Introducing the iBUYPOWER Erebus GT

Boutique gaming desktops are nothing new around here; while enthusiasts may readily dismiss them, it's easy to forget they do serve a purpose and a market beyond the do-it-yourself crowd. There are certain things even a lot of enthusiasts, myself included, aren't able to do that boutiques can; specifically, assembling custom liquid cooling loops. The last one of these we saw was Puget Systems' Deluge, a behemoth of a machine that retailed for more than seven grand.

Today iBUYPOWER is making available a system with many of those same perks at a fraction of the cost. The Erebus GT uses an entirely custom enclosure, has a laser-etched panel window with white LED lighting, and most importantly includes a custom liquid loop attached to a massive top-mounted radiator that cools the CPU and GPU. Can iBUYPOWER deliver a truly compelling boutique build at a reasonable price without cutting any corners?

At first glance it certainly looks that way. When you check out the specs below you'll undoubtedly see a system that could be built and air-cooled at two-thirds of the price from the same vendor, but the hardware used for the liquid cooling loop can be pricey on its own.

iBUYPOWER Erebus GT Specifications
Chassis iBUYPOWER Custom
Processor Intel Core i7-2700K
(4x3.5GHz + HTT, Turbo to 3.9GHz, 4.6GHz Overclock, 32nm, 8MB L3, 95W)
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3H-B3 (Z68 Chipset)
Memory 4x4GB Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1600 (expandable to 32GB)
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 7970 3GB GDDR5
(2048 shaders, 925/5500MHz core/RAM, 384-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) AData S510 120GB SSD (SF-2281)
Hitachi Deskstar 7K1000.D 1TB 7200-RPM HDD
Optical Drive(s) LG BD-RE
Power Supply Thermaltake TR2 RX 850W PSU
Networking Realtek PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Audio Realtek ALC889
Speaker, mic/line-in, surround jacks, optical out for 7.1 sound
Front Side Optical drive
SD card reader
2x USB 2.0
2x USB 3.0
Headphone and mic jacks
Top -
Back Side 4x USB 2.0
PS/2
DVI-D (IGP)
VGA (IGP)
HDMI (IGP)
DisplayPort (IGP)
Optical out
eSATA
6-pin FireWire
Ethernet
Speaker, mic/line-in, surround, and optical jacks
DVI-D (7970)
HDMI (7970)
2x Mini-DisplayPort (7970)
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
Extras Card reader
Custom liquid-cooling loop
Custom LED lighting
Warranty 3-year parts, lifetime labor and support
Pricing $2,499

For this build, iBUYPOWER opted to stick with Sandy Bridge instead of Sandy Bridge-E. This is undoubtedly going to be a source of some contention; Sandy Bridge-E is a fantastic workstation processor (at least the hex-core variants are) but is generally excessive for gaming systems, substantially raising both the cost to purchase and the cost to run it (by way of your power bill) for benefits within gaming that are negligible at best. The i7-2700K remains essentially the fastest quad-core processor available, and iBUYPOWER has overclocked it from 3.5GHz all the way to 4.6GHz.

The Erebus GT is also equipped with what's presently the fastest single-GPU video card available, the AMD Radeon HD 7970. Despite the liquid cooling loop that includes the HD 7970, though, iBUYPOWER opts not to overclock the card, leaving its 2048 shader cores clocked at the stock 925MHz despite reports that the card is very overclockable. It's a mild disappointment, but we have yet to see a system come in from a boutique with the graphics card overclocked (e.g. beyond what the video card manufacturer might provide).

Thankfully they didn't skimp on quality kit for the rest of the build, either. The Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD3H-B3 is based on Intel's Z68 chipset and is a fine motherboard that sports all the trimmings, while iBUYPOWER has also outfitted the system with 16GB of Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1600 in four DIMMs running at 1.5v. Arguably the only place you could say they cut a corner was by opting for an A-Data SSD instead of one from Intel or another vendor, but SSD reliability is still a relative unknown, and the A-Data part is still a second-generation SandForce drive with a decent amount of storage. A-Data may not update their firmware quite as fast as some other SSD vendors, but otherwise performance and reliability should be the same as any other (non-Intel) SF-2281 SSD.

If we breaking down the pricing compared to rolling your own at Newegg, let's start with the basics. You can get all of the core components and put them in an Antec Twelve Hundred case for around $1850. However, that doesn't give you a factory overclock (covered by the warranty), and it doesn't include any form of liquid cooling. That's where assaying the price of the build becomes a bit more difficult. FrozenCPU has this EK 7970 cooler and backplate that will add $155 to the cost of the system. A similar LGA 1155/1156 CPU cooler and backplate will tack on another $90 or so, and a 3x140mm radator would add another $108. That doesn't even include a water pump or reservoir, which could add anywhere from $50 to $100 for basic components, and you still need to add fittings and tubes! If you want to go higher-end on the liquid cooling parts, you could spend two or three times as much depending on what you purchase.

Put it all together and iBUYPOWER's $2500 sticker price actually doesn't seem that bad—provided of course that you really want a liquid cooled system. Also, let me put in a quick disclaimer that the above parts were selected based purely on availability and roughly similar features to the cooling setup used in the Erebus GT. I make no promises on the quality of any of those parts; they're there simply to illustrate roughly how much you might pay should you want to take the plunge into a liquid cooled PC.

Let's hold off on any further analysis until we've actually put the Erebus GT through our benchmark suite. Yes, $2500 is a lot of money to spend on a gaming system, but we've certainly seen more exotic and costly systems over the years. How does this unit compare to other high-end gaming systems from the past year or so?

Application and Futuremark Performance
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  • Reshesnik - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    I just switched the overclock from always on to turbo mode. Now it sleeps fine. Reply
  • vicbee - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    I pretty much have the same set up although based on yesterday's greatest. The 2 negatives I've found (and will not make that mistake again...) are:

    1. Liquid cooling the GPU is not such a good idea mostly because a video card's life cycle is generally shorter than a mobo + CPU. Once you've taken apart a video card to install the liquid cooling system it can't be put back together and sold. Also, the cost of the hardware to cool the GPU is pretty high and card specific so it would have to be resold as a package and who would buy a 2nd hand liquid cooled video card? Right... I would have already replaced my 285GTX if it wasn't for the above issue.

    2. Liquid cooling is not about reducing noise levels. It's about keeping CPU/GPU at acceptable temps. I was looking for both and failed at the noise level... Liquid cooling requires a radiator to cool the liquid which is powered by 2 or 3 fans. If the radiator fits in the case (not often) the noise might be managed but often the radiator has to be installed out of the box and it ends up being pretty loud, much louder than my air cooled gaming rig.
    Reply
  • Death666Angel - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    1. I've used my HD5770 for 2 years now until I upgraded to a HD7970. That one cost me 560€ with a liquid cooling block and I'll use it well into 2013 I'm sure (mostly because of stagnant graphics thanks to consoles).
    Of course, if you frequently change graphics cards or don't mind the noise of normal ones or the bulk of custom cooled solutions, then by all means, don't go the liquid cooling route. But your criticism applies to a lot of non-liquid-custom-cooling graphics heatsinks as well. And normally, you can always switch back to the standard cooler, you don't break it in the process. Also, you can go GPU only liquid cooling with passive heatsinks for the RAM and VRMs and that GPU block usually works on all GPUs.
    2. What liquid cooling is about is pretty much in the eye of the beholder or the user in this case. I used it to enable quieter cooling of my components, increase their overclockability, while at the same time not have the whole case full of copper from large CPU and graphics heat sinks which prohibit access to RAM or internal USB ports.
    If your liquid cooling is loud, you either have made a mistake or want the best possible cooling. Yes liquid cooling needs fans as well, at least if you are serious about hardware and don't run sub 100W systems. However, the amount of radiator space you can get via liquid cooling compared to what you can get on your CPU and GPU widely differ, I have 480mm radiator screwed to the side of my case (TJ08-E) and as soon as I'll find the time I'll get a 2nd one on the other side. A good CPU heatsink has radiator space for 2 140mm fans. A good GPU heatsink has space for 3 92mm fans or 2 120mm fans. The extra amount of radiator space I gained by using liquid cooling in an external fashion (although there are cases that can accommodate 560mm radiators and more) can be used to let the fans run much more quiet. I can let them run at their lowest volt which results in 5xx rpm, which is inaudible. Once my PC starts working, they rise to low 1xxx rpm which is audible, but still much quieter than anything I could have done with normal heatsinks and still much cooler. Once I get that 2nd radiator it'll be quiet even under load. :-)
    Reply
  • LtGoonRush - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    It's disappointing to see a high-end system use such a low-end board. I don't like Gigabyte as a brand (due to their abysmal and spec-violating CPU power quality), but it's absolutely unacceptable to see a $2000+ system using a motherboard with a Realtek Ethernet adapter. $20 more gets an Asus board with more features and an Intel adapter, and there's a reason you only see Realtek on the cheap boards. I used to not mind so much, but then late last year they pushed a driver through Windows Update that broke connectivity to certain websites and required a manual driver update from the Realtek website to fix. Not the biggest deal for one person once you know about it, but I've had to fix this problem on dozens of machines so far, and expect to do many more. Bottom line: life is too short for crappy network adapters, and iBUYPOWER should know better. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Thursday, March 15, 2012 - link

    Can you maybe go into more detail concerning the water cooling setup?
    I'd be interested in how expandable it is, what kind of pump is used and how noisy the pump is on its own (usually a very different kind of noise than fans make). Is the coolant dyed or are the tubes? What diameter are the tubes? How fast do the fans rotate?

    And really, they should have added a flow meter, water thermostat and corresponding fan controls with alarm function. This way the fans can be regulated according to the water temperature and be much more silent in idle and probably load as well. And I would know if one of the coolers is clogged up. Running a water cooling system without knowing a flow meter is too dangerous for me. And the added costs could easily be recouped by easier troubleshooting via phone for the service guys.
    Reply
  • OVerLoRDI - Sunday, March 25, 2012 - link

    You highlighted the issue that the computer came with coolant having spilled due to a loose cap. You went on to say that this isn't that big of a deal due to the fact that iBUYPower uses non-conductive coolant. This is not an issue that you should have dismissed so quickly. Non-conductive coolant really doesn't stay non-conductive for very long. The second it leaks and acquires dust and other particles from the air it becomes conductive and dangerous to the internal components of the computer. The carelessness that resulted in the coolant spillage on iBUYPower's end is unacceptable and you should have highlighted that. Reply
  • Drittz121 - Friday, February 28, 2014 - link

    Just do yourself a favor. STAY AWAY from this company. Yes they look good. But when it breaks and it WILL. All they do is give you the run around. They have had my system for over 2 months trying to fix the garbage they sell. Worse company out there for support. DONT BUY Reply

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