Maingear SHIFT Super Stock X79 System Review

Overall Design & Layout

Maingear could have just as easily been a body shop for custom tuned automobiles, a direction company founders Wallace Santos and Jonathan Magalhaes considered taking before deciding to focus on high-performance PCs instead. These guys haven't lost their passion for auto-geekery and one of the options they offer is a premium paint job, a service that runs $599 for the exterior and $235 or $349 for the interior, depending on color. Our system shipped with a "Rosso Red" exterior finish that's actually much deeper (and better looking) than the thumbnail picture Maingear provides on its configuration page.

The first thing you should know is that this is a big and heavy system. It measures 24 inches high, 21.5 inches deep, and 8.6 inches wide and tips the scales at around 60 pounds (average weight). This isn't a system you're going to lug around to LAN parties, or even from room to room unless you're friends with a chiropractor. And with a $599 paint job, the last thing you want to do is accidentally bump up against a wall and scuff or scratch its stunning appearance.

Brushed aluminum make up the SHIFT's construction, and the brushed aesthetic shines through the coat of paint. Forget for a moment that the case is much too big to tuck away, because even if it weren't, this is the type of system you want to showcase. For an extra $129, you can opt to have a side window installed, a pricey option to show off the company's excellent wire management skills, and another $59 buys you an LED light strip in one of four different colors: blue, purple, red, or white. The chassis looks just fine without all these extras, but if going all out with a painted interior, exterior, LED light strip, and side window, you'll end up about $1,000 lighter in the wallet.

A metal door swings open to reveal the LG Blu-ray/DVD burner and two other optical drive bays. Right below them is the Maingear Epic Audio Engine powered by Aphex, normally a $249 add-on but is a free addition at the time of this writing. This is an audio enhancement solution that's supposed to deliver richer, fuller audio without adding gain. When we tested the Epic Audio Engine, which turns on and off with the flip of a switch, we noticed better sounding audio with it turned on, though not so dramatic that we'd be willing to fork over the asking price if it weren't included for free.

A spring loaded I/O compartment sits on top of the chassis and pops up to reveal a pair of USB 2.0 ports, a Firewire port, headphone and mic inputs, and a multi-card reader. Aside from the card reader, it's a rather spartan configuration devoid of faster interfaces like SuperSpeed USB 3.0 and eSATA, both of which we'd prefer over a Firewire port. It's one of the few missteps Maingear makes with this system, made even more frustrating by the lack of easy accessibility to the rear I/O ports, which we'll talk about in a moment.

Every high school student knows that heat rises, or at least that's a dumbed down version of the physics behind hot air having a natural tendency to rise above cold air. Rather than go against the grain, the SHIFT chassis rotates everything 90 degrees so that the components -- and in particular, the videocards -- are facing upwards. This vertical design is intended to suck cool air in from the bottom and blow hot air out the top. Maingear explains it like this:
"SHIFT uses the natural behavior of hot air as an advantage - by rotating the internal components of the PC so that all heat is radiated through the top vents and cool air is drawn in from the bottom, SHIFT can harness the most powerful hardware on the planet with ease. Heat is the enemy of electronic components, and hot-running components are more prone to failure. Large, slow moving fans assist with the airflow and are virtually silent, and also feature removable, washable air filters. Generous, inconspicuous ventilation grates and inlets allow for ample airflow without taking away from the design aesthetics of the SHIFT chassis."
The upside to this design is cooler running components, which in turn should allow them to run quieter and last longer. It's reminiscent of the BTX form factor Intel tried so hard to promote several years ago, with one big advantage over the defunct standard: it's 100 percent compatible with ATX.

There's also a downside to this design, as implemented by Maingear. All of the rear ports now sit on top of the chassis, but to get to them, you have to unscrew a portion of the top panel. That means removing two screws any time you want access to one of the SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports or any of the other features on the I/O panel, including the convenient CMOS Reset button in case you bork an overclock or BIOS setting. A better solution would be to provide thumbscrews so you don't have to reach for a screwdriver, or to implement a sliding panel design for quick access.

This baby's got back! Since the rear I/O ports took a detour to the top of the case, the back of the SHIFT is clean and clutter free, save for the cables that are routed out from the top through an opening below the removable panel. And with the top panel covering up the I/O ports, there's really no bad angle to view the SHIFT.

Gutting a beast is supposed to be difficult and messy, but that's not the case with the SHIFT. In order to get your hands dirty -- or vice versa, dirty the inside with your hands, as it were -- you first remove the top panel that hides the I/O ports. Once you take that off, there's a lever on both sides that you push to release the side panels.

Once we ripped away the main side panel, we were treated to a clean underbelly, no small feat when you're trying to route and hide cables from three videocards, two solid state drives, a mechanical hard drive, an optical drive, a liquid cooling system, a 1,200W power supply, and fans and lights. Crammed full of $7,500 worth of components, Maingear did a great job cleaning up the inside to facilitate airflow. There's even enough room to stick your head inside and yell "Ricolaaaaa!"

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