Exclusive: AVADirect reboots its direction with the Avalanche

Boutique PC house AVADirect is on a rebranding mission spearheaded by the Avalanche, an impressively souped up, completely water-cooled gaming PC.

Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Jeff Bakalar
5 min read

Custom PC builder AVADirect is in a rebranding process.

Where the company has always taken great pride in offering customers a staggering amount of customization when it comes to designing their rigs, AVADirect is exploring a new philosophy by introducing a Signature Series line of machines.

Up until now a customer could potentially face a dizzying amount of customization options when designing a machine, but for the enthusiast that doesn't want the headache of managing the minutiae there's now a simpler, more streamlined option.

Enter the Avalanche.

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Completely researched, developed and constructed by AVA's engineers, the Signature Series Avalanche features the only fully water-cooled system with custom bent hard-line acrylic tubing, outside of DIY enthusiast communities like r/watercooling or Overclock.net.

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Most of the water-cooled systems we've seen in the past use a form of rubber tubing or an acrylic design that make use of 90-degree bends with the help of angled fittings. All of the bends in the Avalanche are done by hand (and, we'd imagine, a heat gun).

The Avalanche has a specific aesthetic, a sleek all-white design housed inside of the cubed Corsair 540 case. The white acrylic tubing, Monsoon barbs and Bitspower angle adapters enhance the overall winterized look -- even the power cables are custom-sleeved in white fabric. The whole system really pops when the system's RGB LED lighting is put into play. If you don't like white, the included 20-color remote can change them to suit your taste. You can see almost everything going on inside thanks to the 540's massive window, and AVA has custom etched the plastic as well.

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Beyond just pretty cosmetics, the system we received shipped with an Asus Z97 Deluxe motherboard and a Core i7-4790K processor. The CPU is cooled with the help of a white EK cooling block allowing for overclocking to 4.8GHz. A huge 1TB Samsung solid-state drive and 3TB Seagate Barracuda drive sit at the base for Windows 8.1 OS and storage space respectively.

Two EVGA GTX 980 graphics cards sit below the CPU and 16GB of Corsair Vengeance RAM. The GPUs can also be overclocked, which is a much more volatile challenge.

But when we were able to tweak the GPUs just right, the Avalanche netted us some pretty amazing benchmarking scores. The best score we were able to squeeze out of the Avalanche was a 12291 in 3DMark's Fire Strike Extreme, a test specifically designed for multi-GPU arrangements for resolutions above 1080p.

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Performance-wise, the Avalanche backs up its impressive benchmarking scores with real-world results. As of this writing, I dare you to find a game that the Avalanche can't run with all settings maxed out at 1440p. It's just that powerful. I hooked the machine up to an ASUS Swift ROG G-Sync monitor (1440p) and a few 4K monitors for comparison. The Avalanche barely skipped a step making the jump to 4K.

The Avalanche also operates impressively silent, mostly thanks to all the water-cooling that eliminates the need for CPU and GPU fan cooling. The system revs up during a gaming session, but is still noticeably quieter than traditional designs.

Impressive performance notwithstanding, gaming technology advances quite rapidly. Sure, graphics card drivers improve and by the end of their life cycle, Nvidia will likely squeeze every last bit of processing power out of them. In the end, cards need to replaced and I'm not quite sure how upgradable the Avalanche is. Beyond replacing the RAM, any other component swap out would likely need to be done by AVA engineers.

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Sure, an upgrade probably wouldn't need to happen for a few years, but everything eventually becomes outdated. It's the small price to pay for a hard-lined system, and one of the advantages of instead using a rubberized loop with cut off valves. These types of valves allow for components to be swapped without the need to dismantle the custom water loop system. It's not an option on the Avalanche.

The road to the Avalanche's final design wasn't necessarily smooth. The company tells me it hit a few prototyping bumps along the way, considering the type of care needed to build and ship such a complexly engineered system. For example, since the Corsair's dual-bay slots are side-mounted, the Koolance bay reservoir needed to lay 90 degrees clockwise. It forced engineers to rethink the manner in which the pumps and airflow would operate.

Needless to say, cramming all of the components and cooling equipment inside a mid-tower case wasn't a simple game of volume management. But now that it's all said and done, the final product is not only a liquid-cooled machine that outperforms every similar rig we've tested, it's also a work of art.

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So what does this gorgeous achievement cost? The review unit we received (with specs outlined above) retails for $5,900 (about £3,976 or AU$7,730). That's before tax and shipping, the latter of which might be more expensive than you think. AVADirect had to ship us the Avalanche via a third-party specialized freight service because of how delicate the unit is. When it's all said and done, you're likely looking at a $6,000-plus price tag.

If you're looking for a cheaper version of the Avalanche, the entry-level configuration starts at $4,150, £2,796, AU$5,437 and features a 4690k i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and one GTX 970 card -- still a very capable system.

So is it all worth it?

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That depends. The Avalanche is clearly designed for the enthusiast PC gamer with some serious cash flow. There's no doubt the Avalanche, with its dual 980 graphics cards, will last for years but eventually those wil need to be replaced. Someone investing so much money in a system like this needs to consider the inevitable end of the component's relevance in the constantly evolving PC-gaming world -- no matter how far down the road that might be.

The Avalanche serves a very specific customer, but it serves them well. This is a fantastically designed machine that AVADirect backs up with personalized, hands-on customer service. By default the Avalanche ships with a three-year limited parts and labor warranty along with lifetime tech support.

It may be beyond the price-point for the average PC-gamer, but for those looking for the ultimate in water-cooled machines with a jaw-dropping design, you'll be hard pressed to find something as uniquely crafted as the Avalanche. The machine is an impressive effort from a mainstay brand showing there's room to evolve.

The Avalanche is available now from AVADirect. You can customize one here.