CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
Last year I fell for the Digital Storm ODE Level 3, an upper midrange gaming PC that still impresses on our performance charts. As much as I still like that system, Velocity Micro's Edge Z55 is my new gaming PC of choice. It's possible this Core i7-2700K-based desktop will look out of date when Intel's Core 3000-series Ivy Bridge chips launch in a few weeks, but multiple vendors have told me that Ivy Bridge isn't as overclockable as Sandy Bridge. If that's the case, expect the 2000-series CPUs will still be available in performance gaming PCs. For those of you shopping for such a desktop, the Edge Z55 is the best deal going for under $2,500.
Velocity Micro hasn't updated its desktops' exterior design in years, but I can't say there's anything particularly wrong with it. The square angles and vented front panel might seem plain-looking, but I'd take Velocity's unobtrusive design over the more garish gaming desktops out there any day.
If this system has one quirk it's that it's noisy. Each of the two graphics cards has its own fan, with a third, standalone fan mounted above them for added airflow. The liquid cooling apparatus attached to the CPU also has a particularly noisy fan. The Edge Z55's full-tower chassis precludes it from fitting into your living room, but if you had any other concerns about its space-appropriateness, be sure to factor in its loud operating noise.
|Velocity Micro Edge Z55||Falcon Northwest Mach V||Digital Storm ODE Level 3|
|Motherboard chipset||Intel X68||Intel X79||Intel P67|
|CPU||4.9GHz Intel Core i7-2700K (overclocked||4.4GHz Intel Core i7-3930K (overclocked)||4.8GHz Intel Core i7-2600K (overclocked)|
|Memory||8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM||16GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM||8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||(2) 1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti (448 cores)||(3) 1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 570||(2) Nvidia GeForce GTX 570|
|Hard drives||(2) 60GB Intel SSD, 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi||128MB Crucial SSD, 2TB 7,200rpm Samsung hard drive||120GB Intel SSD, 1TB 7,200rpm Samsung|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray/DVD burner combo||Blu-ray writer/dual-layer DVD burner||Blu-ray/DVD burner combo|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)||Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
Like the Digital Storm ODE Level 3, Velocity Micro's Edge Z55 shoots for the gaming PC middle ground with its mid-$2,000 price tag. Fortunately, that kind of budget gets you a substantial gaming computer that makes few compromises. To Velocity Micro's credit, this Edge Z55 configuration also costs between $100 and $200 less than a similar build from other boutique vendors.
As with most Core i7-2000K-series CPUs, the quad-core 2700K in the Edge Z55 can reliably hit overclocking frequencies approaching 5GHz. That puts it on par with the Digital Storm's Core i7-2600K, and you'll notice that both systems have noticeably higher clock speeds than the more expensive Falcon Northwest Mach V. The Mach V comes with Intel's 3930K CPU, a six-core chip that offers 12 total processing threads via Hyper-Threading.
For a system that costs more than twice as much as the Velocity Micro and the Digital Storm systems, you'll see in our charts that the Mach V can't deliver the same processor performance. Its gaming speed is up to par, but overall it makes me question the value of the six-core 3900K series for gaming and consumer-oriented applications.
For the Velocity's other specs, it matches the Digital Storm system almost part-for-part. The GeForce GTX 560 Ti graphics cards in the Velocity are actually a slightly slower variant than the GTX 570s in the Digital Storm system. That might account for the Digital Storm's higher price tag, but the 3D performance difference between the two is negligible. The fact that Velocity Micro achieves that parity for $100 less than Digital Storm helps recommend it.
With Nvidia's next-generation GeForce GTX 680 graphics cards already on the market, and Intel's forthcoming Ivy Bridge CPUs due out in a few weeks, you'd be right to ask whether this Edge Z55 build isn't hovering close to obsolescence. I don't think so.
Velocity Micro offers a single GeForce GTX 680 in the Edge Z55 for an extra $85 over the price of the GTX 560 Ti cards. That extra price roughly accounts for the added performance you'd see from a single GTX 680, so the option is there if you want it.
For Ivy Bridge, I can't say what the impact will be until we test it. New platforms always bring unique quirks, but as mentioned earlier, various boutique vendors have already told me that Intel's new CPUs won't overclock as high as the older-generation chips. In that event, you're better off with Intel's older tech.
|Rendering multiple CPUs||Rendering single CPU|
|Extreme (1,920x1080)||Performance (1,920x1,080, 16x AF)||Entry Level (1,680x1,050)|
Our application tests show how well the soon-to-be-old Core i7-2000-series chips hold up on mainstream applications. The six-core Core i7-3930K in the Falcon Northwest system falls behind the Edge Z55 on all but our Cinebench multithreaded test.
In fairness, the lower CPU clock speed on this Mach V was the result of that review unit's prerelease hardware, and Falcon Northwest and other vendors have since achieved clock speeds similar to those of the 2700K chips without too much trouble. The problem is that the 3930K and its accompanying X79 chipset alone can cost $1,000 more than the Core i7-2700K and a good X68 chipset motherboard.
Our Cinebench results show that Intel's high-end six-core CPU does provide some benefits, but without offering performance enthusiasts higher clock speed potential, its easy to argue that the Core i7-2700K in the Edge Z55 offers significantly better bang for the buck when it comes to consumer-oriented applications.
|1,600x1,200 (high, 4x aa)||1,280x1,024 (medium, 4x aa)|
|1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)||1,440x900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)|
|2,560x1,600 (DirectX 11, very high)||1,920x1,080 (DirectX 11, very high)|
The gaming scores are a little more scattered. Suffice it to say that the Velocity Micro, the Digital Storm, and the Falcon Northwest all fare well here. If you have a multimonitor arrangement, the Falcon Northwest and its three graphics cards will serve you best. For single screens, particularly 1,920x1,080-pixel-resolution displays, the Mach V will be overkill, and there the Digital Storm and Velocity Micro systems are essentially equivalent. Expect them to play any game from this generation smoothly and with high image quality.
With two double-wide graphics cards, the Edge Z55 doesn't offer an overabundance of card expansion room. You get a 1x PCI Express slot, a standard PCI slot, and, if you're daring, a spare full-length PCI Express slot in between the two 3D cards. Technically you might squeak in a third card, but I wouldn't recommend it with only an 850-watt power supply and an aggressively overclocked CPU. For other expansion you get room to add two more hard drives and two free slots for more system memory.
If its internal expansion room is unsurprising, the external ports on the Velocity's Asus motherboard offer everything you could hope for from the X68 platform. USB 2.0? Check. USB 3.0? Yup. FireWire port? How about two of them? eSATA? Sure. For audio you get S/PDIF and 7.1 analog jacks; for video the graphics cards each offer a pair of DVI outputs and a Mini-HDMI out. The legacy data ports might not be that useful to everyone, but I'd rather have them than not.
The only caveat I'd add here is that Ivy Bridge is supposed to bring Thunderbolt support to the Windows-Intel ecosystem. When that will happen, or if Thunderbolt would be useful in a gaming machine, are both to be determined. If you have a particular need for the fast-access data storage arrays like we've seen aimed at use with Apple computers, you might wait to see what emerges later this year before making any new PC purchase now.
|Velocity Micro Edge Z55||Average watts per hour|
|Raw (annual kWh)||833.61036|
|Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh)||$94.61|
Gaming PCs are never shy about their power consumption. The Edge Z55 draws the most power of all of its recent competition, surprisingly more than even the Mach V with its six-core CPU and three graphics cards. It's hard to feel too upset by a power-draw imbalance among PCs like this, but if that's important to you, or you can't stomach the extra $8 on your monthly power bill, the Alienware X51 might be a more appropriate gaming PC for you. Good luck playing Battlefield 3 at 1,920x1080 pixels.
Service and support
Velocity Micro's service and support compare well with what you get from other boutique PC vendors. Velocity Micro relies exclusively on in-house phone support technicians, and though it doesn't offer 24-7 phone support, you can get in touch from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. PT Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. PT on Saturday, which is a pretty fair window. The warranty on the system covers parts and labor for a year, as well as one year of depot repair service. And Velocity's Web site has all kinds of useful support resources.
With the latest, and likely last components from this current generation of Intel CPUs and Nvidia graphics cards, the Velocity Micro Edge Z55 offers a strong gaming configuration that can compete with any other system out there. Particularly if you play games on the 1,920x1,080-pixel display, the Edge Z55 is the leading system in its upper-midrange category.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
Velocity Micro Edge Z55 (Core i7-2700K, February 2012)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.9GHz Intel Core i7-2700K (overclocked); 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2)1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti graphics cards; (2) 60GB Intel solid-state hard drive; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
Alienware X51 (Core i5-2320, January 2012)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.0GHz Intel Core i5-2320; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 555 graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive
Digital Storm ODE Level 3 (Core i7-2600K, Spring 2011)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.8GHz Intel Core i7-2600K (overclocked); 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2)1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 570 graphics cards; 128GB Intel solid-state hard drive; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive
Falcon Northwest Mach V (Core i7-3930K, Fall 2011)
Windows 7 Professional 64-bit; 4.4GHz Intel Core i7-3930K (overclocked); 16GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (3)1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 570 graphics cards; 128GB Crucial solid-state hard drive; 2TB 7,200rpm Samsung hard drive
Origin Chronos (Core i5-2550, March 2012)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.5GHz Intel Core i5-2550; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti graphics card; 750 GB 7,200rpm Western Digital hard drive