Intel's Sandy Bridge Extreme is the undisputed king of desktop CPU performance, but you could argue that the top-of-the-line Core i7 parts don't offer particularly good value. Sure, the i7-3960X is the fastest thing going, and the i7-3930K isn't far behind, but these hexa-core chips fetch £800 and £450, respectively, at retail - and for most users they won't feel immediately superior to standard Sandy Bridge parts that cost considerably less.
That proviso puts system integrators in a bit of a predicament; Sandy Bridge Extreme PCs such as the Scan 3XS Velocity SLI and Dell Alienware Aurora R4 are incredible machines, but at launch they were also massively expensive at between £2,000 and £2,500 for a standalone base unit.
What Sandy Bridge Extreme needed was a cheaper chip to bridge the gap between high-end LGA1155 parts and enthusiast-grade LGA2011. That's where the i7-3820 came in. Launched in January and currently priced at under £230, the quad-core, third-rung processor sheds two physical cores and a bit of on-chip cache in an effort to expand the appeal of Intel's finest desktop range. It's the most affordable route to a high-end X79 system and to find out if it makes sense as a gaming platform, we're taking a look at the CyberPower Infinity Xtreme XT.
Aimed at gaming enthusiasts who seek Sandy Bridge Extreme goodness at a touch-more realistic price, this high-end base unit comes attached to a VAT-inclusive fee of £1,299.
Still a considerable sum, but it does buy you Intel's highest-performing consumer platform and CyberPower does a good job of kitting out the Cooler Master Storm Enforcer chassis with similarly high-performance components. Included in the base specification is a Gigabyte GA-X79-UD3 motherboard, 8GB (4 x 2GB) of quad-channel Kingston HyperX memory, an AMD Radeon HD 7950 3GB graphics card and of course the Intel Core i7-3820 processor.
As expected in a gaming machine, the CPU is overclocked from Intel's default 3.60GHz to a very-healthy 4.56GHz - an increase of almost 27 per cent. CyberPower achieves the boost in speed by applying a 120MHz bus speed along with a 38x multiplier, and the system proved perfectly stable throughout our benchmarks.
Cooling for the 130W chip is provided by an Asetek 510 liquid cooler that's equipped with a pair of 120mm fans, and there's no shortage of fans elsewhere in the chassis, either. The 120mm exhausts are positioned in the roof of the enclosure and a big 200mm intake is in place up front.
The exterior appearance of the Storm Enforcer chassis is an acquired taste, but the mid-tower frame isn't too big at 229mm x 484.5mm x 523.5mm in size and the target gaming audience will likely appreciate the sculpted shell.
The all-black interior is easy on the eye, and CyberPower's feature set is befitting the price tag. USB 3.0 ports are available on the front I/O and pulling open the chassis' front door reveals access to a Blu-ray drive that's included as standard. Elsewhere, the default storage configuration consists of a 64GB Kingston V+200 SSD as the system drive and a 1TB Samsung HD103SJ hard disk as the secondary storage device. Providing power to all of these components is CyberPower's own 950W PSU and the total system price appears to be bang on - ordering identical or similar components from one of the UK's leading online retailers suggested an eerily similar self-build cost of £1,299.97.
So, for what it costs to buy the individual components, CyberPower is putting it together, applying a healthy overclock to the CPU, installing the OS and attaching a three-year limited warranty.
The overall build quality is quite good, but we can't help feel that a modular power supply would have tidied up some of the clutter. Fortunately, if you do want to chop and change, CyberPower's system configuration page is about as comprehensive as it gets. At the time of writing, there are well over a hundred choices - including the option for a full-tower chassis, a 360mm radiator, up to 64GB of RAM and just about any multi-GPU setup. The selection is vast, but get trigger happy with the upgrades and the total system cost will skyrocket.
As it stands, it's a system suitable for a hardcore gamer and there are a couple of other plus points worth mentioning. CyberPower's 64-bit install of Windows 7 Home Premium is clean - meaning no bloatware - and the manufacturer includes all of the manuals and accessories for the various components in the box. You get all the motherboard accessories, all of the chassis' fixtures and fittings, and even the little manual that comes with the Core i7 processor.
If there's a downside, it's that CyberPower's standard three-year warranty includes three-years labour, one-year parts and only one-month collect and return. What this means is that should your system fail after the first month, you'll need to cover the cost of returning it to the company's headquarters in Gateshead. The standard warranty may suffice for some users, but we like to err on the side of caution on pre-overclocked gaming machines and we'd recommend upgrading to CyberPower's Silver, Gold or Platinum warranties that offer one, two or three-year collect and return cover at an additional cost.
Enough of the ins and outs, let's see how well the Infinity Xtreme XT tackles our benchmarks.