Maingear Potenza Super Stock review: Phenomenal gaming power, itty-bitty upgrade space

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CNET Editors' Rating

4 stars Excellent
  • Overall: 8.2
  • Design: 8.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Performance: 8.0
  • Service and support: 10.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good The Maingear Potenza Super Stock offers compact single -screen gaming performance in an attractive chassis.

The Bad The small case limits you to a single graphics card, and makes some upgrades a challenge.

The Bottom Line Accept the limitations of its scaled-down chassis, and the Maingear Potenza Super Stock will provide top-notch gaming horsepower in an attractive package.

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Thanks to a new series of SilverStone PC cases, Maingear has led the push for slimmer, trimmer gaming desktops this year. I'm still a fan of the columnar Maingear F131 I reviewed back in May. The shorter, similarly svelte Potenza offers a more affordable alternative.

At $2,149, this Super Stock variant of the Maingear Potenza still occupies high-end desktop territory. Gaming enthusiasts won't be shocked at that price tag, of course, but they might be impressed by just how much PC Maingear has crammed inside this tiny space. As long as you don't want a PC to tinker with, I would highly recommend the Maingear Potenza Super Stock as a maximum-detail, single-screen gaming desktop.

The Potenza charms you right out of the gate with its compact SilverStone FT03-Mini chassis. Maingear has slathered it in bright-red automotive paint (a $129 option), lending the whole package some glossy appeal, but even without the coloring, the case is attractive. It weighs just over 18 pounds, and measures about 15.5 inches high, with a footprint roughly 7.5 inches wide by 9.25 inches deep.

You'll also notice that the Potenza has a completely different layout from most standard gaming desktops. Rather than sticking the ports on the back of the PC, the motherboard is laid out to put the ports, and more importantly the graphics card vents, on the top. The benefit comes down to airflow. If the warm air rising from the CPU, the graphics card, and other internal components naturally wants to go up, why not let it? The fans inside still need to propel the air, but now they don't have to fight physics.

Whether you like what that means aesthetically is a different question. With the ports on top, that naturally means you need to run the power, video, and other cables from the top of the system as well. Maingear caps the Potenza with a removable plastic grille, and an opening at the top of the case routes the wiring to the back. I expect the cable layout won't bother most people interested in this PC (this is also not the first chassis with this layout), but it's a quirk of the design that could impact how you set it up.

In addition to the unusual cabling, the SilverStone case also has an uncommon tool-free panel design. Three of its four side panels are attached to the case via a set of pop-in plastic latches. The idea is to preserve the clean look of the exterior, and make it easier to get inside the case.

The two narrow panels interlock with tabs on two wider panels, so they're not completely independent of one another. You may also find that you need to take off all three panels regardless of the kind of internal adjustment you want to make. The overarching irony of the easy-remove panels, though, is that replacing or upgrading most internal components will present a huge challenge due to the cramped interior.

Maingear has done an admirable job of keeping the inside of the Potenza as tidy as possible. It crammed in a liquid cooling system, a full-size, double-wide graphics card, and two 2.5-inch hard drives. Swapping out all but the hard drives, though, will require above-average mechanical dexterity.

The drives at least live on a metal sled that comes off easily enough once you remove three Phillips-head screws. To remove the memory, you'll need to open both sides of the case and navigate the liquid cooling tubes and other cables. I didn't try removing the graphics card, only because it looked like such a tight fit that I wasn't sure I could get it back in.

Maingear Potenza Super Stock Digital Storm Ode V2 Level 4 Velocity Micro Edge Z55
Price $2,149 $2,499 $2,299
Motherboard chipset Intel Z77 Intel Z77 Intel X68
CPU 4.7GHz Intel Core i7-3770K (overclocked) 4.7GHz Intel Core i7-3770K (overclocked) 4.9Ghz Intel Core i7-2700K
Memory 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 (overclocked) (2) 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 (2) 1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti
Hard drives 30GB caching SSD, 1TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive 128GB SSD, 1TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive (2) 60GB Intel SSD, 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
Optical drive Dual-layer DVD burner Blu-ray reader/dual-layer DVD burner Blu-ray/dual-layer DVD burner
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)

Since this is a Super Stock variant of a Maingear PC, that means the company offers overclocking and a generally higher-end set of components. Maingear, as other vendors have done, bumps the Core i7-3770K chip in the Potenza to a 4.7GHz standard operating speed, up from its 3.4GHz default.

The chip tweaks put the Potenza Super Stock on par with the excellent, slightly more expensive Digital Storm Ode Level 4 . The Digital Storm costs $300 more, and has a larger, more traditional case, but also nets you a second graphics card, a Blu-ray drive, and a larger solid-state drive.

Unlike the Digital Storm, the Maingear's SSD is configured in caching mode. That means it's not a standalone storage volume, rather a sort of background file repository that speeds access times to the programs you use most frequently. It also speeds boot times.

Also of note: like many boutique gaming-PC vendors are doing with their machines, Maingear offers both Windows 7 and Windows 8 options for the Potenza Super Stock. Since Windows 8 doesn't bring any performance benefits, gamers should have no concerns about choosing the older operating system.

My personal preference draws me toward the Digital Storm system. You get more graphics processing headroom, as well as more storage and Blu-ray playback capability, plus better upgradability given the full-size chassis. That seems worth more than an extra $300. I wouldn't call the Maingear a bad deal at all though. Not everyone needs the benefits of the small chassis, but if you do, and you're ready to accept the limited upgrade path, the Potenza Super Stock is an eminently worthy gaming desktop.

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
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Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
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Cinebench
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Maingear Potenza Super Stock (Core i7-3770K, December 2012)
9.38 
1.99 

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Where to Buy See All

Maingear Potenza Super Stock (Core i5 3.1 GHz)

Part Number: idproduct=1250entrylevel
MSRP: $1,443.00 Low Price: $1,443.00 See all prices
About The Author

Rich Brown is an executive editor for CNET Reviews. He has worked as a technology journalist since 1994.