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Maingear F131

The second boutique PC maker we'll be working with today is Maingear. Much like Puget Systems, the company strives to offer customers a premier buying experience with excellent service and using only top-grade components. Maingear has been in business since 2002 and gained widespread notoriety by winning many editors' choice awards across several major computer technology publications.

Each pre-configured desktop, laptop, or media center media center system offered by Maingear has several available name-brand hardware options to choose from. During the configuration process, you can get advice from Maingear reps on which component will best suit your needs as an enthusiast or gamer.

The F131 system from Maingear represents their original mid-tower offering and is available in four different pre-configured base models: Quickship, Mainstream, Performance and Enthusiast. Prices start in the mid-$800 range. Each base model is fully customizable and judging by the hardware selected for our evaluation unit, we have a Performance edition with multiple hardware changes and upgrades that pushed the system to meet our $2,000 budget.

The system consists of a one-piece aluminum front construction chassis (SilverStone FT01 Midtower) with solid side panels, M.A.R.C. Laser engraving, a 750W SilverStone Strider Plus modular power supply, Intel Core i5 655K 3.2GHz CPU operating at 4.5GHz via Maingear's Redline Overclocking Service, Intel heatpipe cooler, Asus P7P55D-E Pro motherboard, 4GB of Crucial DDR3-1333 memory, 2x Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 cards in SLI (1536MB GDDR5 Total), 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black 6Gb/s hard drive, a 24x dual layer DVD RW drive and a memory card reader.

Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit is preinstalled and everything is backed by a 1-year hardware warranty and lifetime service labor and phone support. Our price as configured was $1,999.99. Once again, a few price comparison searches of the system's components show users would be paying roughly a $500 premium for Maingear's expertise.

Right away we can see that Maingear has taken a bit of a different approach than Puget Systems, dropping down to a Core i5 processor and Intel air cooling, but ramping the CPU clock speed all the way up 4.5 GHz. I own a Core i5 661 and haven't been able to break past 4.3GHz with a high end air cooler, so this is very impressive indeed. I was curious to see if the Intel cooler could keep this processor running stable with such an extreme overclock but we had no issues whatsoever during our benchmarking testing phase.

Another noteworthy variation compared to Puget's system is the pair of Nvidia GeForce GTX 460 cards in SLI, which makes this the only system in our round-up to feature multiple graphics cards. To be fair, Maingear was the last manufacturer to ship their review unit to us. Perfectly timed considering that was barely a week after the release of the prodigious GTX 460.

Included with the Maingear system is a personal binder, power cable, unused modular cables, extra screws, 3-to-4 pin fan adapter and a bag full of all of the various motherboard accessories like SATA and IDE cables, video card adapters, Velcro cable straps, etc. Inside the personal binder is a t-shirt, a few stickers and all of the hardware manuals and documentation from each component. Much like the Puget Systems offering, we also have detailed documentation of the quality control checks, an actual Windows disc plus a recovery disc, and even hand-written benchmark results for a few programs.

I cross-referenced their benchmark scores with our own results and found a bit of a discrepancy. The scores detailed in the binder by Maingear were much lower than the ones I obtained. I spoke directly with Maingear about this and they seemed to think that maybe the system was benchmarked at a higher-than-default resolution.

The SilverStone FT01 Midtower chassis is solid black with the Maingear logo laser etched on the front intake fan grill. I've been using the windowed version of this same case on my computer for nearly two years, so I am very familiar with it -- you can read my full review here. The system has five 5.25" bays, with the top slot occupied by the optical drive, and the bottom one by a multi-card reader (CF / MD, XD, SD / MMC, MS / MSPRO and Micro SD) and a single USB 2.0 port.

The left side panel is solid black but you can opt for a windowed panel to show off your hardware for a little more money. Around the back we find provisions for water cooling tubes built into the case as well as a 120mm exhaust fan. The I/O ports from top to bottom include: PS/2 keyboard and mouse, two USB 2.0 ports, optical and S/PDIF, two additional USB 2.0 ports, eSATA, IEEE 1394a, two more USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet jack and audio I/O ports.

Moving down to the add-in cards we find the two EVGA GTX 460 cards, each sporting dual DVI ports and one HDMI port. The bottom add-in slot is populated with an I/O port expansion card that provides two additional USB 2.0 ports and another eSATA port. The 750W SilverStone power supply sits at the bottom of the chassis.

The right side panel has been treated with Maingear's M.A.R.C. laser engraving using their Skullwing Pattern. You can choose between two of Maingear's custom designs or even upload your own high resolution graphic for etching. As you can see, the etching job has a wealth of detail and will certainly make a nice conversation piece.

On top of the case is a reset button, two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port and microphone / headphone jacks. There's also a large fan grill further back that lets air into the top 180mm intake fan. The left side panel can be easily removed via two thumb screws and a simple-to-operate latch. Inside you'll find a very clean layout complete with a 180mm front intake fan, 180mm top intake fan and a 120mm rear exhaust fan. As mentioned earlier, my main concern with this system was the use of the Intel stock heatsink with a highly overclocked processor, but at least there doesn't seem to be any shortage of air flow.

As was the case with the Puget desktop, Maingear offers a bloatware-free install of Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit. There were only three icons on the desktop: Recycle Bin and links to free antivirus and free office suite. The installed programs list further verifies the clean install, giving end users a lean and junk-free system to start with.