iBUYPOWER Paladin XLC: Enthusiast Classby Dustin Sklavos on September 2, 2010 3:30 AM EST
The Value of a Custom Build
I'm reasonably certain there's still a big question mark floating above the heads of many readers. While we've demonstrated the Paladin XLC is fast and certainly powerful enough to max out most any game available now and for the foreseeable future, and the configuration seems fairly forward-thinking, there remains the question of what secret sauce iBUYPOWER brings to the table. You're paying a premium to have the machine assembled, tweaked, and tested so you don't have to do it. You're paying a premium for the right parts.
This becomes interesting for me in particular because my personal build actually isn't far removed from what iBUYPOWER put together here. We share the following components specifically: an Intel Core i7-930 processor (overclocked and stability tested in both cases), a Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R revision 2 motherboard, and a Kingston 64GB SSDNow! V2 solid state drive for the operating system. I personally opted to go for 12GB of Corsair DDR3-1333 memory since I use my machine to edit video, and I run a Radeon HD 5870 instead of SLI'ed GeForce GTX 470's, but the cores of the configurations are similar enough to warrant scrutiny.
My first big red flag was the overclock on the Core i7 in the iBUYPOWER unit. I may have lucked out with the one in my desktop: it hits 4GHz on stock voltage, but I run it at a Bclk of 166, left turbo boost on, and undervolted it to 1.1375V and scored a Prime95-stable 3.6GHz. The overclock on the i7 in the Paladin XLC seems tame bordering on just plain bad, though. iBUYPOWER ships it with a stunning 1.325V on the core, and they confusingly opt to drop the multiplier and raise the Bclk to get it to 3.5GHz. The overclock on my machine yields modest improvements over the iBUYPOWER's overclock in Cinebench and no real change in the x264 benchmark.
It only gets odder, though. The VID of my chip is 1.2375V; the VID of the one in the review unit is a frankly impressively low 1.11875V. iBUYPOWER also opts to change the chip's Vcore directly instead of using the "Dynamic Vcore" option present in the GA-X58A-UD3R's BIOS, an option which allows the user to alter the chip's load voltage while letting the chip reduce operating voltage when idling or running at lower clocks. This doesn't give me the sense that this machine was tuned, and unfortunately that increased power draw is going to be passed on to the end user. This is work that could've taken a day to do, placed alongside other machines on the same bench undergoing tuning and testing. Less power. Less heat.
A power user would probably be able to wring a lot more out of this machine, but doesn't that suggest the question of why they would buy it in the first place?
Using SLI'ed GeForce GTX 470's is also a questionable decision. Certainly the performance is there, but in my own experience even a single AMD Radeon HD 5870 (and consequently, a single NVIDIA GeForce GTX 470) is plenty for a single monitor unless you move up to 27" and 30" 2560x1440/2560x1600 displays. If you crave more power, iBUYPOWER lets you configure the system with a pair of GTX 460's instead, and honestly that's probably the better call. Two 470's just put out far too much heat and worse, this machine makes a heck of a racket when the cards are under load. It really does sound like a jet engine, and a large part of that is the fact that the motherboard basically requires the two cards to be sandwiched together.
In summary, while the motherboard is good it's probably not the best choice for SLI or CrossFire setups due to spacing concerns. Also, the CPU overclock looks lazy and/or amateurish, and while it does have a warranty covering the overclock we'd prefer more attention to detail. If you know what you're doing, you can easily tweak the configuration to suit your needs, and that's what we'd recommend doing. iBUYPOWER can clearly build a good rig, but don't expect overclocking and tuning to equal what some of the extreme boutique vendors (i.e. Falcon Northwest) provide.