Conclusion: The Best Gaming PC at Best Buy
The Software Experience
Our review unit arrived with Windows 8. Windows 8.1 had not been officially released before the system was shipped, but it is safe to assume Lenovo will now be bundling 8.1. Unlike its competition in the gaming market (e.g. Falcon Northwest, Maingear, Alienware, Puget and others), Lenovo does not provide a Windows 7 downgrade option, so eight-haters beware. In August, we reported that Lenovo would begin bundling a start menu replacement for Windows 8, but we did not find this on the X700 (not yet!).
Unfortunately, Lenovo does bundle its Erazer with moderate amount of bloatware/trialware. This is nothing that cant be fixed with a few minutes of uninstalling though, so no permanent harm done.
The worst example of this was a trial version of McAfee that nagged us every minute (literally) until we either bought or uninstalled it. I dont know if this was a bug, but I couldnt get it to shut up without removing it. With gamers being the Erazers target audience, its difficult to reconcile the inclusion of bloatware; I believe gamers natural aversion to this undesirable PC tradition is well-documented.
By contrast though, I was surprised to find an absence of Lenovo system utilities. Gaming computers by multinational companies (e.g. Alienware, Asus, MSI and their ilk) are often bursting at the seams with custom performance indicators, flashy hotkey utilities, detailed network monitors and other whiz-bang widgets and whatnots. It appears Lenovo has taken a minimalist approach here with little more that its Erazer Control Center. Personally, I like this since I tend to default to the software I already know and love anyhow.
Erazer X700: a good value?
Heres a run-down of the approximate retail costs for parts comparable to those found in our review unit:
- Samsung 128GB SSD - $120
- Seagate Barracuda HDD - $70
- MSI Geforce GTX 660 - $190
- Intel Core i7-3820 - $300
- 3 x DDR3 1600MHz - $110
- X79 motherboard (LGA 2011) - $200
- Case (similar in quality) - $80
- Liquid cooler - $75
- DVD-RW - $20
- Card reader - $20
- PSU 625W+ (80-Plus Gold certified) - $90
- Gaming keyboard & mouse: $100
- Windows 8 Pro OEM: $130
Assuming youre satisfied with Lenovos part picks, the X700s online base configuration (no SSD) is a good value in pre-fabbed gaming PCs.The ongoing promo price of $1290 is on par to a comparable homebrew rig with the same bits and pieces (alternative part choices notwithstanding). The difference of course, is the Erazer comes assembled and ready for gaming. For our review though, we have Best Buys $1699 config which includes an SSD. At this price, the Erazer X700s value appeal begins to wane. If youre shopping online, $1700 can score you a better-equipped Alienware Aurora 6 or get you close to a comparable Maingear Vybe. Lenovo is likely aware of this though, as the HDD-only Erazer has been on sale pretty much since its launch a few of weeks ago.
The Best Gaming PC at Best Buy
What the Erazer is all about is straddling two worlds: gaming and mainstream consumers. For a gaming PC though, Lenovos first dip into the pool feels closer to the shallow end. Reminding us of its commodity PC roots, Lenovo offers only four pre-configured Erazers with no custom order options, dull-gray insides, bloatware and very few overclocking options. Sandy Bridge-E, a micro-ATX board and an aging GTX 660 also provide ammunition for faulting the X700. Additionally, the overclocking button could have been better implemented (no reboot necessary and more customizability).
Despite its faults, the Erazers sharp-looking custom case, liquid cooling, X79-based motherboard, dual-graphics option, removable storage trays and overclocking all manage to plant one foot firmly in gamer country. The X700 can comfortably handle modern titles at 1920x1080 and high/ultra settings and most features enabled... as long as you dont mind turning off MSAA. The possibility of adding a second GTX 660 GPU for SLI gaming also helps future proofing the X700.
As a box of compromises, the success of this good enough gaming PC hinges on price. Online at $1290, the X700 is a solid gaming value even without an SSD. At $1699, the Best Buy config though is a tougher sell. Even so, it does have one huge advantage: the X700 will be the best gaming PC on Best Buys floor. With parents looking to wow their kids with an amazing gift this Christmas, the X700 may do well and I believe Lenovo is banking on that.
For its higher-end online varieties though, their value is a little less clear. The next step up is essentially the same system with 16GB of RAM, a Blu-ray drive and 2TB HDD (no SSD) -- but priced at $1,700. Meanwhile, the top-end $3,000 Erazer is an odd creature with dual Radeon HD 8950s, 128GB SSD and presumably identical build quality. At this price, you can pick up a better-specced (and frankly better-built) Maingear.
Pros: Good hardware combination that will serve the mainstream user/gamer well. User upgrade to GTX 660 SLI would give plenty of performance headroom. Sleek case and bundled peripherals. Good value on basic models.
Cons: Missing a high-end GPU option to compete in the major leagues. Factory upgrades don't make sense for the price. Stop software bloat, please.