Overclocking is the way to tease the best performance out of a PC system, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. That’s why an increasing number of PC manufacturers supply machines that are ready-overclocked and souped up for those not confident enough to implement these tweaks themselves. Chillblast and Cyberpower are big names that spring to mind – and there’s also Palicomp, a company that’s offering a major overclock of the Intel Core i5 processor in its new Sniper system.
The i5 Sniper is loaded with a quad-core Intel Sandy Bridge Core i5 2500K processor, on top of which comes bolted a hefty Noctua NH-U12P SE2 cooler. This quality blower allows Palicomp to promise an overclocked speed of at least 4.6GHz, with 4.8GHz reachable if the chip can handle it (this is the luck of the draw, as not every i5 2500K can be pushed right to that limit). Our review machine clocked in at a monstrously speedy 4.8GHz, comared to the processor’s stock speed of 3.3GHz.
The PC’s other specs don’t disappoint, either. The system is based on a Gigabyte P67A-UD4-B3 motherboard, with 4GB of Corsair XMS DDR3 1600MHz system memory and a VTX3D Radeon 6950 graphics card with 2GB of dedicated memory (and a processor that’s overclocked to 900MHz core speed). Ample storage is provided by the system’s 1.5TB Western Digital hard disk.
The system runs Windows 7 Premium 64-bit, and boasts a 750W Evo Blue power supply from Thermaltak . This last component is particularly reassuring when it comes to handling the hefty power demands of all that overclocking.
Taking a peek inside the Sniper’s sturdy and well designed Cooler Master CM690 II Advanced case, reveals a very neat layout, with all cables tidied away nicely. The one fly in the ointment is the processor cooler, which is a (necessarily) a mammoth affair – so much so that it obscures access to the first memory slot. This means if you ever need to take that 2GB stick out, you’ll need to remove the Noctua NH-U12P first. A touch fiddly, but not a big issue.
But enough discussion of specifications and innards – what you really want to know is how this PC performs. We were pretty keen to find out, too – but as soon as we began, we were hit with problems as the i5 Sniper locked up with the dreaded ‘blue screen of death’ (BSOD). After a few of these in the first hour of usage, the Gigabyte BIOS fail-safe reset the machine back to stock speeds, which was worrying.
However, after re-implementing the 4.8GHz overclock in the BIOS, we rebooted the PC to find all was well. Not a single crash or glitch came thereafter. We’re not sure what caused the BSOD issue, but the Sniper was very well behaved after that initial hiccup.
So how fast does this Phoenix fly? “Flamin’ quick,” is the appropriate enough answer. The combination of the overclocked processor and top-end Radeon graphics card made proverbial mincemeat out of the toughest gaming benchmarks we threw at it.
Stalker: Call of Pripyat hit between 120 and 130fps across its standard benchmarks, with the most intensive stress test resulting in a score of 55fps – an impressively smooth frame rate. All these benchmarks were run at Full HD resolution (1920×1080), with ultra details under DirectX 11.
One of the most visually intensive games we’ve come across lately, IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover, has a hugely demanding black death benchmark. Again, in Full HD with every graphics option maxed out and unlimited buildings turned on, the Sniper i5 averaged 47fps, which is phenomenally quick.
We spent hours installing every DX11 game we had, turning all the graphics options up fully, and marvelling at the levels of detail and smoothness. Homefront, once again on maximum full HD details, ran at an almost constant 60fps, only dipping momentarily for the most extreme action-packed scenes and explosions. And that buttery frame rate made online fragging noticeably easier.
This Palicomp PC also made predictably breezy work of running Windows applications. It’s a pretty quiet machine while tootling about in Windows. When tackling heavy-duty gaming, the fans kick into a higher gear, though, and the graphics card in particular can be rather noisy. The system’s Sony Optiarc DVD writer makes a bit of noise when it’s in full flood, too, which doesn’t help. So gaming is far from whisper quiet, but then we found the sound of sub-machine guns in Homefront tended to cancel out any fan noise, anyway.
A few corners have been cut to keep the system’s price down. No speakers are included, and the DVD drive is rather basic, with a flimsy-feeling tray and a clunky mechanism. The bundled Labtec mouse and keyboard err towards the cheap and nasty, too.
Fortunately, the bundled monitor hasn’t been scrimped on. The Samsung SyncMaster B2430 is a quality 24in Full HD display with a resolution of 1920×1080, and provides bright and vivid colours with no ghosting. It’s obviously important to have a good display to view all those games in their fully ramped up DX11 glory.
Contact: 01270 898104
- Jaw-dropping speed.
- Slightly noisy; below-par plasticky mouse and keyboard.
The initial BSOD glitch was a concern, but the i5 Sniper proved itself to be rock solidly stable after that hiccup. It also proved to be blisteringly fast. A few peripheral corners have been cut to keep the price down, but equally, Palicomp has splashed out on some quality supporting components such as the case and power supply.
It's true that the machine won't win any awards for quietness, but it does take home our Recommended Award, given the value for money of the overclocked firepower on offer.