AVADirect Custom Gaming PC review: AVADirect Custom Gaming PC

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MSRP: $2,900.00

The Good Ambitious, stable overclocking leads to outstanding application performance; polished cabling; a lot of customization options for tech-savvy buyers to choose from; lengthy three-year product warranty.

The Bad Online shopping engine doesn't prevent configuration errors; current phone and Web support options lag behind the competition.

The Bottom Line The AVADirect shopping experience can be daunting, but for the tech-savvy buyer willing to navigate the many options available for this system, you'll find that AVADirect's Custom Gaming PC is competently built, with options for blazing fast overclocking, all at an attractive price.

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8.4 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9
  • Support 6

A dirty secret of gaming PC reviews is that vendors frequently try to submit systems with aggressive overclocking that they won't actually sell because of poor reliability, but that will last long enough to score well on our benchmarks. Imagine our skepticism when this $2,900 AVADirect Custom Gaming PC showed up with a 2.66GHz Intel Core i7 920 chip overclocked to 3.88GHz, a roughly 50 percent boost. After hammering this system with our benchmarks as well as an added demanding stress test, we came away impressed. We don't suspect every system from AVADirect with a Core i7 920 chip will hit this clock setting, but we're confident that if you do order a system with these specifications from AVADirect, you'll get a fast, expertly built gaming PC for a great price.

Unlike its precertified configurations, AVADirect offers a multitude of options, including a motherboard and case, for its Intel X58 chipset-based Custom Gaming PC. Ours came with an Asus P6T Deluxe motherboard and a ThermalTake Element S chassis, but with roughly 100 case options, 14 different motherboards, and a vast catalog of memory, graphics cards, and other hardware options, the look, price, and performance of your AVADirect Custom Gaming PC can vary greatly.

While many tech-savvy shoppers will appreciate the degree of customization available, that freedom also comes with a degree of uncertainty. We're skeptical that AVADirect has truly mastered the technical ins-and-outs of every hardware combination it offers. We also wish its custom system shopping engine would prevent you from placing a physically impossible order (like both a CPU fan and a liquid cooler). According to AVADirect, it ensures its systems are stable before they ship out to customers, and that it will follow up on the phone with customers who make mistakes in their online orders. It also has what it calls its "Certified" systems that offer a more restricted option path, and thus less room for error. In general, and this applies to any vendor offering so many hardware options, we recommend these kinds of systems only to those with a certain degree of technical competence.

But that's not to say that AVADirect doesn't know what it's doing. The cabling, overclocking, and cooling of this system were all expertly done, on par with the build quality of the likes of Falcon Northwest, Maingear, and Velocity Micro. The ThermalTake Element S case is attractive and straightforward enough. The top-mounted USB, eSATA, and audio ports are an easy-to-reach convenient touch; you'll find a Blu-ray, DVD burner, and media card drives behind the front-panel door. We don't find Blu-ray a necessity in a full-tower PC, but it also doesn't hurt. If you're not interested in Blu-ray you can always opt out, and save yourself about $235.

Inside the case you're met by a blue LED screen tied into the CoolIT DM-1000 Domino liquid-cooling hardware that displays the CPU temperature and the system fan speed. Despite this extra component, the interior of the Custom Gaming PC is easy to navigate. All of the cables are bound and secured out of the way for easy parts swapping, including the hard-drive cables, which are situated behind the drives, rather than in front. The drive cable inputs aren't anchored to a surface of any kind, so drive removal and reinsertion isn't totally seamless, but we appreciate both the visual appeal and the relative ease of removing a drive with the cables routed behind it.

  AVADirect Custom Gaming PC Velocity Micro Edge Z55
Price $2,900 $2,499
Motherboard chipset Intel X58 Intel X58
CPU 3.88GHz Intel Core i7-920 (overclocked) 3.0GHz Intel Core i7-920 (overclocked)
Memory 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM (underclocked to 1,480MHz) 6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 295 (overclocked) (2) 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4870
Hard drives 1.5TB 10,000rpm Seagate hard drive, 147GB 15,000rpm Fujitsu hard drive 750GB, 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
Optical drive Blu-ray drive, dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit

AVADirect offers a fairly good deal for this Custom Gaming PC. Compared with a Velocity Micro system from a few months ago, AVADirect has more than twice as much hard-drive space, including a fast 15,000rpm Fujitsu drive (the first we've seen at that speed), as well as the Blu-ray drive and liquid-cooling hardware. We find those features worth the additional $400 or so, especially because the liquid cooling enables the aggressive overclocking to the Intel Core i7 920 CPU.

By all accounts the 2.66GHz Core i7 920 is a particularly overclockable CPU. We've seen systems come in at 3GHz and 3.2GHz, but AVADirect has shattered the record by amping the chip up to 3.88GHz. This setting was a red flag for us and it prompted more scrutiny that we traditionally apply to overclocked systems. To test the system, we laid hands on a copy of a program called Prime95, which enthusiasts and system builders use to stress test their PCs. Prime95 essentially pushes all eight processing threads on the Core i7 with a maximum workload for as long as you care to let it run. If the system is unstable, you'll see an error message, or it might crash altogether.

We let Prime95 run on this system for roughly 16 hours with no errors or crashes. That's impressive considering another Core i7 920-based PC we had in the lab, clocked to a more modest 3.8GHz, failed the test after a few minutes (which the vendor plausibly attributed to wear-and-tear given that we were that system's third review stop). We also saw all four cores running between 79 and 80 degrees Celsius, within acceptable margins (105 degrees C is when a system will shut down automatically). That suggests that not only is this system stable, but also that the overclocking isn't subjecting the CPU to an irresponsible degree of thermal stress.

AVADirect charges an extra $100 for overclocking between 20 percent and 50 percent beyond a chip's stock clock speed, and when you select that option on its Web site the drop-down message wisely acknowledges that the top speed will vary depending on the quality of the individual chip. The performance results below won't be repeatable for every AVADirect Custom Gaming PC that matches our unique review configuration, but we're comfortable saying that for the chips that can achieve such a high overclock setting, AVADirect knows how to make them stable.

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
AVADirect Custom Gaming PC

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

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
AVADirect Custom Gaming PC

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  
AVADirect Custom Gaming PC
Falcon Northwest FragBox 2
Velocity Micro Edge Z55
Maingear X-Cube

As you might expect, AVADirect's large clock-speed advantage pushes this system ahead of its peers on every application test. If that result is unsurprising, it's still impressive. We'd expect that anyone who purchased this system for productivity would benefit from its speedy performance. Digital media editors in particular should take notice.

Unreal Tournament 3 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
AVADirect Custom Gaming PC
Maingear X-Cube

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