Most hardcore enthusiasts will tell you that it is better to build your own game system than get a pre-built one. If you don't want to assemble all of the components yourself, just make sure you are getting high quality parts at the best possible price.
However, going the home-brewed route isn't always an option. Regardless of whether there is a lack of hardware knowledge or the lack of time to research and build their own system, many people choose the established route. Pre-built systems from companies like HP, Dell, Gateway and others seem to offer a good mix of components at an attractive price. At the same time, there are more and more custom PC boutiques aimed at enthusiasts who value customer service and customization over a standard PC and may be willing to pay a few extra dollars for that level of service.
Today we're going to look at three different game systems like Puget Systems, Maingear, and Acer. All three differ significantly in terms of core components, cooling options, and appearance, but maintain the same price of under $ 2,000 per request.
Puget Deluge Mini
Do you remember when the term "customer service" actually applied? It almost seems like a pipe dream these days, but there are still some companies that pride themselves on offering high quality products with equally good customer service. One such company is Puget Systems, a custom computer store based in Auburn, WA. The company has been in business for nearly 10 years and has seen significant growth due to its well-known attention to detail.
Although we arranged a verification sample, we purposely received full customer treatment so that we could see exactly what the buyer is going through during the ordering process, as well as the build, test and benchmarking phases.
The basis for our test system is the Deluge Mini, one of several preconfigured machines on the Puget website and the most affordable model from its high-end gaming range. The Deluge Mini is essentially a small form factor, the P55 version of the Deluge A2, which has a larger case and an X58 chipset, while the more exotic Deluge L2 further advances the case with the liquid cooling of the entire system thanks to Koolance. We stuck to the base Deluge Mini and only updated the graphics card to meet our budget and add a little more gaming fun. Of course, you can customize virtually any part of the system, or even ask Puget to create one exactly to your specifications.
During the configuration process, you can review every item and even get the honest opinion of the Puget staff on every available part. It is clear that they are determined to help you build the system that is right for you, rather than just selling the most expensive product. For example, when I decided to upgrade the CPU cooler, a Puget employee suggested that I only use this kit if I was concerned about overclocking. Otherwise, he recommended that I stick to an air-cooled solution to save money.
Our build consists of an Intel Core i7 875K processor running at 2.93 GHz, an Asus P7P55-M motherboard, 4 GB Kingston DDR3-1333 memory, a Radeon HD 5870 1 GB V2 graphics card from Asus, Western Digital Caviar Black with 1 TB 6 GBit / s drive, a Pioneer 22X DVD-RW SATA drive and a Corsair TX 650W power supply. All of this is housed in an Antec Mini P180 case with a Puget Hydro CL1 liquid cooling system to keep the processor nice and cool.
In terms of expandability, the Deluge Mini is somewhat limited due to its microATX board. For example, adding a second graphics card in CrossFire mode is not possible, but you do get two free PCI Express x1 slots to add an optional USB 3.0 + SATA 6 Gbps card and TV tuner. There are also two free DDR3 memory slots and space for additional hard drives.
A copy of Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit is pre-installed and everything comes with a lifetime labor warranty and a one-year parts warranty. Our configured price was $ 1,989.09. Every company has the say when it comes to configuring their respective systems. We can't complain about Puge's choice of hardware for this build as it contains high quality components and leaves room for future upgrades – with no CrossFire or SLI support.
Puget uses off-the-shelf hardware most of the time, so we did some price searches to find out how much a similarly configured system would cost to build it yourself just to have some perspective. In total, you'd pay nearly $ 400 premium component for component, but keep in mind that you get premium service along the way from the manufacturer and not have to worry about building your rig. You have to decide how much this is worth to you.
Once your order is placed, you can follow every aspect of the creation process and testing procedures by logging into your account on the Puget website. And by every aspect, I mean just that. Customers can see detailed benchmark results made by their system, photos of the completed build (even thermal images), and captures of each BIOS screen.
The system arrived safely a few days after shipping from Washington, along with all of the literature from each part (motherboard manual, etc.), a 2.5- to 3.5-inch drive adapter, power cord, graphics card adapters, and a bag with all components replacement hardware for each component used and a system information folder. This folder describes all of the components in your system, all of the quality control checks, system benchmarks, and contains the drivers and Windows discs. It's nice to have all of this information in one place and not have to worry about making your own recovery discs.
The case Puget uses is really top notch and looks better in person than it does in photos. If you like a simple, minimalist approach, the Antec Mini P180 will definitely serve you well. If we look at the front of the case with the front door closed, we find two USB 2.0 ports, headphone and microphone jacks, an eSATA port and a small LED activity light. Opening the door reveals the power and reset buttons, as well as the optical drive and two additional 5.25-inch expansion bays for future upgrades.
The two large ventilated areas in the middle are doors that open to reveal removable dust filters that can be cleaned and reused. Users can install a 120mm fan behind each vent – our example came with a single fan in the lower position. The fans are ventilated through the small holes in the door, the sides of the front panel and an opening on the underside of the front panel.
Each side wall has the same no-frills metal look as the front panel. On the back is the I / O panel with eight USB 2.0 ports, a PS / 2 port, a serial port, a FireWire port, an Ethernet jack and integrated audio ports, as well as DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort courtesy of the ATI Radeon with two slots HD 5870. Here you will also find a 120 mm exhaust fan, a 3-position fan controller, the Windows software key sticker and the Corsair power supply on the bottom of the case.
On the chassis there is a ventilation system for the 200 mm fan, which is mounted on the roof. Two wing screws hold the left side wall in place. After removing it, we take a close look inside the case and find that Puget did a good job with the cable management. Not only does this look great, it also provides optimal airflow. The large 200 mm fan on the roof of the case should provide sufficient cooling and at the same time keep the noise level to a minimum. I also noticed that Puget used hot glue on the hard drive and optical drive connectors to make sure they weren't accidentally pulled out.
On the software side, Puget didn't add anything other than the required drivers and Windows updates. There was absolutely no bloat pre-installed – as it should be – which is one of the great things about a bespoke computer. Certainly a breath of fresh air after working with several systems manufactured in the past few months.
On the following pages we take a closer look at competing systems from Maingear and Acer, run some benchmarks and give us a direct impression of these gaming systems.