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Maingear X-Cube (AMD Phenom II X4 940) review: Maingear X-Cube (AMD Phenom II X4 940)

Maingear X-Cube (AMD Phenom II X4 940)

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
8 min read

Rather than simply reissue the same case with updated specs, Maingear has redesigned its small form factor X-Cube gaming desktop wholesale. The result is a new, larger case that maintains the compact nature of PCs in this niche, but also lends this system a surprising degree of internal space. Our review unit came in at $2,672, with two graphics cards (for three 3D chips total), an ambitiously overclocked AMD CPU, and a bulky 1,000 watt power supply. Despite all that, we found that this X-Cube was not quite able to overtake its full tower PC competition. The primary benefit of this system, then, is its small size, and its price relative to other small form factor (SFF) gaming PCs. If you have your heart set on such a desktop, you'll find the X-Cube an attractive bargain.


Maingear X-Cube (AMD Phenom II X4 940)

The Good

Unique small form factor case design; best deal among SFF gaming PCs at this price.

The Bad

Outperformed by older, less expensive standard tower desktops; massive power hog; no upgrade room; a few missed living room-friendliness opportunities.

The Bottom Line

Maingear's X-Cube small form factor game PC has received a cleverly redesigned case and boasts strong bang for the buck in its niche. We wouldn't necessarily pick this configuration, and you can find a better deal in a standard-size gaming desktop, but you still might be charmed by its unique looks and its decent value.

HP's smallish, power-efficient Firebird notwithstanding, Falcon Northwest's FragBox 2 is the X-Cube's primary competitor in SFF gaming. We last reviewed one in October, right before the launch of Intel's new market-leading Core i7 chips.

Falcon swore to us at the time that it wouldn't bring Core i7 to the FragBox 2, but, lo and behold, the current FragBox 2 configurator has them available via a new DGI X58 motherboard. The older FragBox 2 is a much more expensive system than the X-Cube, and similarly, we can't build out a comparable Core i7 FragBox 2 for less than $3,300. For the time being, the X-Cube seems to have the best SFF configuration in the $2,500 price range. Maingear also has a Core i7 X-Cube in the works shortly (if it's not on sale already), and an AMD AM3-chipset motherboard on deck after that.

While we've seen a FragBox recently, the last time we reviewed an X-Cube was in May 2007 in its original case. That smaller scale design could probably fit entirely inside the new-look X-Cube. Despite its larger size (11.5 inches wide, 11.5 inches high, 14.25 inches deep), the new X-Cube case retains most of the charm of a SFF desktop, mostly due to the mesh ventilation panels on the front that give it an old-time radio effect.

The foam-lined top of the X-Cube comes off once you undo eight screws around the case.

Accessing the interior of the X-Cube is also unique. The top and side panels form one unified piece of metal that anchors to the front and rear panel and to each of the X-Cube's feet. Loosen the feet, undo the other screws, and the whole top portion (lined with sound-dampening foam, a nice touch) comes right off. The procedure is not quite as elegant as it sounds since you have to tilt the case to get at the underside, but it's also simple enough.

  Maingear X-Cube Velocity Micro Edge Z-55
Price $2,672 $2,499
CPU 3.7GHz (overclocked) AMD Phenom II X4 940 3.0GHz (overclocked) Intel Core i7 920
Motherboard chipset AMD 790GX Intel X58
Memory 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM 6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 2GB ATI Radeon HD 4870X2, 1GB ATI Radeon HD 4870 (2) ATI Radeon HD 4870
Hard drives (2) 750GB 7,200 rpm 750GB, 7,200 rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit SP1 Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit SP1

If our most recent FragBox 2 review doesn't make the best comparison to the X-Cube, Velocity Micro's $2,500 Edge Z-55 is a fine stand-in. Yes, it's a full-tower PC, and doesn't suffer the same expansion limitations as the X-Cube, but the two are actually quite close on parts. The Maingear has the storage edge with two 750GB hard drives to the Velocity Micro's one. Both systems also have two graphics cards, but Maingear's has three graphics chips total, by way of a single-chip Radeon HD 4870 and a dual-chip Radeon HD 4870 X2. That makes this X-Cube the first three-way Crossfire system we've seen.

Although it's not apples-to-apples, this review also becomes a kind of Intel and AMD throwdown. The Velocity Micro features Intel's lowest-end Core i7 920 processor, overclocked from 2.66GHz to a modest 3.0GHz. Maingear assumes a more aggressive stance by taking an unlocked "Black Edition" of AMD's new Phenom II X4 940 chip from 3.0GHz to 3.7GHz, backed by a liquid cooling system. These two chips have popped up in several PCs in this price range, and seem to have emerged as direct competitors.

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Falcon Northwest FragBox 2
Maingear X-Cube

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

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  
Velocity Micro Edge Z55
Maingear X-Cube
HP Firebird 803
Dell XPS 625

For all of its overclocking, the Maingear was only able to overtake the Velocity Micro system on our iTunes test, and there only barely. Our other tests benefit from more RAM, and we also suspect Core i7's larger L3 cache (8MB compared to 6MB in the AMD chip) plays a part as well. We should also add that Maingear and a handful of other AMD-based PCs ran into trouble on Photoshop's DRM. We don't blame Maingear or AMD, but in any case we were unable to generate a Photoshop score for this review. We're in touch with Adobe and hope to have it resolved shortly. For the X-Cube's part, though, it's certainly a fast, capable system for its price, but you can find a generally faster system elsewhere if you shop around.

Unreal Tournament 3 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920 x 1,200  
1,280 x 1,024  
Maingear X-Cube
HP Firebird 803
Dell XPS 625

Crysis (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,600 x 1,200 (high, 4x aa)  
1,280 x 1,024 (medium, 4x aa)  

Far Cry 2 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  
1,440 x 900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)  
Maingear X-Cube
HP Firebird 803
Dell XPS 625

We found a similar story on our gaming tests, with the exception of Far Cry 2. We've only started using that test recently, and thus don't have scores for the Falcon and Velocity systems. In any case, our Unreal Tournament 3 and Crysis tests show that the Maingear system and its three-way graphics chip design didn't actually get it that much compared to dual-chip systems with faster CPUs. But again, we wouldn't worry about it too much. With healthy scores on our high-resolution Crysis and Far Cry 2 test, the Maingear should be able to play any game you throw at it smoothly and with high-image quality.

Power consumption (watts)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
HP Firebird 803
Dell XPS 625
Maingear X-Cube

We wouldn't expect a system with a 1,000 watt power supply, three graphics cards, and an overclocked processor to brag about its power efficiency, but looking at the X-Cube's small case might compel you to assume that it's less of a power hog than a full-size desktop. Our power consumption test is new, and still in development, but based on these early results, the Dell XPS 625 provides an interesting comparison. It uses the same CPU as the X-Cube, but at stock clock speeds, as well as a single graphics card. You can see that even at idle, the Maingear uses about two-and-a-half times as much power as the Dell, and twice as much under load. Power-efficient the X-Cube is not, although we suspect most high-end desktops would show similar wattage consumption.

As you might guess, the interior of such a loaded system is indeed cramped. With the two graphics cards and a pair of hard drives, you get only two free memory slots for upgrading, and to get to them you have to remove the liquid cooling system's heat exchanger. Ports around the system include a media card reader, two eSATA ports, headphone and mic jacks, and inputs for USB 2.0 and FireWire on the front. Around back you get the standard analog audio array, two more USBs, and both coaxial and optical digital audio outputs.

Given that the X-Cube is such a small desktop, you might be inclined to put it in the living room. To that end, we'd hoped to see wireless networking and built-in HDMI. You can get Wi-Fi as an option, but it's not a standard feature. You also have to use a DVI-to-HDMI adapter to output to an HDMI display. With some rejiggering you can make this system more living-room ready, but we wish it had those features out of the box.

You don't get a lot in the way of special software in the X-Cube, although Maingear did include AMD's Fusion mini-app for shutting down nonessential software to improve gaming performance. We're used to seeing AMD's Overdrive overclocking software alongside Fusion, but since the X-Cube is already overclocked, perhaps it's best not to have the option to push it further. You can always download Overdrive yourself if you still want to play around with it.

Maingear backs the X-Cube with 14 months of parts-and-service coverage. That's 2 months longer than the rest of the industry's typical one-year coverage plan, which we suspect is exactly what Maingear was hoping we'd say when it set that policy. Either way, you win. You don't get 24-7 phone support, but Maingear provides a generous range of coverage from 6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. PT, Monday to Friday, and from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Saturdays. Online support is also plentiful, with driver downloads, a knowledge base, and an underdevelopment remote desktop support feature.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:
Dell XPS 625
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit; 3.0GHz AMD Phenom II X4 940 Black Edition; 6GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4850 graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive

Falcon Northwest FragBox 2 (Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650)
Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit; 3.0GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650; 8GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; (2) 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4870X2 graphics cards; 1TB 7,200 rpm Hitachi hard drive

HP Firebird 803 with VoodooDNA
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit; 2.83GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; (2) 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9800S graphics cards; (2) 320GB 5,400 rpm hard drives

Maingear X-Cube
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit; 3.7GHz (overclocked) AMD Phenom II X4 940; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 4870X2 graphics card; 1GB Radeon HD 4870 graphics card; (2) 750GB, 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drives

Velocity Micro Edge Z55
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 64-bit; 3.0GHz Intel Core i7-920 (overclocked); 6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards; 750GB 7,200 rpm Hitachi hard drive


Maingear X-Cube (AMD Phenom II X4 940)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Support 8