Introduction, Specifications, Pricing and Availability
LA based system builder iBUYPOWER has been steadily expanding its visibility in the last few years. The company began as a small, relatively obscure shop in 1999, and has grown into an international distributor able to provide support in a number of languages, including English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, Mandarin, and Cantonese. The company's off-the-shelf computers are available at several national (USA) dealers such as Walmart and Sam's Club.
iBUYPOWER set us up with a portable LAN Warrior II system for this review. This small-footprint system is essentially built around ATI's flagship (for the moment, anyway) HD 5790 video card, which means this system is built for high-performance gaming.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
More compact than the company's line of full-size Paladin gaming desktops, the LAN Warrior promises burly gaming performance in a portable package-perfect for LAN parties and tournaments. The LAN Warrior II is available in three basic platforms; an AMD-based version starting at $749 (USD), an Intel P55 model starting at $799, and this model, built on an Intel X58 platform starting at $999. Our review system incorporates several upgrades and goes for $1999 as of October 2010. For information about the LAN Warrior II's base config, see here.
Our review unit sports an Intel Core i7 930 processor running at the stock 2.8GHz clock speed, mounted on an MSI X58M motherboard. A liquid CPU cooler keeps the processor thermally happy. Six gigs of DDR3-1600 occupy three memory slots, and an ATI Radeon HD 5970 2GB video card provides graphics processing. Though the HD 5970 is a single physical card, it actually has two separate GPUs inside, giving you Crossfire performance on the one card. The system boasts a dual hard drive configuration consisting of a Kingston 64GB SSDNow V2-series SATA II 2.5inch Solid-State Drive that hosts the Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit OS and a Hitachi 1.0TB 7200RPM for data storage. It also has an LG 10X Blu-ray drive. The system is housed in NZXT's Vulcan micro-ATX chassis and gets its juice from a Xion 1000W power supply.
Externally, the LAN Warrior II doesn't have quite as many I/O ports as some of the larger machines we've reviewed; but for most users the available ports provide plenty of options. On the top of the machine we have 2xUSB 2.0, eSATA, and headphone & mic jacks. On the rear of the chassis, we get 6xUSB 2.0, eSATA, Firewire, Ethernet, analog multichannel audio, DVI, and mini-HDMI.
Other than the mini-HDMI output (which has some issues-read on for more info), the LAN Warrior II doesn't have any digital audio outs (either coax or S/PDIF); a puzzling oversight given the inclusion of a Blu-ray drive. Should you wish to hook this system up to your home theater, you'll have to run several analog cables to the multichannel input of your home-theater receiver (assuming it has such inputs).
The system also lacks any USB 3.0 ports. While not really a necessity yet, 3.0 ports are something we're seeing on more and more systems that add another layer of future-proofing. Internally, the LAN Warrior II has only two hard drive bays, both of which are occupied, two optical drive bays (one empty), and two 3.5" bays (one of which houses the multi-format card reader).
Expandability options are somewhat limited, but with a compact, portable system such as this, some trade-offs are inevitable. iBUYPOWER does offer the option of a second video card (which in the case of the HD 5970, would be considered CrossfireX (AKA Quadfire), although the customization choices on iBUYPOWER's LAN Warrior II page incorrectly refers to such a configuration as merely being "Crossfire"). iBUYPOWER also includes a six button mouse and a USB keyboard with the system. The company provides a 3-year limited warranty with lifetime phone support.
iBUYPOWER computers are available through several retailers, including Amazon, Walmart, Sam's Club, and Newegg.com. Built-to-order systems may be purchased at www.iBUYPOWER.com. Customization options include case lighting, both NVIDIA and ATI graphics solutions, and numerous brands of RAM, hard drives, and power supplies. Selecting certain high-power GPUs generates a notification telling you the minimum power supply necessary for that card. Other than that, however, the configurator doesn't provide much guidance, so you'll either need to do some research on your own or call one of the company's sales reps for details.
Most systems ship with about an 8-10 day lead-time, although the site has a special section for "Ships in 24 Hours" systems. As configured, the LAN Warrior II goes for $2000 USD as of October 2010-not a bad deal considering the components you get, such as a super high-end video card, Blu-ray drive, and solid-state hard drive.
Packaging, Internals & Set-Up
The LAN Warrior II arrived in a large white box with iBUYPOWER's logo emblazoned on two sides. Opening it up, we see that the system is double-boxed, with a thin layer of foam on top of and below the inner box, which is the reused NXZT chassis box.
The accessory bag, keyboard, and removable handle occupy the space between the inner and outer boxes.
Inside the inner box, we find the system cushioned by two foam brackets.
The LAN Warrior II's mesh side panel reveals a block of InstaPak foam inserted to keep the video card nice and snug during shipping. Accessing the system interior requires only removing a pair of thumbscrews from the rear of the chassis, after which the side panel slides off easily. Removing the foam is a bit nerve-wracking, however. It's in there really tight and requires a pretty serious tug to free it; an action that places physical stress on the video card that we'd rather not see.
With the foam removed, we find a build dominated by the enormous video card, which takes up two expansion slots and extends approximately four-fifths of the way across the interior. The card's size essentially splits the interior in half, creating two separate sections.
The system has two cooling fans (in addition to the fans on the radiator, power supply and video card) - basically one fan for each of the interior compartments, since the video card impedes any airflow between the two chambers.
The accessory bag contains cables and other odds and ends from the build, as well as the mouse and the following discs; Windows 7 install/repair disc, drivers for the Blu-ray drive and a disc of drivers for the MSI mobo (including Ethernet, HD audio, etc.). We didn't get a driver disc for the GPU, but as frequently as ATI releases new drivers, such a disc would quickly become obsolete anyhow.
General Hands-On Usage and Performance
General Hands-On Usage
Here's a CPU-Z screenshot showing some detailed specs of what's running under the LAN Warrior II's hood:
And here's a GPU-Z screenshot showing the settings we used for 3D testing:
Press the "Power" button and the LAN Warrior II roars to life; literally. The system's fans are quite loud, both while booting and in general usage. Although the front of the chassis features a fan speed control knob, this only controls the RPMs of the fan inside the CPU cooler's radiator. At all but the very maximum setting, the fan on the top of the chassis drowns out the variable speed fan. Even tucked away under a desk, the system generates a distracting amount of noise.
The second control knob on the front of the chassis controls the case lighting, but our review system didn't come with any case lighting, apart from a solitary blue LED on the CPU cooler and pair of small blue lights on the bottom of the chassis in the power supply. The knob had no effect on these lights.
The LAN Warrior II utilizes the same solid-state drive (SSD) and 7200RPM traditional drive configuration that we're seeing on more and more desktop computers these days. This combo provides a best-of-both-worlds situation, whereby the user gets the performance boost of running the OS, games, and programs from the speedy (though expensive) SSD while retaining the low-cost and high storage capacity benefits of a traditional spinning drive.
Though we're big fans of this configuration, the 64GB capacity of the SSD in the LAN Warrior II is a bit small for our taste. With the OS on there, an avid gamer will run out of space on that drive quite quickly after installing 5-6 modern titles.
That said, the SSD does deliver the kind of snappy, quick computing experience for which that particular technology is known. We found the OS fast and responsive during general usage, and programs opened and closed briskly.
The desktop greeted us with a very clean Windows installation devoid of any extraneous icons or bloatware. Perhaps even a little too clean.
We usually find a link to the Blu-ray player software (such as CyberLink's PowerDVD) on the desktop, but there wasn't one. We also weren't able to find any such software under the All Programs menu. In fact, it wasn't there at all, which means that as configured, the LAN Warrior II is unable to play Blu-ray movies, even though it has a Blu-ray drive. For DVD playback you'll need to use Windows Media Player.
The lack of Blu-ray software caused us a bit of head-scratching. It doesn't make much sense to sell a computer without the necessary software to use a component to its full capability - not to mention on a somewhat pricey upgrade like a Blu-ray drive. Given that the drive isn't a Blu-ray burner, most users would only use the Blu-ray capabilities of the drive for viewing (or ripping) Blu-ray movies. But without playback software, you've basically got an overpriced DVD burner. Puzzling!
We ran into another issue when hooking the LAN Warrior II up to an HDMI-equipped monitor. We tried connecting a HDMI cable to the mini-HDMI port using this included dongle:
But the female end actually accepts the large variety of DisplayPort connectors, not HDMI. So, we had to use the included DVI-to-HDMI adapter, which resulted in all kinds of scaling issues at most resolutions.
Another odd thing we noticed. With a liquid CPU cooler upgrade included for free, why doesn't iBUYPOWER overclock the CPU? - Yes, overclocking is an option on the website's configuration menu (two tiers: up to 10% overclocking for $19, or up to 20% overclocking for $49), but iBUYPOWER misses a great opportunity to add some performance value (and some real customization) to the LAN Warrior II by not doing so.
Again, we have another instance of the hardware not living up to its full potential. The main practical benefit of a liquid CPU cooler is to dissipate the extra heat generated by an overclocked processor, so including one as a free upgrade without the attendant BIOS adjustments doesn't really provide any benefit to the customer.
The LAN Warrior II took 39 seconds to boot, a time we've come to expect from SSD-equipped systems.
High-performance computing requires lots of juice. The LAN Warrior II idled at 161 watts and jumped up to 374 watts under load.
Audio & Video Performance
We ran the LAN Warrior II 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.
All tests are performed with the system in High Performance mode with minimum CPU set to 100%.
The Serenity performed this task in 72 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.
All tests are performed with the system in High Performance mode with minimum CPU set to 100%.
The LAN Warrior II completed this encoding task in 93 seconds.
As we mentioned earlier, the review unit we received came with no software for viewing Blu-ray movies, even though the system has a Blu-ray drive. This oversight, along with the fact that the system generates quite bit of noise from its fans, means you'll most likely not want to use the LAN Warrior II as a HTPC.
Benchmarks - CINEBENCH R10 64-bit
CINEBENCH R10 64-bit
Version and / or Patch Used: Release 10
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/
Product Homepage: http://www.maxon.net
CINEBENCH is a real-world test suite that assesses your computer's performance capabilities. MAXON CINEBENCH is based on MAXON's award-winning animation software, CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more.
MAXON CINEBENCH runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances. The benchmark application makes use of up to 16 CPUs or CPU cores and is available for Windows (32-bit and 64-Bit) and Macintosh (PPC and Intel-based).
The LAN Warrior II took 51 seconds to render the motorcycle in the multicore test.
Benchmarks - Super Pi
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.5 Mod XS
Developer Homepage: http://pw1.netcom.com/~hjsmith/Pi/Super_Pi.html
Product Homepage: http://pw1.netcom.com/~hjsmith/Pi/Super_Pi.html
Developed by some folks from the University of Tokyo, Super PI is a small utility that does just as the name implies. It figures PI to a set number of decimal places. Since PI is an infinite number to the right of the decimal point, the utility measures the time it takes to figure a set number of places. It runs the calculations a set number of times and gives a time for the completion of the task. This is a simple and effective way to measure the raw number crunching power of the processor being used to compile the results.
The LAN Warrior II calculated Pi out to the 1 millionth digit in 13.85 seconds.
TweakTown strives to provide our readers with a reasonable expectation of what they can expect in terms of real-world performance in our gaming tests. Instead of testing all systems and titles at, say, 1280x768 with 4xAA and comparing framerates, we determine a particular system's maximum playable settings and report those settings along with the resultant framerates.
Even though this makes direct comparison between systems a bit more difficult, we feel it best reflects how the typical gamer uses a system. Most players aren't interested in getting framerates in the 100s at 1280x768 if the title is still playable at 1680x1050.
And now, the gaming benchmarks, where we expect a HD 5970-equipped system to really shine.
Futuremark 3DMark Vantage
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmarkvantage/
Buy It Here
3DMark Vantage is an industry-standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, designed for Windows 7 and Vista. It includes two graphics tests, two CPU tests, several feature tests, and support for the latest hardware.
3DMark Vantage is based on a rendering engine developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10.
The LAN Warrior II racked up a score of 22527 3DMarks, earning 24212 in the GPU category and 18637 in the CPU category.
We run this benchmark in "Performance" mode to get an apples-to-apples data set across various systems, as opposed to the gaming benchmarks, where we push a system's hardware to its maximum abilities.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Using Arkham Asylum's built-in benchmarking tool (included in patch 1.1), we achieved maximum playable settings at 1920x1080 with 16xAA and "Very High" performance settings.
Frame rates were as follows: 86 max, 33 min, with an average of 61.
Far Cry 2
At 1920x1080, with 8xAA and "Ultra High" texture settings, the LAN Warrior II cranked out an average of 89 FPS, with a max of 159 and a min of 30.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
At 1920x1080, we pulled in an average of 77 fps, with a maximum of 109 and a minimum of 41.
The LAN Warrior II churned out 258FPS on average, with highs and lows of 460 and 131, respectively; all at 1920x1080, with a full 16xAA and "High" textures.
For an in-depth review of the capabilities of the HD 5970, see here.
Though the iBUYPOWER LAN Warrior II delivered the kind of stout gaming performance we'd expect from a system bearing AMD's flagship video card, we have to take issue with some of the odd configuration quirks we saw with this system.
Perhaps it was merely an oversight, but we're baffled as to why a company would include a Blu-ray drive, but no playback software (not to mention the lack of proper adapters to use the system with a HDMI-equipped monitor). If this was done to shave a few dollars from the cost to keep the system below a $2000 price point, we'd urge iBUYPOWER to look elsewhere for cost-saving alternatives. Likewise, although we appreciated the performance boost an SSD brings, 64GB is a bit on the small size for a primary drive.
We like iBUYPOWER's grab-and-go concept for the LAN Warrior II, and we like that they didn't skimp on the GPU just because of the system's small footprint. We also like that the company throws in a liquid CPU cooler for no extra charge. However, since the CPU cooler is neither particularly quiet, nor the processor itself overclocked, we're not exactly sure what practical benefits the customer receives from its inclusion.
At a $1999 street price, the LAN Warrior II represents one of the most reasonably priced HD 5970-equipped systems out there. But for a custom-built PC, we expect to see much greater attention to detail. With the number and quality of competitors in the custom PC market, it's not enough to merely throw a flagship GPU into a system and expect the buying public to beat a path to your door.
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