General Hands-On Usage
Here's a CPU-Z screenshot showing some detailed specs of what's running under the F131's hood:
Note the overclocked i7-875K running at 4GHz.
Note that SLI is enabled and ready to steam through our test regime.
Along with the overclocked processor, MAINGEAR's incorporation of a solid-state hard drive (SSD) delivers super-fast OS performance, including any programs installed on the SSD. Our review model has the best of both worlds in terms of storage-the speed of the SSD and the large capacity of the 1TB spinner.
The F131 proved pleasurable in terms of everyday computing tasks. Programs opened and closed quickly, and we didn't experience any crashes or hangs during the review process.
From a usability standpoint, we really liked having USB ports and the headphone jack on the top side of the chassis. With the system sitting on the floor, this configuration made it quite easy to use a thumb drive or plug in a pair of 'phones for some late-night gaming.
Our system arrived with no bloat ware of any kind-just a link to the free OpenOffice suite and a free anti-virus program (Microsoft Security Essentials) on the desktop.
MAINGEAR CTO Chris Morley explained the company's approach to building high-performance PCs:
"What sets MAINGEAR apart from the quick-turn, direct discounters is that we offer a service. We don't just build PCs. We sell a luxury experience that includes tremendous pre- and post-sales support. We spend hours on the phone and through email with our customers. We are happy to answer any and all questions and we don't need to have a script to do it. We aren't on commission, and most of the time we'll be able to save you money if you're looking at more computer than you need."
Our experience with the F131 hewed closely to Morley's statement. Even before we got to the gaming part of the review, we appreciated the F131 for what it is; a truly custom product. Combine this thoughtful design philosophy with MAINGEAR's very reasonable prices and the company's well respected "Angelic" post-sale support, and the F131 represents what might be the best deal in the gaming PC industry.
And just what constitutes MAINGEAR's "Angelic" service? According to Morley:
"After you get the computer, that's where we really shine. If you have a problem with the system when you first get it, no biggie, we'll pay shipping both ways for the first 30 days. We'll send someone onsite at no charge if we think that's the best course of action. You'll always be able to talk to the guy or gal who built your PC - they can be your primary point of contact if you wish. You can even talk to me if you want to - or any other executive. And you'll never pay for that privilege. First class, US-based service with lifetime technical support and labor is not an upsell on our website as it is with the multi-national Tier 1s - it's standard operating procedure at MAINGEAR."
The F131 took 63 seconds to boot. This was just over 20 seconds longer than the Puget Serenity, which also had an SSD, took to boot. According to MAINGEAR, this is because the company enables certain options in the BIOS that allow the customer to make easier hardware upgrades. However, as you will soon see, this was the only benchmark where the F131 didn't finish in first place.
High-performance computing requires lots of juice. The F131 idled at 178 watts and jumped up to 488 watts under load.
We ran the F131 through the standard media encoding test regime here at TweakTown, which includes music and video transcoding.
All systems are tested "as is", which means operating systems and drivers can and do vary and some come pre-installed with applications that may or may not affect performance.
Any anti-virus or security applications are disabled and uninstalled before any testing is started, as they can affect test numbers.
For the iTunes encoding test we took the White Stripes - Under Great White Northern Lights album in MP3 format and encode it to AAC format using iTunes and time the results with a stopwatch.
The Serenity performed this task in 54 seconds.
For the movie-encoding test, we took the Microsoft Magic of Flight VC-1 WMV (1080p HD) video with six-channel audio and transcode it to XviD (1080p HD) with LAME MP3 two-channel audio and an MP4 container using MediaCoder 0.7.3.4616 32-bit edition.
The Serenity took a mere 69 seconds to complete this, which is remarkably fast. The video itself is 122 seconds long, so we're getting better-than-real-time transcoding speed on this task.
To test its Blu-ray playback, we hooked the F131 into a home theater using one of the GTX 470's DisplayPort outputs and one of the included converter cables. We watched a couple of scenes from the excellent Swedish film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo using the included CyberLink PowerDVD 10, and the F131 performed as it should.