Introducing the iBUYPOWER Paladin XLC

It's amazing how quickly reviewing a complete computer system can become dicey when dealing with as informed a readership as ours. Reviewing notebooks is fairly straightforward: since whitebox machines have mostly evaporated from the market, we can safely review the pre-built machines the manufacturers send us because they're basically the only options presenting themselves to you.

Desktops get a little trickier, where we have to ascertain not just the machine's value to a broader market, but also find the value to people who know how to spec and build their own machines. When it's something like the Dell and Acer desktops we've reviewed it's easy enough: these are machines you can recommend to friends and family without tying yourself to their continued maintenance and service. The iBUYPOWER Paladin XLC we have on hand to review is another beast entirely.

This is a machine that falls very much in line with the kinds of computers we as the reviewers and many of you as the readers are capable of assembling. But there are also readers who don't want to go through the hassle of building and tuning a gaming machine, and readers for whom a machine like this will be their gateway into the world of tweaking, tuning and overclocking. And I'm reasonably sure there's at least one granny out there somewhere aching to pwn n00bs in Modern Warfare 2, a seasoned veteran of first person shooters who refuses to stoop to using a console controller. Ultimately we need to determine what iBUYPOWER brings to the table compared to what you can do on your own, alongside how capable the machine itself is.

iBUYPOWER Paladin XLC Specifications
Processor Intel Core i7-930 @ 3.5GHz (184MHz Bclk with x19 multiplier)
(spec: 4x2.8GHz, 45nm, 8MB L3, 130W)
Chipset Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R rev. 2 Motherboard with X58 chipset
Memory 3x2GB A-Data DDR3-1600 @ 1480MHz (expandable to 24GB)
Graphics 2x NVIDIA GeForce GTX 470 1280MB GDDR5 in SLI
(448 CUDA Cores, 607MHz Core, 1215MHz Shader, 3.3GHz Memory, 320-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) Kingston 64GB SSDNow! V2 Series SSD (OS drive)
Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB 7200RPM SATA 6Gbps (Data drive)
Optical Drive(s) LG 10x BD-ROM/DVD+/-RW
Networking Realtek Gigabit Ethernet
Audio Realtek ALC889 HD Audio
speaker, mic, line-in, and surround jacks for 7.1 sound
Front Side Optical Drive
Three open 5.25” bays
MMC/SD/CF/MS reader
Top 2x USB 2.0
eSATA port
Headphone and mic jacks
Power and reset buttons
Fan controllers
Back Side 2x PS/2
S/PDIF and TOSlink digital audio jacks
4-pin and 6-pin FireWire ports
2x Combo eSATA/USB 2.0 ports
4x USB 2.0
2x USB 3.0 (blue)
Gigabit Ethernet jack
Speaker, mic, line-in, and surround jacks
4x DVI-D
2x Mini-DisplayPort
AC Power
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 25.74" x 21.32" x 8.74" (WxDxH)
Weight 24.25 lbs (case only)
Extras 850W NZXT HALE90 Modular Power Supply
Asetek 570LX 240mm Liquid Cooling
NZXT Phantom Case
Wired keyboard and mouse
Flash reader (MMC/MS/CF/SD)
Overclocked from warehouse
Warranty 3-year limited warranty and lifetime phone support
Pricing Starting at $1,459
Priced as configured (9/02/2010): $2,278

As you can see, it's an awful lot of computer. The big pop-out is the Core i7-930 overclocked to 3.5GHz, with the overclock done largely to the Bclk to bring up memory and uncore speeds. iBUYPOWER calls the overclock their "Level 3 Powerdrive Overclocking"—bringing a 25% overclock to the processor core with it. Intel doesn't ship any processors that hit this speed at stock, so right there you can assume at least some measure of bang for your buck: iBUYPOWER ships you a computer with a processor faster than Intel's specs for the i7-975, already stability tested and ready to go. There's even an Asetek watercooler attached to the 930 to keep temperatures (and noise levels) down.

iBUYPOWER backs up the i7's gaming prowess with a pair of GeForce GTX 470's in SLI. This level of performance should be a known quantity to most of our readers by now, but for reference sake, this is a pair of NVIDIA's second-fastest single-chip cards, each sporting 448 of NVIDIA's CUDA cores. They run at clock speeds of 607MHz on the core, 1215MHz on the shaders, and 1.2GB of GDDR5 on each running at an effective 3.3GHz. The 470 is generally a match for AMD's Radeon HD 5870, and SLI has been demonstrated to scale extremely well. If there's one thing that should give a potential buyer pause, though, it should be the amount of heat generated by these cards. The GA-X58A-UD3R motherboard is fantastic (I actually run one in my personal system), but it doesn't allow the user to space the cards to NVIDIA's specifications. The two are right next to each other and as we'll see later, this causes some issues.

The rest of the build is fairly well rounded. iBUYPOWER includes a speedy 64GB Kingston SSD as the operating system drive and pairs it with a 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black, one of the newer models with 64MB of cache and support for SATA 6GBps (connected to the motherboard's 6GBps port, naturally.) Memory duties are handled by 6GB of A-DATA DDR3-1600 running in triple-channel; memory brands are often matters of taste and religion (personally I swear by Corsair), but the A-DATA RAM should be fine. There's also a blu-ray reader, DVD-writer combo drive and a multi-card reader.

Finally, everything's housed in one of the new NZXT Phantom cases, and that's going to be a matter of taste for many people. Personally, I think it looks like a Transformer that turns into an Imperial Stormtrooper; it's attractive in a tacky, kitschy way. The fan controls on the top are a nice touch and the multitude of fans built in run nice and quiet. iBUYPOWER opts to use an NZXT Hale90 850W modular power supply as well, which is enough to keep the GeForces and overclocked i7 well fed while having plenty of reserves for future upgrades.

Also of note is that iBUYPOWER includes all of the extras that would have come with these parts had you built the machine off-the-shelf, along with an abnormally cheap-looking branded keyboard and a branded optical mouse of equally non-descript origins.

Getting to Know the iBuyPower Paladin XLC
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  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    The test system came with a 64GB SSDNow and 1TB 64MB HDD, not two 1TB HDDs; also, the GPUs are not the EVGA SuperClocked model. I selected the 8X LG Blu-ray, as Dustin listed a 10X BD-ROM, not a 10X BD-RW. The major difference in pricing comes from the extra $100 for a Blu-ray Rewriter, as the GPUs end up washing out with the SSD price.

    FWIW, lifetime ratings at RR can be misleading, though there are problems with a 6-month window as well. The recent history is full of pleased reviews, while at about 8 months back there's a bunch of complaints. At least one is a person whining about two unknown devices on a laptop after upgrading to Windows 7... hardly a 1-star experience. Others ordered something and it didn't ship immediately, which makes me wonder if they were trying to jump on some hot new hardware and ended up with limited inventory. Again, that's not a 1-star review in my book. They're not perfect, but perhaps -- just perhaps -- they're doing better now than in the past. Or they just had a bunch of users give them favorable RR reviews lately.

    Anyway, you have a history of angry comments, and I still don't know what you have against this company. We said the system was priced well, overclocked poorly (i.e. lazy), and the GTX 470 SLI was probably overkill... then you act as though we praised them for being the greatest thing since sliced bread. They look like a reasonable option overall, particularly if you're not after massive overclocks. There will be good and bad experiences, but on average they do well. Would I buy from them? If the price was right, sure. Last time I bought someone a system, I ended up with CyberPower purchased from Newegg because it was cheaper than iBUYPOWER, but they were my second option.
  • wolfman3k5 - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    I don't know how you can poorly overclock an Corer i7, I really don't. The platform is so mature, and given that the system is using a second generation X58 motherboard (USB 3.0 support and SATA 6), there is no such thing as a Lazy Overclock with an i7. I've explained before, different X58 motherboards show poor performance when used with 2 X GTX 470 cards in SLI due to some BIOS bug. I have experienced this with an MSI X58 Big Bang XPower. As soon as MSI sent me a new BIOS, things got back to normal. It could be the case with the Gigabyte board as well, I don't know for sure.

    As far as pricing goes, I will give up on this argument. I could nit pick us much as I want, for example I could tell you that the LG 8X Blu Ray is not being manufactured anymore and that it has been replaced by the 10X.

    My hole point is that iBuyPower doesn't ship the same build quality to their customers. Order one from them as a customer, not as a review site, review it and then we can talk.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    The overclock wasn't tuned. It looked brute force, like "this is a good baseline to get this much of an overclock from the i7."

    The i7 930 overclocks like a frigging champ. This thing had a VID lower than mine did, on the same model and revision of motherboard, and with less memory to serve than mine. It looked like they just plugged in some numbers that they felt had a high chance of producing a stable overclock, regardless of the individual tolerances of the specific CPU and motherboard, probably gave it a few runs in Linx, and called it a day.
  • wolfman3k5 - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    I see your point. My issue with the MSI motherboard didn't have anything to do with overclocking. With BIOS 1.2, when 2 X NVIDIA (GTX 470 in my case) where being used in SLI, the whole system would slow down. I had something to do with resource allocation. Anyway, BIOS 1.37Beta fixed the issue.

    As far as the effort that they've put into overclocking the system, it just echoes what I've said: there isn't enough margin for iBuyPower to do any serious work.

    Despite the fact that I can build my own system, if I don't have the time to do or mess with it, I would rather order from a custom builder. I would rather pay more and get a solid product.
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    So which iBUYPOWER PC did you purchase in the past year? Because unless you've had recent personal experience with them, none of this conversation even matters.

    Sure, it would be nice to buy product, review it, and return it for a refund post-review. HardOCP tried that a couple years back (it was called "[ H ] Consumer" or something like that), and guess what? They're no longer doing it for "some strange reason". Could it be that if you buy a product, review it, and they don't like the review you're stuck with something you don't want? Maybe it just cost too much money upfront for items the readers didn't care to read about? Anyway, unless Anand offers to start buying me systems and dealing with the return and refund process, I'm not capable of footing that bill. Heh... if I got paid by companies to do favorable reviews, maybe it would be a lot easier?

    Anyway, unless you buy this same iBUYPOWER and don't get any of the extra stuff mentioned in this review, I'm not sure there's much else to discuss. Do companies try to send "better" samples to reviewers? Yup. But if cable sleeving like they claim to offer doesn't come on customer samples, and we hear about it from people that actually buy based off our review, trust me that it will come back to bite them in the butt.
  • strikeback03 - Friday, September 3, 2010 - link

    I found what appears to be the sleeving options on page 3 of the configuration, the "Services and Support" tab, Advanced Build Options. Looks like it was $57 for everything. I also got a price of ~$2500 (including the BD burner) so their $2100 estimate might have been low, unless they offered this all in a package at some point. Ultimately price comparisons are of limited use anyway, as both the prices they offer stuff at and the prices average consumers can buy stuff for from NewEgg and such are constantly changing, so the value of these reviews is more in seeing if the company does things right, such as having BIOS and drivers up to date for shipping time and such, or if the overclock is indeed stable (if lazy).

    Plus, this isn't even the most overpriced machine I have seen today, our lab got a quote for a piece of equipment this morning that included $1395 for a system listed as a 2.0GHz C2D, 2GB RAM, 80GB HDD, DVD/RW, 17" LCD, and WinXP Pro.
  • Soldier1969 - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    I dont know all that much about the company, but I have this case pictured and its incredible! Great cooling with 7 fans. Reminds me of a Stormtrooper from Star Wars. Some people that seen it think something from the USS Enterprise. Awesome spacing and easy to add parts to. If your doing a new build or adding hardware, order one youll love it!
  • Bonesdad - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    That is an amazingly ugly case. I would be embarrassed to have that hideous thing in my house. I am an adult, though. Maybe some 14 year old would think it's "awesome", but ...oh forget it.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Thursday, September 2, 2010 - link

    It's funny, I've had a couple of people come over to look at the case and we've all reached the same conclusion: it's kind of tacky, but appealing in an awesomely tacky "this looks like an imperial stormtrooper" kind of way. I like the case as a curio, but for my own build I'd still rather use my Antec P182.
  • Dragging40 - Friday, September 3, 2010 - link

    This is a very nice computer! Win I win the lotto, this will be the one I buy

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