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Maingear Potenza Super Stock review: Phenomenal gaming power, itty-bitty upgrade space

PC gamers, look no further if you want high-end gaming performance in a tidy, attractive desktop machine.

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Rich Brown
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Rich Brown

Executive Editor / Reviews - Home and Wellness

Rich moved his family from Brooklyn to Louisville, Kentucky, in 2013 to start CNET's Appliances and Smart Home review team, which includes the CNET Smart Home, the CNET Smart Apartment, and the Appliances Review lab. Before moving to Louisville, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D-printed guns to Z-Wave smart locks.

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9 min read

Thanks to a new series of SilverStone PC cases, Maingear has led the push for slimmer, trimmer gaming desktops this year. I'm still a fan of the columnar Maingear F131 I reviewed back in May. The shorter, similarly svelte Potenza offers a more affordable alternative.

Maingear Potenza Super Stock
8.2

Maingear Potenza Super Stock

The Good

The <b>Maingear Potenza Super Stock</b> offers compact single -screen gaming performance in an attractive chassis.

The Bad

The small case limits you to a single graphics card, and makes some upgrades a challenge.

The Bottom Line

Accept the limitations of its scaled-down chassis, and the Maingear Potenza Super Stock will provide top-notch gaming horsepower in an attractive package.

At $2,149, this Super Stock variant of the Maingear Potenza still occupies high-end desktop territory. Gaming enthusiasts won't be shocked at that price tag, of course, but they might be impressed by just how much PC Maingear has crammed inside this tiny space. As long as you don't want a PC to tinker with, I would highly recommend the Maingear Potenza Super Stock as a maximum-detail, single-screen gaming desktop.

The Potenza charms you right out of the gate with its compact SilverStone FT03-Mini chassis. Maingear has slathered it in bright-red automotive paint (a $129 option), lending the whole package some glossy appeal, but even without the coloring, the case is attractive. It weighs just over 18 pounds, and measures about 15.5 inches high, with a footprint roughly 7.5 inches wide by 9.25 inches deep.

You'll also notice that the Potenza has a completely different layout from most standard gaming desktops. Rather than sticking the ports on the back of the PC, the motherboard is laid out to put the ports, and more importantly the graphics card vents, on the top. The benefit comes down to airflow. If the warm air rising from the CPU, the graphics card, and other internal components naturally wants to go up, why not let it? The fans inside still need to propel the air, but now they don't have to fight physics.

Whether you like what that means aesthetically is a different question. With the ports on top, that naturally means you need to run the power, video, and other cables from the top of the system as well. Maingear caps the Potenza with a removable plastic grille, and an opening at the top of the case routes the wiring to the back. I expect the cable layout won't bother most people interested in this PC (this is also not the first chassis with this layout), but it's a quirk of the design that could impact how you set it up.

In addition to the unusual cabling, the SilverStone case also has an uncommon tool-free panel design. Three of its four side panels are attached to the case via a set of pop-in plastic latches. The idea is to preserve the clean look of the exterior, and make it easier to get inside the case.

The two narrow panels interlock with tabs on two wider panels, so they're not completely independent of one another. You may also find that you need to take off all three panels regardless of the kind of internal adjustment you want to make. The overarching irony of the easy-remove panels, though, is that replacing or upgrading most internal components will present a huge challenge due to the cramped interior.

Maingear has done an admirable job of keeping the inside of the Potenza as tidy as possible. It crammed in a liquid cooling system, a full-size, double-wide graphics card, and two 2.5-inch hard drives. Swapping out all but the hard drives, though, will require above-average mechanical dexterity.

The drives at least live on a metal sled that comes off easily enough once you remove three Phillips-head screws. To remove the memory, you'll need to open both sides of the case and navigate the liquid cooling tubes and other cables. I didn't try removing the graphics card, only because it looked like such a tight fit that I wasn't sure I could get it back in.

Maingear Potenza Super Stock Digital Storm Ode V2 Level 4 Velocity Micro Edge Z55
Price $2,149 $2,499 $2,299
Motherboard chipset Intel Z77 Intel Z77 Intel X68
CPU 4.7GHz Intel Core i7-3770K (overclocked) 4.7GHz Intel Core i7-3770K (overclocked) 4.9Ghz Intel Core i7-2700K
Memory 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 (overclocked) (2) 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 (2) 1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti
Hard drives 30GB caching SSD, 1TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive 128GB SSD, 1TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive (2) 60GB Intel SSD, 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
Optical drive Dual-layer DVD burner Blu-ray reader/dual-layer DVD burner Blu-ray/dual-layer DVD burner
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)

Since this is a Super Stock variant of a Maingear PC, that means the company offers overclocking and a generally higher-end set of components. Maingear, as other vendors have done, bumps the Core i7-3770K chip in the Potenza to a 4.7GHz standard operating speed, up from its 3.4GHz default.

The chip tweaks put the Potenza Super Stock on par with the excellent, slightly more expensive Digital Storm Ode Level 4. The Digital Storm costs $300 more, and has a larger, more traditional case, but also nets you a second graphics card, a Blu-ray drive, and a larger solid-state drive.

Unlike the Digital Storm, the Maingear's SSD is configured in caching mode. That means it's not a standalone storage volume, rather a sort of background file repository that speeds access times to the programs you use most frequently. It also speeds boot times.

Also of note: like many boutique gaming-PC vendors are doing with their machines, Maingear offers both Windows 7 and Windows 8 options for the Potenza Super Stock. Since Windows 8 doesn't bring any performance benefits, gamers should have no concerns about choosing the older operating system.

My personal preference draws me toward the Digital Storm system. You get more graphics processing headroom, as well as more storage and Blu-ray playback capability, plus better upgradability given the full-size chassis. That seems worth more than an extra $300. I wouldn't call the Maingear a bad deal at all though. Not everyone needs the benefits of the small chassis, but if you do, and you're ready to accept the limited upgrade path, the Potenza Super Stock is an eminently worthy gaming desktop.

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

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

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

Cinebench
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Maingear Potenza Super Stock (Core i7-3770K, December 2012)
9.38 
1.99 

The Maingear turns in stellar application performance thanks to the combination of its overclocked Core i7 chip, its caching SSD, and even, as with Photoshop, from its graphics card. It does not tear away entirely from its competition, but owners of this PC can walk tall knowing that it's the most affordable in the group. You can build a faster computer if you go down a more specialized road, with a $1,000 Core i7 Extreme Edition chip, 16GB of RAM, or even an entirely SSD-driven configuration. You will pay significantly more for most of those components, though, and their benefits would arguably not justify the cost, especially for gamers.

Crysis (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600 x 1,200 (high, 4x aa)  

Far Cry 2 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  

Metro 2033 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
2,560x1,600 (DirectX 11, very high)  
1,920x1,080 (DirectX 11, very high)  

3DMark 11 Combined test (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Extreme (1,920x1080)  
Performance (1,920x1,080, 16x AF)  
Entry level (1,680x1,050)  
Maingear Potenza Super Stock (Core i7-3770K, December 2012)
26 
39 
45 

First, forgive our gaming benchmarks. A modern automated test is hard to find these days. We're looking into alternatives, but for now we have to go with what we have.

The good news about our gaming tests is that they still scale pretty well, and if they don't demonstrate comparative performance in current titles, they do provide you with an absolute performance curve.

As to that, the Potenza scores well on good old original Crysis in DirectX 9 mode. That likely has a lot to do with the single GeForce GTX 680 card in the Potenza, as well as the fact that we kept the resolution down to a reasonable 1,600x1,200 pixels. I'd expect a higher-resolution test would tip the charts toward the dual-card PCs like the F131, the Edge Z55, and the Ode V2.

To back that assertion, I'll point you to our Far Cry 2 and Metro 2033 results. Those games apparently scale infinitely to total GPU horsepower, and on each test, the Potenza falls to more larger, more robustly equipped competitors. Granted, the fall is not fatal. The only question mark comes with Metro 2033 at an ambitious 2,560x1,600-pixel resolution. If you have a 30-inch display, you might dial the settings down a tick.

I found the same ultrahigh-resolution limitation when I anecdotally tested The Witcher 2 at maximum image quality. Far Cry 3, though, played beautifully on its highest settings. The bottom line is that you can expect the Potenza Super Stock to handle every current game at full image quality at at least 1,920x1,080 with a reasonably smooth frame rate. That might not be true this time next year, but for now, most PC gamers can buy this system with few reservations.

For the remainder of the Potenza, you'll find a standard array of inputs, including USB 3.0, 5.1 analog audio, and an optical audio output. The graphics card provides two DVI jacks, as well as an HDMI output and a DisplayPort out.

The only significant configuration concern comes with the 450-watt power supply. It's enough to power this build, but I would be sure to weigh power consumption carefully in any future graphics card update.

Conclusion
Maingear has visually appealing little PC in the Potenza Super Stock. You can put this system pretty much anywhere. You'll pay a small premium for that privilege, and you'll lose some upgradability along the way. Neither criticism is significant enough to prevent a recommendation. As long as you know what you're giving up for the small size, the Maingear Potenza Super Stock will make an outstanding gaming desktop.

Performance testing was conducted by Joseph Kaminski. Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Digital Storm Ode V2 Level 4 (Intel Core i7-3770K, June 2012)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.7GHz Intel Core i7-3770K; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 graphics card; 128GB Corsair SSD, 1TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive

Falcon Northwest Tiki (Intel Core i7-3770K, June 2012)
Windows 7 Professional 64-bit; 4.3GHz Intel Core i7-377K (overclocked); 8GB 1,866MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 graphics cards; 256GB SSD; 2TB 5,400rpm Western Digital hard drive

Maingear F131 (Intel Core i7-3770K, May 2012)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.7GHz Intel Core i7-3770K (overclocked); 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 graphics cards; 60GB Corsair Accelera SSD; 2TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive

Maingear Potenza Super Stock (Intel Core i7-3770K, December 2012)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.7GHz Intel Core i7-3770K (overclocked); 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 graphics card; 30GB solid-state caching drive; 1TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive

Velocity Micro Edge Z55 (Intel Core i7-2700K, February 2012)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.9GHz Intel Core i7-2700K (overclocked); 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2)1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti graphics cards; (2) 60GB Intel SSD; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive


Maingear Potenza Super Stock
8.2

Maingear Potenza Super Stock

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8Support 10
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