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

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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 Crysis 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. Crysis 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.

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8.5 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Support 8

Review Sections

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.

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
Uberclok Ion
Dell XPS 420

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Maingear Ephex
Uberclok Ion
Dell XPS 420

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Maingear Ephex
Uberclok Ion
Dell XPS 420

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

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