Maingear F131 review:

Maingear F131

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MSRP: $2,495.00
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4.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Better application performance than PCs that cost twice as much; strong gaming performance should play almost any game on the market smoothly and with high image quality; room to expand memory and hard-drive storage; USB 3.0 jacks prepare you for future external devices.

The Bad Garish (but fortunately optional) side panel art.

The Bottom Line Ignore the side panel. Maingear has an outstanding deal in this high-end F131 gaming desktop, which is one of the fastest PCs we've seen all year. We recommend this system without hesitation to serious PC gamers and those interested in a high-performance, high-value computer.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

8.7 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 9.0
  • Performance 9.0
  • Support 8.0
CNET Editors' Choice Oct '10

Although we liked the PCs we saw with Intel's new unlocked Core i7 875K CPU well enough, with its $2,499 F131 gaming desktop, Maingear has shown you can still build (and buy) an even faster computer with technology that's just a bit more seasoned for the same price. Maingear overclocked a Core i7 950 chip to 4.2GHz, and included a pair of Nvidia graphics cards in this review build, and the result is performance on par with a PC from just six months ago that costs twice as much. Don't let the silly (and thankfully optional) artwork on the side of this system fool you. We'd recommend the Maingear F131 to any serious PC gamer.

We've given this system a high design rating, but the laser-etched Mafia II-themed side panel bears some scrutiny. Our hunch is that this design represents Maingear's effort to support Nvidia's Mafia II promotional push, which in turn is designed to sell Nvidia's 3D Vision gaming technology, which the game supports.

Though this system does indeed come with 3D Vision-capable graphics cards, it doesn't include the $350 or so 120Hz LCD monitor, nor the roughly $200 3D Vision glasses and receiver kit. If helping Nvidia doesn't explain the Mafia II side panel, we'd love to know why, of all the games out there, Maingear would elect to submit this PC with an image from an only average game (Mafia II currently enjoys a 74 Metacritic rating). The good news is that the side panel laser-etching is optional, and you can easily replace it with a blank, or submit your own art, which Maingear will inscribe for no extra charge.

Weird product placement aside, the design of the F131 is in line with what we expect from a higher-end gaming desktop. The interior in particular is perfectly designed, with all internal cables wrapped and bound as neatly as can be. We dinged Maingear's flagship Shift desktop for lacking the power and data connections from the back of the open hard-drive bays, and Maingear has corrected that issue here. And though this F131 build doesn't have the front-panel hard-drive access we've come to appreciate from a variety of vendors, we're glad to see Maingear offers the option for an additional $99.

Maingear F131 Falcon Northwest Talon
Price $2,499 $2,499
Motherboard chipset Intel X58 Intel P55
CPU 4.2GHz Intel Core i7 950 (overclocked) 4GHz Intel Core i7 875K (overclocked)
Memory 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics (2) 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 480
Hard drives 64GB Corsair solid-state drive, 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black 7,200rpm SATA 3.0
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)

If we're happy with the design of the F131, we're ecstatic about the features Maingear offers for its price. From the aggressive and, more importantly, stable overclocked Intel Core i7 950 CPU, to the pair of GeForce GTX 460 graphics cards, to the solid-state boot drive, Maingear has outdone a competing Talon from Falcon Northwest to a dramatic degree. Falcon Northwest doesn't even offer a Talon with Intel's X58 chipset; instead it relies on the P55 chipset, which has reduced card expansion capacity and lower memory bandwidth. For other competing systems from vendors like Velocity Micro, Origin, and Alienware, you'll find they either ask more money for the same components, or they don't offer the same parts.

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

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

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Maingear F131
Origin Genesis
Velocity Micro Edge Z55
Falcon Northwest Talon
AVADirect Custom Gaming PC

Our application performance tests let the Maingear F131 shine, as it posts an across-the-board victory. As expected, the Maingear outperforms the Falcon Northwest Talon and its Core i7 875K CPU. The F131's performance against the Origin Genesis, a $5,000 gaming desktop, was a bigger surprise. That the Maingear is even in the same conversation as a system that costs twice as much is an impressive feat. That the F131 outperforms that same PC speaks to the phenomenal value Maingear is offering. We expect anyone looking for a high-performance desktop for general productivity, or editing, converting, or otherwise manipulating media files would be very satisfied with this desktop.

Crysis (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600x1,200 (high, 4x aa)  
1,280x1,024 (medium, 4x aa)  
Maingear F131
Origin Genesis

Far Cry 2 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  
1,440x900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  
Origin Genesis
Maingear F131

The F131's gaming performance is not quite as dramatic, but it's still very competitive. Crysis still remains a relevant gaming benchmark, and not only does the Maingear exceed the 60-frames-per-second threshold, it does so better than its competition on the most demanding resolution. And even though it's slower than some competing systems on our Far Cry 2 test, we can't exactly cast the Maingear as slow given its 174-plus frame rates.

We haven't adopted a DirectX 11 game test yet, but we were curious to see how the Maingear would handle Metro 2033, one of the more demanding DirectX 11 games. We don't use that game formally as Nvidia had a lot to do with its development (as AMD and ATI have done with Tom Clancy's HAWX), and we'd prefer a more neutral title. As this is an Nvidia-based system, the F131 is primed to succeed on Metro 2033. We had a good experience during regular gameplay, but when we dialed up all of the image quality and physics settings, the Maingear hit its limit in the Metro 2033 benchmark program, managing only about 25 frames per second. That's certainly playable, but it's not enough of a cushion to guarantee you won't see the occasional slowdown.

The take away for the Maingear F131 as a gaming system is that you will find very few games that will challenge this PC. For the few that will, you should be able to dial down a few settings here and there, and still enjoy a smooth, good-looking gaming experience.

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