We don't usually get to make sweeping declarative statements, but Maingear has given us the opportunity. Its small-form-factor (SFF) X-Cube gaming desktop is the most advanced PC in its class. No other vendor of a pseudo-portable gaming computer offers a more up-to-date system. This $3,300 PC is by no means inexpensive, but its price is in line with the rest of the market. Due to a number of high-profile tech releases over the next six months, it's hard to recommend spending that much on this exact configuration right now. But based on the X-Cube's strong craftsmanship and its heads-up parts selection, Maingear's Web site should be your first stop whenever you're ready to make a high-end, small-form-factor purchase.
Our X-Cube review unit arrived coated in the striking Speed Yellow custom paint--a $300 option (other color choices are available in addition to the two no-cost options of black and silver). Inside, Maingear outfitted the X-Cube with all manner of blue LED lights attached to a handful of strategically placed cooling fans. The internals also feature the attention to detail that we like to see in expensive PCs (all PCs, really), such as neatly bound and routed cables for easy access to the components and maximum airflow. The net result of these design tweaks is a polished system that doesn't look gaudy--a trap that often snares many custom-built PCs. The X-Cube's 8.5-by-10.5-by-15.5-inch case (HWD) is roughly the same size as that of the Falcon Northwest FragBox, but Falcon Northwest is behind in its configuration options.
This timeliness is what distinguishes Maingear from the other SFF PC vendors. PC Club is the only other SFF vendor we've found that offers AMD's new Socket AM2 interface and the Nvidia 6150 motherboard chipset, which lets you configure the AMD's latest CPUs (our unit used the reasonably priced Athlon 64 X2 4400+). The new chips for the AM2 chipset feature improved power efficiency, which is of particular benefit to the tight, hard-to-cool case interior of an SFF PC. And while one other SFF vendor is current with chip technology, no one but Maingear sells one with both the Socket AM2 chipset and Nvidia's GeForce 7950 GX2 graphics card. This dual-chip card gives you gaming performance that's close to a pair of Nvidia's highest-end GeForce 7900 GTX cards, but with only half of the requisite internal space and a much more power- and heat-conscious design (the 7950GX2 takes up the space of two expansion slots). If we had $3,300 or so to spend on a PC, we'd probably wait, knowing that Intel's Core 2 Duo chips, and Nvidia's and ATI's DirectX 10 graphics cards are due out before the end of Q3. But considering that Maingear is up-to-date with this particular config, you can either loop back to this same load-out when the price drops in a few months or have confidence that Maingear will be able to supply the higher-end parts you'll be looking for.
Because it uses a midrange CPU, we didn't expect the X-Cube to dominate our performance benchmarks. That said, its application performance was where it should be, statistically tying the similarly configured (and equally yellow) PC Club Enpower Media Center Xpress Special Edition on CNET Labs' SysMark 2004 application benchmark. Its 3D performance was even better, where the X-Cube and its overclocked 3D card beat nearly every other system in its class save a Polywell system with two GeForce 7900 GTX cards.
Our Maingear X-Cube review system featured an Ageia PhysX processing card (a $300 option), a single 500GB hard drive, and a DVD burner complete with LightScribe capabilities for burning custom images onto the surface of your homemade discs. And that's about all the X-Cube's SFF case can handle, considering the dual-slot 3D card. If you'd rather opt out of the PhysX card, Maingear offers a range of Creative X-Fi sound cards, a PCI wireless networking card, and other accessories and upgrades, but for anything that goes inside the box, it will likely be at the expense of some other feature. However, if you're shopping for an SFF desktop, chances are you're ready to make a few sacrifices. You won't want for RAM at least; the X-Cube can accommodate up to 2GB of 400MHZ DDR2 SDRAM, which is what came in ours.
Maingear sent the X-Cube to us with a strong accessories package. From its selection of mice and keyboards, Maingear bundled the awesome Logitech G5 Laser Mouse and the light-up Saitek Eclipse gaming keyboard, both of which come with free matching paint if you opt for a custom paint job. The games Tomb Raider: Legend and Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter also come by virtue of the graphics and physics cards. Maingear includes eTrust's free EZ Antivirus software, with the option to upgrade to a year of Norton AntiVirus 2006. The system also has three years of parts-and-labor coverage and a toll-free support line open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Maingear promises that it will put you in direct contact with the tech that built your system when you call. The best Maingear's online help has to offer is the general FAQ and a helpful breakdown of the restoration disc.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating||SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating||SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating|