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Maingear Shift review: Maingear Shift

The odds a vendor will hit 3.8GHz or higher in a Core i7 960 are greater than with a less tolerant Core i7 920 chip, so ordering the lower-end version involves a bit of a gamble. Even if you hit only 3.79GHz with a Core i7 920, as in the Digital Storm system, you'd still get great performance. Maingear charges about $420 less for the Shift with a Core i7 920. If it doesn't hit 3.86GHz, it will likely come close enough to make the savings worthwhile.

Crysis (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1600 x 1200 (high, 4x aa)  
1280 x 1024 (medium, 4x aa)  
Maingear Shift
74 
76 

Far Cry 2 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1920x1,200 (DirectX 10,
4x aa, very high)
  
1440 x 900 (DirectX 10,
4x aa, very high)
  
Maingear Shift
149 
193 
Digital Storm 950Si
94 
110 

If we question the wisdom of paying for the more expensive CPU, the pair of Radeon HD 5970 cards in the Shift is clearly worth it for serious PC gamers, especially if you have a 24-inch or larger LCD. Our high-end Crysis test is the most telling. Even though the AVADirect system beats it on the lower-end Crysis test, the Maingear is still smooth, and when you dial the resolution higher the Maingear holds steady while the AVADirect drops off noticeably. The Shift also leads the pack on both high-end Far Cry 2 tests. Every major desktop vendor offers the Radeon HD 5870 in multiple configurations, so these cards aren't unique to Maingear. But with this build, Maingear shows off a PC that will handle any game on the market at very high resolutions.

If the game performance above isn't fast enough for you, you can theoretically add a third graphics card, as well as a graphics card dedicated to physics processing via the Shift's pair of open 8x/16x PCI Express slots (they'll operate at 8x throughput with the pair of cards currently installed running at 16x). We say "theoretically" because the 1,000-watt power supply in our review system might buckle under that kind of strain. Maingear offers a 1,200 watt PSU for an additional $240, and you can add a third Radeon HD 5870 from Maingear for an extra $499.

The Radeon 5000-series cards, in particular, are notable for supporting DirectX 11 and being capable of playing supporting games across three monitors at their full extended resolution. They also happen to be the fastest single-chip cards on the market right now. Each card comes with DVI, HDMI, and full-sized DisplayPort outputs, so while we wouldn't argue for the Shift as a living room PC, it will support pretty much any modern display or HDTV.

You also get an appropriately broad array of other inputs on Shift's EVGA X58 motherboard: eSATA and FireWire ports accommodate fast external data transfers; audio outputs include a set of 7.1 analog ports and both optical and coaxial S/PDIF jacks; USB 2.0 ports run eight deep on the back, and you get an additional pair of them on the media card reader that pops up from the top of the case near the front.

Juice box
Maingear Shift  
Off (watts) 3.03
Sleep (watts) 186.07
Idle (watts) 219.56
Load (watts) 473.28
Raw (annual kWh) 1087.69416
EnergyStar compliant No
Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh) $123.45

Annual power consumption cost
Maingear Shift
$123.45 

Comparing power consumption among high-end gaming PCs is something of a joke, but writing the numbers out at least puts things in perspective. We estimate that it will run you about $123 a year to power the Shift. That's assuming you turn it off every day. Leave it in sleep mode regularly, and the annual bill jumps to $223, or just under $20 a month. To Maingear's credit, the Shift actually costs less to operate than the slower Digital Storm system. Relatively speaking, and assuming you turn it off more often that you leave it in Sleep mode, the Shift is actually fairly power efficient, at least for a performance desktop.

Maingear's default service plan gets you lifetime parts, labor, and phone coverage, and two years of what it calls "Angelic" service. Maingear's Web site details a collection of promises that come with Angelic service, although there's really nothing here we haven't seen from other boutique vendors. Some of the promises are more like courtesies than services, like promising that it won't oversell you (a vendor shouldn't do that regardless). But the discretionary on-site visit from a third-party service provider could come in handy. Taking a page from Falcon Northwest, Maingear has also started offering free two-way repair shipping, although only for the first 30 days of ownership, as opposed to a year from Falcon. Even if Maingear's service offerings aren't unique, they still surpass those from the vast majority of other vendors out there.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

AVADirect Custom Gaming PC
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.88GHz Intel Core i7-920 (overclocked); 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM (underclocked to 1,480MHz); 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 295 (overclocked); 1.5TB 7,200rpm Seagate hard drive; 147GB 15,000rpm Fujistu hard drive

Digital Storm 950Si
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.79GHz Intel Core i7-920 (overclocked); 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1,792MB Nvidia GeForce GTX 295; 1TB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive; 300GB 10,000rpm Western Digital hard drive

Falcon Northwest FragBox 2
Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit; 3.2GHz Intel Core i7 (overclocked); 6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 285 graphics cards; 1.5TB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive

Maingear Shift
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit; 3.87GHz (overclocked) Intel Core i7 960; 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5870 graphics cards

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