Summary: Looking for the ultimate gaming PC? Thunderbox PC may be just right for you. We’re not just talking custom paint jobs and decorative case windows with neon lighting, the crew at Thunderbox will build your system from the ground up just the way you want it, or even recycle a few parts from your current PC to save you money! That’s not all either, not only will they overclock your system from the factory, a myriad of accessories are available to custom tailor your PC, including water-cooling. In today’s review, we take one of their Savage Pentium 4 systems out for a test run. How does it fare against one of our own test beds? Read on for the results!
Building a high-end gaming PC is a lot like buying a Ferrari; it looks sharp and sounds amazing, but it’d be so much nicer if someone else’s money were financing the purchase. By nature, the very best components will always command a premium price because, let’s face it, everyone would love an affordable 3.2GHz Pentium 4 or Athlon 64 machine.
Nevertheless, several prominent manufacturers embrace the exclusive nature of high-end gaming PCs and subsist by wrapping the very best hardware up in a unique bundle. Over the past few months, we’ve evaluated a few of these sorts of machines; ABS’ small form-factor Bravado 2310, its older M1 gaming system, and PC Progress’ X Theory flagship machine, for example.
Clearly, the market is rife with eager manufacturers looking to sell you a pre-configured PC (complete with mark-up, of course). So why should you abandon your do-it-yourself roots in favor of a ready-made solution? Perhaps you don’t have the time to search for the best deals; perhaps the idea of ordering from eight different retailers doesn’t float your boat; perhaps you are a gamer first, hardware aficionado second. For a system to compel us, though, it needs to be distinctively unique. It needs to be an Enzo in a sea of Ford Escorts (maybe not that distinct, but you get the idea).
Thunderbox PC hasn’t received the media attention that other performance outlets have enjoyed, but its products offer comparable performance for comparable prices. Of course, comparable will only take a company so far. Thunderbox PC sets itself apart by understanding the importance of good relationships and customer service. Plus, unlike most other manufacturers, Thunderbox PC truly facilitates the custom PC experience, allowing its customers to add their own hardware and even recycle previously used components.
The Savage is Thunderbox’s most aggressive computer system, sparing no expense in the pursuit of performance. Standard configurations are offered for both AMD and Intel-based platforms, though every configurable part can be changed in some way or another.
SIDEBAR: Thunderbox PC’s Intel-based Savage product page.
Unfortunately, Lian-Li doesn’t include a power supply in the lofty asking price of its 6070, so Thunderbox PC outfits the Savage with a 430W Enermax unit – one of the best in our book. Other options are available, of course, such as a lower-powered Vantec unit and a more robust 550W Enermax power supply.
Thunderbox PC offers both Intel and AMD Savage systems, depending on your allegiance. The AMD systems are slightly less expensive, but we’d expect that considering that the flagship Athlon XP 3200+ lags behind Intel’s 3.2GHz Pentium 4. Thus, our review system came equipped with an ABIT IC7 motherboard, based on the 875P chipset. The IC7-G and IC7-MAX3 boards are also available, should you desire Gigabit Ethernet or the decked-out MAX3 with its elaborate cooling implementation. We’ve been working with the IC7-MAX3 for a few weeks now, and thus far, it is one of the most impressive 875P boards to complete our benchmarking suite. On the AMD side, Thunderbox lists ASUS’ A7N8X Deluxe exclusively, though there isn’t a board we’d rather have in a high-end AMD system.
A 3GHz Pentium 4 on an 800MHz front side bus provides the Savage with its processing power. However, Thunderbox PC also offers processors from 2.4GHz up at 3.2GHz, all of the 800MHz FSB variety. And, for an extra $80, which is often less expensive than upgrading your processor, Thunderbox PC will “performance clock” your configuration. For our review system, this meant that our 3GHz Pentium 4 arrived running at 3.3GHz on a 220MHz front side bus (effectively 880MHz). We were immediately concerned with the overclocked machine’s warranty status and Jon Mancil, the company’s owner, assured us that Thunderbox PC’s guarantee even applied to our tweaked configuration.
There are a couple of options for configuring memory. Thunderbox encourages 1GB of RAM, as that is the only selectable option on the configurator (of course, they’ll arrange for more or less if you desire). Our system shipped with a pair of 512MB modules running at SPD timings. Low-latency DDR400 is available, but we haven’t had much luck running any 875P platforms at ultra-low latencies.
SIDEBAR: If you search for Thunderbox PC on resellerratings.com, you’ll see that they are rated a perfect ‘10’ for overall customer satisfaction. That’s amazing!
And because the IC7 doesn’t include integrated Ethernet, Thunderbox added a D-Link DGE 500T 10/100/1000 adapter to our review sample, the top-end option offered on the online configurator. We wouldn’t mind the ability to add wireless (after all, isn’t 802.11g a high-end technology?); with school starting back up, there will certainly be students interested in a wireless solution for their dorm rooms.
Another particularly top-end component is the GeForce FX 5900 Ultra with 256MB of memory that Thunderbox offers as its uppermost echelon of performance (and price). The card adds a full $150 over the standard RADEON 9800 128MB, making it a costly upgrade. A fan mounted on the case’s Plexiglas window augments the GeForce FX’s stock, dual-slot cooling solution. The 80mm unit is covered with a custom grill that sports another Thunderbox PC logo.
Even though onboard audio is snubbed in high-end systems, the six-channel AC’97 codec housed on ABIT’s IC7 is a wholly capable solution. The board’s back panel even offers digital S/PDIF input and output. Understandably, many enthusiasts will want to forgo the onboard solution, though, and add their own cards. Our system came with an Audigy, but Thunderbox enables a host of other options for more discerning audio enthusiasts.
The rest of the Savage’s specs are more minor details. It ships with a standard black Microsoft Internet Keyboard and an optical mouse, both of which are upgradeable. It comes with a floppy, of course, and a 16x DVD-ROM drive. If you’d prefer something a bit beefier, there are also CD-RW and DVD±R/RW drives available online. You can also add cold cathode lighting for a flashy touch of ‘tude.
If the modded look suits you, rest assured that the Savage arrived very neatly organized, with all of the cables tied and tucked away. Rounded IDE cables, sleeving, and zip ties are all used gratuitously for optimal airflow. Besides, it’d be a crime to hide all of that cutting-edge hardware in a tangled mess of cabling, wouldn’t it? Further, the system ships in a well-padded box that includes an incredibly detailed user guide. The documentation folder covers driver versions, installed hardware, and a full breakdown of the machine’s performance in a variety of modern benchmarks. Naturally, this is a particularly informative addition, especially for non-standard, overclocked platforms.
SIDEBAR: Thunderbox PC also offers a complete line of small form-factor systems that include Shuttle and Biostar chassis.
Since we have our own display and audio testing equipment, we didn’t receive a monitor or speaker system with the Savage. Even still, when we priced our system on Thunderbox PC’s configurator, it nearly hit $2,700, sans display or speakers. There is clearly a price to be paid for the finer things in life, and custom computer systems that ship overclocked from the manufacturer and are covered under a comprehensive yearlong warranty are invariably more expensive than ordinary beige boxes. Think of it as the difference between your everyday Graco baby seat and a custom Recaro booster. One is designed to keep you safe, while the other does the same thing in significantly more style.
We did attempt to “build” the Savage on our own, using the online tools available to you, and came up with the following prices. Keep in mind that certain aspects of the system, like the custom window, fan grille, and case accents are impossible to replicate, so we’ll add the prices that Thunderbox charges for those:
Pentium 4 3.0GHz - $383
Vantec Aeroflow - $24
ABIT IC7 875P Motherboard - $116
GeForce FX 5900 Ultra 256MB - $390
Custom 80mm Video Cooler - $80
Lian-Li PC-6070 - $168
Custom-Cut Window - $99
Cold Cathode Lighting x2 - $60
Western Digital 120GB Special Edition - $105
1GB PC3500 Memory (512MB x2) - $160
16x DVD-ROM Drive - $30
Sound Blaster Audigy - $60
Microsoft Multimedia Keyboard/Optical Mouse Combo - $20
Logitech MX500 - $45
Enermax EG465P-VE - $75
Floppy Drive - $10
Microsoft Windows XP Pro - $130
D-Link DGE 500T 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet - $35
Total - $2,044, including shipping
There is a noticeable discrepancy between the prices of our “home brew” system and Thunderbox PC’s custom box. Granted, there’s no guarantee that our 3.0GHz Pentium 4 will hit 3.3GHz, like the “performance clocked” Savage, and we can’t duplicate its snazzy looks, either. However, $600 would pay for a 17” LCD and speaker system if you’re a diligent do-it-yourselfer.
SIDEBAR: Thunderbox also manufactures a killer mobile rig, complete with Mobility 9600 Pro, Gigabit Ethernet, USB 2.0, and six-channel audio. Check it out here.
3D Mark03 v.330 – DirectX 9
PC Mark 2002
Quake III v.1.17 ‘Demo001,’ 4xAA 8xAF – OpenGL
Comanche 4 – DirectX 8
Unreal Tournament 2003 Flyby – DirectX 8
Unreal Tournament 2003 Botmatch – DirectX 8
Business Winstone 2002 – Office Productivity
SiSoft Sandra MAX3 Memory Bandwidth
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