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Maingear Ephex (Intel and ATI) review: Maingear Ephex (Intel and ATI)

Maingear Ephex (Intel and ATI)

Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
Expertise Smart home, Windows PCs, cooking (sometimes), woodworking tools (getting there...)
Rich Brown
7 min read

Welcome to $5,184 of gaming PC. We haven't reviewed a high-end desktop like this Maingear Ephex in a while, largely because we've wanted to upgrade our gaming benchmarks. Now that we're able to tackle the high end again, we're surprised at what we've found. On most titles, you can expect this Maingear to deliver all the performance you'd need for high-resolution PC gaming. It also comes with a Blu-ray/HD DVD combo drive, which makes the Ephex a high-end entertainment desktop as well (although by no means a living room PC). We continue to be disappointed by how even the most expensive PC hardware handles Crysis. That's a major reservation for us right now, but it's not unique to this Maingear system. If you're looking for a high-end, do-it-all PC, the Maingear Ephex offers a lot to like. But if you have your eyes on Crysis, we'd suggest you either hold off or get ready to spend even more money.


Maingear Ephex (Intel and ATI)

The Good

Powerful overclocked quad-core CPU; fast 3D processing; Blu-ray/HD DVD combo drive; fast and roomy hard drive storage; expert build quality.

The Bad

Watching HD movies in the living room is tough with a full-size desktop; low <i>Crysis</i> scores (like every other PC).

The Bottom Line

Maingear's Ephex combines aggressive overclocking and a refined sense of what gamers want in a high-end PC. <i>Crysis</i> remains a challenge for even a top-of-the-line PC like this one, but if you can get past that hitch (and the multi-thousand-dollar price tag), we'd recommend this system in a second.

To be fair, Maingear sent us this system in November 2007. It's taken us a while to get our gaming tests up to snuff, but we think we finally nailed it. Still, we've double-checked and confirmed with Maingear that the configuration is still available today. The only difference is that you might want to consider replacing the pair of Radeon HD 3870 graphics cards with a single Radeon HD 3870 X2 card, which is essentially two 3870's on one board. The performance is comparable, and Maingear will sell you the 3870 X2 for about $70 less.

As the Maingear is the first very high-end gaming PC we've reviewed with our new benchmarks, we don't have a lot of similar systems in-house to compare it to. Uberclok's Ion is the closest, but it costs more than $3,000 less. Especially considering that we found the Uberclok a respectable gaming PC as well, we feel we can make some good comparisons between the two. Namely, if $1,999 will get you a decent gaming PC these days, what more do you get for $5,814?

  Maingear Ephex Uberclok Ion
Price $5,184 $1,999
CPU 4.0GHz (overclocked) Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650 3.2Ghz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600
Memory 2GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics Two 512MB ATI Radeon HD 3870 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT
Hard drives Two 150GB 10,000rpm, 750GB 7,200rpm 500GB, 7,200rpm
Optical drive Blu-ray/HD DVD combo drive dual-layer DVD burner, DVD-ROM drive
Networking Gigabit Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Operating system Windows Vista Ultimate Windows Vista Home Premium / Windows XP Professional

Run down the spec sheet, and you'll see some obvious places where the Ephex sets itself apart. Even without the overclocking (from 3.0GHz to 4.0GHz), the Core 2 Extreme QX9650 is a lightning-fast, $1,000-plus quad-core CPU. The Maingear system also has faster RAM, two fast 10,000rpm hard drives for quick operating system access as well as a separate 750GB hard drive for mass storage, the aforementioned Blu-ray/HD DVD drive, and, as we also mentioned, the pair of Radeon HD 3870 graphics cards.

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

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

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Maingear Ephex

CineBench test
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Maingear Ephex
Uberclok Ion
Dell XPS 420
Gateway FX7020

In most cases, the Maingear's higher-end specs translate to faster performance. None of the comparison systems on our charts are in the same league as the Ephex, so the fact it beats all of them handily is no surprise. If anything, we find it comforting to know that the Ephex and its high-end price tag really do deliver more performance, at least in most cases.

The exception is Crysis. Here we find the Ephex just as disappointing as any other system. We'll refer you to our review of the Radeon HD 3870 X2 card, which also shows that trying to play Crysis in Windows Vista with two Radeon graphics chips is an exercise in frustration. We've also found that Crysis also challenges SLI-based PCs, so the problem is not unique to ATI. While it's hard to lay blame on any one vendor for poor Crysis performance, we remain let down that even with the most expensive PC gaming hardware you have to drop the settings down to make Crysis playable.

Unreal Tournament 3 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920 x 1,200  
1,280 x 1,024  
Maingear Ephex
Uberclok Ion
Gateway FX7020

Crysis (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600 x 1,200  
1,280 x 1,024  
Gateway FX7020
Maingear Ephex
Uberclok Ion

Its limitations in one game aside, the Ephex also offers a broad array of secondary hardware options, and Maingear uses this system as an opportunity to flex its tweaking muscles. For one, our system's quad-core CPU came overclocked and water-cooled. The water-cooling is a compact unit that keeps the cables and internal hardware tucked out of the way near the top of the system. We also like that Maingear makes the full implications of overclocking easy to understand on its Web site. If you opt for overclocking, which will always be from 3.0GHz to 4.0GHz with the Core 2 Extreme QX9650, the CPU price stays the same, but, as Maingear explains, you'll also have to choose the water-cooling hardware upgrade, a $200 add-on over the price of the stock Intel CPU cooler. Not every site that claims to sell overclocked PCs spells out what that really means.

In addition to the overclocking, the specs and features of this system cover most of your high-end bases. While combo HD drives no longer seem so exciting, the Blu-ray/HD DVD drive in the Ephex gives you plenty of HD format flexibility (although we wouldn't put this giant tower desktop in the living room). And if you decide to upgrade the graphics cards, the 1,000-watt power supply should leave you with a fair amount of power headroom down the road. Maingear also offers AMD CPUs and Nvidia SLI-based graphics on the Ephex if you want to mix up your parts.

For other config changes, Maingear offers the typical options, from displays, to mice and keyboards, to hard drives of various sizes. You can save a little money (and probably not lose too much performance) if you opt for DDR2 memory instead of the DDR3 RAM in our system. You can also choose a solid-state hard drive, although be prepared for some sticker shock, as the 32GB model goes for around $950. The card expansion slots are tied up in this config with the two double-wide 3D cards and a sound card, but if you'd like to make upgrades yourself post-purchase, Maingear's top-notch craftsmanship makes it easy. The cables are all routed neatly, leaving you with unhindered access to the free memory and hard drive slots. The hard drives face outward, and you also get two removable drive cages, so you can cram even more storage inside with little trouble.

Maingear brags about its service and support often, and by all accounts, it lives up to its own hype. The default warranty gives you three years of parts and labor coverage, which is among the longest warranty plans around. Toll-free phone support is not open 24-7, but instead from a still-reasonable 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET, Monday through Saturday. Online, Maingear offers download links to a collection of free system security downloads, including AVG Anti-Virus and Spybot--Search & Destroy. You also get handy driver downloads. There's no direct support chat feature, but Maingear does have a knowledge base, as well as fairly active and helpful user forum.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Dell XPS 420
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM, 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8600 GT graphics card; two 320GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drives

Gateway FX7020
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.3GHz AMD Phenom 9600; 3GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM, 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive

Maingear Ephex
Windows Vista Ultimate; 4.0GHz (overclocked) Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650; 2GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 512MB ATI Radeon HD 3870 graphics cards; (2) 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm hard drives; 750GB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drive

Uberclok Ion
Windows Vista Home Premium; 3.2GHz (overclocked) Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM, 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive

Velocity Micro ProMagix E2240
Windows Vista Ultimate; 2.7GHz (overclocked) Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 320GB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GTS graphics card; two 320GB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drives


Maingear Ephex (Intel and ATI)

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 8Support 8