Velocity Micro's Raptor line of gaming systems are proven performers, and the new Raptor 64 DualX is no exception. Driven by AMD's new dual-core Athlon 64 FX-60 processor and a pair of powerful GeForce graphics cards, this pricey ($5,395), overclocked system is built for speed. It couldn't quite match the numbers put up by the recently reviewed (and more expensive) Falcon Northwest Mach V, and the Raptor 64 DualX crashed when we played Doom 3 at the highest detail settings. Both are surmountable problems, and while the crashing problem isn't unique to this system (the Falcon crashed in the same spot), the power supply issues at its source speak to a problem with high-end systems that might only get worse.
Velocity Micro offers a variety of sturdy aluminum cases for the Raptor 64 DualX; ours came in a silver Signature LX-W chassis with a side window panel and blue cathode lighting. Behind a removable/reversible upper door panel sit four full-size and two half-height drive bays. Multimedia buffs will appreciate the twin double-layer DVD burners rather than the standard recordable/DVD-ROM combination. There's also a media card reader/floppy combo drive for easily removable storage swapping. The company's arrowhead logo is cut out of the lower door, behind which a 120mm blue-lit fan helps to cool the system. Two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, and two audio jacks dot the lower front bezel for easy, up-front connections. Rear connections include a healthy variety of USB 2.0, Ethernet, and audio ports, although the latter have been disabled in favor of the Creative X-Fi Extreme Music audio card.
Typical of most Velocity Micro systems we've seen, the interior of the Raptor 64 DualX is well organized, with all cables neatly routed and tied down. The processor is cooled by a CoolerMaster AquaGate liquid-cooling assembly mounted on the upper-rear portion of the case atop a 120mm exhaust fan. The fan uses a variable-speed switch to remove heat from the interior, and it's fairly quiet, at least until you crank it up to full speed.
You get only a single x4 PCI Express slot for expansion, since the other unused slots are blocked by the enormous dual 512MB eVGA GeForce 7800 GTX graphics cards. A total of 2GB of Corsair XMS-3500LL Pro Series DDR memory is installed in two of the four memory DIMM slots.
The Velocity Micro Raptor 64 DualX is powered by the new dual-core Athlon 64 FX-60 processor, AMD's flagship performance CPU. By default, the FX-60 runs at 2.6GHz, but Velocity Micro bumped up the speed to 2.9GHz. In fact, the two 512MB GeForce 7800 GTX graphics cards are also tweaked for enhanced performance, with the core clock bumped up to 590MHz and the memory clock set to 1.79GHz. Those parts live in a high-end Asus A8N32 SLI Deluxe motherboard with full dual x16 SLI capability, which means you get maximum 3D graphics bandwidth in SLI mode for both cards. This means that high-resolution textures in games and even HD video editing won't, in theory, give the Raptor 64 much trouble.
A removable hard drive cage holds two 500GB Hitachi 7,200rpm hard drives configured for RAID 0, and there's room for three additional drives in the cage. We were surprised that Velocity didn't include one of the new 150GB Western Digital 10,000rpm Raptor drives, or at least the old 74GB model, for faster booting and operating system reads, although these would add $380 or $235, respectively, to the cost of the system.
In addition to Windows XP Professional Edition, the Raptor 64 DualX comes with a fair number of bundled software titles, including PowerDVD 5, Far Cry, WordPerfect Office 11, Nero OEM Suite, WinDVD Suite, and a generous 12-month subscription to McAfee VirusScan 2006. That's more than most vendors give you, and we're especially glad to see the yearlong virus protection.
As a result of its high-end configuration, the Velocity Micro Raptor 64 DualX turned in some impressive numbers on our application and gaming performance tests. Its score of 188.1 frames per second (fps) on our Doom 3 1,024x768 tests was second only to that of the Falcon Mach V system, which scored a record-breaking 205.1fps. The Velocity system also placed second behind the Mach V on SysMark 2004, with its 289 trailing the Falcon's 306. The performance differences seem to be linked to the graphics driver software. The Velocity Micro came to us with Nvidia's 81.95 version of its GeForce drivers, the Falcon with the newer 81.97 version. Nvidia has since released its 81.98 drivers, which may boost either system even further. As always, we recommend you update your drivers regularly.
Now we come to the interesting part.
Given that the Velocity Micro Raptor 64 DualX and the Falcon Northwest Mach V are essentially the same system (with minor variations in clock speeds and hard drive configuration), we were surprised that the performance numbers were so different. We were also surprised that the Falcon PC crashed during our 1,600x1,200-resolution Doom 3 test.
Our investigation led us to simply play the game on each system, and to our surprise, neither system was able to play with 8X antialiasing turned on for more than 30 seconds before a complete system shutdown. We put it to both Velocity Micro and Falcon Northwest, and also to AMD and Nvidia, to help us find the cause. AMD replicated the problem and pinned it to the power supply.
To check AMD's theory, we pulled one of the GeForce cards out of each system and played Doom 3 again and found no instability, even with the antialiasing jacked to 16X. That indicates to us that the graphics cards were drawing more power on those high-detail settings than the 600-watt power supply in each system could handle (an EnerMax PSU in the Velocity Micro, a SilverStone in the Falcon Northwest). Velocity responded by sending the system back to us with a 1-kilowatt supply installed (it also added the $440 1kW supply to its online Raptor 64 DualX configurator during the course of this review). That cleared up the Velocity's crashing issues, even with the system overclocked. Falcon Northwest did a little digging of its own and came back to us with a report from SilverStone, noting it saw the same crashes, and that this was likely due to the distribution of power through out the system, rather than the total wattage.
By moving to the 1kW power supply, Velocity solves the issue with brute force. That's one way to do it. The other method is to dial down the antialiasing. Antialiasing set at 8X kills your gaming frame rate with little to no recognizable visual improvement, so that's not the biggest loss. The responsibility lies with both system makers to make sure their configurations work. Still, we're surprised that Nvidia's SLI Certification program didn't catch this issue ahead of time, since both of the power supplies in question are SLI-approved. We've been told that Nvidia and the power supply vendors are working on the issue, and we hope they resolve it soon.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating
|SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating
|SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|Doom 3 1,600x1,200 4xAA 8xAF
|Doom 3 1,024x768, 4xAA 8xAF
|Half-Life 2 1,600x1,200 4xAA 8xAF
|Half-Life 2 1,024x768 4xAA 8xAF
Falcon Northwest Mach V
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.9GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-60; Nvidia Nforce 4 SLI X16 chipset; 2,048MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7800GTX (SLI); two Maxtor 68300S0 300GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA 150; integrated Nvidia Nforce 4 RAID class controller (RAID 0)
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+; Nvidia Nforce 4 SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800GTX (SLI); two 74GB Western Digital Raptor 10,000rpm SATA; one Maxtor 300GB 7,200rpm SATA
Overdrive PC Torque SLI
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.8GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-57; Nvidia Nforce 4 SLI chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 256MB Nvidia GeForce 7800GTX (PCIe SLI); two WDC WD740GD-00FLA2 74GB 10,000rpm SATA; one Seagate ST3200826AS, 200GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Nvidia Nforce RAID class controller (RAID 0)
Polywell Poly 939N4 SLI 2/FX-60
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.8GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-60; Nvida Nforce4 SLI X16 chipset; 2,048MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7800GTX (SLI); two Western Digital WD946D 74GB 10,000rpm Serial ATA, one Western Digital WDC2500KS-00MJB0 250GB Serial ATA II; integrated Nvidia Nforce4 Serial ATA RAID Controller (RAID 0)
Velocity Micro Raptor 64 DualX
Windows XP Professional SP2; 2.9GHz AMD Athlon 64 FX-60; Nvidia Nforce 4 SLI x16 chipset; 2,048MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; two 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7800GTX (PCIe); two Hitachi 500GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Nvidia Nforce 4 Serial ATA RAID controller (RAID 0)
The Raptor comes with Velocity Micro's three-year VelocityCare warranty program, covering parts, labor, and one year of onsite service. You also get one year of toll-free telephone support, available Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. ET, and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you have an emergency during off-hours or on holidays that prevents you from using the system, you can leave a message, and a technician will return your call within 15 minutes. Velocity Micro offers onsite and emergency support extension plans for two years ($149) and three years ($249).