Introducing the iBUYPOWER Paladin XLC

It's amazing how quickly reviewing a complete computer system can become dicey when dealing with as informed a readership as ours. Reviewing notebooks is fairly straightforward: since whitebox machines have mostly evaporated from the market, we can safely review the pre-built machines the manufacturers send us because they're basically the only options presenting themselves to you.

Desktops get a little trickier, where we have to ascertain not just the machine's value to a broader market, but also find the value to people who know how to spec and build their own machines. When it's something like the Dell and Acer desktops we've reviewed it's easy enough: these are machines you can recommend to friends and family without tying yourself to their continued maintenance and service. The iBUYPOWER Paladin XLC we have on hand to review is another beast entirely.

This is a machine that falls very much in line with the kinds of computers we as the reviewers and many of you as the readers are capable of assembling. But there are also readers who don't want to go through the hassle of building and tuning a gaming machine, and readers for whom a machine like this will be their gateway into the world of tweaking, tuning and overclocking. And I'm reasonably sure there's at least one granny out there somewhere aching to pwn n00bs in Modern Warfare 2, a seasoned veteran of first person shooters who refuses to stoop to using a console controller. Ultimately we need to determine what iBUYPOWER brings to the table compared to what you can do on your own, alongside how capable the machine itself is.

iBUYPOWER Paladin XLC Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-930 @ 3.5GHz (184MHz Bclk with x19 multiplier)
(spec: 4x2.8GHz, 45nm, 8MB L3, 130W)
Chipset Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R rev. 2 Motherboard with X58 chipset
Memory 3x2GB A-Data DDR3-1600 @ 1480MHz (expandable to 24GB)
Graphics 2x NVIDIA GeForce GTX 470 1280MB GDDR5 in SLI
(448 CUDA Cores, 607MHz Core, 1215MHz Shader, 3.3GHz Memory, 320-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) Kingston 64GB SSDNow! V2 Series SSD (OS drive)
Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB 7200RPM SATA 6Gbps (Data drive)
Optical Drive(s) LG 10x BD-ROM/DVD+/-RW
Networking Realtek Gigabit Ethernet
Audio Realtek ALC889 HD Audio
speaker, mic, line-in, and surround jacks for 7.1 sound
Front Side Optical Drive
Three open 5.25” bays
MMC/SD/CF/MS reader
Top 2x USB 2.0
eSATA port
Headphone and mic jacks
Power and reset buttons
Fan controllers
Back Side 2x PS/2
S/PDIF and TOSlink digital audio jacks
4-pin and 6-pin FireWire ports
2x Combo eSATA/USB 2.0 ports
4x USB 2.0
2x USB 3.0 (blue)
Gigabit Ethernet jack
Speaker, mic, line-in, and surround jacks
4x DVI-D
2x Mini-DisplayPort
AC Power
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 25.74" x 21.32" x 8.74" (WxDxH)
Weight 24.25 lbs (case only)
Extras 850W NZXT HALE90 Modular Power Supply
Asetek 570LX 240mm Liquid Cooling
NZXT Phantom Case
Wired keyboard and mouse
Flash reader (MMC/MS/CF/SD)
Overclocked from warehouse
Warranty 3-year limited warranty and lifetime phone support
Pricing Starting at $1,459
Priced as configured (9/02/2010): $2,278

As you can see, it's an awful lot of computer. The big pop-out is the Core i7-930 overclocked to 3.5GHz, with the overclock done largely to the Bclk to bring up memory and uncore speeds. iBUYPOWER calls the overclock their "Level 3 Powerdrive Overclocking"—bringing a 25% overclock to the processor core with it. Intel doesn't ship any processors that hit this speed at stock, so right there you can assume at least some measure of bang for your buck: iBUYPOWER ships you a computer with a processor faster than Intel's specs for the i7-975, already stability tested and ready to go. There's even an Asetek watercooler attached to the 930 to keep temperatures (and noise levels) down.

iBUYPOWER backs up the i7's gaming prowess with a pair of GeForce GTX 470's in SLI. This level of performance should be a known quantity to most of our readers by now, but for reference sake, this is a pair of NVIDIA's second-fastest single-chip cards, each sporting 448 of NVIDIA's CUDA cores. They run at clock speeds of 607MHz on the core, 1215MHz on the shaders, and 1.2GB of GDDR5 on each running at an effective 3.3GHz. The 470 is generally a match for AMD's Radeon HD 5870, and SLI has been demonstrated to scale extremely well. If there's one thing that should give a potential buyer pause, though, it should be the amount of heat generated by these cards. The GA-X58A-UD3R motherboard is fantastic (I actually run one in my personal system), but it doesn't allow the user to space the cards to NVIDIA's specifications. The two are right next to each other and as we'll see later, this causes some issues.

The rest of the build is fairly well rounded. iBUYPOWER includes a speedy 64GB Kingston SSD as the operating system drive and pairs it with a 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black, one of the newer models with 64MB of cache and support for SATA 6GBps (connected to the motherboard's 6GBps port, naturally.) Memory duties are handled by 6GB of A-DATA DDR3-1600 running in triple-channel; memory brands are often matters of taste and religion (personally I swear by Corsair), but the A-DATA RAM should be fine. There's also a blu-ray reader, DVD-writer combo drive and a multi-card reader.

Finally, everything's housed in one of the new NZXT Phantom cases, and that's going to be a matter of taste for many people. Personally, I think it looks like a Transformer that turns into an Imperial Stormtrooper; it's attractive in a tacky, kitschy way. The fan controls on the top are a nice touch and the multitude of fans built in run nice and quiet. iBUYPOWER opts to use an NZXT Hale90 850W modular power supply as well, which is enough to keep the GeForces and overclocked i7 well fed while having plenty of reserves for future upgrades.

Also of note is that iBUYPOWER includes all of the extras that would have come with these parts had you built the machine off-the-shelf, along with an abnormally cheap-looking branded keyboard and a branded optical mouse of equally non-descript origins.

Getting to Know the iBuyPower Paladin XLC
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  • wolfman3k5 - Friday, September 03, 2010 - link

    You may do your own search on youtube about how actual iBuyPower systems look like that are being shipped to customers, but for reference here is a video from May, 2010:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKZD4BFAo8k&fea...

    I wouldn't say that it looks any better than from what an average Joe with average computer hardware skills would put together.

    Just my 2 cents.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, September 03, 2010 - link

    I'm not sure what you'd want it to be. Since the switch to SATA in place of the old IDE cables, wiring has become less critical IMO. Anyway, I've played with old Falcon Northwest and VoodooPC computers in the past, with immaculate wiring jobs. The problem is that if you ever need to replace something, or add hardware, or whatever it's a total pain in the butt. Then again, I don't care about case lighting or windows, so all I need is wiring that isn't terrible. iBUYPOWER doesn't do much beyond what an enthusiast can do, but if you were to ask me to build a similar system I'd probably charge $200 and I wouldn't be providing free tech support. Reply
  • Notleh - Saturday, September 04, 2010 - link

    1) Personally, I love the look of the white Phantom case. I am friggin sick of boring black rectangles.

    2) You are spot on with the i7 overclock. You can get 4.0-4.2 easily on air cooling. With that 2X120mm radiator they should have no problems hitting at least 4.0ghz.

    3) I think you are a bit off on 470GTX. Yes, to your comments about heat and power. But the 470GTX is at a sweet spot right now, since you can pick up a pair of them for $440. When run in SLI they are very competitive at that price. Not needed for a single monitor run at normal res, but VERY nice for high res or multi-monitor.

    4) The cable sleeving argument is mildly retarded. Nowadays you can just buy the colored, pre-sleeved cable extensions from NZXT directly or newegg or frozencpu for like 6-10 bucks. They look fantastic. Not to mention the fact that this case has so much room and amazing airflow that sleeving isnt much of a performance issue.

    Anyway, nice review. You marked your issues but still made a call at the end. I wouldn't go prebuilt since I could build my own, but this isn't a bad build or a bad price. Rock on Dustin.
    Reply
  • wolfman3k5 - Saturday, September 04, 2010 - link

    The cable sleeving argument was mine. I wasn't talking about pres-sleeved extensions, which is probably what they've used. Yes they look fantastic, and no, I didn't know that you could buy them for NZXT power supplies. I've done cable sleeving in the past and it is very time consuming, not to mention expensive if you do a whole computer (~$60 to $70 in materials alone). My point was that I couldn't believe that they would take the time to sleeve cables at this price point, but since there are extensions that you can buy readily available, it is more plausible.

    I agree with you on the GTX 470. I've just picked up a pair of Gigabyte GTX470 (reference cards, probably made by the same manufacturer who makes all the other GTX 470 cards) for ~$500 from NewEgg. Maybe in some amazing combo, they would cost $440 for a pair. But right now they are actually the best bang for the buck when used in SLI.

    Hitting 4.0GHz requeres a little bit of skill, regardless of the motherboard that they where using. However, 3.5GHz was easy to attain. The reviewer meant that the overclock was poorly tuned when he said that it was "lazy", not that the CPU wasn't set at a higher speed.
    Reply
  • Will Robinson - Sunday, September 05, 2010 - link

    Enough with the "You can easily get 4GHz on air" comments.
    Do you even have one?
    A Core i7 WILL overclock stably to 3.8GHZ without too much tweaking but after that it requires voltage increases that rapidly increase system temps and often result in INstability.
    I have mine under water cooling and with summer ambient temp,anything over 3.8GHz heats things up very quickly.
    I know it sounds so hardcore boasting about 4GHz overclocks but in the real world its not as "gosh darn" child's play as you state.
    Reply
  • Notleh - Saturday, September 04, 2010 - link

    You can buy them at Fry's for $249 each and they have a $30 rebate. I got a similar deal a month ago that Galaxy posted on the [H}ardocp forums.

    I see what you mean on the OC. Weaksauce adjustments to Bclk, vcore and such...which led to a weak overclock. If I am paying for an expert to build my system I would expect it to be properly tuned.

    Wolfman, how are you liking those 470's? I am very pleased with mine running 3 monitors in NVSurround.

    Sleeved cables ($10 for 24 pin in black/red/white):
    http://nzxt.com/new/products/premium_cables/cb_24p

    470 deal:
    http://hardforum.com/showthread.php?t=1543978
    Reply
  • wolfman3k5 - Saturday, September 04, 2010 - link

    I love the my pair of GTX 470. IMHO they're the best bang for the buck right now, period. I got a pair of Gigabyte GTX 470 from NewEgg (it was an order for a whole system), and with the combos and MIR I got my pair same as you, for $440. Again, I highly recommend the cards in SLI. Reply
  • Sabresiberian - Sunday, September 05, 2010 - link

    This article is a perfect example of why I don't buy a pre-built.

    Power supply made by who? The people who build machines to sell will find ways to cut corners. Overclocked by a factory monkey who cared the first 100 machines he/she built, but frankly the job is getting a bit old and doesn't really pay all that well to begin with. Besides, time is money, and spending a extra couple of hours with your boss breathing down your neck isn't fun, even if you still enjoy the actual work. Been there, done that.

    Okay, I imagine there are a few who don't cut corners, but they don't sell machines under $3k. Most don't even bother to check with mainboard manufacturers and see if the components they use have been tested, or see if Microsoft has approved it for Win 7. I'm not saying iBUYPOWER is that sloppy, but many manufacturers are.

    As far as video card overkill - all I have to say is, I play WoW on a system using an i7 920 OC'd to 4.1GHz running Crossfired 5770s and it can't hold 1920x1200 @ 85 Hz everywhere in the game with all settings on "Ultra", so I'll believe 2 470s in SLI, even with their much greater power and scalability, will be more power than I need when I see it - and that's before I buy a bigger monitor with more pixels to generate. The fact is, standard these days is 1920x1080 and a bunch of us have more than that (I'm running old school still, and far better than most of you, which is the reason I can run @ 85 Hz. Hz=refresh rate=fps for those of you unfamiliar with the nomenclature); this system is far from overkill. We run 2 monitors (or more), Sony GDM FW900s, The Dell U2711, 30" monitors, or a variety of other options other than the average setup.

    (Not putting down "the average setup" or anything else. I also have an LCD running 1920x1200@60Hz, and it is a nice monitor. TN monitors have come a long way. But then, so have other screen types.)

    Granted, WoW is a CPU intensive game and not strictly speaking a fair judge of video card performance (but it is a great judge of overall computer video performance); and the WoW tech boys and girls need to step up and bring the game in to modern times and take advantage of the video card power we have these days (maybe they are going to do it in Cataclysm, but I'm not holding my breath. Regardless, even software doing mostly traditional CPU style work is wasting a modern computer's power if it's not taking advantage of the GPU to share the load - the 2 systems are not as separate in function as they once were, and software engineers should be taking advantage of that.) but the video card setup does have a big impact.

    We also now have 3D with a 120Hz requirement@ 1920x1080 (Didn't I just read an article talking about how much better the experience of 120Hz was over 60Hz here in Anandtech?), monitors capable of 10-bit color becoming mainstream, and LCD television screens capable of 240Hz. The video capabilities of a computer like this are far from overkill.

    ;)
    Reply

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