit cramped. If you have a few add-in cards to consider, you’ll need to sacrifice a bit of gaming performance.
The vertically-mounted motherboard makes accessing the Shift’s connections easy, as the computer’s rear-end is now on top. You’ll find 7.1 channel analog and SPDIF optical audio ports, an eSata port, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a PS/2 serial keyboard port, a gigabit ethernet port, and 6 USB ports. One of these USB ports is co-opted by the pop-up panel that sits on top of the case, which offers quick acess to a multi-format card reader, Firewire port, and the requisite headphone and microphone jacks. The Shift’s motherboard also offers a Bluetooth receiver.
Like the previous model, a removable grille preserves airflow and masks the wiring, giving the machine a seamless profile. The cables that would typically protrude from the rear of a desktop can be snaked through a gap in the brackets that form the lid.
The Shift arrived with a plastic binder-case, containing all of the manuals you would’ve received had you ordered the components yourself, as well as a user manual that details the ins-and-outs of the chassis. This includes software for making use of the Blu-ray burner, spare cables for the modular, 1500W power supply, and miscellaneous screws. The package includes a build log signed by the technician who worked on the machine, so you’ll have a direct point of contact if you have any questions or concerns. Oh, and the Maingear-branded mouse pad is a nice touch.
Price isn’t a factor in our reviews, and it becomes especially superfluous when reviewing built-to-order systems. But the Super Stock Shift still sits in a precarious position. You’ll be hard pressed to match the blisteringly fast data transfer rates offered by the solid state drives. And where general performance is concerned, it is the fastest machine we’ve ever reviewed — but only a scant 4.6% faster, by our tests. Maingear’s signature style shines, and the internal paint job and lighting is sure to appeal to your inner aesthetician. But you’ll have to decide if the Super Stock glitz is worth the price.