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Review: Maingear Vybe Gaming and Multimedia PC

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Review: Maingear Vybe Gaming and Multimedia PC

“The PC is dying,” the headlines proclaim. Smartphones and tablets reign supreme. Convenience wins out over power and flexibility. And that may be true for large swaths of the population, but these days I need a PC more than ever before. When I whip out my iPhone and queue up a playlist in my home theater, the source of the music is ultimately my PC. The same PC that’s connected directly to the DAC and preamp at the heart of my home office hi-fi system. The same PC that I use to explore the deepest, darkest dungeons of Guild Wars 2 several times a week. My PC is equal parts media server, media player, workstation, word processor, photo lab, video editor, and console-killing gaming machine all rolled into one. So suffice it to say, when I buy or build a new PC, I’m investing in the centerpiece of my entire digital life for the next five or six years. I need a very purpose-built machine that not only conforms to my specific needs, but that will also last for the better part of half a decade or more (with the occasional upgrade, of course). All of which is why, when it came time to retire my six-year-old (and quickly dying) PC, I replaced it with a customized Vybe from Maingear.

You can read about all of the thinking that went into that decision in my previous post on Maingear, which focused on the excellent customer service I received during the configuration and purchasing process. Even that excellent experience did little to prepare me for how impressive my Vybe would be when it arrived.

Nor how quickly it would arrive, for that matter. My initial shipping estimate was 1/13/2014. My Vybe actually arrived on January 9, while I was out of town for CES. Upon arriving home I tore open the box to find a really nice binder containing not only all of my component manuals, a setup guide, installation CDs and a t-shirt, but also a note letting me know that the approved drivers for my video card were included on a flash drive attached to the binder.

That’s noteworthy for a couple of reasons. One, even though I was installing my own video card, Maingear still went the extra step to provide me with the drivers to make the installation quicker and easier. Secondly, and I can’t stress this enough, the note was handwritten by Dmitriy, the gentleman at Maingear’s Kenilworth, NJ, headquarters who singlehandedly built and benchmarked my new machine, and who will be my point of contact with Maingear should I ever need technical assistance.

Moving past the binder full of goodies, my new Vybe came packed in a dense, form-fitting foam material that looks capable of withstanding the roughest of treatment (and indeed, FedEx did manage to mangle one corner of the box, but all of the contents within were safe and secure.

Once free from those secure restraints, the build quality of the case, I’ll admit, surprised me a little. On Maingear’s website, the case for the Vybe looks rather non-descript and utilitarian. In person, it’s infinitely more impressive, with a nice soft-touch matte finish and perforated high-gloss accents that only hint at the gorgeousness within.

Before we crack the case, though, let’s take a look at what the inside of a typical store bought PC looks like. Not to disparage the PC maker in question, of course, but looking at this image I borrowed from TigerDirect, you can see that your typical big-box-store machine isn’t designed to impress once the cover comes off. The power supply is generic and flimsy looking. The wiring is a rat’s nest. The components look cheap and mass-produced – because they are.

Image courtesy of TigerDirect

By contrast, the inside of the Vybe is tidy and gorgeous. The wiring is almost all tucked away and hidden (except, of course, for the PCIe power cables left dangling for my graphics card, which I had yet to install when this photo was snapped). That’s more than merely an aesthetic concern, mind you: the tidiness of the Maingear Vybe’s case improves airflow, keeping components cooler for better reliability and longevity.

It also gives me plenty of room to work when installing eventual upgrades (I tend to upgrade my graphics card about every other year – in fact, the PC I just replaced was on its fourth graphics card and third power supply).

Before I installed my graphics card and closed the case, I snapped a close-up shot of Maingear’s proprietary liquid CPU intercooler (which was designed and implemented in conjunction with CoolIT Systems) to share with my dad. His reply, and I quote: “Man, that don’t even look like the inside of a computer. It looks like something out of a fancy hot rod race car.” Well put, Pop.

Thankfully, though, it doesn’t sound like a racing machine. With my computer completely powered off, the ambient background noise of my street-facing home office is about 46dB. With The Witcher 2 running at 1920×1200 resolution, all specs set to High (and the game’s sound, of course, muted), the ambient noise of my office climbs to a mere 47 or 48dB. With any sort of background music or game sound playing, I don’t hear the machine at all.

I won’t bore you with benchmark specs and lists of frame rates in all of my favorite games, because those are unique to my hardware configuration, and I said in my previous post, the hardware configuration in this machine (i5-4670K on an MSI G45 Gaming motherboard, with 16GB of Corsair Vengeance memory, along with a 1TB Seagate Barracuda HDD and a 30GB Corsair Nova2 SSD caching drive that gives me dedicate-SSD-like performance with the programs I use the most) was custom designed for me. I will say that it’s lightning fast, though, it chews up any game I throw at it and begs for more, it loads my media near-instantaneously, it’s cut the time required to load my photo editing software from nearly half a minute to little more than five seconds, and it looks positively bad-ass while doing so.

Normally, a new PC purchase (or build) is an anxiety-inducing process for me. I second guess. I suffer buyer’s remorse. I wonder what sort of PC I could have gotten had I only waited a few more months. I can honestly say, though, that the $1300 I dropped on my new Maingear Vybe is the best money I’ve spent in ages. Because from most PC builders, for that amount of money, I could have been a very respectable PC. But from Maingear, I got exactly the PC I wanted and needed, custom built specifically for me, with all of the components I wanted in it and none of the components I didn’t.

Sure, I could have built a similarly specced machine myself and saved a few dollars, but even if I had the time to do so these days, the results wouldn’t have been as good, and I wouldn’t have the technical support of one of the friendliest, most knowledgeable, and most responsive companies I’ve ever dealt with.

I can say with absolutely no hesitation that Maingear has a new customer for life.

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