Velocity Micro Raptor Z90 (Core i7 3930K
On the heels of the Falcon Northwest Mach V, Velocity Micro's Raptor Z90 joins a raft of competing $4,999 luxury desktops bearing Intel's new six-core performance chip. Against the backdrop of the new chip, its new motherboard, and our own $5,000 price-tag limit, Velocity Micro has crafted a high-performance system that competes well with the Falcon on our gaming tests, but, like the Mach V, also offers more nuanced performance than you might see from a system designed purely for gaming. Even if I wouldn't necessarily buy this configuration, Velocity Micro has configured a powerful performance desktop that shows off the capabilities of Intel's new platform. Given its overall performance edge, I can recommend it over the competing system from Falcon Northwest.
Without belaboring this review with another long technical overview, the highlights of Intel's new Core i7 3930K chip include six physical CPU cores with support for up to twelve processing threads, dynamically balanced thanks to Intel's HyperThreading technology. The "K" designation in the CPU name means it is overclockable, and Velocity Micro has pushed the system past its maximum 3.4GHz stock frequency to a respectably ambitious 4.7GHz.
With the new chip also come new Intel X79 chipset motherboards. Like Falcon Northwest, Velocity Micro has used an Asus P9X79 motherboard to go with Intel's new chip. Also like the Falcon system, Velocity Micro has decided to stock its Raptor Z90 full of memory, plugging 16GB of 1,600MHz DDR3 RAM, via four memory sticks, into the X79 motherboard's quad-channel memory slots.
|Velocity Micro Raptor Z90||Falcon Northwest Mach V|
|Motherboard chipset||Intel X79||Intel X79|
|CPU||4.7GHz Intel Core i7 3930K (overclocked)||4.4GHz Intel Core i7 3930K (overclocked)|
|Memory||16GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM||16GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||(2) 1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 580||(3) 1.28GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 570|
|Hard drives||(2) Patriot Wildfire 120GB SSDs, 2TB 7,200 rpm Hitachi hard drive;||128MB Crucial SSD, 2TB 7,200 rpm Samsung hard drive|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray writer/dual-layer DVD burner||Blu-ray writer/dual-layer DVD burner|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)||Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)|
Four different vendors submitted PCs for review with Intel's new CPU and chipset. Of those, only the Velocity Micro and Falcon systems withstood the scrutiny of our testing. Even the Falcon and Velocity Micro systems had the occasional crash, but both were stable enough over the long run of testing that I'm comfortable saying these systems represent what each vendor will ship out to customers.
Between these two surviving Core i7 3930K PCs then, the Velocity Micro and its fast 4.7GHz overclock, its pair of high-end, 1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 graphics cards, and two solid-state hard drives focuses on delivering performance computing at very high resolutions, with lots of fast data storage. Anyone with a high-resolution 27-inch or 30-inch display and a need for speedy data access should appreciate this Raptor build. Falcon's triple-SLI Mach V is also fast, but with three midrange GeForce cards, you may run into the occasional game like Metro 2033 that demands more video memory. Content creators should consider video memory allotments as well.
|Rendering Multiple CPUs||Rendering Single CPU|
The two Core i7 3930K PCs trade off wins on our application performance tests, but an older system from Digital Storm with a standard quad-core Core i7 2600K CPU also stays relevant. If you're choosing a system based on application speed, the proper choice will depend on the specific programs you depend on most.
Photoshop CS5 gave the Velocity Micro trouble, relative to the Mach V, at least. I suspect that's due to the GPU processing elements in our CS5 test and the Mach V's three GPUs. Take out the graphics card element, and on Photoshop CS3, Cinebench, and our multimedia multitasking test, and the Velocity Micro's faster 4.7GHz clock speed wins.
For single-threaded tasks, like our iTunes test, and our single-core Cinebench test, the 4.8GHz Digital Storm system wins the day. For that reason, the imminently overclockable Core i7 2600K can still make a strong case for itself among performance PC buyers, both for its speed, as well as its value next to Intel's new chip. Remember, that Digital Storm ODE Level 3 costs less than $2,500, making it a virtual steal.
|1,600 x 1,200 (high, 4x aa)||1,280 x 1,024 (medium, 4x aa)|
|1,920x1,200 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)||1,440 x 900 (DirectX 10, 4x aa, very high)|
|2,560x1,600 (DirectX 11, very high)||1,920x1,080 (DirectX 11, very high)|
|Extreme (1,920x1080)||Performance (1,920x1,080, 16x AF)||Entry Level (1,680x1,050)|
The gaming scores are more complicated. I'm not entirely sure what to make of the Digital Storm's strong Far Cry 2 results, but with every system posting frame rates near above 200 fps, it's probably time to consider retiring that particular benchmark.
Metro 2033 and 3DMark 11 present a more relevant performance picture. Metro is a known graphics memory hog at high resolutions and with very high detail settings, which lets the Velocity Micro flex its muscles and hit top marks. 3DMark apparently focuses less on graphics RAM than it does on scaling performance across GPUs. While it's not a real game, the 3DMark results suggest that the Falcon Northwest system will provide better gaming performance on games that scale well.
The takeaway from all these results is that you really need to know the characteristics of the software you intend to run in order to achieve maximum performance for your gaming buck. That's not always possible for unreleased games, of course, so a lot of your buying decision will need to come from faith or other softer considerations. Fortunately, by any measure, all of the systems in these charts will provide suitably capable performance for their price.
Early motherboard supplies are usually limited to only a few new makes and models when Intel introduces a new CPU and chipset, which explains why the Mach V and the Raptor Z90 share the same Asus P9X79 Pro motherboard. Inside the Raptor Z90, Velocity Micro offers two free hard-drive bays, four free memory slots, and a single free PCI Express slot. To Velocity Micro's credit, it properly lined the data and power inputs behind both free drive bays, making the process of adding extra drives essentially seamless.
On the exterior of the case, the Asus motherboard offers a vast selection of inputs. You get eight USB 2.0 jacks, four USB 3.0 inputs, a set of 7.1 analog audio ports, a digital audio input, four DVI video adapters, and a pair of mini HDMI jacks. The only potential inadequacy we can see is that Intel is saving its Thunderbolt roll-out for its next-generation Ivy Bridge platform due out next year. If the Thunderbolt devices for Apple's newer Macs are any indication, the fast external storage options at least might suggest that professional content creators wait six more months before dropping $5,000 on a new system.
|Velocity Micro Raptor Z90 (Core i7 3930K, Fall 2011)||Average watts per hour|
|Off (60 percent)||2.24|
|Sleep (10 percent)||7.87|
|Idle (25 percent)||149.49|
|Load (5 percent)||631.71|
|Energy Star compliant||No|
|Annual energy cost||$109.01|
I suspected that the Raptor Z90 would have better power efficiency than the Falcon Northwest system because of the differences in graphics cards, and it appears that is indeed the case. The $109.01 on the year will still add an extra $9 or so to your monthly power bill, which is noticeable, but not insurmountable, particularly for someone willing to buy a $5,000 desktop.
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.
I wouldn't buy any desktop with Intel's new six-core Core i7 3930K CPU for general gaming performance, since a Core i7 2600K will do the job on the CPU side just as well. If you want a gaming system that also offers strong multithreaded processing performance, both the Falcon Northwest Mach V and this Velocity Micro Raptor Z90 can deliver expertly built PCs that fit the bill.
Find out more about how we test desktop systems.
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
Maingear Vybe SuperStock (Core i7 2600K, Summer 2011) Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.5GHz Intel Core i7-2600K; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2)2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 560Ti graphics cards; 1TB 7,200rpm Samsung hard drive
Velocity Micro Raptor Z90 (Core i7 2600K, Fall 2011) Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 4.7GHz Intel Core i7-3930K (overclocked); 16GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2)1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 graphics cards; (2)128GB Patriot Wildfire solid-state hard drive; 2TB 7,200rpm Samsung hard drive