iBUYPOWER Paladin XLC Desktop Review
iBUYPOWER makes some pretty impressive custom PCs for gamers using high quality components. Its Paladin line, built around Intel’s Core i series processor, offers some serious configuration choices for gamers and high performance computing enthusiasts in the $1500 – $3000 price range. The Paladin XLC sits in the middle-top of the price range and offers liquid-cooling, factory overclocking and performance components.
When considering your next system not everyone is prepared to research to find the best part for a self-assemby process. While self-assembly is a great way to save some money, gamers who want to play with the best hardware and highest game settings often look to pre-made or custom-built systems for an answer. Not everyone is comfortable kit bashing a computer. iBUYPOWER is one of several leading configuration companies out there who build performance PCs aimed at enthusiast gamers with some money to spend.
There is also a prevailing mythology that “turn-key” systems are always more expensive. I decided to verify that assumption using the Paladin XLC and found that iBUYPOWER was not far off the cost of assembling this system from parts using newegg.com. The Paladin XLC configuration came in a little under the part by part price if you omitted the liquid cooling option, once you included tax and shipping.
Even with the liquid cooling, the unit is just over the retail part price from the company and that does not include any of the overclocking software options iBUYPOWER bundles. Overall, the price difference is a wash. It just comes down to convenience and the ability to get a single point of contact for support and aftercare, an option that honestly can’t be undersold if you’ve ever had to chase down component support from 5-10 different vendors.
The Paladin XLC V2 we received for review included a Gigabyte GA-X58A-UDR3 with Intel Core i7 930, LG Blu-Ray optical drive, 800w power supply, 2 PaLIT Geforce GTX 460 1GB cards in SLI mode, 6GB of fast RAM, 2TB of storage in a Raid configuration, a liquid cooling system and uses the NZXT Phantom full-tower case. The configuration runs around $2000 and is not even close to the greatest config offered by the reseller, but for general gaming purposes it is more than adequate to run most current games with the graphics cranked up.
iBUYPOWER advertises custom overclock support on these models and using the efficiency gained through multiple case fans in the Phantom case and a liquid cooling solution the system was very stable when overclocked by 20-30%. Included overclocking software offered three default modes to push the hardware but allows for custom tinkering if a user has the knowledge or willingness to experiment further. Even when adjusting a custom overclocking setup, I was unable to really get the system to act erratically.
The NZXT Phantom full-tower case is a beast, but it is very well-built and offers a lot of room for expansion. The model we received for review was white. The case exterior includes a nice scratch resistant glazed paint job. The NZXT Phantom case is designed specifically to promote good airflow and supports independent fan controls using a slider on the top of the unit.
The sides, back and front of the Paladin include nicely machined vents. When paired with the Paladin’s internal neon lighting, the system brightens up a room while managing to keep the ambient noise to a minimum. The Phantom is aesthetically nice, but it does take up a good amount of space under a desk. The use of multiple fans also means that the Paladin XLC is best stored where there is available airflow.
Testing the Paladin’s performance was an interesting proposition. Out of the box, the system was set to overclock 25% so I began by loading up some games like Starcraft II, Team Fortress 2, Mass Effect 2 and Unreal Tournament III. The results were impressive.
Each game I tested had the visual fidelity cranked to the maximum and the system didn’t blink. Starcraft II, a game that is amazingly power-hungry for an RTS, performed well with no noticeable lag or artifacting on the highest video resolution my attached monitor could handle – 1280×960.
Gaming performance when I disabled the overclocking was still snappy though surpisingly I did notice a little more lag in Team Fortress 2. Investigation led to an out of date video driver problem and once I updated to the latest Nvidia driver even these issues disappeared. The Paladin XLC is a very good choice for gaming.
I did experience some concerns testing the Paladin, but they had little to do with the system’s gaming performance. Instead, they were problems with the system’s Windows startup performance.
After about three weeks of use and more than a few Windows 7 updates, I noticed the system was taking longer and longer to POST and present a Windows 7 logon screen. I tweaked the BIOS settings a bit and ran a few diagnostics but was unable to find the source of the Windows startup problem. The Gigabyte hardware checked out and none of the driver updates I made seemed to be the culprit. Eventually, I ascribed this oddity up to an interaction between Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit and the components of the system as even safe mode experienced a delayed initialization.
The Paladin XLC review unit we received included iBUYPOWER’s basic mouse and keyboard bundle. These are passable accessories that worked adequately. However, I found that the mouse, despite having 5 buttons, did not respond to the secondary actions like back and forward. I attempted to program these actions and it did not register the presence of the optional buttons.
The keyboard is your standard USB model with included media keys. The keytouch was adequate and the repeat rate and feel were typical of a basic keyboard model. Both accessories are branded with iBUYPOWER’s logo and name but gamers looking for the best performance should consider upgrading or replacing them quickly.
In conclusion, the Paladin XLC we tested is a solid gaming system with some great features. I’m sure hardware grognards could find something to quibble with here, but aside from the Windows 7 bootup issues the system really impressed me with its speed and horsepower.
The ability to buy and build your own is always nice, but having a three-year warranty and a single point of support contact can’t really be undersold. If you’re in the market for a good gaming system and a system vendor that offers a lot of configuration choices, iBUYPOWER should be at the top of your list.
- Excellent NZXT Phantom case
- Lots of expansion room
- Overclocking software included and pre-configured
- Odd Windows 7 startup conflicts
- Very large footprint
- Absolutely not a mobile platform