Maingear Potenza Super Stock SFF System Review

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Overall Design & Layout

Maingear markets the Potenza as "the world's first mini-ITX gaming system designed for overclocking," and the Super Stock version is built around Intel's Z77 chipset by way of an Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe motherboard. You can also order a Potenza based on Intel's H77 chipset, or if your brand preference swings AMD, there's also an entry-level configuration built around the Sunnyvale chip designer's FM1 platform starting at $899.



The Potenza is short in stature yet stout in features. To give you a sense of scale, we plopped an Xbox 360 console next to the Potenza. Maingear's rig is a little taller and obviously wider in the gut, but it's actually less deep than the Xbox 360. As previously mentioned, it's about the size of a bookshelf speaker, giving end users more flexible placement options than a mid-tower or full-tower desktop. It's not quite as svelte as Alienware's X51, but it's far more powerful and still nimble enough to find a place in a home theater setup, if that's where you want to place it.

As configured, the Potenza weighs 18.1 pounds, and you'll feel every bit of it if you manage to drop the system on your foot, as this editor did. The Potenza sports a four main panel design constructed from 2.5mm slabs of sand-blasted and anodized aluminum (Silverstone, which builds the case, tells us "the surface treatment is similar to what Apple does now with their aluminum bodied computers, but with an extra step of black dye application"), three of which snap into place. You have to take extra care when picking up or unboxing the system, as it doesn't take a ton of pressure to remove any of the panels, sending the Potenza on a crash course with the ground courtesy of Mr. Gravity. It's a bit awkward to transport in that respect, but manageable if you scoop your hands underneath any two of the four feet that surround the bottom of each panel.

Aesthetically, the Potenza adopts an unassuming design that could easily be mistaken for a small subwoofer, at least from a distance. Maingear says the system is 76 percent smaller than its mighty SHIFT, which we reviewed in March, and a full 46 percent smaller than Maingear's redesigned F131. Maingear's assessment that "the Potenza looks great from any angle" is spot on.

   

Like Maingear's 46 percent larger F131, the Potenza employs "VRTX Cooling Technology" to take advantage of hot air's natural tendency to rise. Cool air is sucked in from the bottom of the chassis, travels up and over the motherboard, and is expelled from the top of the case. Heat producers like the power supply and graphics card are positioned towards the top, the latter of which sits vertically. Both belch hot air directly out the top panel, never having a chance to travel over any of the other hardware, like the CPU, RAM, and motherboard.

This vertical orientation means that the rear I/O panel now sits at the top as well. A plastic cover pops off to reveal the motherboard's assortment of USB and eSATA ports, and it doesn't require any tools to remove it like the SHIFT does; it snaps right off with a little tug. On either side are narrow pathways that slide cables in and out of (like your mouse, keyboard, and power cord), along with a smaller groove in the front.

For quick access to things like USB thumb drives or to remove pictures from a tablet or digital camera, the Potenza offers access to a pair of USB 3.0 ports on top without having to ever remove the plastic panel. There are also head and microphone jacks on top, and a physical power and reset buttons.



A slit in the front panel affords access to the slot-loading optical drive. The configuration Maingear sent us included an 8X dual-layer DVD burner, though you can also opt for a 6X Blu-ray reader. Unfortunately, the only way to get a Blu-ray burner is by forking over $179 for an external optical drive built by Asus.



Here you can see the tight confines Maingear has to work with. Building a full fledged PC, let alone a gaming system capable of being overclocked, in a form factor that's as tight and vertical as the Potenza is no easy task, and things are bound to get cramped. Remarkably, Maingear is able to fit a high-end graphics card, water cooling, HDD and SSD storage, and an optical drive into the Potenza. Technically, it's also possible to upgrade components on your own -- these are off-the-shelf parts, after all -- but you're best served by ponying up for the fastest hardware you can afford from the get-go and staving off the upgrade bug as long as possible.
 

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