For the last five years, high-end gaming has been almost entirely an Intel show, with AMD relegated first to budget boxes, then pushed out of the scene altogether. This year, AMD decided it wanted to change that with a new CPU, the AMD FX-9590. While it’s based on the same Piledriver architecture as the FX-8350, the FX-9590TT pushes the CPU frequency to 4.7GHz base / 5GHz Turbo, up from 4GHz / 4.2GHz on the FX-8350. That’s an increase of 17% at base clock and 19% stock—and a big enough deal for Maingear to build a custom Shift around the processor, the appropriately named Maingear Shift (AMD FX-9590).
Thus, we have the first AMD-powered, high-end system to grace these halls in quite a while. This Maingear Shift consists of an FX-9590 chip, 16GB of DDR3 memory clocked at 2200MHz, and AMD’s top-end Radeon HD 7990. The system rounds out with a capable 250GB Samsung 840 Evo SSD, a 2TB Seagate Barracuda 7200 RPM for additional storage, and an 860W Corsair Professional Digital power supply. A Cyborg V.5 Gaming Keyboard and Logitech Gaming Mouse G500 were both included along with white LED lighting and a custom red paint job.
The Shift case Maingear used for this system is a vertical chassis that’s designed to improve airflow by tilting components upwards. This improves heat exhaust given that hot air has a tendency to rise and the hottest components (typically the graphics cards) are now facing vertically. This particular system also uses Maingear’s Epic 180 cooling system to keep the CPU at a safe temperature. That’s particularly important given that AMD claims the chip can dissipate up to 220W—far more power than your typical Intel chip.
According to Maingear, the high TDP of the processor isnt’ a major issue for the company’s customers. While 220W is far higher than Intel chips, most customers aren’t actually interested in overclocking—but still want a 5GHz chip. There’s a lot on the line for this AMD right now—how does it perform? That depends on where you look, and whether or not you’re willing to consider overclocked Haswell systems. One of the difficulties of comparing expensive desktops is that the systems come configured in dramatically different ways. While that’s fair, in the sense of representing how you might spend your dollar, it can also lead to mismatched comparisons. Here, we’ve compared against the Digital Storm Virtue and Velocity Micro Edge Z55 (Summer 2013)—these are Haswell-equipped systems with GTX 780s and solid-state drives (SSDs) configured in RAID 0. Both are significantly cheaper than the Maingear Shift, at $2,800 and $2,563, respectively.
In the general performance and storage benchmark PCMark 7 test, both the Digital Storm and Velocity Micro Edge left the Shift in the dust, with scores of 7,295 and 7,042 compared to the Shift’s 5,192. In this case, however, we have to note that while the benchmark score is valid, it’s the SSD RAID 0 configuration in the other two systems that delivered the performance, not any intrinsic difference between the Intel and AMD platforms. The Ivy Bridge-equipped testbed we used for PC Magazine’s review of the Samsung 840 Evo (the same SSD as the Maingear uses) scored a 5,978. Our Haswell 4770K review using an OCZ Vector turned in a score of 6,668—and these are likely better figures to compare against if you’re wondering how much performance you gain or lose with an AMD system in basic applications. The increased risk of data loss when running RAID 0 always needs to be weighed against the improved speed.
In Cinebench 11.5, the Maingear Shift’s score of 7.39 is a record for an AMD chip; the FX-8350 scored a 6.93. It’s not enough to keep up with either of the other systems, however. The Velocity Micro Edge came in at 9.64, with the Digital Storm Virtue at 9.59. Handbrake multimedia encoding is another area where the AMD-based desktop lagged behind Haswell-based systems, taking 33 seconds to encode our test file compared to 29 seconds for the overclocked AMD system.
The Photoshop performance comparison test we use has always been a weak area for AMD; the workload is moderately threaded, which makes it difficult for the chip to perform to its full eight-thread potential. Here, the AMD-powered Maingear Shift took 230 seconds to run through our 12-filter workload, compared to 169 seconds for the Velocity Micro. There are still some workloads where the AMD-powered Shift simply can’t keep up.
But when it comes to gaming, the dual-GPU Radeon HD 7990 turns the tables on the other two systems. In the Heaven benchmark, running at 1,920 by 1,080 with all details maxed, the Maingear Shift turns in a score of 84 fps compared to 75 fps for the two Haswell-equipped systems. In 3DMark 11′s Extreme setting, the Maingear Shift hit a score of 5,519, compared to just 4,542 for the Digital Storm Virtue, which is equipped with the extremely capable GTX 780.
Finally, in Aliens vs. Predator, again at 1,920 by 1,080 with all details maximized and 4x antialiasing, the Maingear Shift tore through the other two systems with a score of 128 FPS vs. 83 FPS for both the Velocity Micro Edge and the Digital Storm Virtue.
The Non-Performance Factors
The funny thing about reviewing really expensive boutique systems is that machine configuration (and price tag) are always the first things on display. On the one hand, of course, that’s important—no one wants to pay a premium for a system that doesn’t offer premium performance. But when it comes down to the reasons people pay for a boutique rig, component choices are only the beginning.
A person who buys a boutique system does so because they believe they’re investing in higher-quality components and a system built by people who know what they’re doing. It’s important to evaluate the system in these areas as well, even if they aren’t so easily quantified. Since no single review rig can encompass the sheer number of options a customer might choose, it’s important to evaluate the characteristics of the builder as much as the specific computer.
This particular Maingear Shift is painted Rosso Scuderia red. Maingear handles the painting themselves using Glasurit paint and a down draft painting booth. The mouse, PC, and keyboard were all done in the same color, which means Maingear disassembled both components, painted them, and then did the reassembly. While I know that’s what happened based on conversations with the company, there’s no evidence that the chassis, mouse, and keyboard didn’t roll out of the original factory in precisely this shade. Coverage is uniform and there’s no runs, nicks, or marks anywhere along the product. The keyboard wrist rest is done in the same shade as the rest of the system.
The 180mm EPIC cooler inside the system keeps the internal area extremely clear; the actual air exhaust is underneath the front of the system. The distribution of airflow helps keep the system quiet, and the massive radiator is reportedly rated for up to 600W of dissipation. While we never came anywhere near pushing that much heat, AMD’s FX-9590 is rated as a 220W CPU. That’s enough power to make most CPU coolers—even high-end coolers—stretch to keep up. The Maingear has no such problem. Even under heavy load, this system stays quiet.
The total price of the system we tested was $3,728—but that includes a substantial number of cosmetic features. If you don’t care about a case window, custom paint job, or the white LED lighting, the same system, with identical performance, would cost you $3,360. If you don’t need a new gaming keyboard and mouse, the cost drops to $3,232.
For game performance, the FX-9590-powered Maingear Shift is top notch, beautifully built, and well configured. For the first time in a long time, we can recommend a complete AMD rig as a high-end gaming option. Evaluated in that context, the AMD-based Shift is a star, passing several Haswell systems with overclocked processors.
This Maingear Shift isn’t quite strong enough to earn an Editors’ Choice—that award is currently held by the Falcon Northwest Fragbox (GeForce GTX 780 SLI). At $3,729, it’s far cheaper than the Falcon, but it sits in an uneasy category between our $1,800 midrange gaming boxes and the true luxury systems like the Falcon Northwest Fragbox (GeForce GTX 780 SLI).
The Maingear Shift (AMD FX-9590) is a great option for gamers looking to spend top dollar on a gaming rig, but not hurl more cash than is necessary for top performance. At $750 less than the Falcon Northwest, it lets you pocket a substantial chunk of change without compromising the underlying experience.
|Primary Optical Drive||DVD+/-RW (Plus Minus)|
|Processor Family||AMD FX|
|Storage Type||HDD, SSD|
|Graphics Card||AMD Radeon HD 7990|
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 8|
|Storage Capacity (as Tested)||2250 GB|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc