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Maingear Ephex 3-Way SLI Performance Gaming System
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Date: Feb 15, 2008
Section:Systems
Author: Dave Altavilla
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Introduction and Specifications


For many of you, Maingear Computer may not be a household name and that would probably be just fine with the folks out at the shop in Union New Jersey.  Loosely classified as a specialty high performance system builder and retailer, Maingear's mission statement on style, performance and quality claims that they strive to not just provide customers with a computer but rather with a "way of life".  That's certainly fitting because the target demographic for the type of machines Maingear builds, probably sees high performance computing as a way of life as well.  In short, Maingear has a tall order to fill catering to the computing enthusiast, but you all knew that we suspect.  That's why you're here at HotHardware right now.  The Maingear Ephex high performance gaming system we'll be looking at in the following pages is just the type of high-end product we like to sink our teeth into around here.

In the pages ahead, we'll go through the design, build quality and performance of Maingear's Ephex high performance gaming system configured with 3-Way SLI technology from NVIDIA.  We were introduced to Maingear in the process of NVIDIA's 3-Way SLI launch, when NVIDIA had the company ship us a system to test and evaluate 3-Way SLI technology in general.  Obviously, NVIDIA felt Maingear's Ephex system build was high quality enough to send out to the press on behalf of their new 3-Way SLI technology.  So the question is, beyond 3-Way SLI, does Maingear's Ephex live up to customer expectations of a super high-end gaming system as whole?  That's why we're here, so let's journey on.



Maingear Ephex Performance Gaming System With 3-Way SLI
Specifications and Features

 

Processor

  • Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6850 Factory Overclocked to 3.8GHz

GPUs

  • 3 X 768MB NVIDIA GeForce 8800 Ultra - SLI Enabled

Memory

  • 2GB Corsair Dual Channel DDR2-8500
    • Two 1GB modules

Motherboard

  • EVGA 122-CK-NF68 
    • NVIDIA nForce 680i SLI

SLI

  • Supports NVIDIA 3-WAY and Standard SLI graphics cards

Audio

  • Integrated On-Board 8-Channel High Def Audio 

CPU and GPU Liquid Cooling

  • Asetek Custom Self-Contained Cooling System
  • (GPU Cooling Optional)

Installed Drives:

  • 1 x Seagate ST3750640AS 750GB
  • 2 x Western Digital WD1600ADFS Raptor
  • 1 x 20X DVD +/-RW Drive w/ Lightscribe 
  • (Blu-Ray Drive Optional)

Back Panel I/O Ports

  • 1 x PS/2 Keyboard port(purple)
  • 1 x PS/2 Mouse port(green)
  • 1 x Optical + 1 x Coaxial S/PDIF Output
  • 2 x LAN (RJ45) port
  • 6 x USB 2.0/1.1 ports
  • 1 x IEEE1394a port

 

Internal I/O Connectors And Front Panel I/O

  • 2 x USB 2.0 connectors
  • 1 x Floppy disk drive connector
  • 1 x IDE connector for two devices
  • 6 x SATA connectors
  • 8 x Fan connector: 1 x CPU / 1 x SPS / 3 x Chassis / 3 x Optional
  • 3 x thermal sensor connector
  • 1 x IEEE1394a connector
  • 1 x S/PDIF output connector
  • 1 x Chassis Intrusion connector
  • 24-pin ATX Power connector
  • 8-pin ATX 12V Power connector
  • 1 x EL I/O Shield connector
  • System panel connector

Price

  • $2,500 - $7160 ($6,676.77 as tested)

 



The Maingear Ephex system we received was configured with an NVIDIA 680i chipset-based motherboard from EVGA as well as an Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6850 quad-core processor that is based on the original 65nm Kentsfield architecture.  Since we received the system in December, NVIDIA has come out with the new nForce 780i chipset which supports Intel's new 1,333MHz FSB for the 45nm Core 2 Extreme QX9650 quad-core processor as well.  Maingear will actually ship systems based on this newer configuration moving forward.  As you'll note in the system specs above, the QX6850 CPU is water-cooled and overclocked from the factory at 3.8GHz.  In addition, a 4GHz model is available now as well, based on the nForce 780i and Core 2 Extreme QX9650 configuration, should you feel the need for even more speed beyond what is obviously already a dragster configuration.

Maingear includes a 3 Year Premium Protection plan as the only warranty option available with their Ephex line of high-end systems.  Within this warranty plan, Maingear claims they'll "take care of you like a new born and make sure that every last one of your needs is taken care of with remarkable grace".  Now those are bold claims.  Maingear has toll free technical support hours from 9AM to 7PM EST Monday through Saturday which obviously isn't as extensive as some of the bigger names in the business that offer 24/7 coverage, but then again, when you do call, you'll at least get someone on the line from good ol' Union new Jersey that can speak your language and understands the product intimately, instead of some outsourced meat-sack in a far away land reading from a call script.

Our particular test unit came with a flat black brushed aluminum finish, though custom paint jobs like the gorgeous blue flame artwork seen above are also available.  Let's get a closer look at the outside skins of this beast, next...

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Maingear Ephex: Exterior Design and Quality

 

The Ephex system we received came equipped with a flat black Silverstone TJ10 full tower case, which unfortunately was a bit prone to fingerprints, but that didn't stop us from getting our mitts all over it for closer inspection.

   

A cold cathode light flanks the inside left corner of the Ephex's side panel window, illuminating the interior with a cool blue hue.  If you're familiar with any of Silverstone's chassis lineup, you'll know this case is built like a tank with a thick gauge aluminum front bezel and large side induction vents that mate up to the intake ports of a custom engineered fan shroud, where a 120mm fan pulls cool air into the motherboard area of the case.  The backside of the chassis is also equipped with a pair of cooling tube ports for an external watercooling solution, though, as you'll see shortly, Maingear decided to go with a self contained approach from Asetek.  All told, the fit and finish of the Maingear Ephex is a clean and high quality design, thanks mostly to the selection of the Silverstone TJ10 for the system's chassis requirement.
 

 

Maingear included an LG Blu Ray DVD drive with our build as well as a 5-in-1 Flash Card reader in the single 2.5" bay, leaving three 5.25" bays available for expansion.  The top side of the case has two large 120mm exhaust fans for heat ventilation out the top of the system as well as for the integrated Asetek LCLC liquid cooling system radiator unit.

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Maingear Ephex: Interior Design and Quality


The interior of the Maingear Ephex turned out to be a case study in superior cable management and design layout.  As you'll note in the pictures below, this Ephex system is extremely clean and well organized internally.


   

Strapped in tight and ready for battle are three EVGA GeForce 8800 Ultra graphics cards, which consume every available slot in the chassis, except for the PCI Express X1 slot in the first position, where Maingear elected to install the system's cold cathode light switch that is available on the systems IO back-plate.  On a side note, we'd offer that the way the Silverstone TJ10 is designed it is a bit cumbersome if you're the type that likes to have quick access and availability of pulling or moving cards in the system.  The side panel inside trim plate you see in the top left shot actually obstructs the area over the card slots, preventing direct access to their retaining screws unless you poke a long screw driver through the slot's access hole directly above it.  As you can imagine, unless you have a long magnetic screw driver, things can get sort of awkward here.  Ultimately you can remove the trim plate all together to gain unrestricted access but that takes removal of even more hardware, which is less than optimal.

In addition, with three of NVIDIA's behemoth flagship graphics cards operating in 3-Way SLI, an overclocked Core 2 Extreme Quad-Core processor and three hard drives, Maingear needed to back-up this system with a serious power plant, namely Silverstone's own DA1200 PSU.  The DA1200 has a continuous power output capacity of 1200 Watts; that's not peak power output mind you but continuous.  NVIDIA's system specs for 3-Way SLI call for a PSU capable of 1100 Watts peak power, so the DA1200 is more than up to the task.  The Silverstone DA1200 also has dual 8-pin PCI Express and six 6-pin PCI Express power connectors at its disposal, and it offers 1080 Watts / 90Amps of power across its single +12V rail -- in short, and we don't say this sort of thing too often, that's some kick-ass power.

   

    

Another nice feature of the Silverstone TJ10 case is its removable drive cage that has a simple press fit design that easily clips in and out of position.  Again, a 120mm intake fan is positioned in front of the drives and actually pulls cool air into the general motherboard area but also circulates a lot of air over the drives themselves as well.  Finally, you can get a good look at the new Asetek LCLC self-contained liquid cooling system that Maingear employed in this particular Ephex build.  As an option to "Redline Your CPU", users can select this water cooling system on Maingear's site at time of configuration and purchase for a $300 premium, but that also comes with a warranty-backed 4GHz overclock for a QX9650 CPU or in our case 3.8GHz for the QX6850 that was installed in our test system.  Overall the Asetek LCLC works really well, keeping the QX6850 quad-core CPU at a comfortable 55°C or less under heavy load, even at its aggressive overclocked speed.


In addition, the LCLC and the entire system as a whole was relatively quiet, especially when you consider the amount of horsepower under its hood.  The loudest component in the system seemed to be the Silverstone PSU but even that was more than reasonable for the amount of power it can produce.  In short, if you're in the market for a system with specs like this, you'll expect the acoustics to scale a bit along with performance, but we have to say the Maingear Ephex does a decent job of keeping noise in check.

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Test Systems and SANDRA


How the test system was configured: We tested the Ephex 3-Way SLI system exactly as it came configured from Maingear.  The system was shipped with its Core 2 Extreme QX6850 CPU pre-overclocked to 3.8GHz and Windows Vista Ultimate (32-bit edition) installed.  NVIDIA's official Forceware 169.18 beta drivers came installed on the system along with the latest DX update.  The only modification made to the Ephex was the upgrade of NVIDIA's Foreware drives to the full release 169.25 version.

Test System
Intel Inside!

System 1:
Maingear Ephex 3-Way SLI 

Core 2 Extreme QX6850 Overclocked
(3.8GHz - Quad-Core)

EVGA 122-CK-NF68
(nForce 680i SLI Chipset)

2GB Corsair DDR2-8500
(1GB x 4)

3 x GeForce 8800 Ultra SLI

On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

1 x Seagate ST3750640AS
7200 RPM SATA

2 xWD1600 ADFS HD
10K RPM SATA

Windows Vista Ultimate 32-Bit
NVIDIA Forceware v169.25

System 2:
Reference Test System

Core 2 Extreme QX9650

(3.0GHz - Quad-Core)
Core 2 Duo E6850
(3.0GHz - Dual-Core)

Asus P5E3 Deluxe
(X38 Chipset)

2x1GB Corsair DDR3-1800
CL 7-7-7-20 - DDR3-1066, 1333, 1600

GeForce 8800 GTX x2, GeForce GT x2, GeForce 8800 GTS x2, Radeon HD 3870 x2, Radeon HD 2900 XT x2

On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD740 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Ultimate 32-Bit
NVIDIA Forceware v169.25

System 3:
AMD Phenom 9700
(2.4GHz)
AMD Phenom 9600
(3.0GHz) 

MA790FX-DQ6
(AMD 790FX Chipset)

2x1GB Corsair PC2-8500
CL 5-5-5-15 - DDR2-1066

GeForce 8800 GTX

On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

WD740 "Raptor" HD
10,000 RPM SATA

Windows Vista Ultimate
NVIDIA Forceware v169.25

 
Preliminary Testing with SiSoft SANDRA XI
Synthetic Benchmarks

We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA XII, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran three of the built-in subsystem tests that partially comprise the SANDRA XI suite with the Maingear Ephex ( CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, and Memory Bandwidth) .  All of the scores reported below were taken with the system running as configured by Maingear with a CPU clock speed of 3.8GHz.

  

 
CPU Performance

 
Memory Performance

 
Multimedia Performance

In these synthetic, low-level system benchmarks, the Maingear Ephex obviously outpaced the stock systems used in SANDRA's reference library, thanks to its significant CPU clock speed advantage.  In all of the tests, the Maingear Ephex was roughly 10% to 15% faster than the reference systems, with the exception of the memory test, where the Ephex's modestly configured 1066MHz DDR2 memory and 1266MHz FSB (317MHzX4) couldn't keep up with some of the newer DDR3 Intel based and AMD Phenom based systems.

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PCMark Vantage


For our next round of benchmarks, we ran all of the modules built into Futuremark's PCMark Vantage test suite.  Vantage is a new benchmarking tool that we've incorporated into our arsenal of tests here at HotHardware.  Here's how Futuremark positions their benchmarking suite:

 Futuremark PCMark Vantage
 Synthetic Benchmarks


"The PCMark Suite is a collection of various single- and multi-threaded CPU, Graphics and HDD test sets with the focus on Windows Vista application tests. Tests have been selected to represent a subset of the individual Windows Vista Consumer scenarios. The PCMark Suite includes CPU, Graphics, Hard Disk Drive (HDD) and a subset of Consumer Suite tests."

The overall PCMark Vantage score is a weighted average of all of the modules in the PCMark Vantage suite calculated in total "PCMarks".  Here are the results from our tests with the Maingear Ephex.

 


In all of our tests, we've included a couple of reference points to compare performance of the Maingear Ephex versus some of our standard platform test systems in house from Intel and AMD.  The top Intel quad-core processor that we tested was the 45nm Core 2 Extreme QX9650 at its default clock speed of 3GHz.  We also included an E6850 dual core at the same 3GHz clock speed for good measure and finally complete the picture with two of AMD's fastester Phenom quad-core processors at 2.4 and 2.3GHz.

In the overall PCMark Vantage performance test, we see the Maingear Ephex and its 3.8GHz overclocked Core 2 Extreme QX6850, outpace the QX9650-based system by over 15%.  However, there are a number of performance metrics that go into this final weighted score, so we'll dig into the individual PCMark Vantage tests, next.


The PCMark Vantage "Memories" suite includes the following tests:

Memories 1 - Two simultaneous threads, CPU image manipulation and HDD picture import
Memories 2 - Two simultaneous threads, GPU image manipulation and HDD video editing
Memories 3 - Video Transcoding: DV to portable device
Memories 4 - Video Transcoding: media server archive to portable device





In this test, overall system bandwidth with faster DDR3 system memory allowed the QX9650 system to stay within a 2% striking distance of the Maingear Ephex, though the Ephex has an 800MHz CPU clock speed advantage.

 



Vantage TV and Movies suite includes the following tests:

TV and Movies 1 - Two simultaneous threads, Video transcoding: HD DVD to media server archive, Video playback: HD DVD w/ additional lower bitrate HD content from HDD, as downloaded from the net
TV and Movies 2 - Two simultaneous threads, Video transcoding: HD DVD to media server archive, Video playback, HD MPEG-2: 19.39 Mbps terrestrial HDTV playback
TV and Movies 3 - HDD Media Center
TV and Movies 4 - Video transcoding: media server archive to portable device, Video playback, HD MPEG-2: 48 Mbps Blu-ray playback




Vantage's TV and Movie test offers similar results, though the Maingear Ephex held a 4% edge over the QX9650 reference test system.


Courtesy, Futuremark:  "Gaming is one of the most popular forms of entertainment for all ages. Today’s games demand high performance graphics cards and CPUs to avoid delays and sluggish performance while playing. Loading screens in games are yesterday’s news. Streaming data from an HDD in games – such as Alan Wake™ – allows for massive worlds and riveting non-stop action. CPUs with many cores give a performance advantage to gamers in real-time strategy and massively multiplayer games. Gaming Suite includes the following tests: "

Gaming 1 - GPU game test
Gaming 2 - HDD: game HDD
Gaming 3 - Two simultaneous threads, CPU game test, Data decompression: level loading
Gaming 4 - Three simultaneous threads, GPU game test, CPU game test, HDD: game HDD




PCMark Vantage's 'Gaming' test, which borrows some of its assets from 3DMark06's game tests, shows the Maingear Ephex slightly behind the QX9650 reference system.  The power of 3-Way SLI are not fully exploited in this test, and Vantage didn't place as much weight on the GPU-bound portions of its test versus its CPU and memory bandwidth focused metrics.

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PCMark Vantage Continued


We continue our test coverage with a few more modules from the comprehensive PCMark Vantage suite of benchmarks.  

 Futuremark PCMark Vantage
 Synthetic Benchmarks

Vantage Music suite includes the following tests:

Music 1 - Three simultaneous threads, Web page rendering – w/ music shop content, Audio transcoding: WAV -> WMA lossless, HDD: Adding music to Windows Media Player
Music 2 - Audio transcoding: WAV -> WMA lossless
Music 3 - Audio transcoding: MP3 -> WMA
Music 4 - Two simultaneous threads, Audio transcoding: WMA -> WMA, HDD: Adding music to Windows Media Player


Here the Maingear Ephex pulls way out in front of all competitors, with a sizable 14% advantage over even the Core 2 Extreme QX9650.  This test is heavily affected by raw clock speed, though parts of are in fact multithreaded as well.
 


Vantage Communications suite includes the following tests:

Communications 1 - Three simultaneous threads, Data encryption: CNG AES CBC, Data compression, Web page rendering: graphics content, 1024x768, windowed
Communications 2 - Three simultaneous threads. Web page rendering: open various news pages from IE 7 Favorites in separate tabs, close them one by one, Data decryption: CNG AES CBC, HDD: Windows Defender
Communications 3 - Windows Mail: Search
Communications 4  - Two simultaneous threads, Data encryption: CNG AES CBC, Audio transcoding: WMA -> WMA - to simulate VOIP


The results from Vantage's Communications test mirror those of the music test above, and for the mostly the same reasons, though this time our Ephex system posted a 22% lead over the fastest reference system we tested.



Vantage Productivity suite includes the following tests:

Productivity 1 - Two simultaneous threads, Text editing, HDD: application loading
Productivity 2 - Two simultaneous threads, Windows Contacts: search, HDD: Windows Defender
Productivity 3 - HDD: Windows Vista start-up
Productivity 4 - Three simultaneous threads, Windows Contacts: search, Windows Mail: Run Message Rules, Web page rendering: simultaneously open various pages from IE7 Favorites in separate tabs, close them one by one



In the Vantage Productivity test, the Ephex's overall high-end configuration, including not only its overclocked 3.8GHz processor but its pair of WD Raptor drives in RAID 0, allow it to chalk up a commanding 26% performance lead over our fastest reference system.
 


The Vantage HDD suite includes the following tests:

HDD 1 - HDD: Windows Defender
HDD 2 - HDD: game HDD
HDD 3 - HDD: importing pictures
HDD 4 - HDD: Windows Vista start-up
HDD 5 - HDD: video editing
HDD 6 - HDD: Media Center
HDD 7 - HDD: Adding music to Windows Media Player



In the HDD test obviously the Maingear Ephex has an unfair advantage with its WD Raptor RAID 0 configuration, though of course these reference numbers are here just to give you a sense of relative performance versus more mainstream system configurations.

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Lame MT MP3 Encode and POV-Ray Raytracing


 

In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content.  LAME is an open-source mid to high bit-rate and VBR (variable bit rate) MP3 audio encoder that is used widely around the world in a multitude of third party applications.
 

 LAME MT MP3 Encoding Test

 Converting a Large WAV To MP3


In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file (a hallucinogenically-induced Grateful Dead jam) and converted it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below, listed in seconds. Once again, shorter times equate to better performance.

 

The AMD Phenoms in this test are sadly outclassed by even the Core 2 Duo E6850 dual core system in both the single and multithreaded tests.  Beyond that the rest of the numbers speak for themselves really.  The Maingear Ephex was 23% faster overall versus the fastest reference system we put against it.

POV Ray Rendering Test

Ray-Tracing Performance

POV-Ray, or the Persistence of Vision Ray-Tracer, is a top-notch open source tool for creating realistically lit 3D graphics artwork. We tested with POV-Ray's standard included benchmarking model on all of our test machines and recorded the scores reported for each.   We shoudl also note that we used the latest 64-bit beta build of the program.  Results are measured in pixels-per-second throughput.
 

  

More of the same is seen in our POV-Ray scoring, with a 20% advantage awarded to the Maingear Ephex, though both Intel quad-core setups blew all other configurations clean out of the water.

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Cinebench R10 and Kribibench



Cinebench R10 is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D. Cinema 4D from Maxon is a 3D rendering and animation tool suite used by 3D animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others.
  It's very demanding of system processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure computational throughput.


 Cinebench R10 Performance Tests
 3D Modeling & Rendering Tests


This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a single 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The time it took each test system to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below, listed in seconds.


 

The beat goes on, chalk up another decisive victory for the Maingear Ephex and its 3.8GHz factory overclocked CPU.  The Maingear system nearly doubles the performance of our Phenom 9700 test systems.

 Kribibench
 CPU/Software 3D Rendering Performance

For this next batch of tests, we ran Kribibench v1.1, a 3D rendering benchmark produced by the folks at Adept Development.  Kribibench is an SSE aware software renderer where a 3D model is rendered and animated by the host CPU and the average frame rate is reported.

We used two of the included models with this benchmark: a "Sponge Explode" model consisting of over 19.2 million polygons and the test suite's "Ultra" model that is comprised of over 16 billion polys.




Our Ultra model test shows a 15% gain with the Ephex numbers versus the QX9650 reference system but only a modest 4.5% gain in the Sponge Exploded model run; perhaps a nod toward memory bandwidth and system bus speed advantage for the QX9650 setup.

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Crysis and 3DMark06 CPU and System Testing


When testing full systems with Crysis, we drop the resolution to 800x600, and reduce all of the in-game graphical options to their minimum values to isolate CPU and memory performance as much as possible.  However, the in-game effects, which control the level of detail for the games' physics engines and particle systems, are left at their maximum values, since these actually do place some load on the CPU rather than GPU. 

Benchmarks with Crysis SP Demo and 3DMark06 CPU Test 
DirectX 9 and 10 Gaming Performance



 

3DMark06's built-in CPU test is a multi-threaded DirectX gaming metric that's useful for comparing relative performance between similarly equipped systems.  This test consists of two different 3D scenes that are processed with a software renderer that is dependent on the host CPU's performance.  Calculations that are normally reserved for your 3D accelerator are instead sent to the CPU for processing and rendering.  The frame-rate generated in each test is used to determine the final score.




Things scaled exactly as we expected in both of these CPU-bound gaming tests, with the Maingear Ephex still taking top honors by roughly a 9% margin versus the fastest stock quad-core setup we tested.  Next, we'll look at real-world gaming performance with the Maingear Ephex and what 3-Way SLI brings you over standard SLI or even a single GPU setup.

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ET Quake Wars High End Gaming Performance


In our next series of gaming tests, we're intentionally not looking at the traditional comparison benchmarks versus our other reference test systems.  Rather, we're want to offer you a view of what this system can do with a single, dual-SLI and 3-Way SLI NVIDIA graphics setup under the hood.  As such, the remainder of our gaming tests are not CPU bound test conditions, but instead are high image quality GPU bound benchmark runs in some of the most leading-edge game engines of today.

 

Performance Comparisons with ET: Quake Wars

Details: www.enemyterritory.com



Enemy Territory: 
Quake Wars
 

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is Based on id's radically enhanced Doom 3 engine and viewed by many as Battlefield 2 meets the Strogg, and then some.  In fact, we'd venture to say that id took EA's team-based warfare genre up a notch or two.  ET: Quake Wars also marks the introduction of John Carmack's "Megatexture" technology that employs extremely large environment and terrain textures that cover vast areas of maps without the need to repeat and tile many small textures.  The beauty of megatexture technology is that each unit only takes up a maximum of 8MB of frame buffer memory.  Add to that HDR-like bloom lighting and leading edge shadowing effects and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars looks great, plays well and works high end graphics cards vigorously.  The game was tested with all of its in-game options set to their maximum values with soft particles enabled in addition to 4X anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.



 




With the Maingear Ephex, it's a fairly straight forward calculation, seeing where SLI and 3-Way SLI scale in performance, especially with a 3.8GHz quad-core CPU driving the graphics pipline.  What's obvious here is that you don't need 3-Way SLI actually to drive excellent frame rates at super high def 2560X1600 resolutions, even with 4X or 8X AA turned on.  In fact, a single card runs this game just fine at 2560X1600 with 4X AA enabled but we know some of you might jones at the site of these 3-Way SLI scores where even 8X AA settings hold up to well over 60 fps.  Simply put, outstanding.

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Company of Heros High End Gaming Performance

 

In the next few test runs, we decided to include some reference numbers from various competitive GPUs, to give you a sense of how the Maingear Ephex system performed, whether it was configured with 3-Way SLI, standard SLI or single GPU configurations.

Performance Comparisons with Company of Heroes

Details: www.companyofheroesgame.com



Company of Heroes

Relic Entertainment's World War II era real-time strategy game Company of Heroes was originally released as a DirectX 9 title for Windows.  But recent upates to the game have incorporated support for new DirectX 10 features that improve image quality and enhance the game's finer graphical details.  The game features a built-in performance test which which we used to attain the results below. Our Company of Heroes tests were run at resolutions of 1,280 x 1,024, 1,600 x 1,200 and 1920 x 1200 with 4X anti-aliasing and all of the game's image-quality related options set to their maximum values.

 


 
Maingear Ephex performance noted in GeForce 8800 Ultra configurations


Here we see fairly significant gains for the Ephex, with its 3-Way SLI setup, but at more modest resolutions the breakout isn't as dramatic.  Let's look at things at a 2560X1600 HD gaming resolution and also compare things from a single card on up to 3-Way performance.


 

In this test, we've given you benchmarks only from the Maingear Ephex system but with 1 to 3 GeForce 8800 Ultra cards installed to show you how things scale from a GPU standpoint.  At these insanely high resolutions that are only available on 30" LCDs, 3-Way SLI really begins to show its value proposition.  3-Way SLI is about 40% faster than standard SLI and 150+% faster than a single card in this test and the Maingear Ephex has the horsepower to back up three GeForce 8800 Ultras slicing at the graphics workload in unison.

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Crysis High End Gaming Performance

 


We also spent some time testing the graphically intense game Crysis on the Maingear Ephex system, at a variety of resolutions and with varying levels of anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering enabled.

Performance Comparisons with Crysis

Details: www.ea.com/crysis



Crysis

If you're at all into enthusiast computing, the highly anticipated single player demo of the hot, new, upcoming FPS smash-hit Crysis, should require no introduction. Crytek's game engine visuals are easily the most impressive real-time 3D renderings we've seen on the computer screen to date.  The engine employs some of the latest techniques in 3D rendering like Parallax Occlusion Mapping, Subsurface Scattering, Motion Blur and Depth-of-Field effects, as well as some of the most impressive use of Shader technology we've seen yet.  In short, for those of you that want to skip the technical jib-jab, Crysis is HOT.  We ran the SP demo with all of the game's visual options set to 'High' to put a significant load on the graphics cards being tested.


 

At more mainstream wide-screen resolutions of 1680x1050 and 1920x1200, we see the Maingear Ephex put up some respectable scores in Crysis.  Please take note, that in the graphs above, the lower resolution was tested with the game set to its highest image quality settings, which is why performance at 1680 is below that of 1920.

 

 

With Crysis' image quality settings set at an even more demanding 1680x1050 with 4X anti-aliasing, we also checked performance scaling from using one, two, or three GeForce cards.  As you can see,  performance is significantly increased with the SLI configurations, with the 3-Way SLI setup clearly on top.

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Power Consumption and Acoustics


We have one final data point we'd like to cover before bringing this article to a close. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power each of the system configurations we tested used while idling and running under load.
  

Power Characteristics
Processors and Platforms

 
Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption here at the outlet, not just the power being drawn by the processors alone.  In this test, we're showing you a ramp-up of power from idle on the desktop to full CPU load.  We tested with a combination of Cinebench R10 and SANDRA XII running on the CPU.
 

 
Maingear Ephex performance noted in GeForce 8800 Ultra configurations


The graph above puts things into a perfectly clear perspective in case there was any doubt in your mind.  A 3-Way SLI setup with three NVIDIA GeForce 8800 Ultra graphics cards installed uses an enormous amount of power.  Granted, the Maingear Ephex system is fairly well-equipped with three standard SATA hard drives as well, but even at their peak draw, three hard drives consume around 30 - 35 watts on average.  The rest is all power consumption for system memory, motherboard, main processor cores and graphics processors.  Peak power draw for a GeForce 8800 Ultra is somewhere in the neighborhood of 175 Watts; that's 525 Watts for the graphics subsystem alone.  What's interesting is how power consumption scales from our standard 8800 Ultra SLI two-card setup to 3-way.  If you look at peak power for the standard SLI setup (578W) and then add another 175W for one more GeForce 8800 Ultra card, you come up with about 750 Watts.  However, the 3-Way SLI power consumption reading we took was about 50 Watts higher than that, indicating that power consumption requirements for the system (chipset, main CPU and RAM) was also a bit higher as well in the 3-Way setup.

Acoustics are another aspect but we won't dwell too much on the subject here.  If you're considering this type of setup, you're not nearly as concerned about quiet computing.  It's no surprise that this high-end Maingear system was generally louder than most systems we have in the lab or on the test bench currently.  In fact, the power supply alone contributed to much of the noise output of the system, in addition to multiple 120mm case fans that are setup within its chassis.

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Wrap-up and High Level Evaluation



Performance Summary:
In terms of general workstation or business application performance, when we looked at processing power or memory bandwidth, the Maingear Ephex was the most powerful machine in our test group, many times by sizable margins.  Literally across the board, the Ephex, with its overclocked 3.8GHz Core 2 Extreme QX6850 processor, blew past any standard clocked reference system we put it up against.  Though we didn't offer 3.2GHz Core 2 Extreme QX9770 numbers in our comparisons, we'd offer that you compare notes to our QX9770 launch article if you'd like as well and you'll see the Ephex's performance is impressive there too.

From a gaming performance standpoint, you simply can't currently buy a faster machine than one that is configured with NVIDIA's 3-Way SLI technology, like the Maingear Ephex.  There is but one caveat to this and that is you simply must be running at resolutions or 1920X1200 and up to really see the tangible benefits of 3-Way SLI.  Anything short of that and you're just wasting power and GPU cycles.  In reality, a standard dual-GPU SLI configuration may be more practical overall.
 

We've spent a solid month testing and working with the Maingear Ephex high performance gaming system.  Though our system came factory overclocked at a robust 3.8GHz processor speed, along with not one but three GeForce 8800 Ultras in its slots, the system performed flawlessly, never once showing any sign of instability.  This in and of itself is a sizable achievement, given its power consumption and the thermal challenges that come with the territory in an elite high-end configuration like this.  There's really no secret to Maingear's achievement here though, as solid component selection, meticulous build quality and cable management usually equates to a high quality system when all is said and done.  The Ephex was an excellent example of what a smaller high quality system builder can put together with proper attention to detail.  If Maingear stays on this path, they may not remain that small for long.

The final question we have to ask ourselves is with respect to value.  Without question, the Maingear Ephex 3-Way SLI gaming system is a very expensive system, that obviously equates to the sum of its parts.  When you're starting with over $2000 in graphics cards and processors alone, it's obvious that you're looking at a system that will need a bit of executive clearance with your significant other.  Quite frankly, we'd suggest serious gamers look at the Ephex with a standard SLI or single GPU configuration, since 3-Way is squarely targeted to those where money is simply no object.  Regardless of how you slice it though, Maingear certainly knows how to build 'em right. Hats off Maingear - the Ephex has landed and she's sitting pretty.


 

  • Blazing 3.8GHz Factory OC
  • Great component selection
  • 3 year warranty
  • Immaculate cable management
  • New models with QX9650 and 780i
  • A little noisy but not for a gaming rig
  • Chassis graphics card access is limited
  • Expensive!



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