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iBuyPower Gamer Extreme review: iBuyPower Gamer Extreme

iBuyPower Gamer Extreme

Rick Broida
Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
8 min read
Review summary
Most hard-core gamers want a system that provides not only bleeding-edge performance, but also one that gives them bragging rights. The $2,895 iBuyPower Gamer Extreme delivers on both counts, combining some of the fastest components on the planet with a case that's sure to inspire awe among the LAN-party set. The system features a state-of-the-art AMD processor, Nvidia's latest-and-greatest video card, endless storage space, and even Wi-Fi networking. Its monitor and speakers are merely average, but we still think gamers are likely to love this machine, if only for its unique looks and blazing speed. A boutique case in the truest sense, the iBuyPower Gamer Extreme's striking silver Nzxt Guardian tower is the same case that came with an earlier version we reviewed in the beginning of the year. A three-dimensional, daggerlike grille adorns the front, while the side panel continues the motif with neon lighting that glows through curvy windowed cutouts. The front panel looks even more outlandish when the system is running: an inset plastic gem lights up red when there's hard drive activity, while a blue LED slowly oscillates across the face, Cylon-style--for those of you who remember Battlestar Galactica. If you're not onboard with the sci-fi looks, the Gamer Extreme configuration gives you a choice of other, more understated cases.
Fortunately, all this form doesn't compromise function--the grille swings open for access to the drive bays and the six-in-one media-card reader, while a pair of tiny sliding doors hide the two front USB 2.0 ports and the microphone and headphone jacks. Just one problem: the grille swings too freely; it won't stay in an open position. Plus, you have to open it to access the power button.
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You see from this internal shot that all of the rear expansion slots are occupied.

As you'd expect from a case of this size, the system is highly expandable. In addition to its six total USB 2.0 ports and three FireWire ports, it features a whopping 10 drive bays, half of which are unoccupied, and two available memory sockets. One of the same problems persists in this system as when we last saw the Gamer Extreme: despite using tool-free drive bays, iBuyPower screws the drives in place. We could understand using one screw per drive to prevent the drives from dislodging in transit, but using two screws on the motherboard side of the case is mystifying. Also, although the motherboard has two unused PCI slots, their corresponding case openings are occupied by an external light switch and a game port. Thus, for all intents and purposes, although the two of its four PCI slots are vacant, the Gamer Extreme has no room for additional cards.
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The purple tool-free drive latches would be more useful if the drives weren't screwed into their bays.

One other minor complaint: iBuyPower didn't label the Creative's Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS sound card's audio jacks. The card comes without the standard color-coded plastic jacks, due to the gold-plated contacts, which offer cleaner electrical conductivity and, therefore, improved audio signal clarity. Creative includes appropriately colored stickers in its retail box for these cards, so it's frustrating that the stickers aren't even included with the Gamer Extreme packaging, let alone applied in advance by iBuyPower. Plan to get out your magnifying glass to read the tiny icons when connecting the speakers. The iBuyPower Gamer Extreme is stocked with nothing but all-star components, starting with its AMD Athlon 64 3800+, a new 939-pin processor notable for its dual-channel DDR memory architecture. iBuyPower pairs this chip with 1GB of DDR400 memory, then adds two 160GB Western Digital Serial ATA hard drives for good measure. The latter are connected to an onboard RAID controller in a data-striping configuration, so you effectively get 320GB of storage space. The Gamer Extreme all but begs for video production when you're not blasting aliens.
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It looks like a lot of PC, but certain parts stand out more than others.

Whatever kind of graphics you throw at the system, they're bound to look good and move fast, thanks to the 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra--one of the highest-end video cards on the market. On the other hand, that makes it all the more disappointing that iBuyPower doesn't bundle at least one high-profile game. The Gamer Extreme comes with just two older titles, found in the Sound Blaster Audigy 2 box--the uninspired Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness and the popular Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield--neither of which comes close to taking full advantage of the GeForce card's power. Our test system includes one perk you don't find in many desktop systems: a Wi-Fi PCI card, which makes the machine a much less demanding guest at LAN parties--just turn it on and you're ready for multiplayer gaming.
Games notwithstanding, iBuyPower provides a modest but well-rounded software bundle, though the titles overlap somewhat in their functionality. For instance, the system includes CyberLink PowerDVD 4.0, Nero Express, and InterVideo WinDVD Suite Platinum. All three are capable of playing DVDs, while both Nero and WinDVD provide DVD and CD authoring. Not that application redundancy is really a bad thing. Who doesn't like having options? Our Gamer Extreme review unit includes an Artec DVD-ROM and an Artec DVD+RW/-RW drive, the latter capable of burning DVD+R media at 12X speeds (DVD-R recording tops out at 8X; CD-R at 40X). Thankfully, a full version of Norton AntiVirus 2004 is provided as well.
With so much good stuff on the inside of the Gamer Extreme, perhaps it's not surprising to find a few mediocre components on the outside, considering the sub-$3,000 price. The 19-inch ViewSonic E90f+ flat-screen monitor, for instance, delivers sharp, legible text at resolutions as high as 1,600x1,200, but we thought the colors looked washed out. Likewise, Creative's Inspire T7700 speaker system delivers boisterous, fully realized sound through its seven satellites, but it's a decidedly entry-level setup, with a subwoofer that gets muddy at higher volumes.
Although we expected to find a wireless mouse and keyboard in such a high-end system, we quickly came to like Logitech's no-frills UltraX keyboard and optical mouse. The keyboard is unusually flat and compact but still has a great, crisp feel. Plus, the two devices plug into good old PS/2 ports, thereby leaving valuable USB ports untouched. Application performance
The iBuyPower Gamer Extreme provided us with our first look at the new AMD Athlon 64 3800+ CPU. The 3800+ is the next-generation Athlon 64 processor and introduces the new 939-pin chip and socket design. It features essentially the same core architecture as AMD's high-end FX-53 CPU with one minor difference: the 3800+ has only 512KB of L2 cache, while the FX-53 has 1MB. This difference should result in only a minor performance edge for the FX-53, despite the FX-53's significantly higher price. Budget buyers, take note.
The Gamer Extreme's SysMark 2004 score of 200 is only 8 percent slower than the Polywell 939VF-FX53's with its FX-53 processor. Even though it scored well, this comparison is still a bit unfair to the Gamer Extreme in that the Polywell system uses a pair of 10,000rpm Western Digital Raptor drives, the fastest hard drives on the market. A system's hard drive subsystem has a large effect on its SysMark 2004 scores, which leads us to believe that the 8 percent difference between these two systems would be smaller if both systems used 7,200rpm drives such as those in the Gamer Extreme. Essentially, the Gamer Extreme's performance comes very close to that of more expensive, allegedly more high-end systems, making it a very good deal and a system that's capable of handling virtually any modern application.
Application performance  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating  
SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating  
SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating  

To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2004, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).
3D graphics and gaming performance
The iBuyPower Gamer Extreme includes the new Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra graphics card, Nvidia's most powerful offering to date. As you can see from our tests, the performance difference between the Gamer Extreme and systems using cards of the previous generation from both Nvidia and ATI is quite dramatic. The low-end 1,024x768 test shows a 12 percent increase over the Gamer Extreme's next closest competitor, the Alienware Area 51 Extreme, but our 1,600x1,200 Unreal Tournament 2003 test really shows off the 6800 Ultra. At this detail setting we see a difference of about 40 percent between the Gamer Extreme and the Voodoo PC Rage F-50 using ATI's last-generation Radeon 9800 XT. With all of the Gamer Extreme's graphics processing power, you can play the latest games not only with blazing frame rates but also with the highest detail settings enabled.
3D gaming performance (in fps)  (Longer bars indicate better performance)
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,024x768  
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby-Antalus 1,600x1,200 4XAA 8XAF  

To measure 3D gaming performance, CNET Labs uses Epic Games' Unreal Tournament 2003, widely used as an industry-standard benchmark. We use Unreal to measure a desktop's performance with the DirectX 8.0 (DX8) interface at a 32-bit color depth and at a resolution of 1,024x768 and 1,600x1,200. Antialiasing and anisotropic filtering are disabled during our 1,024x768 tests, and are set to 4X and 8X respectively during our 1,600x1,200 tests. At this color depth and these resolutions, Unreal provides an excellent means of comparing the performance of low-end to high-end graphics subsystems. We report the results of Unreal's Flyby-Antalus test in frames per second (fps).
Performance analysis written by CNET Labs technician David Gussman.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
System configurations:
Alienware Area-51 Extreme
Windows XP Professional; 3.4GHz Intel P4 Extreme Edition; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5950 Ultra 256MB; two WDC WD740GD-00FLX0 74GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA; integrated Intel 82801ER SATA RAID controller
Cyberpower Gamer Infinity 9900 Pro
Windows XP Home; 3.2EGHz Intel P4; Intel 875P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800XT 256MB; two Seagate ST3120026AS 120GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Intel 82801ER SATA RAID controller
iBuyPower Gamer Extreme
Windows XP Professional; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 3800+; Via K8T880 Pro chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce 6800 Ultra 256MB; Maxtor 6Y160M0 160GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Via Serial ATA RAID controller
Polywell Poly 939VF-FX53
Windows XP Professional; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-53; Via K8T880 Pro chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Nvidia GeForce FX 5900XT 256MB; two WDC WD740GD-00FLX0 74GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA; integrated WinXP Promise FastTrak 579 controller
Voodoo PC Rage F-50
Windows XP Professional; 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 3400+; Via K8T800 chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; ATI Radeon 9800XT 256MB; two Hitachi HDS722512VLSA80 120GB Serial ATA 7,200rpm; integrated Via Serial ATA RAID controller The standard iBuyPower Gamer Extreme warranty covers labor for three years but parts for just one--a fact not adequately explained on the company's Web site, which touts a "standard three-year limited warranty" but doesn't explain the parts limitation. Our review system included a $39 upgrade that added onsite service and 24/7 phone support for the first year. Without it, phone support, which is toll-free, is available Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. PT. At press time, the company's technical support site had been down for four days, so we're not sure what help or information is available there.
As we've seen in previous iBuyPower systems, the Gamer Extreme arrives with loosely bundled manuals for some--but not all--components and no setup or system documentation.

iBuyPower Gamer Extreme

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 8Support 5
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