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Maingear Prelude (AMD Phenom X4 9850) review: Maingear Prelude (AMD Phenom X4 9850)

Maingear Prelude (AMD Phenom X4 9850)

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

Maingear's AMD midrange Prelude desktop clearly has the Dell XPS 630 in its sights. The Prelude is faster almost across the board and at $1,499 it's less expensive. Our only reservation is with its interior. The Prelude case is very attractive on the outside, but to achieve its unique, squat dimensions, Maingear had to do some creative component arranging, which results in a few extra steps for upgraders. If you don't see yourself playing with the hardware much and you're looking for a midrange gaming desktop, the Prelude is one of the best on the market right now for sheer bang for the buck. Upgraders shouldn't have too big a problem, either, as long as they're willing to accept a few minor inconveniences.


Maingear Prelude (AMD Phenom X4 9850)

The Good

Best value and game performance in its class; overclockable CPU; attractive compact design.

The Bad

Upgrading requires a few extra steps; pricey wireless networking option; no easy-to-use overclocking software.

The Bottom Line

The Maingear Prelude has the best bang for the buck among midrange gaming PCs. It also has a certain stocky visual appeal. It's missing a few features, and you'll have to jump through a few hoops to make upgrades, but on balance, this system is a great deal.

This is actually not the first time we've seen a PC with this kind of interior. Voodoo PC's Hexx from 2004 was actually worse. In that system, Voodoo put the power supply in front of the expansion slots, which meant an awkward removal process. The Prelude puts the system fan in front of the expansion slots, and the power supply in front of the CPU socket. Thankfully, the system fan is actually not that hard to take out. Simply remove four thumbscrews from the back panel and unplug the power connection and it comes right out.

The power supply is potentially a bigger issue. It's easy enough to move out of the way (remove four screws) if you want to upgrade the processor, but because it sits directly in front of the CPU socket, you can't use some of those larger CPU cooling fans and heat sinks. As we said, for anyone looking for a fast, externally attractive gaming desktop, the unique hardware arrangement is not a huge issue, but if you're shopping for a system that you might want to overhaul completely down the road, this is probably not the system for you.

From a value standpoint, the Prelude might be the best desktop on the market right now. We awarded the Dell XPS 630 an Editors' Choice award largely because of its fast performance and its value proposition, and the Prelude has better features and performance for roughly the same price.

Maingear Prelude Dell XPS 630
Price $1,513 $1,619
Motherboard chipset AMD 790X Nvidia NForce 650i SLI
CPU 2.5GHz AMD Phenom X4 9850 2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600
Memory 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 3870 (2) 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT
Hard drives 500GB, 7,200rpm 500GB, 7,200rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit

You can see on our comparison chart that the two are almost identical. The Maingear's chief advantage is that its graphics cards have more memory. The enthusiast-class AMD 790X chipset may have something to do with its faster performance as well. Maingear also offers more configuration options than the Dell, including CPUs from AMD and Intel and GPUs from AMD and Nvidia, as well as 64-bit Windows Vista, which gives your systems a higher RAM limit. We should add that although the Maingear seems $100 less in our comparison chart, the XPS 630 came with a Dell mouse and keyboard. The Maingear came with no input devices, although adding the two lowest end options bumps the price up by $45. Even then, the Prelude is still less expensive than the XPS 630, and as you'll see from our benchmarks, it's also faster on almost every test.

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

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

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

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs
Rendering Single CPU
Uberclok Ion
Dell XPS 630
Maingear Prelude

You should also consider the $1,499 Falcon Northwest FragBox 2 as a direct competitor to the Prelude and the XPS 630. The three of them trade wins on our application tests, and the Maingear scores right where we expect it to. Its trouncing on iTunes by the FragBox 2 is likely because of the FragBox 2's overclocked processor. Maingear won't overclock the Prelude, but its quad-core Phenom X4 9850 processor is one of AMD's "Black Edition" models, which have an unlocked CPU clock speed multiplier. Thus, and as with the XPS 630, you can overclock the Prelude yourself and likely gain more performance.

Unreal Tournament 3 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920 x 1,200
1,280 x 1,024
Maingear Prelude
Dell XPS 630
Uberclok Ion

Crysis (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600 x 1,200 (high quality)
1,280 x 1,024 (medium quality)
Maingear Prelude
Dell XPS 630
Uberclok Ion

Regardless of its application scores, Maingear made the Prelude a highly capable gaming PC. It outperforms every other midrange gaming PC we've reviewed this year on both our Unreal Tournament 3 test and our Crysis test, and at every resolution. Its 40.7 frames per second on Crysis at 1,280x1,024-pixel resolution is definitely within the realm of playable, even if it's short of the 60fps ideal. We expect that the Prelude will be able to play most games that come out this year smoothly and with respectable image quality.

Unfortunately, Maingear missed an opportunity with overlocking here. The XPS 630 came with Nvidia's System Monitor software, which provides you with an easy-to-use interface for overclocking and monitoring your system components. You might think that for an all-AMD system like the Prelude, AMD's similar Overdrive program would be a natural (and free) addition, but Maingear didn't take that step. You still get ATI Overdrive, which lets you tweak the graphics cards only. However, overclocking the CPU requires you to go into the BIOS, and you still get no real-time, software-based means for keeping an eye on the temperature of your parts.

What we find particularly interesting about the full tower XPS 630, the midsize Prelude, and the semiportable FragBox 2 is how different they all look. The Prelude measures 15 inches high by 8.2 inches wide by 19.75 inches deep. That's 4 inches shorter than the Dell, although the Prelude towers over the small form factor FragBox 2. The Prelude manages to offer a fair amount of expandability, though. The highlights include four DDR2 1,066MHz-capable RAM slots, two 16x PCI-Express graphics card slots, and three hard-drive bays, although only one spare hard-drive power cable, and it appeared too short to actually connect a second hard drive in our review unit. Maingear offers up to three hard drives as configurable options, so we're confident that it's at least possible to take full advantage of all that upgrade room.

Otherwise, the Prelude came to us with a straightforward hardware load out. We received a 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive, a dual-layer LightScribe-capable DVD burner, and a media card reader. We always like to see wireless networking in smaller desktops such as this one, and we were sad to see that our review unit had only wired Ethernet. Maingear does offer an 802.11n PCI card option, though, for a pricey $110. You can also add a Blu-ray drive, a sound card, and a variety of other upgrades.

Maingear recently bumped its default warranty to 14 months of parts-and-labor coverage. That's higher than the industry standard by two months, so we have to give Maingear some credit there. You also get toll-free phone support from 6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. PT on Monday through Friday, and from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday. Not bad, but also not 24-7. You can find a variety of resources on Maingear's Web site for support help, including a tech support e-mail address, free security tool downloads, and links to a knowledge base and Maingear's active user forums.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Dell XPS 630
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Q6600; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; (2) 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics cards; 500GB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive.

Falcon Northwest Fragbox 2
Windows Vista Home Premium; 3.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8400; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics cards; 500GB 7,200rpm Samsung hard drive.

Maingear Prelude
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1; 2.5GHz AMD Phenom X4 9850; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 3870 graphics cards; 500GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive.

Uberclok Ion
Windows Vista Home Premium (tested); Windows XP Professional SP2 (second partition); 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 Edge E2250
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.2GHz (overclocked) Intel Core 2 Quad Q9450; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTX graphics card; 750GB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive.


Maingear Prelude (AMD Phenom X4 9850)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9Support 8