Okay, let’s get this over with at the start: $7,000 is more than any reasonable person would pay for a PC. But someone buying a gaming PC is, by definition, not a reasonable person. So let’s put the price aside for the moment and take a look at how Maingear’s latest brushed-metal brute stacks up against the competition.
At first blush, Maingear’s Shift seems like business as usual: This monster measures 21.5 x 8.5 x 24 inches, and weighs in at more than 40 pounds — not massive, but not exactly svelte.
Windows 7 Ultimate flies on the 3.3-GHz Intel Core i7-975 Extreme, bolstered by 6 GB of RAM. Add in the three ATI Radeon HD5870 graphics cards, and the Shift will make chop suey of any electronic entertainment you float its way.
It averaged 65 to 70 frames per second in Crysis and Crysis Warhead (at the absolute maximum settings, 1920 x 1200 resolution), dropping to the mid to low 50s during graphically complex scenes and firefights.
Other specs are equally impressive: Two 80-GB solid-state drives give you plenty of room for games and applications, while a 2-TB spinning hard drive handles plain old storage at a respectable 7,200 rpm. Media buffs will appreciate the Blu-ray burner. There are plethora of ports to choose from: 10 USB, 2 Firewire, eSata, a multiformat card reader, and Coax and Digital SPDIF ports for 8-Channel surround-sound support. The 1,200-watt power supply leaves ample room for upgrades.
On top of that, the “recession’s over!” pricing — $6,930 for the configuration we tested — makes this a heck of a lot more sensible than that $15,000 Falcon Northwest Mach V you bought last year.
But forget the numbers game for a second: The real story here is the Shift’s case. It’s a bit bland on the outside, but once you’ve popped off the side walls and taken a gander, you’ll start to see the bigger picture.
Kudos to Maingear for easy, tool-free entry into the Shift’s case. The first thing you’ll notice is the immaculate wiring job: Cables are tied down unobtrusively, but they’re within easy reach for disconnecting components and swapping new parts in. The Maingear uses off-the shelf parts, meaning eventual upgrades are easy.
There are a total of six drive bays, each capable of holding a single 3.5-inch drive or a pair of 2.5-inch drives. Want six 2-TB drives, or 12 SSDs? Go for it, Uncle Pennybags. Installing or removing a drive is as simple as unlocking and sliding out the plastic tray, dropping your new drive in, attaching the appropriate cables and sliding the tray back into place — look Ma, no tools!
Tinkerers and the perpetual upgraders are covered, and there’s a something here for junior-overclockers too.
Heat rises. So the Shift’s case is designed to direct airflow up, by orienting the heat-generating elements of the PC out the roof of the case. Three large, slow fans pull air from beneath the case, through the chassis, and blow it out the top. The processor is liquid-cooled, but its radiator is also nestled right at the case ceiling.
Serious overclockers will scoff, as you can’t expect to get the same level of performance with mere air-cooling, but what do you want for $7 large?
The end result is that the traditional rear of the case, where you plug in all of your cables, is now located on top. This can be tricky, particularly if you keep your desktop on your desk. To mitigate the mess, you can guide cables around a rail guard, and a form-fitting, removable grill lets self-conscious owners hide the clutter.
But is the Shift worth seven grand? Let’s consider a few more numbers. The components price out at about $4,480. That leaves a difference of $2,450 for labor, a well-designed case, Maingear’s lifetime warranty and shipping.
That’s a pretty big premium for a PC, particularly if you’ll only be using it for gaming. But the case’s interesting design adds quite a bit of value to the package. Improved heat management means longevity for your parts, and with easy access to core components, future upgrades will be a breeze.