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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  • wolfman3k5 - Friday, September 3, 2010 - link

    You may do your own search on youtube about how actual iBuyPower systems look like that are being shipped to customers, but for reference here is a video from May, 2010:

    I wouldn't say that it looks any better than from what an average Joe with average computer hardware skills would put together.

    Just my 2 cents.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 3, 2010 - link

    I'm not sure what you'd want it to be. Since the switch to SATA in place of the old IDE cables, wiring has become less critical IMO. Anyway, I've played with old Falcon Northwest and VoodooPC computers in the past, with immaculate wiring jobs. The problem is that if you ever need to replace something, or add hardware, or whatever it's a total pain in the butt. Then again, I don't care about case lighting or windows, so all I need is wiring that isn't terrible. iBUYPOWER doesn't do much beyond what an enthusiast can do, but if you were to ask me to build a similar system I'd probably charge $200 and I wouldn't be providing free tech support.
  • Notleh - Saturday, September 4, 2010 - link

    1) Personally, I love the look of the white Phantom case. I am friggin sick of boring black rectangles.

    2) You are spot on with the i7 overclock. You can get 4.0-4.2 easily on air cooling. With that 2X120mm radiator they should have no problems hitting at least 4.0ghz.

    3) I think you are a bit off on 470GTX. Yes, to your comments about heat and power. But the 470GTX is at a sweet spot right now, since you can pick up a pair of them for $440. When run in SLI they are very competitive at that price. Not needed for a single monitor run at normal res, but VERY nice for high res or multi-monitor.

    4) The cable sleeving argument is mildly retarded. Nowadays you can just buy the colored, pre-sleeved cable extensions from NZXT directly or newegg or frozencpu for like 6-10 bucks. They look fantastic. Not to mention the fact that this case has so much room and amazing airflow that sleeving isnt much of a performance issue.

    Anyway, nice review. You marked your issues but still made a call at the end. I wouldn't go prebuilt since I could build my own, but this isn't a bad build or a bad price. Rock on Dustin.
  • wolfman3k5 - Saturday, September 4, 2010 - link

    The cable sleeving argument was mine. I wasn't talking about pres-sleeved extensions, which is probably what they've used. Yes they look fantastic, and no, I didn't know that you could buy them for NZXT power supplies. I've done cable sleeving in the past and it is very time consuming, not to mention expensive if you do a whole computer (~$60 to $70 in materials alone). My point was that I couldn't believe that they would take the time to sleeve cables at this price point, but since there are extensions that you can buy readily available, it is more plausible.

    I agree with you on the GTX 470. I've just picked up a pair of Gigabyte GTX470 (reference cards, probably made by the same manufacturer who makes all the other GTX 470 cards) for ~$500 from NewEgg. Maybe in some amazing combo, they would cost $440 for a pair. But right now they are actually the best bang for the buck when used in SLI.

    Hitting 4.0GHz requeres a little bit of skill, regardless of the motherboard that they where using. However, 3.5GHz was easy to attain. The reviewer meant that the overclock was poorly tuned when he said that it was "lazy", not that the CPU wasn't set at a higher speed.
  • Will Robinson - Sunday, September 5, 2010 - link

    Enough with the "You can easily get 4GHz on air" comments.
    Do you even have one?
    A Core i7 WILL overclock stably to 3.8GHZ without too much tweaking but after that it requires voltage increases that rapidly increase system temps and often result in INstability.
    I have mine under water cooling and with summer ambient temp,anything over 3.8GHz heats things up very quickly.
    I know it sounds so hardcore boasting about 4GHz overclocks but in the real world its not as "gosh darn" child's play as you state.
  • Notleh - Saturday, September 4, 2010 - link

    You can buy them at Fry's for $249 each and they have a $30 rebate. I got a similar deal a month ago that Galaxy posted on the [H}ardocp forums.

    I see what you mean on the OC. Weaksauce adjustments to Bclk, vcore and such...which led to a weak overclock. If I am paying for an expert to build my system I would expect it to be properly tuned.

    Wolfman, how are you liking those 470's? I am very pleased with mine running 3 monitors in NVSurround.

    Sleeved cables ($10 for 24 pin in black/red/white):

    470 deal:
  • wolfman3k5 - Saturday, September 4, 2010 - link

    I love the my pair of GTX 470. IMHO they're the best bang for the buck right now, period. I got a pair of Gigabyte GTX 470 from NewEgg (it was an order for a whole system), and with the combos and MIR I got my pair same as you, for $440. Again, I highly recommend the cards in SLI.
  • Sabresiberian - Sunday, September 5, 2010 - link

    This article is a perfect example of why I don't buy a pre-built.

    Power supply made by who? The people who build machines to sell will find ways to cut corners. Overclocked by a factory monkey who cared the first 100 machines he/she built, but frankly the job is getting a bit old and doesn't really pay all that well to begin with. Besides, time is money, and spending a extra couple of hours with your boss breathing down your neck isn't fun, even if you still enjoy the actual work. Been there, done that.

    Okay, I imagine there are a few who don't cut corners, but they don't sell machines under $3k. Most don't even bother to check with mainboard manufacturers and see if the components they use have been tested, or see if Microsoft has approved it for Win 7. I'm not saying iBUYPOWER is that sloppy, but many manufacturers are.

    As far as video card overkill - all I have to say is, I play WoW on a system using an i7 920 OC'd to 4.1GHz running Crossfired 5770s and it can't hold 1920x1200 @ 85 Hz everywhere in the game with all settings on "Ultra", so I'll believe 2 470s in SLI, even with their much greater power and scalability, will be more power than I need when I see it - and that's before I buy a bigger monitor with more pixels to generate. The fact is, standard these days is 1920x1080 and a bunch of us have more than that (I'm running old school still, and far better than most of you, which is the reason I can run @ 85 Hz. Hz=refresh rate=fps for those of you unfamiliar with the nomenclature); this system is far from overkill. We run 2 monitors (or more), Sony GDM FW900s, The Dell U2711, 30" monitors, or a variety of other options other than the average setup.

    (Not putting down "the average setup" or anything else. I also have an LCD running 1920x1200@60Hz, and it is a nice monitor. TN monitors have come a long way. But then, so have other screen types.)

    Granted, WoW is a CPU intensive game and not strictly speaking a fair judge of video card performance (but it is a great judge of overall computer video performance); and the WoW tech boys and girls need to step up and bring the game in to modern times and take advantage of the video card power we have these days (maybe they are going to do it in Cataclysm, but I'm not holding my breath. Regardless, even software doing mostly traditional CPU style work is wasting a modern computer's power if it's not taking advantage of the GPU to share the load - the 2 systems are not as separate in function as they once were, and software engineers should be taking advantage of that.) but the video card setup does have a big impact.

    We also now have 3D with a 120Hz requirement@ 1920x1080 (Didn't I just read an article talking about how much better the experience of 120Hz was over 60Hz here in Anandtech?), monitors capable of 10-bit color becoming mainstream, and LCD television screens capable of 240Hz. The video capabilities of a computer like this are far from overkill.


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