Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/4360/warfactory-sentinel-gaming-on-a-grand

Introducing the WarFactory Sentinel

Getting the monster gaming machines from boutiques in house for testing is often at least interesting if for no other reason than to see just how fast a computer can get when all bets are off, but most of us just don't have four or five large to shell out for a gaming machine. What if we still want to play but can only afford to pay a reasonable price? This is the market that boutique builder WarFactory is aiming for with their price and power efficient Sentinel. Does it deliver?

WarFactory sent us their exact stock configuration for the Sentinel, and you'll find visiting their site that they try to keep from swamping the buyer with options. "Here is the standard configuration we ship, and then if you want you can tweak it." It's appreciated, but more than that, this inexpensive build seems to be a relatively thoughtful, balanced configuration.

WarFactory Sentinel Specifications
Chassis CoolerMaster HAF 912
Processor AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition
(spec: 4x3.2GHz, 45nm, 6MB L3, 95W)
Motherboard ASUS M4A87TD Evo Motherboard with AMD 870 and SB850 chipset
Memory 2x4GB G.Skill Sniper DDR3-1333 (expandable to 16GB)
Graphics ASUS GeForce GTX 460 TOP 768MB GDDR5
(336 CUDA Cores, 700/1400/3680MHz Core/Shaders/RAM, 192-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) Corsair Force F40 40GB SATA 3Gbps SSD
Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB SATA 6Gbps HDD
Optical Drive(s) ASUS DVD+/-RW Drive
Networking Realtek PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Audio VIA VT1818S HD Audio
Speaker, mic, line-in, and surround jacks for 7.1 sound
Optical out
Front Side 2x USB 2.0
Mic and headphone jacks
Optical drive
Top -
Back Side 2x PS/2
6x USB 2.0
Optical out
6-pin FireWire
Gigabit ethernet
2x USB 2.0
Speaker, mic, line-in, and surround jacks for 7.1 sound
2x DVI-D
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 19.5" x 9.1" x 18.9"
Weight 17.8 lbs (case only)
Extras Corsair 650TX 80 Plus Certified PSU
Warranty Limited lifetime warranty
Pricing $1,089

Hey, we're testing AMD hardware for a change! While the biggest and baddest boutique builds inevitably include an Intel Core i7, WarFactory is gunning for value with the Sentinel and their CPU choice reflects that. The 3.2GHz quad-core AMD Phenom II X4 may not be as fast as Intel's chips, and it certainly isn't a "green" CPU, but it's entirely serviceable for gaming as you'll see later.

WarFactory includes the 955 Black Edition with its unlocked multiplier by default, but curiously doesn't ship with an overclock, nor can it be ordered with one. An overclock isn't strictly necessary but may have helped ameliorate the performance difference between the Sentinel and Intel-powered competition somewhat. Recognizing just how far DDR3 prices have fallen, WarFactory also straps 8GB of G.Skill DDR3-1333 to the Phenom II's integrated memory controller in two 4GB sticks.

Performing gaming duties is the ASUS GeForce GTX 460 TOP 768MB. NVIDIA doesn't really seem to have kept to their spec clocks on this, one of its best price/performance cards, but the 700MHz core clock (and corresponding 1.4GHz on the 336 CUDA cores) is among the lowest available. Still, that isn't a major complaint as the GTX 460 768MB is a perfectly reasonable video card and suitable for gaming up to 1080p.

Reflecting the fundamental sea change in the industry is the Sentinel's storage subsystem. The operating system drive is a Corsair Force F40 40GB SSD using SandForce's SF-1200 chipset, while mass storage duties are handled by a Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB mechanical drive. The only curiosity here is the use of the Caviar Blue when the Caviar Black with SATA 6Gbps connectivity is largely bog standard in other boutique builds. I don't think it makes much of a difference in terms of performance, but it's an odd choice nonetheless.

Finally, we come to the motherboard, enclosure, and power supply. The ASUS M4A87TD EVO has all the modern connectivity you could ask for, including USB 3.0, and WarFactory smartly opted for a name brand quality power supply in the Corsair 650TX. This is an easy place for a manufacturer to cheap out, and we're grateful WarFactory chose not to. The CoolerMaster HAF 912 is an inexpensive chassis, but it's one that proves that cheap and inexpensive don't mean the same thing. The case is solid, feature-rich, and reasonably quiet.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this review is WarFactory's "limited lifetime warranty". The company was founded in 2009, so obviously they haven't been around as long as most of their competitors, but they're making a pretty big claim there. With no overclocking and a selection of high quality parts, the hope is most hardware will never fail (at least not before you retire the system and upgrade). In a sense, offering such a warranty isn't really that different from a 3-year warranty, and if the company folds you'll be stuck with a useless slip of paper, but we do give them credit for not going the cheap 1-year route that we've seen elsewhere.

Application and Futuremark Performance

It's at this point that comparisons are going to seem a little unfair, and the reason for that is simple: the Sentinel's only immediate competition in terms of price are CyberPower's Gamer Xtreme 8500 and Puget Systems' Obsidian. One of these is just using an IGP, while the other is an older model that shipped in the neighborhood of $1,600. We've been contacting other boutiques to see if they have budget gaming systems they'd be interested in shipping us, so hopefully the Sentinel will see some proper competition soon.

The essential problem has been for some time that the Phenom II just isn't competitive with Intel's Nehalem architecture, much less any of their succeeding high performance architectures. Try to put things in perspective, though: the Sentinel is competing with substantially more expensive systems, all of which utilize Intel's best and brightest and oftentimes overclock them. Price-wise the chip competes with Intel's dual-core offerings, essentially offering four cores where Intel would offer you two, though there are certainly areas where the Intel cores come out on top (e.g. the X4 955 places last out of all tested CPUs in the single-threaded Cinebench result).

Unfortunately the SLI GTX 590 rig is our only comparison point for 3DMark Vantage and 3DMark 11 presently, and that's not exactly a fair fight. That machine has nearly a kilowatt worth of performance behind it and sells for five times what the Sentinel does. Put in perspective in 3DMark06, the Sentinel looks a lot better and provides a reasonably competitive gaming experience. Futuremark isn't everything, though; let's see how the Sentinel handles in real world gaming scenarios.

Gaming Performance

The GeForce GTX 460 768MB powering the Sentinel is going to seem a little anemic compared to some of these other systems, but again, keep in mind the build's price and remember that many of these results wind up being academic: 30fps is the minimum needed to guarantee smooth playability; 60+ FPS is higher than your LCD's refresh rate and represents the ideal level of performance.

At our high preset the Sentinel proves it can handle gaming at 1080p, as it doesn't struggle with any of the games we test. It even provides reasonable performance in the two games that usually punish weak graphics hardware: Mafia II and Metro 2033. That said, the Phenom II X4 955 seems mostly evenly matched with the GTX 460 but AMD's poor single-threaded performance rears its ugly head in StarCraft II.

Adding anti-aliasing to the equation still results in playable performance in the majority of our gaming tests. Only STALKER and Metro 2033 dip below the magic 30fps line, and while the Sentinel is the slowest in StarCraft II it's still perfectly playable. Generally speaking, the WarFactory Sentinel is a capable gaming machine that's able to handle most modern games at 1080p with some anti-aliasing, and that's all we're really asking for at this price range.

Build, Noise, Heat, and Power Consumption

Keeping in line with the WarFactory Sentinel's "balanced budget" aspirations, cooling is handled by the custom cooler on the ASUS GeForce GTX 460 768MB TOP (phew), AMD's stock cooler for the Phenom II, and the two 120mm fans the CoolerMaster HAF 912 ships with. Since none of the components are particularly power hungry (as you'll see below), none of the fans have to work too hard, and the result is a reprieve from the noisy gaming systems I've been testing of late.

It's the balance that I really appreciate with WarFactory's component choices in the Sentinel. There's no shame in wanting to build a "sky's the limit" performance machine, but I think there's really an art to building within a budget. When I'm building a machine for friends or family, I live for that, so a system like the Sentinel that really hits the sweet spot and includes a lot of the same component choices I might have made is appreciated. The only questionable decision I feel like they made was the use of G.Skill instead of a more reputable brand like Kingston or Corsair or Crucial, but WarFactory is willing to back it up with a lifetime warranty and RAM is at the commodity item level where differences usually only matter for overclockers.

When we're talking about budget, it's important to see just how much it would cost to build the system yourself, and in that situation (assuming no shipping or sales tax) you're basically paying about $200 for WarFactory to build it for you. To me that seems fairly reasonable; the company is still cutting a profit but not an obscene one, and you're basically paying for a lifetime service plan for the computer. Compare that to paying $300 to Best Buy for one of their insane extended warranties and it seems like a much better deal.

At this point the proof is really in the pudding, so to speak. The thermals for the Sentinel are frankly outstanding; even the graphics card isn't hitting 60C. It's a welcome change of pace, especially when you realize the Sentinel runs very quietly. Outside of the Puget Systems builds and the Dell Precision, this is the quietest desktop I've tested and would be a fine choice for anyone who needs a powerful computer on a budget and doesn't want to have to worry about a jet turbine in their bedroom or office.

While AMD's chips do tend to be less power efficient than Intel's, it's basically a wash in power consumption. The Sentinel's idle consumption is still perfectly reasonable, while load consumption ranks among the lowest (thanks to the use of a single moderate GPU and lack of overclocking). Once you factor a decent video card into the equation, most of Intel's power savings evaporate.

Conclusion: A Smart Buy

WarFactory had to have been feeling pretty good about themselves when they sent the Sentinel along, because this is the kind of build I really like to see: performance, price, and value all line up beautifully. Noise is nonexistent, power consumption is low, and there are virtually no cut corners.

If we sit down and really analyze the component choices, there are very few changes I'd personally make to the build. I think the 650-watt power supply is a bit overkill and there's a strong tendency in both enthusiasts and the industry to put vastly more powerful power supplies into systems than are really needed even for long term use. The fact is, though, quality power supplies under 400 or even 500 watts are actually fairly rarefied. For future-proofing I'd probably go with a 500 watt myself, but we're splitting hairs here. The other changes I'd make are the RAM and the hard drive, but again, these are minor quibbles and almost boil down to personal preference.

From a pure financial standpoint, it would cost the end user about $250 less to build the same machine themselves using off the shelf parts. If we assume WarFactory is getting decent deals from vendors, they're maybe making about $300 at most per build. That's not offensive, and in exchange you get personalized customer support for the lifetime of the computer or the boutique. I think that's a very fair deal, and one I'd personally go for before buying an extended warranty from Best Buy.

Between the reasonably smart component choices, the solid build quality, and the generally good value, I see no reason not to give the WarFactory Sentinel our recommendation. If you don't need need the warranty, you could save some money (or upgrade a few components), but looking at find similar systems from other vendors won't save you much—iBUYPOWER for instance came to around $1142 while CyberPowerPC checks in at $1110 (with minor differences in component choices).

While this is a solid offering, Llano is just over the horizon and is likely worth waiting another month to see how things shake out. We'll also see if the other vendors can equal or surpass the Sentinel. There are two main reasons we're withholding an Editors' Choice award. The first is that WarFactory just hasn't been around long enough for us to know they'll be here in five or ten years; they have a decent looking site and mission statement, but they're only two years old. The other reason is that while pricing is competitive, when you can assemble the same system for $849 from Newegg you're looking at a 25% markup. It's a reasonable deal considering the warranty, but you might also consider pre-configured systems like this, this, or this—in other words, you can get similar or better performance at lower prices and still have money left for a decent SSD (or a 2-year extended warranty).

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