Maingear Prelude (AMD Phenom X4 9850) review: Maingear Prelude (AMD Phenom X4 9850)

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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Best value and game performance in its class; overclockable CPU; attractive compact design.

The Bad Upgrading requires a few extra steps; pricey wireless networking option; no easy-to-use overclocking software.

The Bottom Line The Maingear Prelude has the best bang for the buck among midrange gaming PCs. It also has a certain stocky visual appeal. It's missing a few features, and you'll have to jump through a few hoops to make upgrades, but on balance, this system is a great deal.

This product is available directly from the manufacturer's Web site.

8.4 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Service and support 8.0
  • Performance 9.0

Maingear's AMD midrange Prelude desktop clearly has the Dell XPS 630 in its sights. The Prelude is faster almost across the board and at $1,499 it's less expensive. Our only reservation is with its interior. The Prelude case is very attractive on the outside, but to achieve its unique, squat dimensions, Maingear had to do some creative component arranging, which results in a few extra steps for upgraders. If you don't see yourself playing with the hardware much and you're looking for a midrange gaming desktop, the Prelude is one of the best on the market right now for sheer bang for the buck. Upgraders shouldn't have too big a problem, either, as long as they're willing to accept a few minor inconveniences.

This is actually not the first time we've seen a PC with this kind of interior. Voodoo PC's Hexx from 2004 was actually worse. In that system, Voodoo put the power supply in front of the expansion slots, which meant an awkward removal process. The Prelude puts the system fan in front of the expansion slots, and the power supply in front of the CPU socket. Thankfully, the system fan is actually not that hard to take out. Simply remove four thumbscrews from the back panel and unplug the power connection and it comes right out.

The power supply is potentially a bigger issue. It's easy enough to move out of the way (remove four screws) if you want to upgrade the processor, but because it sits directly in front of the CPU socket, you can't use some of those larger CPU cooling fans and heat sinks. As we said, for anyone looking for a fast, externally attractive gaming desktop, the unique hardware arrangement is not a huge issue, but if you're shopping for a system that you might want to overhaul completely down the road, this is probably not the system for you.

From a value standpoint, the Prelude might be the best desktop on the market right now. We awarded the Dell XPS 630 an Editors' Choice award largely because of its fast performance and its value proposition, and the Prelude has better features and performance for roughly the same price.

Maingear Prelude Dell XPS 630
Price $1,513 $1,619
Motherboard chipset AMD 790X Nvidia NForce 650i SLI
CPU 2.5GHz AMD Phenom X4 9850 2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600
Memory 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 3870 (2) 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT
Hard drives 500GB, 7,200rpm 500GB, 7,200rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit

You can see on our comparison chart that the two are almost identical. The Maingear's chief advantage is that its graphics cards have more memory. The enthusiast-class AMD 790X chipset may have something to do with its faster performance as well. Maingear also offers more configuration options than the Dell, including CPUs from AMD and Intel and GPUs from AMD and Nvidia, as well as 64-bit Windows Vista, which gives your systems a higher RAM limit. We should add that although the Maingear seems $100 less in our comparison chart, the XPS 630 came with a Dell mouse and keyboard. The Maingear came with no input devices, although adding the two lowest end options bumps the price up by $45. Even then, the Prelude is still less expensive than the XPS 630, and as you'll see from our benchmarks, it's also faster on almost every test.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

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

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs
Rendering Single CPU
Uberclok Ion
Dell XPS 630
Maingear Prelude

You should also consider the $1,499 Falcon Northwest FragBox 2 as a direct competitor to the Prelude and the XPS 630. The three of them trade wins on our application tests, and the Maingear scores right where we expect it to. Its trouncing on iTunes by the FragBox 2 is likely because of the FragBox 2's overclocked processor. Maingear won't overclock the Prelude, but its quad-core Phenom X4 9850 processor is one of AMD's "Black Edition" models, which have an unlocked CPU clock speed multiplier. Thus, and as with the XPS 630, you can overclock the Prelude yourself and likely gain more performance.

Unreal Tournament 3 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920 x 1,200
1,280 x 1,024
Maingear Prelude
Dell XPS 630
Uberclok Ion

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