These are exciting times for anyone with a vested interest in PC gaming. Diablo III is just around the corner (yes, we're big fans of the series) and NVIDIA has just unleashed its fastest-ever single-GPU graphics card - the GeForce GTX 680.
It's a component that will be hot on the lips of gamers wanting to upgrade in search of best-in-class performance and it's one that could provide a much-needed spark for a stuttering PC market. Opportunity beckons, so system integrators are racing to get GTX 680-based systems out the door, and award-winning British retailer Scan Computers is one of the first to do so with a gaming-grade machine dubbed the 3XS Performance GTX.
A price tag of £992.99 excluding VAT (£1,191.59 all-in) doesn't seem extravagantly high for a machine equipped with the latest and greatest in graphics technology - extreme gaming rigs have been known to fetch double or triple that amount - so what exactly is the 3XS Performance GTX aiming to achieve? Well, in Scan's own words, this is a "good value" system designed exclusively "for somebody looking to play the latest games titles at high resolutions with copious amounts of AA and AF."
The idea, in theory, is to keep the price at a reasonable level while gaming frame-rates go through the roof. To that end, the 3XS Performance GTX includes a selection of mid-range components coupled with a top-end graphics card in its default configuration. These include a Corsair Carbide Series 300R chassis (worth £60), an Intel Core i5-2500K processor (worth £165), a Gigabyte GA-Z68XP-UD3 motherboard (worth £95), 8GB of Corsair Vengeance LP memory (worth £40) and an EVGA GeForce GTX 680 graphics card that's priced at around £430.
All of the individual parts are strong, but it's clear to see where the focus lies - the graphics card represents roughly 35 per cent of the total system price. Keeping costs down elsewhere, Scan opts not to include solid-state storage by default - instead choosing a 2TB, 7,200RPM SATA 6Gbps hard disk - the optical drive is a standard DVD writer as opposed to Blu-ray, and the power supply is a 600W Corsair Gaming Series unit.
Scan's argument is that "the majority of games do not benefit from multiple cores and insane amounts of RAM," and it's a valid point. If gaming is your primary concern, this is a specification that should blitz through the latest titles.
As you'd expect, Scan's configuration page does offer plenty of room to manoeuvre should you feel the need to chop and change. You have a choice of three Z68 motherboards, the option to upgrade to a Core i7-2600K or i7-2700K processor, as well as the ability to add liquid cooling. And, in addition to the 15 chassis options listed, buyers can also choose to pick any other chassis from the Scan website (subject to approval).
The available options are good, but we'd like to see Scan offer a wider variety of AMD 7000-series graphics cards. The GeForce GTX 680 is of course the headline act, but for users who don't need quite so much power, a Radeon HD 7800-series card would offer an attractive alternative at a cheaper price. At the time of writing, the 3XS Performance GTX can be configured with only one 7000-series product; the Radeon HD 7950.
There are no qualms about the CPU, though. Intel's Core i5-2500K remains an excellent choice for gaming PCs, and Scan overclocks the chip from 3.3GHz to 4.7GHz as part of the package. It's a very healthy bump in speed and to help keep the CPU cool, a large Cogage Arrow heatsink and fan is installed by default. It's a cooler we've yet to experience, so we're eager to see how it performs a little later in the review.
The 3XS Performance GTX offers strong gaming potential, but is there anything we'd change? Well, the HEXUS team has grown pragmatic over the years and, if you'll only be gaming at 1080p resolutions, we'd downgrade the graphics card and add an SSD for improved overall system responsiveness. The GTX 680 may be overkill for some gamers, but then again, the target enthusiast audience would argue that one can never have too much GPU performance. On that note, upgrading the standard 600W power supply to an 850W unit at a cost of roughly £60 may make sense for users who envisage switching to a dual-GPU configuration further down the line - the default Gigabyte motherboard supports both CrossFire and SLI.
You can discuss configuration options until the cows come home, but what's arguably more important here is Scan's build quality and service. And the first impressions are very good. We've experienced our fair share of system integrators in recent years and we've no hesitation in stating that Scan is typically a cut above the rest.
To begin with, there's cable management and then there's cable management. Scan falls into the latter category, if you get our meaning. The 3XS Performance GTX, despite using a non-modular power supply, is really well-put together. The cables are tied down in all the right places, providing a clean look throughout, and most are colour coded to maintain a theme throughout the machine.
This is a PC that's clearly been put together by someone who knows what he/she is doing. The 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium install is equally clean, with no sign of bloatware and all the latest Windows Updates and drivers installed. Heck, such is the level of cleanliness it'd take a CSI to find a fingerprint on our review sample.
And the good level of service extends beyond the build itself. Scan's 3XS PCs are delivered by in-house drivers as opposed to national couriers (with the option for in-home setup) and the standard two-year 3XS warranty offers on-site parts and labour support for the first year (which we're told normally operates on a next-day call-out basis) and return-to-base cover for the second year.
Pricing up the individual components suggests that an experienced builder could put together a similar system and save around £80, but the guaranteed CPU overclock, top-notch build quality and two-year warranty are reason enough to buy fully-built. The package is hard to knock, but let's get on to the benchmarks and see if the 3XS Performance GTX lives up to its billing as a gamer's dream.