The old saying goes, if one is good, then two must be better. Maingear's Prelude 64 makes a strong case for choosing two midrange graphics cards over one high-end card if you're after Doom 3 performance. However, more games use a 3D engine similar to Half-Life 2's, and the Prelude 64's poor scores on that test, combined with its relatively slow processor, lead us to believe that Maingear should have given more thought to this $1,999 configuration. Still, with prices ranging from $1,000 to over $7,000, the Prelude 64 is eminently configurable. We also can't complain about the construction; of the four systems in our sub-$2,000 gaming-PC roundup, the Prelude offers the quietest operation. That care, combined with the sturdy, expandable case, suggests that if you know what you're looking for in a PC, Maingear will provide you with an expertly built computer. We just would have made a few different choices in assembling a $1,999 Prelude 64.
The epitome of heavy-duty, the understated silver Lian-Li PC-6070 metal tower seems rugged enough to withstand a grenade blast. Its front door closes to create a seamless-looking exterior, though we wish it didn't cover the power button along with everything else. You can still access the system's pair of front USB 2.0 ports with the door closed, but they're at the very bottom of the tower--an inconvenient locale if the tower resides on the floor. Also inconvenient: the Prelude 64 lacks front-panel headphone and microphone jacks--a staple on most modern PCs. If you plan on using a headset while gaming, you'll have to reach around back.
Inside, the Prelude 64 looks clean and spacious. It has more drive bays and PCI slots than most users will ever fill, and just about everything is held in place with thumbscrews, making for easy access to items such as the hard drive cage. One gripe: a big frame-mounted fan blocks access to the expansion slots; you'll have to remove it if you want to add a card. Thankfully, the aforementioned thumbscrews simplify its removal and replacement. We're also thankful that this big tower, with its many fans, is relatively quiet. Other vendors in our sub-$2,000 gaming-PC story seemed willing to sacrifice acoustics in favor of features and performance.
Maingear outfitted our Prelude 64 review unit with an AMD Athlon 64 3200+ processor, 1GB of dual-channel PC3200 SDRAM, a Plextor double-layer DVD burner, and a pair of 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 GS graphics cards in an SLI configuration. However, we point to the success of the Velocity Micro Gamer's Edge DualX and the Alienware Aurora 3500 systems with their single GeForce 7800 GT cards (roughly $10 less from Maingear than the pair of 6800 GS cards) The Prelude 64's 66.9 frames per second on our 1,600x1,200-resolution Half-Life 2 test are certainly playable, so it's not like this configuration is any slouch. We should add that its Doom 3 performance is outstanding, and the fastest in this roundup. However, since Doom 3 uses an uncommon graphics-programming standard, it doesn't provide a representative example of the system's overall 3D-gaming capabilities. If you're hoping to play more demanding games, such as F.E.A.R. and others, you may need to tweak the configuration for more 3D and processing power.
And if you're looking for parts to cut, we might suggest that you begin with one of the Prelude 64's two 250GB hard drives. They're set up in a RAID 0 configuration, and it's certainly handy to have 500GB of storage space. Most sub-$2,000 PCs include just one drive, which is usually 200GB or smaller. But since gamers care more about performance than storage, Maingear's decision to include two large hard drives surprised us. As outfitted, the Prelude 64 is better suited to serve as a high-end home PC.
The no-frills, 17-inch BenQ FP71G LCD lacks a DVI input, but it delivers an impeccable 8ms response time--crucial for smooth, streak-free images in games and movies. And despite the analog-only connection, we found the picture extremely sharp--much better than those we've seen from other analog LCDs.
Audio comes courtesy of an onboard Sound Blaster Live 7.1 subsystem (offering both analog and digital outputs) and Logitech's X-230 speakers. The latter is the only weak link in the chain: an entry-level 2.1 sound system with satellites joined by a too-short cord. They're not bad speakers by any stretch, but anyone serious about games, music, or movies will want more power and satellites.
Maingear supplies some good software--eTrust Antivirus, Nero OEM 6.6, and a WinDVD suite of photo- and DVD-creation apps--but no games. The company's standard one-year warranty includes toll-free phone support, which is available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sadly, you won't find much in the way of online support on Maingear's Web site. The only nod to Web support is the screenshot-heavy walk-through for using the recovery CDs.
|BAPCo's SysMark 2004 rating||SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating||SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating|
|Half-Life 2 1,024x768 4XAA 8XAF||Half-Life 2 1,600x1,200 4XAA 8XAF|
|Doom 3 1,024x768, 4XAA and 8XAF||Doom 3 1,600x1,200, 4XAA and 8XAF|
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
ABS Ultimate M5 Vortex
Windows XP Home SP2; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 3800+; Nvidia Nforce-4 chipset; 2,048MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 GT (PCIe); Seagate ST3200826AS 200GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Alienware Aurora 3500
Windows XP Home SP2; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 3800+; Nvidia Nforce-4 SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GT (PCIe); Samsung HD160JJ 160GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA
Maingear Prelude 64
Windows XP Home SP2; 2.0GHz AMD Athlon 64 3200+; Nvidia Nforce-4 SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 GS (PCIe SLI); two WDC WD2500KS-00MJB0 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Nvidia Nforce-4 RAID class controller (RAID 0)
Velocity Micro Gamer's Edge DualX (Athlon 64 3700+)
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 3700+; Nvidia Nforce-4 SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800 GT (PCIe); WDC WD2000JB-00GVC0 200GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA