There are normal PCs, and then there are statement PCs. Altech's NRG is one of the latter and it's designed with high-end gamers in mind. It's the "don't mess with me or you'll get creamed" statement that's heard loudest from its fans' synchronous whispering, and it's definitely one of the best built and most intimidating machines we've seen in a while.
It stands out from the crowd not only because of its liquid-cooled quad-core processor, but also because it has two Inno3D GeForce GTX 280 graphics cards set up in an SLI configuration. They give the PC enough 3-D grunt to smoothly render pretty much all current games on the market. They propelled the system to a score of 21,700 in 3DMark06, which is a tremendous result, and they also had no problems churning through frames while running at the highest possible graphics settings in the DirectX 10-based Call of Juarez and Lost Planet: Extreme Condition benchmarks; the system averaged 65 frames per second in the Call of Juarez test and 54fps in Lost Planet.
Altech has installed an EVGA 132-CK-NF79-A1 motherboard as the base for this system, and it runs NVIDIA's nForce 790i Ultra SLI chipset. It supplies full-speed SLI performance from its PCI Express x16 slots, and it also accommodates a front-side bus speed of 1600MHz for the CPU and memory. Altech has put this board to good use by running two Corsair 1GB DDR3 memory modules at 1600MHz, matching the front-side bus speed of the CPU. A CPU multiplier of 10.5 has been used to crank its speed up to 4.2GHz, and it's decidedly quick in a straight line.
In the Blender 3D test, the CPU used all of its four cores to render a test job in only 22sec. Meanwhile, it took 38sec to encode 53min worth of WAV files to 192Kbps MP3s. Both times are very fast, so there's no doubt this machine will suit the keen video editor or anyone else who does a lot of encoding.
Cooling the overclocked CPU is an Alphacool liquid cooling kit, which seems to fit perfectly in the machine's Antec Twelve Hundred full-tower case. Its pump sits at the bottom-front of the machine, and it feeds UV-reactive coolant through green pipes, which are attached to the reservoir at the top-front of the machine, and the radiator, which is attached to the ceiling of the case. The reservoir can be seen from the front of the machine, while the side panel is windowed and exposes the lovely, cold-cathode-illuminated craftsmanship of the interior.
Despite being liquid cooled, it's not a quiet machine by any means. In fact, it's damn loud. There are no fewer than 15 fans in the system when you count all the memory, graphics and power supply fans along with the case fans, but this shouldn't faze most gamers unless they have poor headphones or speakers. It's not a machine that you'll want to leave switched on overnight though. Not only will its lights and fans be bothersome, but it will also consume a lot of power. We measured its power consumption at over 310W when just browsing the Web, over 420W when using all four cores to render a 3-D project, and 590W when running a DirectX 10-based game at high settings. Even when it's switched off, it will still draw 60W from the outlet.
We love the way it has been assembled though. All cabling has been routed between the case's motherboard base and right-hand side panel, which means the system is very much a hallmark of neatness. The combination of blue lights along with the yellowish-green tubing looks quite good and should provide a nice ambience when gaming in the dark, unless you place the unit under a table.
An aspect of the NRG that's a bit of a let-down is its storage. Our test machine shipped with two 7200rpm, 500GB Hitachi hard drives in a RAID 0 array, and while these turned in fast performance (they combined to produce a 49.3MBps file transfer result), a couple of Western Digital VelociRaptor (WD3000GLFS) would make this machine even faster. We think that if you're going to be spending over five grand on a gaming system, you may as well go all the way and put in the faster disk system.
In saying that, the NRG is still a monster and it was a pleasure using it. If you want a pre-built system that's fast and looks great, and it's within your budget, then it's hard to overlook it.