When the Systemax Wildcat arrived on our doorstep, its $4,500 price raised an eyebrow or two. For one thing, its AMD Athlon 64 FX-60 CPU is a step behind AMD's latest, the FX-62, but a quick trip to other desktop vendors' sites showed us that the cost is right where it should be for the given specs, which include almost all of the latest in high-end gaming parts. For $4,500, the Systemax Wildcat gives you 2GB of system memory, two 512MB Nvidia GeForce 7900 GTX graphics cards, and an Ageia PhysX physics accelerator. Sounds great, but even if it cost $3,500, we'd balk at the Wildcat because of its performance, which simply can't keep up with similarly outfitted gaming systems.
Before we even got the performance results from our lab tests, we found the Wildcat's design uninspiring; it simply doesn't stand out from the crowd. The full-tower case features a blue plastic door on the top half that opens to reveal the usual assortment of 3.5-inch and 5.25-inch drive bays. One cool feature is the switch on one of the 3.5-inch panels that lets you toggle the blue interior cathode ray lights--not exactly mission critical but still kind of handy. The side panel comes off easily enough, although you'll need to disconnect the always annoying panel fan power cable to get the side fully out of the way.
The Wildcat supplies a feature we always appreciate inside a case: outward-facing hard drive cages for easy drive swapping. With two 150GB 10,000rpm Raptors and a 400GB 7,200rpm drive, however, you shouldn't need to tinker, at least for a while. We also liked the modular 550-watt, power supply, which lets Systemax minimize internal clutter by leaving out the extraneous interior power cables. Systemax didn't route the cables it does use very neatly, though, which kind of defeats the purpose of the modular PSU.
You're also out of luck if you want to add any parts to this configuration, although it's full featured as is. Between the two double-slot graphics cards and the PhysX card crammed between them, you're left with just a single x1 PCI Express slot for expansion. There are still only a few cards available for that slot, mostly Gigabit Ethernet cards, which the Wildcat already has integrated, and USB 2.0 or FireWire port expanders. But if you're buying the Wildcat for gaming, between the 3D cards and the PhysX card, you should be covered. The operative word in that last sentence, unfortunately, being should.
We've looked at several systems similar to the Systemax Wildcat, so we expected that its performance would be right in the same ballpark. It isn't. On CNET Labs' SysMark 2004 application benchmark, its overall score trailed the next closest competition, the Cyberpower Gamer Ultra X1900 XT by 55 points, a large margin. Worse, its gaming scores lagged. At 1,600x1,200 on our Doom 3 test, the Wildcat managed only 63.3 frames per second (fps). Compared to the ABS Ultimate M6 Sniper's 98.4fps, the Wildcat's score is unacceptable, especially considering its price.
We gave the Wildcat a thorough going-over to determine the source of the problem, and we found every part in working order and configured properly, so we don't believe that anything was damaged in shipping. This leads us to the conclusion that something in Systemax's build is simply holding performance back. The good news is that the Wildcat is due for a refresh soon, and Systemax will offer it with the new Athlon 64 FX-62 processor and a brand-new Socket AM2 motherboard. Perhaps in configuring the newer parts, Systemax can root out the performance bottleneck as well.
If you run into issues with a Systemax system you've purchased, the company generally has you well covered, but you might have to dig to get the help you need. With each Wildcat, you automatically receive a year of onsite service, along with a year of parts and labor coverage. You can extend the warranty for a reasonable price (an added $79 for three years), but not the onsite support. Tracking down the support phone number is tricky. We couldn't find a phone number on Systemax's Web site. The company's Contact Us tab takes you to a lame Web form, and the Support link sends you to a spare, generic-looking support database. Instead, the only place we saw the phone number was on the invoice. And as for the support database, it actually has some useful information, but the search results are awful (the first return from "graphics driver" gave us info about a Lexmark printer), so you'll need to be patient.