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iBuypower Chimera 4SE FX Ultimate: AMD Gaming PC
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Date: Nov 29, 2013
Section:Systems
Author: Joshua Gulick
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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.


iBuypower Chimera 4SE FX Ulitmate
Specifications & Features
 Processor:
 AMD FX-9590 Eight-Core AM3+, 4.7GHz (5.0GHz Turbo) with 8MB L2 Cache & Turbo Core
 Memory:  16GB G.Skill Ripjaws DDR3-1600  (8GB x2)
 Graphics:  AMD Radeon HD 7970 3GBD5-2DHV3 PowerColor (x2 CrossFire)
 Motherboard:
 ASRock 990FX Extreme9
 Storage:
 240GB Corsair Force GS SSD
 2TB Seagate Barracuda ST2000DM001 7200 RPM HDD
 Optical:  24X DVDRW
 Power Supply:
 1000W NZXT Hale90 V2 80+ Gold Modular
 Chassis:  iBUYPOWER Chimera Inferno 4SE
 Cooling System:
 120mm iBUYPOWER Liquid Cooling
 Connectivity:
 Gigabit LAN
 Front Ports:
 USB 3.0 (x2), USB 2.0 (x2), Mic, Headphone, Fan Controller
 Rear Ports:
 USB 3.0 (x4), USB 2.0 (x4), eSATA3 (x2), SPDIF (x2), PS/2 (x2), LAN, FireWire, Audio, CMOS Clear  Switch
 Keyboard/Mouse:
 N/A
 OS:
 Windows 8 64-bit
 Warranty:  3-Year Standard Warranty
 Price:  $2,745

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.
 
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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.
 
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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.

Futuremark PCMark 7
Simulated Application Performance
 
PCMark 7
PCMark 7 runs through the types of tasks your PC is likely to encounter during ordinary home and office use. It tests the system’s graphics capabilities as well, but it isn’t mean to test the limits of high-end, discrete graphics card. Look at PCMark 7 as an indicator of a system’s general usage performance.  


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.

Futuremark 3DMark 11
Simulated Gaming Performance

3DMark 11
Although Futuremark’s 3DMark 11 has been around for several years, it still provides a good look at a system’s gaming capabilities. It's also handy tool for benchmarking machines that still run Windows 7. We ran this benchmark on the Performance preset, at 1280 x 720 resolution. If you download the free version of this benchmark, make sure you're using the Performance preset to avoid comparing scores that were run with different test configurations 


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.

Futuremark 3DMark Fire Strike
Simulated Gaming Performance

Fire Strike
The next test we chose was Futuremark’s newest: 3DMark Fire Strike is designed specifically for high-end gaming PCs like the Chimera. Because Extreme mode is geared towards systems that have multiple graphics cards in CrossFire or SLI configurations, we opted for Normal mode, which runs at 1920 x 1080.





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.
 
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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).

Unigine Heaven and Valley Benchmarks
DX11 Gaming
 
Unigine Heaven
Unigine Heaven provides heavy tessellation use and a dynamic sky to stress modern graphics cards. The Valley benchmark, on the other hand, is loaded with vegetation. The benchmark tours a forest thick with flowers, boulders, and rivers. We ran the test at 1920 x 1080, on Ultra Quality and with the Extreme Tessellation option.  









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.
 
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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.

SiSoft SANDRA
Synthetic Benchmarks

SiSoft SANDRA
SiSoft SANDRA has a variety of tests that stress specific components or simulate certain tasks. We put the iBuypower Chimera 4SE FX Ultimate through the CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, and Physical Disks tests. SANDRA receives frequent updates, so if you use the benchmark, check to make sure you have the latest version. 





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.

Cinebench R11.5 64-bit
Content Creation Performance

Cinebench
Based on Maxon Cinema 4D software, this test uses a 3D scene and polygon and texture manipulation to assess GPU and CPU performance. We usually opt for the Main Processor Performance (CPU) test, which builds a still scene containing about 2,000 objects, for total polygon count above 300,000. We run the test twice: once with only one processor core enabled, the next time with all CPU cores blazing. Cinebench displays its results in points. 



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.
 
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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.

Far Cry 2
DX10 Gaming Performance
 
Far Cry 2
When it comes to lush vegetation in a steaming, sinister jungle, no one pulls it off quite like Ubisoft does in its Far Cry series. Far Cry 2 uses high quality textures, complex shaders, and dynamic lighting to create a realistic environment. The benchmark demo runs you through multiple areas of the map and from several different angles, while explosions and other events take place.



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.

Lost Planet 2
DX11 Gaming Performance
 
Lost Planet 2
We used Lost Planet 2 to test the system’s DX11 performance. This game’s benchmark features soldiers attempting to take down a massive beast that seems to shrug off their firepower. There is a ton of action in the five or so minutes that the benchmark runs, and we’ve seen the test stutter when being run by lesser systems. We used Test B and set all graphics settings to High Quality. We also boosted the Anti-Aliasing setting to 4x before we ran the benchmark.  



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.
 
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Gaming Benchmarks: Metro 2033 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
Metro 2033
DX11 Gaming Performance
 
Metro 2033
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; 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 and includes a DX11 rendering mode that makes use of advanced depth of field effects and character model tessellation for increased realism. This title also supports NVIDIA PhysX technology for impressive in-game physics effects.



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.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat
DX11 Gaming Performance

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
Call of Pripyat is the third installment of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series. We ran this test with all settings on Ultra and with DX11. As with our other benchmarks, we ran S.T.A.L.K.E.R. at three common display resolutions. This is one of the longer benchmark demos, and it runs through several different scenes, then provides the average frame rates for each scene. We recorded the frame rates from the Sun Shafts module.  



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.
 
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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.

Batman: Arkham City
DX11 Gaming Performance

Batman: Arkham City
 Batman: Arkham City is the second in the trio of Batman: Arkham games. Released in 2011, it continued the dark narrative themes created by the 2009 Batman: Arkham Asylum game and added new gameplay mechanics, as we as a bigger environment. A newer title, Batman: Arkham Origins was launched in late October. For this test, we turned on Nvidia PhysX and cranked the detail to Very High.



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.

Hitman: Absolution
DX11 Gaming Performance
 
Hitman: Absolution
 Our final game benchmark of the review is of Hitman, the blockbuster series that follows an assassin as he finds himself go from hunter to prey. The benchmark routine makes use of Hitman: Absolution's support for Global Illumination, which provides realistic lighting, but also hammers on NVIDIA-based graphics cards. The benchmark shows a throng of people watching fireworks in crowded city square.



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.
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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.
 
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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.


   
  •  Always decent, sometimes impressive performance
  •  Struggled with a couple benchmarks
  •  Slick chassis graphic
 
  •  Spacious interior, room for upgrading
 


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