Smooth Creations Hellcat Core i7 965 EE Gaming System

Smooth Creations is back once again and this time we get a look at their most powerful system to date.
| Nov 16, 2008 at 11:00 pm CST
Rating: 94%Manufacturer: Smooth Creations

Introduction

Smooth Creations Hellcat
IntroductionEarlier today we took a look at CyberPower's new Black Pearl Core i7 system and it scored high marks for 3.6 GHz performance at an excellent price point. But now it's time to throw all of that to the wind because it doesn't compare to the massive power put out by the Smooth Creations Hellcat, or its price. The mad scientists at Smooth Creations took Core i7 to a new level, one that only a few will try to achieve and even fewer will succeed. The Smooth Creations Hellcat comes from the factory clocked at an amazing 4.0 GHz, yet doesn't have a problem with stability thanks to a who's who list of Danger Den products. The madness doesn't stop there; the dual 4870 X2 cards running in CrossfireX mode are water cooled as well and we can thank Danger Den for that. But the real congratulations go to Smooth Creations for putting together such a beast and having it ready for launch day. Don't call this just another liquid cooled system; the Hellcat is lubricated on the fat of unbaptized children. As you already know, today is the day Core i7 and its counterpart, X58 get released into the market. Core i7 is already a big hit with enthusiasts even though so few already have a system. I have been told by some of the shops who accepted preorders that Core i7 parts are the hottest ticket in town and they expect to sell quite a few units today. One way to ensure an early i7 system is to go with a custom system builder. Smooth Creations, long known for their quality art used by so many system builders and their work with Cooler Master on the CSX line has opened up a boutique shop to satisfy the needs of those looking for the ultimate. Today we are going to take a look at Smooth Creations' flagship system, the Hellcat; a 5,400 Dollar beast that will devour your benchmarks while ingesting bone, skin and your wallet.

Specifications, Pricing and Availability

Specifications, Pricing and AvailabilityIn our look at the Smooth Creations LAN Shark we said that the system was more than just a pretty case. The Hellcat makes you forget about the case completely. That is it, just boom; right after the first benchmark you forget about the case. Even if your brain tries to pull the memory from record, you sit idle for a moment thinking "was there even a case?" Processor: Intel Core i7 965 Extreme Edition @ 4.0 GHzMotherboard: Intel X58SO "Smackover" Memory: Corsair TR3XG1600C8D Triple Channel, 6GB kitGraphics Card: 2X Diamond HD 4870 X2 in CrossfireX modePower Supply: SilverStone ZM1200M, 1200 watts of powerHard Disk (Boot): Western Digital VelociRaptor 300GBHard Disk (Storage): 2X Western Digital 1TB (RAID 1)Optical Disk 1: Lite-On LH-20A1L DVDRWChassis: Smooth Creations Custom "Hellcat" Cooling: Danger Den CPU, GPU and 4x120mm radiatorOperating System: Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bitAccessories: Matrix Orbital GX Series DisplaySmooth Creations has stuffed the Hellcat with every top shelf part known to man. Well, the only exception is the Intel X58SO "Smackover" motherboard. When the system was shipped the only X58 motherboard Smooth Creations had qualified for use was the X58SO. Since that time several other boards were given the nod of approval and are now available, depending on the customers' needs. Looking over the system it is clear that Smooth Creations started with the idea of taking an overclocked processor to the next level and building on the Core i7's processing power. Many games today are CPU limited and once you factor in the amount of polygons two 4870 X2s are able to toss at a monitor it becomes clear that the bottle neck is somewhere else. Intel made a solution and Smooth Creations made it better. Cooling the cat landed on the shoulders of Danger Den and they were able to pull through. The quadruple 120mm, double row radiator is able to handle it all and still have enough in reserve to keep a nuclear reactor in check. OK, maybe a really small one, but you get the idea. One forum goer took offence to the processor and graphics cards running on the same loop, but with this radiator it was never even a concern. It is sad to say that the rest of the system just feels average after talking about the stand outs. Western Digital VelociRaptor, the fastest hard drive on the planet, uh, average stuff once you get used to it. RAID 1, data protected 1TB drives? yawn. The fact is that every single component in this system is top of the class without compromise. Just thinking about the Core i7 running at 4.0 GHz and dual 4870 X2's drain you physically and mentally. Carrying the system from one room to another will do that to you also. The system weighs in at 52 pounds on my bathroom scales and without handles it is a real task carrying the full tower. At that point, who really cares what the weight is; you are going to put this system on your desk, fire her up and forget about everything else.The only sour entry when glancing over the system's specs is the 32-bit version of Vista pre-installed. This is mostly an issue due to the inability to make use of all 6GB triple channel goodness; maxing out at just over 3GB instead.

Packaging

The PackagingIf you spend the money on a product, you want it to arrive in one piece. Countless times products have arrived at my door and the outside package has been destroyed, yet the inner contents were fine. That story can go both ways, though. And I have had my share of surprises when a package shows little damage and the contents inside were shattered. It all comes down to how a product is packaged.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
The first thing I had to decide is how the heck I am going to open it. I could lay it down and not be able to list the system out of what I thought would be a box. Have you ever wondered what Indiana Jones felt like opening the box?
Smooth Creations Hellcat
With the box open I found layer after layer of protection to fill the box.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
You really can't imagine my surprise when I got to this point. I was thinking that I was almost at the treasure and had a complete WTH moment. Never before have I received a full system in a crate.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
I can tell you from experience, just forego the first thought about grabbing a screwdriver. Get out the power drill with a #2 Philips bit, because those nine screws are around two inches long. At this point my head was filling with Indiana Jones moments; what would Indy do?
Smooth Creations Hellcat
With the top portion of the crate removed you finally get within striking distance of your target.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
At this point you hear angels singing in the background and feel victorious, or in this case Journey's Open Arms playing in the next room. Either way, your body is flooded with adrenaline.

The Smooth Creations Hellcat - Exterior

Smooth Creations Hellcat - Exterior
Smooth Creations Hellcat
Smooth Creations raises the bar again in the exterior dept. Their work is phenomenal, but if you don't like their pre-designed artwork, just submit your own and they can spray it.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
Here we see some of the detail up close and the custom fan grill cut into the acrylic case.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
Watch out, the Hellcat bites.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
The back of the case uses an open design that allows air to pass through from the force of the four 120mm fans on the front of the case.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
Down low we see the dual 4870 X2 cards and the metal plate that the cards are pressed against.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
The business end of the system. On this side you can see the components and after it is powered the entire system comes to life.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
The front of the case received the light treatments as well.

The Smooth Creations Hellcat - Internals

Smooth Creations Hellcat- Internals
Smooth Creations Hellcat
Here we see the Hellcat with the side panel removed. The insides are not as elegant as the LAN Shark we looked at earlier this month; there are cables going all over the place. But for the most part they are tucked out of the way and believe me, cooling the system is not a problem with the four 120mm fans blowing over everything.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
Here we see the two Diamond 4870 X2 graphics cards with their Danger Den waterblocks already installed.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
The SATA plugs are pretty trick; see their 90 degree angle coming off of the board.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
Danger Den also took care of the processor cooling and here we see the new LGA 1366 water cooling block. The massive air bubble went to the reservoir after the system powered up.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
Data is kept safe with the two Western Digital 1TB drives running in RAID 1 mode. The Western Digital VelociRaptor proved to be an excellent boot drive.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
When the system is turned on everything came to life and we were in Windows in seconds.

Software Configuration

Software Configuration Processes use system resources and can slow down a computer system. Most processes come from the operating system, but many come from the software installed. Here we take a look at how the system comes from the factory.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
Smooth Creations has done a good job of keeping the processes down on the Hellcat.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
The system arrived with all of the drivers installed and a couple of FutureMark applications ready to benchmark the system.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
Smooth Creations has a custom wallpaper installed and is enabled when you first start the system.

Benchmarks List and Testing Configuration

Benchmark List and Testing ConfigurationSystem tests are conducted with the system configured as it arrived to our testing lab. Drivers will only be updated if needed for a particular test, such as a new game added to the program test list that requires a special set of drivers, in which case the pre-installed drivers will be removed. Any driver change will be noted when this occurs. System Tests- Boot and Shutdown Times- FutureMark PCMark Vantage- BAPCo SYSmark 2007 PreviewProcessor and Memory Tests- EVEREST Cache and Memory- Passmark - ScienceMark 2Disk Tests- HD Tune- EVEREST Average Read Access- Passmark Advanced TestsVideo and Gaming Tests- FutureMark 3DMark Vantage- Crysis- PT Boats Demo- World in Conflict- Far Cry 2Compression and Audio Tests- Quickpar Create and Repair- WinRAR- Microsoft Windows Media Encoder- RightMark Audio Analyser

Benchmarks - System Tests

Boot Up and Shutdown Times Windows Vista makes testing the start up and shut down time difficult, since the operating system from the outside seems random. For this test I turned the system on and shut it down three times, measuring the time it took for each test. The average times are then presented, as below.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
After looking at two Core i7 systems it is clear that these BIOS' take longer to get everything in order. Here we see a 76 second boot up time. Shut down seems to be unaffected by X58.FutureMark PCMark VantagePCMark Vantage is the first objective hardware performance benchmark for PCs running 32 and 64 bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage is perfectly suited for benchmarking any type of Microsoft Windows Vista PC from multimedia home entertainment systems and laptops to dedicated workstations and high-end gaming rigs. Regardless of whether the benchmarker is an artist or an IT Professional, PCMark Vantage shows the user where their system soars or falls flat, and how to get the most performance possible out of their hardware. PCMark Vantage is easy enough for even the most casual enthusiast to use yet supports in-depth, professional industry grade testing.ORB Link: http://service.futuremark.com/compare?pcmv=128465
Smooth Creations Hellcat
FutureMark has not updated their software in some time and no matter what clock speed the i7 is at the standard speed is displayed. Here the Smooth Creation Hellcat scores comparatively low to the CyberPower Black Pearl we looked at earlier today. This is due to the Black Pearl using a 64-bit OS and the Hellcat on 32-bit. Still, it is difficult to claim 8,300 points as being low. BAPCo SYSmark 2007 PreviewSYSmark 2007 Preview is the latest version of the premier performance metric that measures and compares PC performance based on real world applications. SYSmark 2007 Preview extends the SYSmark family, which has been widely accepted by IT Managers, PC OEMs, press and analysts worldwide to support Windows Vista™. SYSmark 2007 Preview allows users to directly compare platforms based on Windows Vista™ to those based on Windows XP Professional and Home. The new release also incorporates numerous new features and enhancements such as an improved GUI allowing streamlined start-up and run along with a heads-up-display (HUD) and automated error reporting.SYSmark 2007 Preview is an application-based benchmark that reflects usage patterns of business users in the areas of Video creation, E-learning, 3D Modeling and Office Productivity. This new release includes a robust and refreshed set of applications.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
Our Office productivity suite shows that the Hellcat is a solid, all around performer. A decent score in this test is around 180; the Hellcat scored 233 overall which is the highest score I have ever seen.

Benchmarks - Processor and Memory Capabilities

EVEREST Cache and MemoryEVEREST Ultimate Edition is an industry leading system diagnostics and benchmarking solution for enthusiasts PC users, based on the award-winning EVEREST Technology. During system optimizations and tweaking it provides essential system and overclock information, advanced hardware monitoring and diagnostics capabilities to check the effects of the applied settings. CPU, FPU and memory benchmarks are available to measure the actual system performance and compare it to previous states or other systems. Furthermore, complete software, operating system and security information makes EVEREST Ultimate Edition a comprehensive system diagnostics tool that offers a total of 100 pages of information about your PC.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
EVEREST is another program that didn't pick up the overclock from the Core i7. The numbers definitely increased and that is really all that matters. The new Core i7 finally has an efficient memory controller placed on the processor. PassmarkFast, easy to use PC speed testing and benchmarking. PassMark PerformanceTest ™ allows you to objectively benchmark a PC using a variety of different speed tests and compare the results to other computers.The CPU tests cover mathematical operations, compression, encryption, SSE, 3DNow! instructions and more.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
The Hellcat produced very good scores in this test, but the 32-bit OS hurt the overall score.ScienceMark 2ScienceMark 2.0 is a mathematical program designed to stress the memory subsystems of both desktop/workstation and server environments to determine the read/write latency as well as the overall memory bandwidth available between the CPU and the memory controller.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
Once again the Hellcat produced an in-house record for a test, this time in ScienceMark 2.

Benchmarks - Disk Performance

HD TuneHD Tune is a Hard Disk utility which has the following functions:- Benchmark: measures the performance - Info: shows detailed information- Health: checks the health status by using SMART - Error Scan: scans the surface for errors - Temperature display HD Tune may also work with other storage devices such as memory cards, USB sticks, iPods, etc.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
The performance is on par with what we have come to expect from a single 300GB VelociRaptor.EVEREST Average Read AccessEVEREST Ultimate Edition is an industry leading system diagnostics and benchmarking solution for enthusiasts PC users, based on the award-winning EVEREST Technology. During system optimizations and tweaking it provides essential system and overclock information, advanced hardware monitoring and diagnostics capabilities to check the effects of the applied settings. CPU, FPU and memory benchmarks are available to measure the actual system performance and compare it to previous states or other systems. Furthermore, complete software, operating system and security information makes EVEREST Ultimate Edition a comprehensive system diagnostics tool that offers a total of 100 pages of information about your PC.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
Access time is where the Raptor Series excel with their 10,000 RPM platters. 7,200 RPM drives simply cannot compare due to the physical limit. Access times are based purely on rotational speed and seek times and there are very few drives that do it better than Western Digital's VelociRaptor. Passmark Advanced Disk TestsThis Advanced Disk Test, which is part of PerformanceTest, measures the data transfer speed when reading or writing data to one or more disks. The speed that data can be transferred between memory and a hard disk drive is one of a system's most important performance aspects. There are quite a few factors which have a bearing on this speed and the Advanced Disk Drive Test allows the user to vary most of these factors and compare the results.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
Smooth Creations Hellcat
I seriously doubt that a Hellcat is going to make an appearance as a file or web server, but the Passmark Advanced Disk Tests are some of my favourite. Here we see the Raptor perform just like the ones we use for comparison in our hard drive reviews. Significant increases are not achieved with single drives, it is only when you move to complex RAID arrays or use a solid state drives.

Benchmarks - Gaming

FutureMark 3DMark Vantage3DMark Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware. 3DMark Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.ORB Link (Entry): http://service.futuremark.com/compare?3dmv=527753 ORB Link (Performance):http://service.futuremark.com/compare?3dmv=527802 ORB Link (High): http://service.futuremark.com/compare?3dmv=527827 ORB Link (Extreme):http://service.futuremark.com/compare?3dmv=527849
Smooth Creations Hellcat
This is the test that I know you want to see. I was talking to a buddy of mine over MSN and he asked what the performance score was. I sent it over and he said, "Not the Entry score, the Performance score". I replied back with, "That is the Performance score". it went quiet for around 5 minutes after the slice of humble pie was delivered. CrysisFrom the makers of Far Cry, Crysis offers FPS fans the best-looking, most highly-evolving gameplay, requiring the player to use adaptive tactics and total customization of weapons and armor to survive in dynamic, hostile environments including Zero-G. Real time editing, bump mapping, dynamic lights, network system, integrated physics system, shaders, shadows and a dynamic music system are just some of the state of-the-art features the CryENGINE™ 2 offers. The CryENGINE™ 2 comes complete with all of its internal tools and also includes the CryENGINE™ 2 Sandbox world editing system.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
Crysis is a difficult game to tame, unless you have a Hellcat. The Core i7 unlocks frame rates that were previously unobtainable. PT BoatsPT Boats: Knights of the Sea is a naval action simulator that places gamers in charge of a mosquito fleet of the Allied Forces, Russia or Germany during the height of World War II.Using the latest Direct X 10 technology PT Boards - Knights of the Sea manages to apply a lot of stress to the components of today which in turn gives us quite an intensive benchmark.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
PT Boats is another DirectX 10 benchmark that can wreck havoc on a gaming system. Here we see the Hellcat giving us playable graphics at up to 1920x1200 with 4X AA.

Benchmarks - Gaming Cont.

World in ConflictWorld in Conflict is a real-time strategy video game by Massive Entertainment and to be published by Sierra Entertainment for Windows (DX9 and DX10) and the Xbox 360.The game is set in 1989 where economic troubles cripple the Soviet Union and threaten to dissolve it. However, the title pursues a "what if" scenario where, in this case, the Soviet Union does not collapse and instead pursues a course of war to remain in power. It is an intensive new game is sure to put plenty of stress on even the latest graphics cards and we use the built-in benchmarking for our testing.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
The two Diamond 4870 X2 cards running in CrossfireX mode have turned World in Conflict into a CPU limited game. The Core i7 does a good job at keeping the frame rate above 30 in all tests; a feat that Core 2 Duo is usually unable to accomplish.Far Cry 2Far Cry 2, the next-generation first-person shooter from Ubisoft, will take you deep into the most beautiful but also most hostile environments in the world: Africa! More than just a visual and technological achievement, Far Cry 2, the true sequel to the award-winning PC game, will provide you with an unprecedented gaming experience.The Dunia Engine was built specifically for Far Cry 2 by the award-winning Ubisoft Montreal development team. It delivers the most realistic destructible environments, amazing special effects such as dynamic fire propagation and storm effects, real-time night-and-day cycle, dynamic music system, non-scripted enemy A.I. and so much more.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
In Far Cry 2 we see the 4870 based cards do not like running without AA enabled. It is difficult to believe this game was just released; the Hellcat simply devoured the benchmark.

Benchmarks - Compression, Encoding and Audio

WinRARWinRAR is a powerful archive manager. It can backup your data and reduce the size of email attachments, decompress RAR, ZIP and other files downloaded from Internet and create new archives in RAR and ZIP file format.The built-in "Benchmark and Hardware test" feature allows for quick and easy comparison of decompression times between systems.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
Just last week I was happy to see a score over 2,000. Hellcat puts up big numbers in our compression tests scoring over 3,500. This is the highest score I have ever seen in this test.Quickpar Create and RepairQuickPar is a utility for creating Parity Volumes using the Reed Solomon algorithm. Parity Volumes may be used to verify that a set of files have not been corrupted, or to reconstruct damaged files (providing that you have a sufficient quantity of Parity Volumes to match the missing or damaged files).
Smooth Creations Hellcat
Quickpar utilizes system memory, processor power and hard disk access times; everything that the Hellcat excels at. Most systems perform right around 1,000 but this Smooth Creations system doubles that number. Windows Media Encoder 9In this test we take a 2 minute 1080p video and encode it into a 720p video. Scoring is determined by the amount of time taken for the task to complete. Lower is better.The video used for this encoding test is The Magic of Flight (IMAX) which is readily available for download on Microsoft's HD Content Showcase page.
Smooth Creations Hellcat
The Hellcat was able to beat the CyberPower system clocked at 3.6GHz in the Windows Media Encoder test by a full 18 seconds.RightMark Audio AnalyserRMAA suite is designed for testing quality of analog and digital paths of any audio devices, be it a sound card, an MP3 player, a consumer CD/DVD player or an acoustic set. The results are obtained by playing and recording test signals passed through the tested audio path by means of frequency analysis algorithms. A more common mark is also provided for those unfamiliar with measured technical parameters.A new version is the result of two years of development by best experts in digital audio. RMAA 6.0 raises the bar of comfort and functionality for spectrum analyzers. That's why it is a program of choice for enthusiasts, professionals, and audio magazines around the world; and some manufacturers are developing new devices with the mandatory testing of their quality in RMAA. In short, the program at the moment is a de-facto standard providing quick and easy measurement of technical parameters, without the need to spend tens of thousands of dollars on specialized measurement systems.
CyberPower Gamer Xtreme XE Gaming PC
The LANParty Jr used in the Smooth Creations LAN Shark had a difficult time in this test, but the Intel X58SO performed flawlessly and scored a Very Good rating. If you'd like to view a more in-depth analysis of the results with individual charts, click here.

Final Thoughts

Final ThoughtsLet's take care of the price here and now. At this level of performance you can expect to pay a premium. The Hellcat delivers superior performance to anything else on the market. Sure there are a few people out there that can build a similar system that performs close to what the Hellcat does. I will put it to you like this; would you rather have a souped up Subaru WRX or a Ferrari 360? Both can perform very well, but only one you dream about. With that said, the cost of ownership is 5,400 Dollars. That will get you into the exact system we reviewed here today, kick ass paint and all. The Smooth Creations team will even paint your gamer tag on the case along with a design of your choice. With the price out of the way, we can talk performance and there is a lot of it in this system. The Hellcat is beastly, pure muscle throughout; performance comes as second nature, embedded in the cat's instincts and ready to strike at any time. The component list is made from the exotic, a true system that you have always wanted to build yourself but don't dare attempt. This is the system your current computer lusts over. Looking back on my experience with the Hellcat, I still think that opening the box was one of the coolest things to date. The only thing missing were pieces of shredded paper used by shipping companies to pack valuables. I mean come on, opening a wooden crate to reveal the treasure? that was priceless.Smooth Creations does still have a few things that they could do to improve the Hellcat. Most users would really like to have front USB ports. I would not be surprised if Smooth Creations doesn't start offering a painted USB hub that matches your system after reading this article. I would bring it up when ordering a system. Windows 32-bit hampers performance a bit, but I was told the company has just finished validating Vista 64-bit on the system and it will now be offered. The last complaint was brought up with the LAN Shark system we reviewed last week and that is system noise which is also being addressed by the company.If you are in the market for the highest spec system on the planet and the term value added has never been a part of your vocabulary then the Smooth Creations Hellcat is the system to get.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR -

Chris Ramseyer started his career as a LAN Party organizer in Midwest USA. After working with several computer companies he was asked to join the team at The Adrenaline Vault by fellow Midwest LAN Party legend Sean Aikins. After a series of shake ups at AVault, Chris eventually took over as Editor-in-Chief before leaving to start Real World Entertainment. Look for Chris to bring his unique methods of testing Hard Disk Drives, Solid State Drives as well as RAID controller and NAS boxes to TweakTown as he looks to provide an accurate test bed to make your purchasing decisions easier.

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