|Introduction and Specifications|
|Custom PC makers are getting increasingly creative, particularly with small form factor gaming systems. There was a time when the lion's share of the sexiest gaming rigs consisted of high-end components mounted in large, gaudy (but fun) chassis with lots of lights, killer paint jobs, and perhaps a wild mass of liquid cooling tubes and hardware.
Although those systems are still around, and we still love to play with them, the boutique builders are using their design and engineering skills to build smaller systems that still pack a mean punch on the performance side. We’re starting to see beautiful custom chassis with cool asymmetric angles and components packed in with the utmost care and creativity.
iBuypower’s Revolt is a perfect example of this trend. We first got an up-close look at this thing at CES this January, and now we’ve had the chance to pore over it in detail.
There’s a powerful Intel Core i7-3770K (unlocked, you’ll note) nestled into the Intel IBP-Z77E/S mini ITX mainboard, and iBuypower paired that with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670 graphics card. There’s 8GB of G.Skill DDR3-1600MHz memory inside, but it’s all on a single DIMM, which is a little odd; usually you’d expect that 8GB to be a 2x4GB kit to take advantage of the platform's dual-channel memory architecture.
iBuypower did not skimp on the storage side of things, and in fact it’s one of the strengths of the system. There’s a 1TB WD Caviar Blue hard drive, which is a solid offering at 7200RPM and with a SATA 6Gbps interface, but it’s paired with a 120GB Intel SSD 330 Series SSD. The optical drive is a slot loading DVD+/-RW that’s built right into the front panel.
There are six total USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, eSATA2, a front-mounted SD card reader, mic and headphone jacks, audio jacks (5), PS/2, and optical S/PDIF available on the Revolt. For connectivity, there’s a Gigabit LAN port as well as built-in WiFi and Bluetooth.
The PSU is a custom 500W unit (FSP 1U, Gold Certified), and the system enjoys an NZXT Kraken X40 (140mm radiator) liquid cooling system that’s far more understated than the name implies.
Predictably, the Revolt also runs Windows 8. Although the Revolt starts at just $639, our unit as configured costs $1,399.
|Overall Design and Layout|
|The Revolt is anything but revolting to look at; it’s asymmetrical in all the right places with smooth curves at the top and bottom, intricate grill designs for venting, and a sharp black-and-white color scheme. There are large black rubber feet underneath the chassis to ensure non-slip protection, and there are three rubber nubs on one of the side panels so you can lay the Revolt on its side, if that’s the orientation you’d rather use.
The front panel features “Revolt” lit up in white LEDs (along with the translucent white power button), and both side panels have pulsating lights emanating from the grill vents that alternate between red, green, and blue. (A small button on the front panel lets you toggle the lights between red pulse, green pulse, blue pulse, a pulsing of all three, or off.) There’s also a trio of small grill vents, a DVD slot, a pair of USB 3.0 ports, an SD card slot, and headphone and mic jacks.
One aspect of the color design we’re not in love with, though, is the addition of clear frosted plastic covering parts of both side panels. The extra pieces cover more than half of the side panels, and they produce a two-toned white on off-white look that doesn’t really jibe with the overall crisp and clean aesthetic of the system. Of course, one slight advantage you get with plastic over metal is that the material is already pigmented, so you don’t have to worry about paint chipping.
Further, for as pleasing as the Revolt may be to look at (odd frosted plastic panels notwithstanding), it’s a beast to work on because of the intricate build, engineering, and materials used (watch the video on page 1 to see what we mean).
Before we start kvetching, let the record show that iBuypower’s ability to pack so many components inside of such a tiny case is laudable. Not only did iBuypower pack in two storage drives (an SSD and an HDD), a big and powerful NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670 graphics card, and a sizable 500W PSU, there’s a liquid cooling system in there chilling the CPU as well. The whole cooling system is worked into the innards of the case so well that you’ll barely notice it’s there, but once you trace the slim black tubing from the CPU socket area on out, you’ll find the radiator neatly tucked away next to the motherboard.
However, the Revolt suffers from the same problems as, for example, a 1993 Subaru Impreza, which is that the engineering is great until you need to actually repair or replace something. Further, the Revolt has some issues with the quality of its chassis both in terms of quality and materials.
Although there’s an interior metal skeleton, it’s fairly flimsy, and the exterior is made entirely of plastic. There are two screws holding the one side panel on, and then you have to gently but firmly tug the panel down to free it. The front panel comes off without tools, but it's stubborn, and you're in jeopardy of breaking the plastic.
If you’re lucky and/or skilled enough to get the plastic side and front panels off without snapping the tiny plastic tabs that hold the various panels together, you’ll be greeted by an interior that is cramped and layered. Indeed, it’s almost as though you’re looking at the guts of a laptop instead of a desktop.
Look, SFF systems all have very little wiggle room, but the Revolt is particularly Rubik's cube-like in that regard. You can’t perform an action as simple as swapping out some DIMMs without taking most of the system apart, and although iBuypower considers upgradability as one of the Revolt’s selling points, this is most definitely not a computer that the novice should open up and mess with.
iBuypower didn’t bother with bloatware, which makes everyone happy, although most users will get a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office 2010 with their systems. There’s also a cool-looking desktop background that the system ships with to remind you who made this high-performing system for you.
And yes, it’s high-performing indeed, as you’ll see in our benchmark tests on the following pages.
|PCMark and 3DMark Tests|
|Usually, we’d fire up Futuremark's system performance benchmark, PCMark Vantage, but at press time, Futuremark has not yet released an update of the test for Windows 8. We still have PCMark 7 and 3Dmark 11 to test our system, though.
Futuremark's PCMark 7 is the latest version of the PCMark whole-system benchmarking suite. It has updated application performance measurements targeted for a Windows 7 environment and uses newer metrics to gauge relative performance, versus the older PCMark Vantage.
Below is what Futuremark says is incorporated in the base PCMark suite and the Entertainment, Creativity, and Productivity suites, the four modules we have benchmark scores for you here.
The PCMark test is a collection of workloads that measure system performance during typical desktop usage. This is the most important test since it returns the official PCMark score for the system
Better components deliver better scores, and you can see that the two systems rocking an Ivy Bridge CPU (the Revolt and Digital Storm’s Bolt) come out way ahead of the rest of the field, and the GeForce GTX 670 graphics card and SSD put the Revolt over the top. (Note well that the Bolt shipped overclocked, so that’s a big part of the reason why it scores so well compared to the Revolt.)
3DMark11, is specifically targeted at Windows 7-based systems due to its DirectX 11 requirement. 3DMark11 isn't simply a port of 3DMark Vantage to DirectX 11, though. With this latest version of the benchmark, Futuremark has incorporated four new graphics tests, a physics tests, and a new combined test. We tested the graphics cards here with 3DMark11's Performance preset option, which uses a resolution of 1280x720 with 4x anti-aliasing and 16x anisotropic filtering.
In 3Dmark 11, the Revolt is simply in a different class compared to the other small form factor gaming systems we have tested; this score of 8373 is clearly nothing we’ve seen yet from the small form factor systems we’ve tested, and it actually holds up well against scores posted by full-size gaming rigs.
|SiSoft SANDRA and Cinebench|
|We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks).
The iBuypower Revolt demolished the competition in the Processor Arithmetic test, while it bested the field in the Multimedia test, but by a smaller margin.
Up to now the Revolt has been impressive in our benchmarks, but this is just ridiculous. It ruined our lovely chart by posting a comparatively insane score of 511.75, which is what you get from a system that has a high performing SSD.
The Memory score, on the other hand, is as dismal as the Physical Disks score is brilliant. That lone 8GB DIMM in a single-channel configuration just isn’t hacking it against our other systems, although if you’re going to skimp on anything in a system like this one, the memory is probably the safest place to do it--the fact that doubling the installed RAM and running in dual-channel mode would have cost next to nothing notwithstanding.
Maxon's Cinebench R11.5 benchmark is based on Maxon's Cinema 4D software used for 3D content creation chores and tests both the CPU and GPU in separate benchmark runs. On the CPU side, Cinebench renders a photorealistic 3D scene by tapping into up to 64 processing threads (CPU) to process more than 300,000 total polygons, while the GPU benchmark measures graphics performance by manipulating nearly 1 million polygons and huge amounts of textures.
There’s nothing too exciting to see in Cinebench; the Revolt’s Ivy Bridge processor performed solidly in multi-threaded test, and it did well in the single-threaded test, although the overclocked Bolt system (also running an Ivy Bridge chip) did slightly better.
|Gaming Benchmarks: Far Cry 2 and Lost Planet 2|
|And now begins the round of gaming benchmarks. First up is Far Cry 2 and Lost Planet 2.
Like the original, FarCry 2 was one of the more visually impressive games to be released on the PC. Courtesy of the Dunia game engine developed by Ubisoft, FarCry 2's game-play is enhanced by advanced environment physics, destructible terrain, high resolution textures, complex shaders, realistic dynamic lighting, and motion-captured animations. We benchmarked the graphics cards in this article with a fully patched version of FarCry 2, using one of the built-in demo runs recorded in the Ranch Map.
The Revolt beat up the competition pretty solidly at the two higher resolutions, though it was somewhat CPU limited at 1024. However, that’s a bit of an anomaly, as you’ll continue to see throughout most of the rest of our gaming tests, and in any case, 159.55 FPS is so far beyond playable framerates that it doesn’t really even matter all that much.
A follow-up to Capcom’s Lost Planet : Extreme Condition, Lost Planet 2 is a third person shooter that takes place again on E.D.N. III ten years after the story line of the first title. We ran the game’s DX11 mode which makes heavy use of DX11 Tessellation and Displacement mapping and soft shadows. There are also areas of the game that make use of DX11 DirectCompute for things like wave simulation in areas with water. This is one game engine that looks significantly different in DX11 mode when you compare certain environmental elements and character rendering in its DX9 mode versus DX11. We used the Test B option built into the benchmark tool and with all graphics options set to their High Quality values.
Lost Planet 2 is the first DirectX 11 game in our spate of tests, and the Revolt proves itself as the top dog here, even though the Bolt is a close second.
|Gaming Benchmarks: Metro 2033, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and Batman: Arkham City|
|Next, we run the Revolt through Metro 2033, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. CoP, and Batman: Arkham City.
Metro 2033 is your basic post-apocalyptic first person shooter game with a few rather unconventional twists. Unlike most FPS titles, there is no health meter to measure your level of ailment, but rather you’re left to deal with life, or lack thereof more akin to the real world with blood spatter on your visor and your heart rate and respiration level as indicators. The game is loosely based on a novel by Russian Author Dmitry Glukhovsky. Metro 2003 boasts some of the best 3D visuals on the PC platform currently including a DX11 rendering mode that makes use of advanced depth of field effects and character model tessellation for increased realism.
As we continue to see, the Revolt is a good step ahead of the Digital Storm system here, and it’s worth noting that the two are the only systems in our test bank that can produce playable framerates in Metro 2033 at each resolution tested.
Call of Pripyat is the third game in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series and throws in DX11 to the mix. This benchmark is based on one of the locations found within the latest game. Testing includes four stages and utilizes various weather conditions, as well as different time of day settings. It offers a number of presets and options, including multiple versions of DirectX, resolutions, antialiasing, etc. SunShafts represents the most graphically challenging stage available. We conducted our testing with DX11 enabled, multiple resolutions, and Ultra settings.
The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. results are notable, as the Revolt blasted the competition at every resolution.
Batman: Arkham City is a sequel to 2009’s Game of the Year winning Batman: Arkham Asylum. This recently released sequel, however, lives up to and even surpasses the original. The story takes place 18 months after the original game. Quincy Sharp, the onetime administrator of Arkham Asylum, has become mayor and convinced Gotham to create "Arkham City" by walling off the worst, most crime-ridden areas of the city and turning the area into a giant open-air prison. The game has DirectX 9 and 11 rendering paths, with support for tessellation, multi-view soft shadows, and ambient occlusion. We tested in DX11 mode with all in-game graphical options set to their maximum values, at various resolutions, and we even turned on NVIDIA PhysX in the game engine to ramp up the visuals and work the little alien speedster a bit harder.
At the lowest resolution, the Revolt took the top spot by the slimmest of margins, but what’s more notable is that its higher-resolution scores are superb. Note, for example, that the Digital Storm system hit 50 FPS at 1920x1080 while the Revolt scored 74 FPS.
|The Revolt, Boxing Outside Its Weight Class|
|For the most part, the Revolt has performed better than the other SFF systems we’ve tested--in some cases, exceptionally so--and in fact, it holds up well in many tests against full-size gaming systems. We pulled a few numbers to show you just how it can handle boxing outside its weight class.
Bear in mind that the Revolt didn’t do this well in every benchmark, but it’s certainly notable that in some tests, it definitely could handle the fiercest competition we’ve seen.
|Power Consumption and Noise|
|Before bringing this article to a close, we'll take a look at power consumption of the iBuypower Revolt 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 that this is total system power consumption being measured at the outlet.
As you can see, the Revolt sips power at idle, although it pulls just a bit more juice than the Bolt and the Alienware X51. Under load, it does better, hitting the 260W mark, which is the second lowest in our bank. The PSU is rated for 500W, so there’s plenty of headroom for these components, even at full tilt.
By dint of having a liquid cooling system on board, the Revolt is mostly an impressively quiet system. Under a normal, minimal load, the Revolt emits only a very slight hum. However, after prolonged and strenuous use (a few hours or so), we noticed that the hum got much louder and turned into a noticeable whine. You won’t run into that level of noise with the Revolt until you’ve been gaming hard for a good long while, but of course, plenty of people will be rocking marathon sessions of their favorite titles with this thing, so it’s something to bear in mind.
|Performance Summary and Conclusion|
|Performance Summary: Other than a couple of minor hiccups, the iBuypower Revolt whipped the other small form factor gaming PCs in our tests, with authority. Of particular note was the astoundingly high, chart-ruining score in SANDRA’s Physical Disks test as well as the system’s score in 3DMark 11, which was far more than double the next-best score. In fact, some of the Revolt’s scores look more like what you’d expect from a full-size gaming rig.
When we first got a look at the Revolt at CES, it was clear that the iBuypower folks were excited about it. They had a certain buzz around them that was undeniable, and now we see why; this thing is an absolute beast of a performer.
Although we’re not particularly enthused about the plastic chassis nor the inconveniently-layered interior that’s wholly unpleasant to work on, there’s really nothing more you can say against the iBuypower Revolt. It’s a beautiful-looking machine that appears to have more common DNA with an Xbox than your typical gaming PC, and for as inconvenient as it may be to tinker with the system, iBuypower’s lab folks should be lauded for fitting in as many excellent components as they did--including the liquid cooling system and its 140mm radiator. There’s just really not a lot of space to work with there; the Revolt measures just 16 x 4.6 x 16.2 inches [HxWxL].
Further, with its black front panel and slim profile, you could slot the Revolt into your home theater setup just as easily as you might tote it to a LAN party, and there are plenty of ports for adding peripherals as well as a handy SD card slot right on the front of the machine.
As for the $1399 price tag? To put it perspective, consider two of the other SFF systems that we loved: We considered the Alienware X51 an acceptable deal at $999, and it’s really not even in the same class as the Revolt, performance-wise. The Revolt’s main competitor in our testing, the Digital Storm Bolt, was usually in second place behind the Revolt in our benchmarks, yet it cost $200 more at the time of testing. Of course, all of these systems can be configured with a variety of options that will cause the price to swing wildly up or down--the Revolt actually starts at $639, for example--but as configured, the Revolt is a good deal in terms of what you get for your buck.
The SFF market is starting to get deliciously competitive, and it’s producing some incredibly compelling machines. The iBuypower Revolt is currently one of the best (if not the best) we’ve seen so far, both in terms of performance and cost. It’s pretty easy on the eyes, to boot.