Its limitations in one game aside, the Ephex also offers a broad array of secondary hardware options, and Maingear uses this system as an opportunity to flex its tweaking muscles. For one, our system's quad-core CPU came overclocked and water-cooled. The water-cooling is a compact unit that keeps the cables and internal hardware tucked out of the way near the top of the system. We also like that Maingear makes the full implications of overclocking easy to understand on its Web site. If you opt for overclocking, which will always be from 3.0GHz to 4.0GHz with the Core 2 Extreme QX9650, the CPU price stays the same, but, as Maingear explains, you'll also have to choose the water-cooling hardware upgrade, a $200 add-on over the price of the stock Intel CPU cooler. Not every site that claims to sell overclocked PCs spells out what that really means.
In addition to the overclocking, the specs and features of this system cover most of your high-end bases. While combo HD drives no longer seem so exciting, the Blu-ray/HD DVD drive in the Ephex gives you plenty of HD format flexibility (although we wouldn't put this giant tower desktop in the living room). And if you decide to upgrade the graphics cards, the 1,000-watt power supply should leave you with a fair amount of power headroom down the road. Maingear also offers AMD CPUs and Nvidia SLI-based graphics on the Ephex if you want to mix up your parts.
For other config changes, Maingear offers the typical options, from displays, to mice and keyboards, to hard drives of various sizes. You can save a little money (and probably not lose too much performance) if you opt for DDR2 memory instead of the DDR3 RAM in our system. You can also choose a solid-state hard drive, although be prepared for some sticker shock, as the 32GB model goes for around $950. The card expansion slots are tied up in this config with the two double-wide 3D cards and a sound card, but if you'd like to make upgrades yourself post-purchase, Maingear's top-notch craftsmanship makes it easy. The cables are all routed neatly, leaving you with unhindered access to the free memory and hard drive slots. The hard drives face outward, and you also get two removable drive cages, so you can cram even more storage inside with little trouble.
Maingear brags about its service and support often, and by all accounts, it lives up to its own hype. The default warranty gives you three years of parts and labor coverage, which is among the longest warranty plans around. Toll-free phone support is not open 24-7, but instead from a still-reasonable 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET, Monday through Saturday. Online, Maingear offers download links to a collection of free system security downloads, including AVG Anti-Virus and Spybot--Search & Destroy. You also get handy driver downloads. There's no direct support chat feature, but Maingear does have a knowledge base, as well as fairly active and helpful user forum.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM, 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8600 GT graphics card; two 320GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drives
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.3GHz AMD Phenom 9600; 3GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM, 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive
Windows Vista Ultimate; 4.0GHz (overclocked) Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650; 2GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 512MB ATI Radeon HD 3870 graphics cards; (2) 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm hard drives; 750GB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium; 3.2GHz (overclocked) Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM, 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive
Windows Vista Ultimate; 2.7GHz (overclocked) Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 320GB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS graphics card; two 320GB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drives