CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
Editors' note: This review has been updated with new benchmark results and text to account for previously unactivated overclocking settings that the vendor includes at no additional charge.
Maingear's Vybe is the first PC we've seen with AMD's new six-core Phenom II X6 CPU. And though this $1,299 desktop is a relative bargain compared with the $4,999 Intel-based six-core PC we reviewed, the more-affordable AMD chip helps the Vybe only on programs that can use six cores effectively. For programs that aren't as well-threaded, Maingear made a few tweaks to help its case, but other PCs in this price range still offer better performance. Maingear assembled the Vybe with its customary attention to detail, and also threw in a few useful extras to sweeten the pot. We like all of that stuff, and we recommend this system if you have very specific processing or gaming needs that will make use of the Vybe's six cores. For the rest of you, this PC is likely overkill.
Maingear describes the Vybe as the spiritual successor to its Prelude 2 line of midrange gaming desktops. The Vybe's matte-black exterior and case markings echo that of the higher-end Maingear Shift we reviewed earlier this year. Unlike the Shift, the Vybe has a standard motherboard orientation inside the case.
The midtower Vybe is also significantly smaller than the full-tower Shift, but that hasn't stopped Maingear from equipping the Vybe with a full-size ATX motherboard, specifically the Gigabyte GA-890GPA-UDHE. The board features AMD's relatively new, Phenom II X6-supporting 890GX chipset, but also comes with two wider-bandwidth USB 3.0 ports and support for faster SATA 3.0-hard drives. Both features are new to higher-end PCs this year, and though they're not yet common in the $1,000 to $2,000 price range, we expect they will spread, in part because of the new 890GX motherboards like the one in the Vybe.
The motherboard is also unique because it includes a full-size PCI Express graphics-card slot, also an uncommon feature at this price. Maingear sent us a midrange ATI Radeon HD 5830 graphics card with the Vybe, and we generally advocate upgrading to a higher-end single card instead of doubling up on midrange GPUs. Our configuration's 500-watt power supply would also give us pause before adding a second 3D card. For both of those reasons, the extra graphics-card slot will be best appreciated by Vybe buyers who spend more on a higher-end configuration.
|Maingear Vybe||Gateway FX6831-01|
|CPU||3.2GHz AMD Phenom II X6 1090T||2.8GHz Intel Core i7 860|
|Motherboard chipset||AMD 890GX||Intel H57|
|Memory||6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM||8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||1GB ATI Radeon HD 5830||1GB ATI Radeon HD 5850|
|Hard drives||640GB 7,200 rpm Western Digital Caviar Black hard drive||1.5TB 7,200 rpm|
|Optical drive||dual-layer DVD burner||dual-layer DVD burner|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet; 802.11n wireless||Gigabit Ethernet|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
By coming in at $1,299, the Vybe fits neatly alongside a handful of midprice gaming/performance desktops we've seen recently. Gateway's similarly priced FX6831FX6831-01 is the most recent competitor, but you could go to Dell, HP, Velocity Micro, or elsewhere and build a decent PC for around the same price. None of those vendors, however, currently offers the new Phenom II X6 chip--at least, not yet.
We matched the Vybe against the Gateway directly both because it's the most recent desktop we reviewed and we really liked it. For the same price as the Vybe, the Core i7-based Gateway offers more than twice as much hard-drive space, a faster graphics card, and more RAM. Maingear includes the six-core AMD chip, and also has an edge in its wireless-networking card, which is thrown in for free with this configuration, plus a coupon for a free copy of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
We can't say we value wireless that much in a midtower desktop, but if it's free, it's hard to complain. And though we prefer the Vybe's understated black exterior to the Gateway's gaudy red accent lighting, the Gateway has a truly useful front-accessible hard-drive-tray mechanism that makes swapping hard drives a breeze. The Maingear has a traditional internal-access hard-drive cage, with all the drives annoyingly aimed inward. That gives Gateway the advantage in terms of case utility, as well as in features-for-the-dollar. The performance situation is less clear.
|Rendering Multiple CPUs||Rendering Single CPU|
We'll come right out and say that for the most part, the Vybe's application performance is disappointing. It fares well on both Cinebench tests, but on every other benchmark it falls behind the Gateway and other Intel-based PCs in its price range. We were surprised by the results of our multimedia multitasking test, which we thought would give the Vybe's six-core CPU a chance to shine. The Cinebench test suggests that for programs written to take advantage of all available CPU cores, the six-core Vybe has some benefit. In most other cases, you're better off with a fast quad-core Core i7 chip.
We actually ran into a minor testing issue with this system, hence the Editors' note above. We first ran this review with an iTunes time of 155 seconds, and a single-core Cinebench score of 3,596. After we published, Maingear pointed out that the Cinebench score in particular looked low, especially considering Maingear had used AMD's Overdrive software to overclock the Phenom II X6's TurboCore settings. TurboCore is a new feature in AMD's six-core CPUs that can automatically ramp-up the clock speed of three of the six cores, which would improve processing times on programs that aren't fully multithreaded. AMD's stock TurboCore setting boosts the cores to 3.2GHz, from 2.8GHz; with Overdrive, Maingear set TurboCore to go all the way to 4.0GHz.
Our best explanation for the low single-core Cinebench score is that Overdrive didn't kick in the way it should have. Maingear says it sent the Vybe to us with Overdrive enabled. Our test procedure specifies that we leave running all programs resident when the system first turns on. Regardless of why the scores were low, Maingear insists that it will sell this system with the overclocked settings enabled at start-up. We've elected to take Maingear at its word, but we expect that, in light of our experience, Maingear will rectify any improper set-up procedure going forward. Again, we have no way to determine the cause of the original slowdown, so we cannot say for sure whether Maingear did indeed do anything incorrectly.
With the Overdrive settings in place, we noticed upticks in performance on our single-core oriented tests. The Vybe's single-threaded Cinebench score leapt from 3,569 to 4,237, and its iTunes time improved from 155 seconds to 134 seconds. We, of course, welcome the speed boost, especially because Maingear adds the overclocked TurboCore tweak for free. The other scores didn't change significantly, and even with the new results, the Maingear remains at the lower end of its price range in terms of application performance overall. Fortunately, this is a gaming desktop, and we had a better experience with its 3D scores.
|1,600 x 1,200 (4x aa)||1,280 x 1,024 (4x aa)|
|1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)||1,440 x 900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)|
As you can see from our Far Cry 2 test, the Vybe posted the fastest 1,920x1,200-pixel resolution score in its price range, despite the fact that its Radeon HD 5830 card is the step-down version of the Gateway's Radeon HD 5850. That suggests that on multithreaded games, a six-core CPU could actually make a difference, in particular on hardware-taxing first-person shooters. In other words, on the games most likely to challenge a PC in this price range, the Vybe's six-core CPU seems to provide a meaningful performance benefit. For nonmultithreaded titles, the Vybe might not be the fastest system out there, but we expect you'll find few games this system can't play well.
In addition to the extra graphics-card slot, the Vybe has a few other upgrade options inside--among them, two free hard-drive bays, a pair of standard PCI slots (one occupied by the Wi-Fi card), and two 1X PCI-Express slots (one obstructed by internal cables). On the outside you get a broad selection of inputs and outputs. The Radeon card features a pair of DVI outputs, as well as HDMI and DisplayPort jacks. From the motherboard, you get four USB 2.0 ports and the aforementioned pair of USB 3.0 ports, as well as FireWire 400, an S/PDIF audio output, and 7.1 analog audio jacks. You'll also find a media card reader on the front of the case, and a small, barely noticeable flip-top door on the top of the system that hides front-side audio jacks and two more USB 2.0 ports.
|Raw (annual kWh)||533.0679|
|Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh)||$60.50|
Despite its extra cores, the Maingear Vybe didn't consume a gross amount of extra power. Yes, it drew more than the Gateway, but only by a difference of about $12.00, or an extra dollar a month. All told, you can expect to pay roughly $5.00 extra per month to power the default Vybe configuration reviewed here.
Maingear's default service plan gets you lifetime parts, labor, and phone coverage, and one year of what it calls "Angelic" service. Maingear's Web site details a collection of promises that come with Angelic service, although some of the promises are more like courtesies, such as 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 also offers 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.
Asus Essentio CG5290-BP007
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit; 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 920 (overclocked); 9GB 1,066 DDR3 SDRAM; 896MB GeForce GTX 260 (216 core); 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
Dell Studio XPS SX8100-1986NBC
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 860; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5770; 1TB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drive
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 860; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5850; 1.5TB Seagate 7,200rpm hard drive
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.2GHz AMD Phenom II X6 1090T; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5830; 640GB, 7,200 rpm Western Digital Caviar Black hard drive
Velocity Micro Edge Z30
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.22GHz Intel Core i7-860 (overclocked); 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 896MB Nvidia G