|Intro, Specs, and Features|
|So you’re in the market for a smoking fast system, and you have your heart set on a custom build. You can easily drop upwards of three (or four or five) grand on a completely tricked-out enthusiast-class rig that will leave your gamer friends standing in puddles of drool. If you’re on a stricter budget, you can also opt for something in the mainstream range that’s still pretty nice, yet costs closer to $1000-$1500; or, you can look for a sweet spot between the two, where shaking a little more out of the piggy bank gets you a system with all the performance you could ask for in a package that’s still guaranteed to elicit wolf whistles from your friends.
iBUYPOWER has a system for you it thinks hit the sweet spot for a high-end gaming PC, and it’s called the Erebus GT.
With the Erebus GT, iBUYPOWER set out to make a slightly smaller and less expensive line of systems to complement its Erebus custom gaming series, which is now renamed the Erebus XL series. There are actually three Erebus GTs in the new line, with configurations based on the AMD FX platform starting as low as $899, but the one iBUYPOWER sent us to test is an Intel Sandy Bridge-based version that costs $2499 (as configured).
Yes, that’s a lot of moola, but as you’ll see, you get a lot of bang for those bucks.
Monitor not included; not pictured: keyboard and mouse
Instead of going with a multi-card graphics setup, which would have inflated the price of the system and added clutter to the interior of the case, iBUYPOWER kept it simple and went with a lone top-of-the-line Radeon HD 7970, liquid-cooled for your pleasure.
The drive configuration is a good example of where a little extra cost pays off, as iBUYPOWER opted for a 120GB ADATA S510 SSD boot drive paired with a spacious 1TB Hitachi HDD that offers solid 7200RPM performance on its own. They cut no corners with the memory either, equipping the Erebus GT with 16GB (4x4GB) of Corsair DDR3-1600 RAM.
Other components include an LG Super Multi Blue Lightscribe BD-ROM/DVD Rewriter (12x), front panel card reader, integrated 7.1 surround sound, and an 850W Thermaltake TR2 RX power supply.
Lest you start thinking that this is a rig you can just build yourself for less, let’s have a look at the custom case and liquid cooling setup.
|Water Cooling and Case|
|The centerpiece of the Erebus GT is the Koolance custom water cooling system, which keeps both the CPU and GPU chilled out. iBUYPOWER offers a few different options for water cooling configuration, but ours consists of a mammoth triple radiator (3 x 140mm) that spans the entire top of the case with a 140mm radiator on the back panel; electric-blue coolant; and tubing wrapped in anti-kink coils.
The refill port is easily accessible on the top of the case, and all the fittings throughout the system feel rock-solid. The interior of the case feels spacious even with a large CPU cooler inside, so the extra cubic inches afforded by the low-profile water cooler make dissipating heat that much easier; it also enables the pump to remain tucked away near the bottom of the case, completely out of the way.
The steel, matte-black case itself is a fine specimen; it shares quite a bit of DNA with the terrific NZXT Switch 810, and indeed, iBUYPOWER and NZXT collaborated on the chassis design for the Erebus GT. Some of the elements are shared with the Switch 810, such as the rear LED lighting and switches, while others are unique to this chassis, including the custom top.
Like the Switch 810, the Erebus GT’s front I/O panel features a pair each of USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports, as well as a card reader, headphone and mic jacks, reset button, and an on/off switch that controls the LEDs. (The power button is mounted just to the side of the panel.)
In keeping with the stock white LEDs, the Erebus GT has a string of white lights rimming the interior edge of the chassis that frames the components quite nicely. Way down on the lowest expansion slot is a small controller with an on/off switch and a brightness selector for those interior lights.
The custom case and water cooling setup are sharp-looking and complement one another well. The overall effect is tasteful, with plenty of zing without being gaudy.
One downside to the solid steel case and all the aforementioned trimmings is that the Erebus GT weighs a lot--65 pounds. Even though the weight is worth it for what you get as a result, do yourself a favor and don’t move this thing very often.
|Packaging, Accessories, and First Boot|
|Although it’s something you may not think of as a big deal, how these boutique builders ship their systems is rather important. There are lots of expensive parts inside these cases that can be broken or jostled loose during transit--an issue commanding greater attention with a liquid cooling system inside. Further, especially with systems sporting expensive custom paint jobs, the exterior of the case must be protected as well. Thus, good packaging is a factor worth considering.
iBUYPOWER didn’t go overboard with the packing, but it did enough to deliver us an unscathed system, save for one of the white LED cables whose sticky-back tabs couldn’t hold it in place. Our rig was tightly nestled into form-fitting styrofoam inside an iBUYPOWER cardboard box, which was itself inside another (ginormous) cardboard box. Finally, they used Sealed Air Instapack foam packaging to securely cradle the components inside the case itself and included some basic instructions for removing it properly.
Although you can opt for a bunch of freebies such as game samples and t-shirts (depending on your chosen platform and components) as well as scads of accessory options, iBUYPOWER kept it simple with our shipment.
The following came in the box with our Erebus GT:
Motherboard and ODD manuals, documentation, and drivers/utilities discs
Windows 7 Reinstallation DVD
Graphics card driver disc and installation guide
HDMI to DVI adapter
Mini-DisplayPort to DVI adapter
VGA to DVI adapter
Molex to power SATA adapter
Dual CrossFireX and SLI bridges
PSU modular cables
It’s not a particularly impressive cache of extras, but it’ll do. The keyboard is slim, yet manages to fit in a full numpad and almost two dozen dedicated keys that provide navigational functions, media controls, and more. The five-button optical mouse is adequate if not especially notable; it has a rubberized thumb grip and the buttons have a nice, fluid action, although users with larger hands may find it a bit small. The various display adapters are a welcome inclusion, as the Erebus GT doesn’t come with a monitor.
When we first fired up the Erebus GT, we were greeted with a nice, clean Windows desktop with zero clutter--just the Recycle Bin--which is refreshing to see. We know that bloatware helps defray the cost of a lot of systems, but it can be a headache to deal with and frankly makes the manufacturer or builder seem cheap. Cheers to iBUYPOWER for eschewing all pre-installed third-party fluff; we aren’t paying $2499 to have to uninstall Norton the first time we boot the system.
Before we get into our benchmark tests, we have to note one problem we had with the system. Although the Erebus GT is supposed to ship overclocked, our system was not, which we discovered the first time we looked around the BIOS. Judging from the error message that greeted us in the BIOS, at some point there was a boot failure “because of overclocking or changes of voltages” which wiped out the overclock settings.
All it took was an email to iBUYPOWER to get the list of settings they used and a few minutes in the BIOS to achieve the desired overclock. Aside from that, our Erebus GT had no other issues of any kind.
|First up on the benchmark train is a load of Futuremark tests, which will give us a nice picture of our system’s performance. Note that all of the below systems are based on Sandy Bridge and have a single graphics card, but we’ll see how significant the Erebus GT’s better specs impact the scores.
The Erebus GT has its way with the other systems in PCMark Vantage, more than doubling even the second-closest score. Here we see how much of the system’s performance is impacted by the Erebus GT’s wickedly overclocked CPU and speedy storage drives (the SSD and 7200RPM HDD). The graphics card barely got a workout.
Although the Erebus GT once again mops the floor with the competition, the delta between it and the field is much smaller. iBUYPOWER wants to let the 7970 graphics card shine, so let’s see how it does in more graphically-focused Futuremark test.
Well, if there was any doubt, we can put it to rest. The Erebus GT is a graphics monster compared to the competition; it looks like that 7970 is doing what iBUYPOWER hoped it would.
Same song, second verse: The Erebus GT beats out the field again, interestingly by roughly the same percentage.
|SiSoft SANDRA and Cinebench|
|We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2009, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks).
All of these systems have Sandy Bridge processors inside, and with the exception of the iBUYPOWER’s Gamer Power system which has a Core i5-2500K chip (although it is unlocked, leaving it open for easy overclocking), the CPUs are comparable. Here’s where we begin to see the effect of that 4.6GHz overclock on the Erebus GT, though; the system’s Core i7-2700K is not just unlocked, but unfettered.
The Erebus GT’s Physical Disks score is so high that it kind of wrecks our graph. That’s the effect of the SSD compared to the much slower HDDs in the other systems. For what it’s worth, we ran the Physical Disks test on the Erebus GT’s HDD (1TB 7200RPM, SATA 6Gbps), and it still scored head and shoulders above the field at 156.46.
The memory score was somewhat surprising, as the Erebus GT has 16GB of DDR3-1600 RAM compared to no more than 10GB of RAM (yeah, 10GB, isn’t that weird?) in the other systems. Despite leading the pack once again in this test, the Erebus GT’s extra memory didn’t deliver much of an edge.
Our system topped the field again, but not by much this time. Considering how overclocked the Erebus GT is, this is a little surprising.
These system and component tests are all well and good, but let’s see how our system did in real-world gaming tests.
|Far Cry 2 and Lost Planet 2|
|FarCry 2 is an aging game title but it's DX10 powered engine still renders gorgeous visuals. Here we cranked up AA to 8X levels just to clean up pixels a bit more and put a strain on our test systems.
Although all of the systems shown here handled FC2 at various resolutions without any trouble, the Erebus GT made a mockery of this benchmark.
The scores for LP2 are far more interesting than those of FC2 above. At higher resolutions, only the Erebus GT can handle the benchmark without breaking a sweat; even at 1024x768, only the HP and iBUYPOWER Gamer Power rigs can deliver acceptable framerates, leaving the Dell XPS 8300 out in the cold.
|Metro 2033 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.|
|Next up for in-game performance testing, we have Metro 2033 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R., both of which are absolute murder on graphics cards in terms of workload but also boast impressive cutting-edge visuals.
Once again, we see an important difference between the Erebus GT and our reference systems, which is that the former delivers more-than-playable framerates at all tested resolutions, while the rest struggle. Only the HP system really offers strong framerates at 1024x768; at the same resolution, the other two rigs are borderline.
The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. scores are less dramatic than the Metro 2033 scores, but the trend remains the same: the Erebus GT can handle any of our games at our tested resolutions without even breaking a sweat, while gamers using the other systems will have to accept lower resolutions to achieve desired framerates. That’s a luxury that plenty of folks would gladly pay for.
|Before bringing this article to a close, we'll take a look at power consumption of the Erebus GT versus the other systems we tested. We let each system boot and sit idle before measuring idle power and then loaded down each system with both an instance of Prime95 (to load down the CPU) and Furmark (to load the GPU) before taking our full load power consumption measurements. Our goal was to give you an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling on the desktop and while under a heavy workload. Keep in mind, this is total system power consumption being measured at the outlet.
Power consumption is sometimes the other side of the coin with a high-performing system, and we do see that at idle, those other systems are looking mighty fine. Compared to the Erebus GT’s 90W, the next-highest power draw was the other iBUYPOWER system at 71W. The HP and Dell systems, by contrast, pulled far less.
Under load, however, the delta shrinks considerably; in fact, the Erebus GT actually drank less juice in this state than the other iBUYPOWER system.
Fan noise is a small issue; the fans really never turn off, emitting a non stop breezy hum, but the plus side is that even when under a full load, the sound never increases. If you’re a stickler for noise, this may bug you somewhat, but you can’t complain much about a system that runs quietly while shredding FPSes the way this system does.
|Benchmarks, Part Deux|
|The Erebus GT creates sort of a problem for us humble reviewers--and that’s a good thing. You see, this system refuses to fit in with the other systems in our bank of reference data. As you’ve seen, when compared to other single-graphics card, Sandy Bridge-based reference systems, this rig can’t be touched.
Of course, all those extra goodies in the Erebus GT come with a significantly higher price tag, which somewhat clouds the picture. Is the Erebus GT worth twice (or more) than the cost of these other systems? Is it really that good?
We decided to have a quick look at some other systems that are more expensive than the Erebus GT to give some perspective. Note that all of these machines, like the Erebus GT, come with factory overclocks, liquid cooling, and SSD boot drives. However, unlike our featured rig, they all have dual-graphics card setups.
The systems we’re looking at in brief are:
Origin PC Genesis - $4,999
Digital Storm Enix - $3,355
Maingear SHIFT - $5,740
iBUYPOWER Erebus GT - $2,499
Let’s start with PCMark Vantage and 3DMark Vantage. In the former, the top three systems hung closely with each other, but the Erebus GT actually beat out the Maingear SHIFT. Our system didn’t fare quite as well in 3DMark Vantage, but it did top the Origin Genesis again (by a nose).
Here we have Far Cry 2 tested at a resolution of 1900x1200, and you can see that at the top end of the gaming benchmark, the other systems outpace the Erebus GT. However--who cares? This system can tear through FC2 at 1900x1200 with 96.09 FPS. You simply don’t need anything stronger than that.
Our point with these comparisons is simple: even when the Erebus GT is boxing outside its weight class, it can go toe to toe with the competition.
|Performance Summary and Conclusion|
|Performance Summary: The Erebus GT is an extremely powerful gaming system. It blasted through all of our standard benchmarks and, more importantly, rocked our gaming tests. iBUYPOWER clearly did a nice job of choosing components, as the SSD/HDD combo and Radeon 7970 graphics card showed their strength in the tests that pushed them.
Even when pitted against systems far beyond its price range, the Erebus GT for the most part held its own, and you really can’t ask any more than that from a system. Similar (or better) performance for, in some cases, half the cash or less? Yes, please.
The issue we had with the vanishing overclock settings was somewhat troubling. We understand that things just happen sometimes, and even a minor hiccup along the way can result in what we experienced, so we won’t be too hard on iBUYPOWER for it, even though it bears mentioning.
The iBUYPOWER Erebus GT
Aside from that, there just isn’t much to complain about here. The Erebus GT is a blazing fast system wrapped in a tastefully understated and high-quality chassis, and the components inside enjoy a beautiful water cooling setup. Every stitch of the system’s impressive performance is covered by your warranty, so you get to enjoy overclocked CPU performance without that nagging worry that you’ll damage anything and have to pay for it.
Although at $2,499 the Erebus GT costs more than many average mainstreamer users are going to be willing to spend, we can see in the benchmarks that some lower-cost custom builds can’t (or can barely) hack it when push comes to shove in games. What the Erebus GT offers is a clear cut above those budget systems, delivering more than enough FPS to handle any game at essentially any resolution. It’s also adept at any number of intensive computing applications, and it can more or less keep pace with tricked-out custom systems that come in at a much higher price point. As we mentioned at the beginning of this piece, that’s pretty much the definition of a sweet spot.
What iBUYPOWER is proving here is that it pays to be smart about where you incur costs in a system. They could have put a second graphics card in there, but a lot of that extra performance isn't perceived without running benchmarks and it would adds significant cost to the system; the same logic applies to a pricier SSD. A sexy paint job would have been cool too, but that’s a lot of dough for something that doesn’t add one iota of performance.
If you don’t want to break the bank on a killer custom system, you may want to pass on the Erebus GT (or just choose a lower-spec’d configuration that fits your budget), but if it’s the high-end, custom gaming rig experience you want, the Erebus GT is a good value.
To put it in colloquial terms: The cheese stands alone. Considering the excellent performance demonstrated by our system, build quality, and price, we’re glad to recommend the iBUYPOWER Erebus GT.