iBuyPower Gamer-SLI Special Edition
Editor's note: We have changed the ratings in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Find out more here.
We're starting to see more and more high-end systems equipped with two video cards running in Nvidia's SLI (scalable link interface) mode for enhanced 3D performance. Believe it or not, the $3,295 iBuyPower Gamer-SLI Special Edition takes another unique approach: it's the first system we've seen that uses a single graphics card with two graphics chips on it. Engineered by motherboard manufacturer Gigabyte Technology, the GV-3D1 graphics controller contains two GPUs (graphic processing units) on a single 3D card. While this design is certainly innovative, it comes with some caveats.
For one, the card requires an SLI-enabled motherboard. Secondly, Gigabyte does not recommend using the GV-3D1 on a non-Gigabyte motherboard. In fact, the card is not sold separately and is currently available only at retail as a bundle with Gigabyte's K8NXP-SLI motherboard. (According to Gigabyte, the card may be sold separately in the future, depending on demand.) In this system, though, Gigabyte's hardware makes for a highly capable gaming PC that costs more than most people would probably spend on a computer, but it won't require you to take out a second mortgage on your house (for reference, check out the nearly $7,000).
iBuyPower offers multiple case choices for the Gamer-SLI. Our review system came housed in an NZXT Trinity midtower chassis with a black finish, offset by a black-chrome front panel and the requisite blue cathode lighting and multicolored fan LEDs. While the black-on-black color scheme gives the Gamer-SLI a sleek appearance, the finish scratches easily. You'll have to keep a polishing rag handy as every dust particle and handprint sticks out glaringly from the shiny black case. A blue backlit temperature gauge adorns the lower-front grille, and the clear side panel is trimmed in silver chrome. A peek through the side panel reveals a jumble of cables loosely tie-wrapped and pushed off to one side--clearly not a Voodoo- or Alienware-caliber cable-routing job.
The chassis houses five 5.25-inch external drive bays, three of which are occupied (by a multiformat DVD burner, a DVD-ROM drive, and a 6-in-1 media drive), and two of the four hard drive bays are filled. All drive bays are tool-less, and since the hard drive bays are perpendicularly mounted, you can install and remove drives with ease.
External connectivity ports are plentiful--a total of eight USB 2.0 ports (two up front, two on a daughtercard, and four integrated) and three FireWire ports (two on the same daughtercard and one on the sound card) join dual Gigabit Ethernet connections and a wireless 802.11g PCI card with a removable antenna. You also get jacks for onboard eight-channel audio, including S/PDIF in and out jacks for coaxial digital audio, even though the Gamer-SLI comes with Creative's eight-channel Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS sound card. In addition to two x1 PCIe slots (one of which is crowded by the video card's cooling fans), there's an open x16 PCIe slot, which immediately had us wondering if we could add yet another dual-core card to the machine. Unfortunately, the Nvidia drivers and chipset do not support a quad-core video configuration, nor does Gigabyte's card come with the requisite row of pins to receive the SLI connector bracket. With two 80mm cooling fans and two power-supply fans spinning away, the Gamer-SLI is a tad on the noisy side but not so bad that it would ruin a movie or a game.
Our iBuyPower Gamer-SLI Special Edition arrived with a speedy AMD Athlon 64 4000+ processor running at 2.41GHz and a plentiful 1GB of 400MHz Corsair 3200XL Pro DDR memory running on the Gigabyte K8NXP-SLI motherboard. A pair of Western Digital 250GB Serial ATA drives (7,200rpm) in a RAID 0 configuration provides plenty of storage, and with a double-layer, multiformat DVD burner; a standalone DVD-ROM drive; and a 6-in-1 media-card reader, this system lets you take advantage of nearly all removable media formats.
The included 19-inch Windows XP Professional, you get an OEM version of the Nero Burning Rom 6.0 disc-burning software, plus CyberLink's Power DVD 5.0 for watching DVDs, and NovaLogic's Joint Operations: Typhoon Rising game.LCD monitor had no trouble keeping up with the graphics card, maintaining a crisp image with no noticeable pixelation or stuttering during gameplay or DVD playback. A set of Logitech's excellent speakers delivers booming THX-certified 5.1 digital surround sound. To top it all off, the Gamer-SLI also comes with Logitech's set, which includes a wireless multimedia keyboard and an optical scroll mouse. In addition to
On our 3D gaming benchmarks, the iBuyPower Gamer-SLI led all other SLI-based systems on our Half-Life 2 tests, with a score of 36.6fps on our 1,600x1,200-resolution test, but its score of 76.9fps on the 1,024x768-resolution portion of the test didn't impress us. That score is definitely playable, but it wasn't as "through the roof" as we had predicted. In comparison, the scored a 30.2fps on the 1,600x1,200 tests and a 112.5fps on the 1,024x768 tests. If the iBuyPower's 1,600x1,200 scores seem inappropriately high compared to the true SLI systems' results, we suspect the discrepancy has something to do with the fact that the other systems used Asus's A8N-SLI motherboard, the very first motherboard with SLI support. iBuyPower's Gamer-SLI, on the other hand, uses Gigabyte's newer board and newer graphics drivers. As SLI drivers and the supporting hardware mature, we expect to see the scores improve--and these scores bear out that prediction.
The Gamer-SLI's results on our SysMark tests were unimpressive. The Gamer-SLI placed last on our Internet-content-creation and office-productivity test suites, but the competition here is remarkably strong. Although it finished last, the iBuyPower's AMD CPU and its 1GB of memory will still handle day-to-day computing easily, and their 64-bit processing will come in handy should you decide to upgrade to Microsoft's forthcoming 64-bit operating system later this year.