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.

Getting to Know the iBuyPower Paladin XLC Good Value but Perhaps Overkill
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  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    The test system came with a 64GB SSDNow and 1TB 64MB HDD, not two 1TB HDDs; also, the GPUs are not the EVGA SuperClocked model. I selected the 8X LG Blu-ray, as Dustin listed a 10X BD-ROM, not a 10X BD-RW. The major difference in pricing comes from the extra $100 for a Blu-ray Rewriter, as the GPUs end up washing out with the SSD price.

    FWIW, lifetime ratings at RR can be misleading, though there are problems with a 6-month window as well. The recent history is full of pleased reviews, while at about 8 months back there's a bunch of complaints. At least one is a person whining about two unknown devices on a laptop after upgrading to Windows 7... hardly a 1-star experience. Others ordered something and it didn't ship immediately, which makes me wonder if they were trying to jump on some hot new hardware and ended up with limited inventory. Again, that's not a 1-star review in my book. They're not perfect, but perhaps -- just perhaps -- they're doing better now than in the past. Or they just had a bunch of users give them favorable RR reviews lately.

    Anyway, you have a history of angry comments, and I still don't know what you have against this company. We said the system was priced well, overclocked poorly (i.e. lazy), and the GTX 470 SLI was probably overkill... then you act as though we praised them for being the greatest thing since sliced bread. They look like a reasonable option overall, particularly if you're not after massive overclocks. There will be good and bad experiences, but on average they do well. Would I buy from them? If the price was right, sure. Last time I bought someone a system, I ended up with CyberPower purchased from Newegg because it was cheaper than iBUYPOWER, but they were my second option.
  • wolfman3k5 - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    I don't know how you can poorly overclock an Corer i7, I really don't. The platform is so mature, and given that the system is using a second generation X58 motherboard (USB 3.0 support and SATA 6), there is no such thing as a Lazy Overclock with an i7. I've explained before, different X58 motherboards show poor performance when used with 2 X GTX 470 cards in SLI due to some BIOS bug. I have experienced this with an MSI X58 Big Bang XPower. As soon as MSI sent me a new BIOS, things got back to normal. It could be the case with the Gigabyte board as well, I don't know for sure.

    As far as pricing goes, I will give up on this argument. I could nit pick us much as I want, for example I could tell you that the LG 8X Blu Ray is not being manufactured anymore and that it has been replaced by the 10X.

    My hole point is that iBuyPower doesn't ship the same build quality to their customers. Order one from them as a customer, not as a review site, review it and then we can talk.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    The overclock wasn't tuned. It looked brute force, like "this is a good baseline to get this much of an overclock from the i7."

    The i7 930 overclocks like a frigging champ. This thing had a VID lower than mine did, on the same model and revision of motherboard, and with less memory to serve than mine. It looked like they just plugged in some numbers that they felt had a high chance of producing a stable overclock, regardless of the individual tolerances of the specific CPU and motherboard, probably gave it a few runs in Linx, and called it a day.
  • wolfman3k5 - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    I see your point. My issue with the MSI motherboard didn't have anything to do with overclocking. With BIOS 1.2, when 2 X NVIDIA (GTX 470 in my case) where being used in SLI, the whole system would slow down. I had something to do with resource allocation. Anyway, BIOS 1.37Beta fixed the issue.

    As far as the effort that they've put into overclocking the system, it just echoes what I've said: there isn't enough margin for iBuyPower to do any serious work.

    Despite the fact that I can build my own system, if I don't have the time to do or mess with it, I would rather order from a custom builder. I would rather pay more and get a solid product.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    So which iBUYPOWER PC did you purchase in the past year? Because unless you've had recent personal experience with them, none of this conversation even matters.

    Sure, it would be nice to buy product, review it, and return it for a refund post-review. HardOCP tried that a couple years back (it was called "[ H ] Consumer" or something like that), and guess what? They're no longer doing it for "some strange reason". Could it be that if you buy a product, review it, and they don't like the review you're stuck with something you don't want? Maybe it just cost too much money upfront for items the readers didn't care to read about? Anyway, unless Anand offers to start buying me systems and dealing with the return and refund process, I'm not capable of footing that bill. Heh... if I got paid by companies to do favorable reviews, maybe it would be a lot easier?

    Anyway, unless you buy this same iBUYPOWER and don't get any of the extra stuff mentioned in this review, I'm not sure there's much else to discuss. Do companies try to send "better" samples to reviewers? Yup. But if cable sleeving like they claim to offer doesn't come on customer samples, and we hear about it from people that actually buy based off our review, trust me that it will come back to bite them in the butt.
  • strikeback03 - Friday, September 3, 2010 - link

    I found what appears to be the sleeving options on page 3 of the configuration, the "Services and Support" tab, Advanced Build Options. Looks like it was $57 for everything. I also got a price of ~$2500 (including the BD burner) so their $2100 estimate might have been low, unless they offered this all in a package at some point. Ultimately price comparisons are of limited use anyway, as both the prices they offer stuff at and the prices average consumers can buy stuff for from NewEgg and such are constantly changing, so the value of these reviews is more in seeing if the company does things right, such as having BIOS and drivers up to date for shipping time and such, or if the overclock is indeed stable (if lazy).

    Plus, this isn't even the most overpriced machine I have seen today, our lab got a quote for a piece of equipment this morning that included $1395 for a system listed as a 2.0GHz C2D, 2GB RAM, 80GB HDD, DVD/RW, 17" LCD, and WinXP Pro.
  • Soldier1969 - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    I dont know all that much about the company, but I have this case pictured and its incredible! Great cooling with 7 fans. Reminds me of a Stormtrooper from Star Wars. Some people that seen it think something from the USS Enterprise. Awesome spacing and easy to add parts to. If your doing a new build or adding hardware, order one youll love it!
  • Bonesdad - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    That is an amazingly ugly case. I would be embarrassed to have that hideous thing in my house. I am an adult, though. Maybe some 14 year old would think it's "awesome", but ...oh forget it.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    It's funny, I've had a couple of people come over to look at the case and we've all reached the same conclusion: it's kind of tacky, but appealing in an awesomely tacky "this looks like an imperial stormtrooper" kind of way. I like the case as a curio, but for my own build I'd still rather use my Antec P182.
  • Dragging40 - Friday, September 3, 2010 - link

    This is a very nice computer! Win I win the lotto, this will be the one I buy

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