Introduction, Specifications, Pricing and Availability
Based in White City, Oregon, Smooth Creations sells built-to-order gaming PCs and is known for its high-quality custom paint jobs. Last month we reviewed the HD 5970-equipped, Phenom X6-based, "Battlefield: Bad Company 2" custom gaming rig.
This month we review that system's big brother; the aptly named "Goliath."
Let's take a look!
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
All Smooth Creations systems are built-to-order and available only through Smoothcreations.com. The company is, in the full sense of the term, a custom builder. Although the company's website showcases a few models and offers several options on the configuration pages, the company seems to prefer you call them up and talk to one of their reps to discuss options for a new system. One of the main selling points for the company's systems is the free custom case paint, and it probably is in the customer's best interest to discuss what is and isn't feasible in that regard with an actual person.
The website also emphasizes that Smooth Creations chassis' are meant to last well beyond a single hardware-obsolescence cycle. When you're ready for a new computer, send your chassis back to the company for a free interior cleaning and a buff and polish of the artwork. Then they'll build a new system to your specs in your existing chassis.
While that might at first seem a bit gimmicky, take a look at the custom chassis' Smooth Creations offers, and you'll soon recognize that they are works of art unto themselves. These aren't just off-the-shelf cases with a coat of auto paint on them. They're functional art designed by an in-house team of artists and engineers.
Check out Smooth Creations' Youtube channel as well as its web gallery for a sampling of various chassis art. We particularly liked this one.
The Goliath contains some of the best hardware available on the market today. Built on an ASUS Rampage III x58 LGA 1366 motherboard, the builder overclocked the Intel i7 980 processor from its stock speed of 3.33GHz all the way up to 4.5GHz. An elaborate liquid cooling scheme comprised of parts from Koolance and Danger Den makes such extreme overclocking possible. A pair of AMD HD 5970 video cards (4 GPUs total) in CrossfireX provides some serious framerates.
The rest of the hardware compliment includes 12GB of Corsair Dominator GT 2000MHz RAM, a Lite-On Blu-ray burner, and a 1200 watt(!) Corsair AX power supply. An Aerocool Power Panel mounted on the front of the chassis displays component temperatures and provides controls for the system's numerous cooling fans. The hard drives consist of two 256GB Western Digital Silicon Edge SSDs in RAID 0 and two 2TB Western Digital Caviar Green 7200RPM drives in RAID 1.
For an in-depth discussion of the different RAID configurations, see here. Basically, RAID 0 provides faster read/write times by having two separate disks act as one, allowing data to be read/written in parallel at each disk's maximum rate, and splitting the data between the pair. RAID 1 is your garden-variety data mirroring for protection in case one of the drives fail, hence the acronym for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. We'll talk more about the benefits of this configuration in the "General Usage" section of the review.
As configured, this system goes for approximately $6990 USD as of November 2010.
Packaging, Internals and Set-Up
The review system arrived via FEDEX Freight in an enormous wooden crate (the lower one) on a pallet. A Smooth Creations rep stated that the company's high-end systems all ship this way.
A quick note: This particular system has been making the rounds among various publications, which means we didn't receive this system directly from Smooth Creations. As such, some of the packaging might not be what a retail customer would receive. Similarly, the hard drive contained test software from other reviewers, so we aren't able to comment on the software configuration.
The crate is huge. One could easily fit two people (or three contortionists) inside it. After removing the top of the crate, we see much of the interior volume is taken up by foam blocks to stabilize and cushion the system box.
After removing the white fabric cover, we get our first good look at this custom-painted, doublewide chassis. The steam-punkish artwork looks great. Just as we saw on the Battlefield system, the graphics are quite sharp, not grainy or pixilated.
Unlike the Battlefield machine, Smooth Creations shipped this system with the video cards already installed. With all wires and coolant tubes snaking through the machine's internals, they most likely do this to reduce the risk of the customer accidentally knocking something loose.
No shortage of I/O to be found with this system. The front panel sports a multi-card reader, 2xUSB 2.0, a 5 volt power USB (also known as USB Plus Power or Retail USB), a 12 volt power USB, an eSATA port, power eSATA port and headphone & mic jacks.
The ASUS Rampage III x58 LGA 1366 motherboard provides even more places to plug stuff in. We find 6xUSB 2.0, a single PS/2 keyboard input, a CLR_CMOS button for resetting the BIOS, S/PDIF optical out, eSATA, FireWire, Ethernet port, multichannel analog audio outs, and a "ROG Connect" port, which allows on-the-fly overclocking. There's also a small dongle for RC Bluetooth.
We also get a small switch that turns off some of the case lighting.
Things are a bit crowded inside, as there's lots of stuff in there. However, since this system is liquid cooled, unimpeded airflow is less of a necessity.
The left half of the chassis (looking at the system from the front) houses the traditional PC guts: motherboard, GPUs, etc.). The right side houses the bulkier bits of the liquid cooling apparatus.
Documentation & Accessories
The accessories box held a black binder containing software and documentation. We received discs for Far Cry 2 and Nero 8.
The documentation in the binder consisted of various build checklists, benchmarks, system stats and warranty information.
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 Goliath's hood:
And here's a GPU-Z screenshot showing the status for the graphics card.
As you can see in the CPU-Z screenshot, the Intel i7-980 is overclocked up to a whopping 4.5GHz from the standard 3.3GHz clock speed. We didn't experience any problems related to the overclocked processor. The elaborate liquid cooling system did its job without missing a beat.
As we saw with the Maingear F131, a properly overclocked and stable CPU adds significant value to a system since you're getting a performance boost without having to buy a more expensive CPU. This is definitely something we expect from boutique builders, and Smooth Creations certainly gets it right with this system. And liquid cooling components look pretty cool, to boot.
We've mentioned several times in the past that we're big fans of SSDs for the OS drive and a traditional large-capacity platter drive for data storage, and that configuration is what we're seeing on most high-end systems these days. However, Smooth Creations takes that configuration one step further by doubling the number of drives and judicious use of RAID technology. With the SSDs in RAID 0, this system really zips along.
The Goliath is not a particularly noisy system-about average, we'd say-but it does put out quite a bit of heat. In the room in which we conducted these tests, the Goliath would warm the room up appreciably after being on for a while. You'll want to be sure to set the Goliath up in a well-ventilated space. And with the system's eye-catching appearance, you'll want to show it off anyway.
Speaking of appearance, the system elicited comments such as "Holy crap", "What the hell is that?", or some variation there of from almost every person who saw this system during the review process (even non-gamers). With its doublewide chassis, kick-ass paint job, and neon-colored cooling system, this is a system that really turns heads. It looks super cool in the dark, too.
The system took 48 seconds to boot, a time on par with the other SSD-equipped systems we've seen.
With all that's going on inside, a system like this needs some serious juice. Thanks to the 1200 watt power supply, the Goliath idled at 324 watts and jumped up to 728 watts under load.
We ran this custom rig 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 computer performed this task in 47 seconds, a new record for the machines we've reviewed so far.
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 machine took a mere 50 seconds to complete this, which is another record.
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 system burned through the 3D bike rendering test in 25 seconds, yet another record. We're beginning to see a pattern here.
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 box calculated pi out to the 1 millionth digit in 9.1 seconds, which just edges out the Maingear F131 for another record. The oc'd Intel processor really shines in this particular test.
Benchmarks - 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 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.
With four GPUs configured in CrossFireX, we expected some serious 3D performance from the Goliath, and it delivered in spades.
The system brought in a total score of P41809. The GPU racked up 41970, and the CPU 41335, all of which are record scores for this test.
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.
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.
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. 100 max, 34 min, with an average of 73.
Far Cry 2
We ran Far Cry 2 with all the settings maxed out at 1920x1080, 8xAA, and Ultra High detail level.
It averaged 175 fps, with a high of 416 and a low of 84.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2
At 1920x1080, the Goliath delivered an average of 110 fps, with a maximum of 173 and a minimum of 54.
The system cranked out an average of 373, with a max of 586 and min of 174 at 1920x1080 and Very High detail level.
For an in-depth review of the capabilities of the ATI HD 5970, see here.
We've got a new king of the mountain. Going on the system specs alone, we obviously expected some serious brawn, but a couple of tweaks, such as the oc'd processor and RAID 0-configured primary SSD provided by Smooth Creations makes this a system any gaming enthusiast would enjoy using.
Of course, that performance comes at a price. At close to $7000, the Goliath goes for about twice as much as its main competitor, the Maingear F131, which it just edges out performance-wise. However, that price difference reflects the reality of the hardware market, where the cost curve for exotic, top-of-the-line components rises sharply at the high-end, and buyers pay a premium for that little extra boost in performance.
But this isn't just a system thrown together from the best components available. Smooth Creations builds a truly custom system with the Goliath-a carefully engineered and tested computer with an elaborate cooling solution and high-quality, custom paint.
Additionally, Smooth Creations' ability to reuse a customer's chassis when the next hardware cycle comes around means the chassis (and maybe even the cooling system) will last beyond the lifetime of the electronic components. The chassis is meant to last for years.
The Goliath's eye-catching looks, funky cooling, and top-tier performance earn it a TweakTown Editor's Choice.
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