Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/6752/ibuypower-revolt-system-review-closing-the-boutique-and-opening-the-store
iBuyPower Revolt System Review: Closing the Boutique and Opening the Storeby Dustin Sklavos on February 16, 2013 12:01 PM EST
Introducing the iBuyPower Revolt
At CES 2013, the PC boutique iBuyPower announced a product that's in many ways much more than the sum of its parts. They announced the Revolt, a small form factor gaming PC that's riding the same wave of small gaming PCs that includes Alienware's X51, DigitalStorm's Bolt, and the review pending Steiger Dynamics LEET. These products are essentially about the move of PC gaming into the living room, something arguably predicated by the continued miniaturization of PC hardware, a very mature gaming platform that's had time to sand off its harsh edges just as gaming consoles continue to develop more and more of their own, and the convergence of games for all three main gaming platforms.
The iBuyPower Revolt isn't just another indicator of a sea change in gaming and an upswing in interest in PC gaming, though. What iBuyPower has done with the Revolt is create a PC product that is almost wholly their own, from the chassis to—and this part is crucial—the motherboard. That makes the Revolt notable both in terms of how it falls into the larger PC gaming landscape, but also in how it establishes iBuyPower not as a boutique, but as a legitimate vendor with the potential to compete with heavyweights like Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer, ASUS, and Toshiba. That means that more than just balance sheets hinge on the Revolt's success; to an extent, iBuyPower's very nature in the market hinges upon it. The question becomes: can the Revolt possibly live up to expectations?
In much the same fashion as Alienware's X51, the iBuyPower Revolt is essentially designed to continue the trickle down progress of PC gaming hardware. This isn't another system on shelves marketed as a gaming system but shipping with anemic graphics kit; the Revolt starts at a GeForce GTX 650 for just $649. That's significant when you take into account the already aggressive Alienware X51, which presently starts at $649 but only offers a GeForce GT 640. DigitalStorm's Bolt doesn't even really show up to compete in this price range, to say nothing of other boutiques.
It's also important to again note that the Revolt is designed completely in house by iBuyPower. Their traditional close partnership (putting it mildly) with NZXT doesn't come into play here; the Revolt is entirely their baby. The fact that they use their own motherboard design is significant as well; it allows them to remove the motherboard video outputs from Z77 entirely, a smart change for usability's sake. It's also in many ways the defining characteristic of the Revolt; over the past year we've seen boutiques design their own cases, but the actual electronics are another matter entirely.
|iBuyPower Revolt Specifications|
Intel Core i7-3770K
(4x3.5GHz, Turbo to 3.9GHz, 22nm, 8MB L3, 77W)
|Motherboard||Custom Z77 Board|
|Memory||1x8GB G.Skill DDR3-1600 (maximum 2x8GB)|
eVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670 2GB GDDR5
(1344 CUDA Cores, 1002MHz/1084MHz/6.2GHz core/boost/RAM, 256-bit memory bus)
Intel 330 120GB SATA 6Gbps SSD
Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB SATA 6Gbps SSD
|Optical Drive(s)||Optiarc Slot-loading DVD+/-RW|
|Power Supply||FSP 500W 80 Plus Gold 1U PSU|
Broadcom NetLink Gigabit Ethernet
Realtek RTL8723A 802.11b/g/n 2.4GHz Wireless Ethernet
Speaker, line-in, mic, and surround jacks
LED lighting toggle
Slot-loading optical drive
SD card reader
2x USB 3.0
Mic and headphone jacks
4x USB 3.0
Clear CMOS button
2x USB 2.0
Mic, line-in, headphone, and surround jacks
2x DVI (GTX 670)
1x HDMI (GTX 670)
1x DisplayPort (GTX 670)
|Operating System||Windows 8 64-bit|
16.2" x 4.6" x 16"
(412mm x 117mm x 407mm)
80 Plus Gold PSU
140mm CPU radiator
|Warranty||1-year limited parts and labor|
Starts at $499
Review system configured at $1,553
MSRP of review system: $1,199-$1,299
When you configure the Revolt, you can opt for a little bit less of the awesome stuff. The entry-level $499 configuration isn't a gaming system, and features an i3 with HD graphics and an ASRock B75 motherboard. It's the $649 configuration featuring the IGP-free Intel Core i5-3350P and GeForce GTX 650 that's more impressive. Our review system is much beefier, and I'll admit to being skeptical about that MSRP when the custom price tag comes in so much higher.
iBuyPower's BIOS will actually let you overclock the CPU yourself (or you can order it overclocked directly from them), and they charge an amusing $44 premium for the NZXT Kraken X40 over the Asetek 550LC liquid cooler (itself $35 more than the stock cooler). The 550LC is a 120mm closed loop cooler, while the Kraken X40 is really just a rebranded Asetek unit with a 140mm radiator instead.
Suffice to say, our review configuration is a powerful gaming system in a fairly smaller form factor (I'll discuss build quality later on), and if they can hit their MSRP they'll undercut everyone else. As it stands, the most expensive stock configuration they have available employs an i5-3570K, stock cooler, an abnormally short 4GB of DDR3-1600, a 1TB hard disk, no wireless connectivity, and a GeForce GTX 660 2GB for $899. Pre-order the $999 retail model from NewEgg, and you gain a small overclock on the i5-3570K, a liquid cooler, and 8GB of RAM, but you get cut down to a 500GB HDD.
How does that $899 model compete with Alienware's X51? Fairly favorably, actually. It slots in between their anemic $799 configuration, which features an i5-3330 and a paltry GeForce GT 640, and their robust $1,099 configuration, which features an i7-3770 and OEM version of the GTX 660. Alienware's OEM GTX 660 enjoys more shaders at lower clocks via a cut-down GK104 chip, while the retail GTX 660 iBuyPower uses features less shaders at higher clocks via a full-fat GK106. You can get an X51 in the Revolt's neighborhood by upgrading an i5 model with a GTX 660, but generally iBuyPower enjoys a price advantage.
Application and Futuremark Performance
It's funny, the actual performance of the iBuyPower Revolt is almost incidental. As you'll see it's a powerful system with a small electrical footprint, but what it's really doing is driving down accessible gaming performance at a reasonable price tag. I almost wish we'd had the $649 or $899 versions in house to get a better perspective.
What I do need to mention is that while the Revolt itself performed well, Windows 8's compatibility with benchmarks can still be a little bit hinky. Probing forums reveals that DiRT 3, for example, can be a total crapshoot. PCMark Vantage also doesn't run, and PCMark 7 will actually cancel itself on some Windows 8 systems, something Futuremark is still looking into.
The GTX 670 is performing as expected, but when you get to our CPU-limited 3DMark06 test, the lack of an overclocked CPU does hurt the Revolt's performance. It's worth noting, however, that this can be remedied by the end user both personally or by simply requesting the Revolt ship overclocked from the factory.
Without an overclock, the Revolt only performs "as expected." It's still a powerful machine, but invariably gets dwarfed by all the expensive boutique desktops that have "OC" next to the name of the CPU.
Synthetics aren't everything, though. Let's check in and see how the Revolt fares at what it's meant to handle: gaming.
It's actually a beautiful world we live in these days. With the 600 series, NVIDIA cards now support three simultaneous displays and single-GPU surround. This is practically necessary to get the most mileage out of today's high end GPUs; it takes a Far Cry 3 to really punish a modern GPU.
We'll start with the 1080p benchmarks, but you'll see the Revolt really has no trouble handling these games. For reference, it bears mentioning that the more "entry level" GeForce GTX 660 available in the Revolt is comparable in performance to the GTX 580. So while you can certainly spend up and get a model like our review configuration, the GTX 660 will be absolutely fine for 1080p gaming.
More than anything, what we're seeing here is a combination of the Revolt (and other review systems) being CPU limited and the strides forward NVIDIA has made with their driver updates for the 600 series. There's also a slight stock overclock on the 670 that iBuyPower chose, but note that this is still the least powerful 670 they offer for the Revolt. Since the 670's only deficiency compared to the GTX 680 is fewer shaders (all other specs are essentially equal), it's at times competitive with its senior brother.
Jump to surround and we can't really run Battlefield 3 with anti-aliasing anymore, but everything else is still totally playable.
You'll either love or hate the way the iBuyPower Revolt looks, but at least it's incredibly distinctive. While the Alienware X51's design securely fits into their lineup, iBuyPower is essentially fashioning a particular look with the Revolt. It's a functional design, though, and a step up from the somewhat chaotic one that DigitalStorm uses on their Bolt. Opening the Revolt involves removing two screws and then sliding off the side panel; when you do so you're greeted with this:
Everything is held into place with Phillips head screws, but the stacking order is pretty clean. The radiator for the CPU sits under the optical drive; the power supply sits above the right-angled PCIe x16 slot. I'm loathe to see how a stock CPU cooler would fare in this enclosure, though, which was clearly designed with the radiator in mind. All of the side ventilation on the case is very specifically positioned to keep the components cool.
What's worth mentioning, though, is that the Revolt is definitely bigger than the Alienware X51 and more similar in size to DigitalStorm's Bolt. This can't really be helped; the X51 moved the power supply out of the chassis and uses an external PSU, which in turn places a hard limit on the GPU at 150W and precludes overclocking the CPU.
Noise and Heat
The best way I can describe the noise character of the iBuyPower Revolt is this: Xbox 360. The aesthetic of the Revolt does remind me of the first generation white Xbox 360s, and the system sounds basically identical to the 360 under heavy load. That means it's audible, but not aggravatingly so. What the Revolt doesn't have in common with the poorly engineered first generation 360 is this:
While the 360 was busy cooking its chips off, the Revolt was able to keep fairly cool. CPU thermals are appreciably low (though admittedly running at stock clocks), although the GTX 670 does run just a hair on the warm side. That's worth bringing up because Kepler's boost clocks are actually thermally controlled. It shouldn't be a huge issue, but I wouldn't expect to get a whole lot of extra oomph out of the 670 in the Revolt.
The combination of Ivy Bridge and Kepler in the iBuyPower Revolt should yield precious few surprises, and sure enough that's exactly what you'll get. In addition to looking and sounding like Microsoft's first generation game console, the Revolt draws about as much power under load.
It's hard for thermals to be spectacularly poor when the system is among the most frugal with power that I've ever tested. Like I said, Ivy Bridge and Kepler are a pretty unbeatable combination, and that's proven again here.
Conclusion: An Important Release, But With Caveats
The iBuyPower Revolt is almost difficult to evaluate due to what it essentially represents, so we need to split our evaluation in two directions: what the Revolt signifies for the future of iBuyPower, and how the Revolt competes with the current bumper crop of smaller gaming desktops seemingly destined for the living room.
Addressing the former, the Revolt represents the first step in iBuyPower establishing itself not as another boutique, but as a full on vendor competing with the big boys. Obviously the major signal here is iBuyPower's claim that the motherboard is their own kit. In evaluating and analyzing the Revolt, there's...some truth to that claim. The board has iBuyPower's own silkscreen, and you can't buy one exactly like it. What it is, though, is a custom revision of ASRock's Z77E-ITX. The UEFI is laid out identically to ASRock's own UEFI but with an iBuyPower "theme" to it, and the board itself is just the Z77E-ITX without Virtu or display outputs. The ASRock branding on the chipset heatsink is also gone; the heatsink itself is replaced with a generic one. So while my first instinct is to go "gotcha!", the reality is a lot more mundane, because this isn't actually that much different than anything the big boys use. The Revolt continues to be valid as a demonstration of iBuyPower as a potential major player, especially as their presence in retail continues to grow.
As for the Revolt's competitive fitness, it's really going to come down to price. iBuyPower does have a history of almost attacking prices in the time-honored tradition of Billy Mays and Mr. Popeil, with the difference being that this product is a sound one. If iBuyPower can hit $1,199 with this review configuration, they're pretty bulletproof. Their $899 model is embarrassingly skint on RAM and wastes the i5-3570K at its core with a stock cooler, but otherwise it's pretty fantastic and definitely competitive. Amusingly, if you want the most bang for your buck, going with their $649 model and then bumping the GPU to a GTX 660, the RAM to 8GB, and the PSU up to 350W results in an $819 price tag, and that's something Alienware just can't offer. If iBuyPower could offer that configuration at $799 or even $749, forget it, competition's over.
With that said, the two models on NewEgg right now are really underwhelming. The $999 model is unimpressive compared to what you can do on iBuyPower's site, and the $639 model's GeForce GT 630 (featuring a comically large 4GB of DDR3 video memory) is an embarrassment that actually undermines iBuyPower's credibility. I don't like seeing companies using sticker amounts like 4GB on crappy video cards to sucker in rubes who don't know any better, and I think it hurts iBuyPower in the long run to resort to a gimmick like that to sell units instead of just letting the product stand on its own.
So ultimately while I'm not over the moon with iBuyPower's stock configurations and think they could produce much more compelling options, and the uncertainty of our unit's price tag paints a bit of a dark cloud over the review, the Revolt is nonetheless a pretty stellar product. Anything that democratizes gaming hardware is a good thing, and iBuyPower is continuing to make gaming PCs more and more accessible. I want to see the Revolt on store shelves because it obsoletes more half-baked attempts like HP's Phoenix as well as making people who came for the Alienware X51 do a double take.
It's not going to be available until the beginning of March, but if you want to game for a good price, the Revolt is tough to beat. Just don't buy it stock.