|Introduction and Specifications|
|iBuypower is offering an AMD-based system in its Chimera 4SE line, which is designed to give users serious gaming performance without a wallet-busting price tag. The Chimera is part of iBuypower’s Signature Series, which includes iBuypower’s highest-priced and most powerful gaming systems, like the Revolt and Valkyrie.
So, what makes a desktop PC a Chimera 4SE? The chassis, for one thing. The Chimera has a custom chassis with unique artwork that makes the Chimera easily identifiable. (We talk more about the chassis on the next page.) Overclocking is another Chimera feature. The system comes with a 10% factory overclock “with room for more,” according to iBuypower. Also, the Chimera is designed to be customizable: iBuypower offers a wide range of components in the Chimera’s online configurator, and the case’s size and layout are meant to make upgrading easy.
Let’s start by looking at the components in our review unit.
The centerpiece of the Chimera 4SE FX Ultimate is an all AMD-based CPU/GPU combo. The processor is a 4.7GHz (5.0GHz with Turbo), eight-core AMD FX-9590, designed with overclockers in mind. It’s cooled by a closed-loop liquid cooler, which seems to be the way most custom builders are going these days. That’s likely due to not only the headroom they give overclockers, but also to the stability of their relatively lightweight physical connections inside the case - when PCs take damage during shipping, heavy heatsinks are often to blame.
The two PowerColor Radeon HD 7970 graphics cards (linked together via CrossFire) are solid cards with the chops to handle today’s latest games. Given the system’s price tag, which is well under $3,000, we don’t expect the Chimera to break many records, but this CPU/GPU combo should put up worthwhile numbers nonetheless. If you’re looking for the new Radeon R9 290X, it should be available in the configurator by the time you read this.
The Chimera’s motherboard is an ASRock 990FX Extreme9, which supports up to 64GB of DDR3 memory via four slots. iBuypower opted for 16GB of G.Skill Ripjaws memory, which is a typical amount of RAM for a system in this price range. The storage situation also looks good for most gamers: a 240GB Corsair Force GS SSD handles Windows 8, while a Seagate Barracuda supplies 2TB of 7200 RPM storage. Powering the rig is a 1000W NZXT Hale90 V2 modular power supply.
The components in the Chimera sound about right for a system in this price range, and land near the top of the parts spectrum in iBuypower’s online configurator for the series. You can bump the memory to 32GB or speed it up to DDR3-2133 if you so choose, and you might want to snag a 512GB SSD if you have room in the budget.
iBuypower has a treasure trove of power supplies to choose from, though you’re not going to need a beefier PSU than the 1000W NZXT for this config. You can also add a media card reader – it’s a little surprising that one doesn’t come standard issue at this price, but it's a minor omission. There are also some interesting closed loop options for the CPU, and none of them add much to the overall system price.
|Design and Layout|
|The iBuypower Chimera 4SE FX has one of the coolest cases we’ve seen from iBuypower, which has stepped up its game in recent years. Both side panels sport the Chimera graphic, which depicts a fiery creature about to sink its fangs into something unlucky.
The finish is shiny enough to make the image look like a paint job, but it isn’t. Instead, a hydrographic-like process is used, in which the panels are brought up through water until they make contact with a film that has the image. After some drying and clear-coating, the panel is ready to go.
The upfront investment in this sort of process is high, but scale improves those costs for iBuypower. The benefit for you is durability, which we inadvertently tested several times by whacking the side panel with a keyboard and another system’s metal side panel. For all our abuse, including a scrape that sounded like it would have to leave a mark, the panel never showed so much as a scratch. That durability is good news for everyone, but particularly for LAN party types.
The front of the case has a clean look, thanks to a door that covers three 5.5-inch bays (one of which houses the DVD-RW drive). The power light at the top front is the system’s only exterior light and it’s a nice, understated touch that lets the Chimera’s bright orange stripes do all the talking.
The top of the chassis has the power button, two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, and mic/headphone jacks. A fan controller by the USB ports controls the two fans at the rear-top of the system. The back of the system has eight more USB ports, Gigabit LAN, eSATA and FireWire, and a CMOS Clear Switch that ought to help with troubleshooting.
Inside, the Chimera has room to spare. The system is meant to be easy to upgrade, and the uncluttered interior is proof of that. The memory is easy to reach and isn’t blocked by cables. You have a clear shot to the CPU, as well, for processor upgrades. And with the drive bays facing to the side, (and several bays unused), adding storage or replacing drives will be a piece of cake. iBuypower routes most of the cables through to the other side of the system, keeping things clean in main compartment.
One issue we noticed is that the Radeon HD 7970s sag a bit, likely due to jostling during shipping. iBuypower puts shipping foam inside the system (and gives you instructions for removing it when you set up the system for the first time), but it’s hard to say how much that foam helped. In any event, the cards operated as expected, which you’ll see when we dig into the benchmarks.
|PCMark and 3DMark Tests|
|We kicked off our testing with the venerable PCMark system benchmark, as well as the more game-oriented 3DMark 11 and the newest test by Futuremark: 3DMark Fire Strike. Over the years, Futuremark has made a name for itself with comprehensive benchmarks that provide consistent results for comparing granular and big-picture performance.
As you’ll see, the iBuypower Chimera 4SE FX Ultimate faces off against desktops and SFFs alike in our tests. We included certain SFFs that have high-end graphics cards (like Falcon Northwest’s Tiki) to give you a sense of how the Chimera compares to these (generally pricier) tiny PCs.
Surprisingly, the Chimera 4SE FX Ultimate provided the lowest scores of the lot in PCMark 7, despite multiple retests. The low score is worth noting here, but given the system’s strong performance in other benchmarks, it doesn’t seem to be indicative of the Chimera’s overall capabilities.
Here, too, the Chimera struggled a bit, but it didn’t place quite as low as it did PCMark. Just when things were looking bleak, we fired up 3DMark Fire Strike and the Chimera kicked things up a few notches. Read on.
Faced with Futuremark’s latest and most challenging benchmark, the Chimera suddenly remembered what it was made for and resumed its spot just behind the Gamer Xtreme, providing an average frame rate about 1fps slower than CyberPower’s system. That’s much more like what we expect from a system with the Chimera’s guts.
|Unigine Heaven and Valley Benchmarks|
|Based on the Unigine game engine, the Unigine Heaven and Valley benchmarks take users through dramatic 3D tours of exotic environments, complete with dynamic skies, tessellation, and SSAO (screen-space ambient occlusion).
The iBuypower Chimera 4SE FX Ultimate started strong with the Heaven and Valley benchmarks, landing behind only CyberPower’s super-charged Gamer Xtreme 5200 – and even then, by fewer than 5 frames per second in most cases. But keep in mind that the Chimera is sporting two full HD Radeon 7970s to the Xtreme’s single, dual-GPU 7990.
|SiSoft SANDRA and Cinebench|
|Next, we ran the Chimera through SiSoft SANDRA and Cinebench. The SiSoft suite offers as a range of diagnostic and system utilities, including several benchmarks. These tests are designed to test particular components, including the processor, memory, graphics card, and the computer's main storage device.
The Chimera produced reasonable memory and hard drive scores, thanks in part to the speedy SSD and high clocked memory. (The 7200 RPM storage drive scored a mere 157.73 when we tested it.) But its scores didn’t impress in SANDRA’s Arithmetic and Multimedia tests, when matched up again the Core i7 processors we’ve been seeing in many of our review systems.
The Chimera didn’t break any new ground in either Cinebench test. This is another weak spot in the Chimera’s benchmark run, thanks to the relatively low performance of its AMD CPU, versus Intel.
|Gaming Benchmarks: Far Cry 2 and Lost Planet 2|
|With the synthetic benchmarks completed, we dove into some real-world in-game testing. We started with Far Cry 2, which won’t strain a modern system, but will give us a look at the rig’s DX10 capabilities. Then we took a look at Lost Planet 2, which boasts DX11 support, tessellation, and some stunning water effects.
The iBuypower Chimera 4SE FX Ultimate didn’t give us the kinds of frame rates we expected in our DX10 test. In fact, the system fell even behind the iBuypower Revolt. The system couldn’t shake the mid-120s in any our standard display resolutions, due to CPU limitiations.
The Chimera’s scores in Lost Planet 2 made sense, considering the performance of the Maingear SHIFT, which boasted three Radeon HD 7970s to the Chimera's two 7970 cards. Both of these systems pulled well ahead of the competition; Lost Planet 2 clearly benefits from multiple graphics cards.
|Gaming Benchmarks: Metro 2033 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.|
The iBuypower Chimera 4SE FX Ultimate provided solid scores, but still landed well behind the CyberPower Gamer Xtreme, which posted a whopping 122 fps (at 1920x1080 resolution) to the Chimera's 96 fps. Even so, the Chimera outscored most of the other systems we tested.
In S.T.A.L.K.E.R., the iBuypower Chimera 4SE FX Ultimate sneaked past the CyberPower Gamer Xtreme 5200, posting higher frame rates at 1280x1024 and 1920x1080. These frame rates still put the system in the middle of our pack, though.
|Gaming Benchmarks: Batman: Arkham City and Hitman: Absolution|
|To wrap up the game benchmarks, we ran Batman: Arkham City and Hitman: Absolution. Both games offer DX11 gaming modes and advanced graphics technologies, including tessellation.
Here, the Chimera lands near the top of the pack (or the middle, depending on the resolution your monitor displays). At 1280 x1024, it handled Batman at 112 fps, which made it one of the best systems we tested. But at 1920 x 1080, it dropped to 98 fps, which landed it just shy of the Digital Storm Virtue.
This time, the Chimera handled 1920 x 1080 with aplomb, putting up a solid score of 57.5 fps at that resolution. Again, though, the Chimera’s performance at other resolutions was more middle of the road.
|Power Consumption and Noise|
|Although power consumption isn’t likely to be a make or break decision for you when buying a system, it doesn’t hurt to know what the system will be pulling from you outlet – particularly because the power draw varies so widely from one line of PCs to the next. We test each review PC by measuring its power draw (at the outlet) when idle, and then again when under load with Prime95 and FurMark running full steam.
The iBuypower Chimera 4SE FX Ultimate has moderate draw at idle, but pulled 637 Watts under load, which is much higher than you'll see with similarly configured Intel-based systems. Even so, the draw is well under what the 1000W power supply unit is rated to handle.
The Chimera can be quite noisy when you have the fans running at full blast, as you likely will when overclocking and gaming, but the noise isn’t anything a good pair of headphones can’t tamp down. And if you want the system to run quietly, all you need to do is slide that fan control at the top.
|Performance Summary and Conclusion|
|At this price range, you’re not going to find many computers sporting custom paint jobs or the top shelf graphics cards. At the same time, $2,600 is enough to buy you a respectable custom-built PC – one that can handle today’s games at strong frame rates and that has enough storage to last you several years of accumulating media, games and other data. A speedy SSD primary drive is practically a given at this price point, as is a high-end CPU cooler, be it liquid or air-based.
Beyond the parts themselves, the price tag saves you the time (and, depending on how the build goes, headache) of building a system, loading up the software, overclocking it, and burning it in. (Not to mention a warranty that makes breakdowns someone else's problem.)
The iBuypower Chimera 4SE FX offers reasonable performance for the price overall, though its performance wasn't quite as strong as we expected it to be in some of our benchmarks. The system isn't a benchmark record-breaker, but it has graphics muscle and is well-equipped for serious gaming nonetheless.
iBuypower really came through with a nice chassis side panel graphic. This beast is sure to get attention and the finish is durable enough to easily withstand dings that might scratch a paint job. We like the layout inside the case, both because it’s so clean and because there’s plenty of room for work and upgrades: you can reach components easily to replace them, and there are extra memory slots and internal/external drive bays. Extending your computer’s life should be a breeze with the Chimera as a solid foundation from iBuyPower. The Chimera is worth a look if you’re in the market for a mid-range system – or even a higher-end PC, if you have the budget for the setting the system up with top-shelf parts.