Steiger Dynamics LEET Reference review

The Steiger Dynamics LEET Reference isn't just a premium gaming desktop, it's also the prettiest (and most powerful) home theatre PC we've seen.
Photo of Steiger Dynamics LEET Reference

The next frontier in PC gaming isn’t about bigger, better processors and graphics cards. Premium components will always find their way into elite gaming machines, to be sure, but PC gaming is moving to the living room. With PC-to-HDTV integration becoming simpler than it has ever been, and PC gaming gaining steam with online distribution like, er, Steam, there’s a large segment of the PC gaming market that wants to hop on the gaming grid while kicking back on the couch. Recognizing this shift, boutique PC manufacturer Steiger Dynamics has unleashed the LEET Reference ($6,323 as configured), which combines all the hardware of the most premium gaming PC—like the Falcon Northwest Mach V (Triple Titan)—with a gorgeous design that will blend seamlessly into any high-end home theater setup.

Design
The Steiger Dynamics LEET lineup is designed as a premium gaming desktop packaged as a high-end home theater PC (HTPC). That’s not to say that the LEET Reference is anything like the small form-factor gaming PCs we’ve reviewed recently, like the Digital Storm Bolt—oh, no. This is closer to the giant premium systems like the Maingear F131 Super Stock (GTX Titan) or the Origin Genesis (Core i7-3970X).

Unlike those systems, however, the LEET Reference is designed to be part of your home theater setup, and it has a design that will make it right at home next to a Denon AVR-1613 receiver or an Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player. From the black anodized aluminum chassis to the pillar-style feet underneath, the exterior of the LEET Reference looks like high-end stereo equipment.

Set in the center of the chassis front is an integrated 7-inch display—similar to that seen a few years ago on the BFG Phobos, but without touch control—which offers system monitoring in a format that’s easy to read while sitting on the sofa a few feet away, cycling through several screens, monitoring CPU/GPU clocks, load levels, and temperatures, along with used and available drive space, and RAM capacity utilization. The display is tied to a customizable app, letting you tweak the displayed information to your liking, or you can simply leave it in its pre-configured state.

The front panel also features a tray-loading optical drive (12x Blu-ray Player/DVD Combo) and a small panel concealing an SDHC card reader, two USB 3.0 ports, and a pair of headphone and microphone jacks.

Features
But while the exterior of the LEET Reference looks like stereo equipment, looking inside is like popping the hood of a chromed-out hot-rod. Glowing interior LEDs highlight the immaculate interior through the acrylic window that makes up most of the lid. Peering inside you’ll see the black custom cabling and white tubing for a liquid cooling system, silently chilling the high-end components inside: a hex-core Intel Core i7-3930K (normally 3.2GHz, but overclocked to 4.7GHz), 16GB of RAM (and room to upgrade to 32GB), and a pair of EVGA Nvidia GeForce GTX 690 Hydro Copper graphics processors (in an SLI configuration, 4GB of memory each), all plugged into an Asus Rampage IV Formula motherboard. There’s also a ton of storage—two 120GB solid-state drives in RAID 0 and four 3TB hard drives in RAID5. Powering the whole thing is a Seasonic Platinum 1,000-Watt power supply.

This is one of the reasons gamers routinely choose boutique vendors over the mainstream behemoths for their premium gaming PCs—this system is lovingly crafted by obsessive-compulsive perfectionists, producing a beautiful system inside and out. And there’s still plenty of room to expand, supporting up to quad-SLI graphics, as much as 64GB of RAM.

Turn the LEET Reference around and you’ll find an equally impressive array of ports on the rear panel. Four more USB 3.0 ports are joined by seven USB 2.0 ports and two USB/eSATA combo ports, along with a PS/2 port, providing all the peripheral connectivity you could ever want. Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11n Wi-Fi will more than handle all of your web browsing, including downloading and streaming media. Two DVI ports and a DisplayPort provide connectivity for multiple displays, and an included adapter cable makes connecting to HDMI a snap.

Befitting an HTPC, the LEET Reference also features an array of audio outputs, including optical surround sound, and to take the media angle one step further, there’s also an optional integrated Ceton InfitiTV PCIe Full-HD Quad Cable Tuner (an additional $239).
With so many connections for home theater and so much available storage space, it should be no surprise that the LEET Reference, in addition to being an effective gaming system, does double duty as a media server, and comes with Windows 8 Pro Media Center preinstalled. Also preinstalled is CyberLink PowerDVD 12 Ultra, Google Chrome, FRAPS for video capture, and GPU drivers from EVGA and Nvidia. And finally, Steiger Dynamics is generous to those who buy its systems—the LEET Reference has a 30-day money back guarantee, the hardware is covered by a three-year limited warranty, and purchasers get lifetime customer care.

Accessories
Because Steiger Dynamics built the LEET Reference as an HTPC, it’s not meant to be used at a desk, while sitting in an office chair. This is a PC for use in the living room, connected to your big screen HDTV, while you relax on the couch. As such, the PC comes with the option of several wireless peripherals, tested and vetted by Steiger Dynamics to provide optimal performance. In our testing, all these devices worked just fine, but it’s worth noting that they do contribute to the cost of the total package when buying the PC.

For basic PC use and gaming, Steiger recommends the Logitech K800 Wireless Keyboard ($99) and the Logitech G700 Wireless Gaming Mouse ($99.00). To provide a steady but ultra-light mousing surface that works as well on the couch as on a tabletop, Steiger Dynamics also recommends the anodized aluminum Geared Titan Precision Tracking mouse pad ($29), which is made with a sturdy aluminum plate backed with grippy foam rubber. But not all gaming is best with a keyboard and mouse, so Steiger Dynamics also recommends a pair of Microsoft XBOX 360 Wireless Controller for Windows ($59 each).

While all of these devices are wireless, they each utilize a separate USB receiver, so you’ll make good use of the seven USB 2.0 ports found on the back of the LEET Reference. For an alternative means of connectivity, the LEET Reference does include a Bluetooth dongle (in its own dedicated USB port), offering wireless connectivity for all manner of devices—headsets, keyboards, mice, gamepads, and more.

Finally, for all of your media needs, the LEET Reference also includes—what else?—a TV-style remote, specifically a Windows Media Center Remote Control branded with the Steiger Dynamics logo. It will handle all of your media needs in the same one-handed channel-flipping manner as the rest of your home theater components.

Performance

With its overclocked Intel Core i7-3930K processor, 16GB of RAM, and dual Nvidia GeForce GTX 690 graphics cards, there was no doubt that the overall performance of the LEET Reference would be superb. And in processing tasks, it was not only capable, but led the category in many tasks, trading blows with the closely matched Origin Genesis (Core i7-3970X). In PCMark 7 the LEET Reference led by a hair, scoring 6,586 points to the Origin’s 6,584, despite the fact that it was a full point behind in Cinebench, scoring 13.48 points to the Origin’s 14.49, due largely to the Origin’s superior processor. In Handbrake and Photoshop, the LEET Reference fell slightly behind (Handbrake 21 seconds, Photoshop 2 minutes 33 seconds), but only slightly, with the Origin finishing Handbrake in 20 seconds and Photoshop in 2:24.

In gaming tests, the LEET Reference displayed an odd quirk—designed as an HTPC, Nvidia V-sync settings capped the frame rate to a TV-friendly 60 frames per second. This out-of-the-box setting should lend itself to decent performance in any game, on any TV, even at higher than 1080p resolutions. What it doesn’t do, however, is tell us the outside performance limits of the LEET Reference, or give us any numbers to directly compare to other premium gaming desktops.

So we adjusted the settings, turning off V-sync to remove the 60 fps cap, and were pleased to see the LEET Reference producing solid results. At baseline settings (1366-by-768 resolution, with medium detail settings) the LEET Reference produced 337 fps in Heaven, and 285 fps in Alien vs. Predator. These aren’t earth-shattering numbers—the Falcon Northwest Mach V (Triple Titan) completed both tests with higher scores (Heaven 508 fps, AvP 335 fps), while the Origin Genesis fell slightly behind (Heaven 238 fps, AvP 260 fps). Even with all the detail settings ratcheted up and the resolution at 2560 by 1600, the LEET Reference still produced solid playable scores (Heaven 67 fps, AvP 79 fps). This setup will work great on a single 1080p display like a HDTV, but if you want immersive gaming across multiple displays, a more dedicated gaming PC like the Mach V is a better choice.

Conclusion
With the LEET Reference, Steiger Dynamics has put together a gaming HTPC that is truly premium, both in terms of the look and feel of the PC and in the overall performance. While it didn’t beat the performance of the top premium systems we’ve reviewed lately, there’s nothing disappointing about the system as it stands—this is still an elite gaming PC packaged in the most luxurious chassis we’ve seen. While it’s priced outside of most people’s budgets, if you’re in the market for a premium gaming desktop and are enticed by the possibility of adding it as an HTPC, we can comfortably tell you that the Steiger Dynamics LEET Reference is a good buy. If raw performance is your goal, opt for the Editors’ Choice Falcon Northwest Mach V (Triple Titan) or the Maingear F131 Super Stock (GTX Titan). But if you want top-notch gaming that also takes your home theater to the next level, there’s nothing that compares to the Steiger Dynamics LEET Reference.

Specifications
Touchscreen No
Primary Optical Drive Blu-Ray Disc
Processor Family Intel Core i7
Graphics Card Nvidia GeForce GTX 690 SLI
RAM 16 GB
Type Gaming, Multimedia
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 12240 GB

Verdict
The Steiger Dynamics LEET Reference isn't just a premium gaming desktop, it's also the prettiest (and most powerful) home theatre PC we've seen.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc