[section label=1. Introduction]
iBUYPOWER SpecOps Program Project #1
Back at CES earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to meet a couple guys from the iBUYPOWER team who were very excited to talk to us about their new SpecOps Program, a new initiative started by their R&D and marketing staff to help customers choose optimal system configurations for specific use cases. If anyone has ever purchased a system from a boutique vendor like iBUYPOWER, you’ll know that you don’t get much guidance in terms of parts selection. You simply go into the system configurator, do your research, and choose your own parts. The SpecOps Program however, helps guide customers through this process in a transparent way by blogging about the initial objectives, taking systems through internal benchmarking, crowdsourcing ideas, and finally producing an accepted configuration.
Today we have for review the first system to be released by iBUYPOWER’s SpecOps Program, the iBUYPOWER SpecOPS Stream Machine. iBUYPOWER claims that the SpecOps Stream Machine was designed from the ground up to be the best sub-$800 system for playing and streaming today’s most popular games.
iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine Specifications
|Desktop||iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine|
|Case||NZXT Phantom 240 Gaming Chassis|
|CPU||Intel Core i5-4460|
|Memory||8GB (2x4GB) ADATA DDR3-1600|
|Graphics||MSI GTX 750 Ti|
|Storage||1TB WD Blue 7200RPM HDD|
|Optical Drive||24x LG DVD±R/±RW|
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 8.1 (64-bit Edition)|
|CPU Cooler||Asetek 510LC Liquid Cooler|
|Warranty||3 Years Labor, 1 Year Parts|
|Price as Configured||$799|
|Configure System||Click Here|
Our review system, the sub-$800 iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine configuration, is documented in a series of blog posts here. Given its sub-$800 pricetag, it’s definitely not the craziest system we’ve seen this year, but it’s decently spec’d for a system at the pricerange. Notable specifications include an Intel Core i5-4460, 8GB of DDR3 memory, a MSI GTX 750 Ti and 1TB of storage on a WD Blue 7,200RPM HDD.
That being said, let’s take a deeper look!
[section label=2. A Closer Look]
A Closer Look at the iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine
Here’s a look at the packaging for the iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine. Since the chassis used on our sample system is the NZXT Phantom 410, the packaging for the system is simply the packaging for the chassis.
Included in the packaging we get some documentation, driver/software disks, a power cord, WiFi adapter, internal USB header to USB-A adapter, and some cable ties.
In order to protect the internal components from shifting in transit, iBUYPOWER uses expandable foam which needs to be removed prior to turning on the system. In order to prevent users from inadvertently using the onboard Intel graphics, iBUYPOWER also includes a sticker telling users to use the video outputs from the graphics card.
Here’s a look at the iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine. Our specific sample used the NZXT Phantom 410 chassis.
At the top of the chassis, we get a variety of I/O ports, LED indicators, and switches. Here we get a power button, reset button, fan control switch, two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, a 3.5mm headphone port, and a 3.5mm microphone port.
At the front of the chassis, the cover to the chassis can be opened to reveal three 5.25″ bays. One of the bays was populated with a 24x LG DVD±R/±RW drive. Below the optical drive bays is a mesh panel which features a 120mm fan.
At the rear of the iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine we get a full array of I/O ports including a PS/2 mouse port, PS/2 keyboard port, DVI port (onboard graphics), VGA port (onboard graphics), HDMI port (onboard graphics), 4x USB 2.0 ports, 2x USB 3.0 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, audio ports, DVI port (discrete graphics), VGA port (discrete graphics), HDMI port (discrete graphics), and a standard 3-pin power port.
Removing the sidepanels, we can take a closer look at the interior of the iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine. Overall cabling is very clean and the build is good. The NZXT Phantom 410 has plenty of room for further expansion as well.
Here’s a closer look at the core components used in our system. The components are fairly modest, which is expected for a system costing just under $800.
The NZXT Phantom 410 chassis includes three 5.25″ drive bays and six 3.5″ drive bays. Our unit was populated with a one 5.25″ LG optical drive and one 3.5″ 1TB WD Blue 7200RPM HDD.
At the bottom we also have a generic Soly Tech SL-F400 power supply. I haven’t really heard of this brand before, but I’d highly recommend those interested in the SpecOps Stream Machine to upgrade to a higher quality power supply from a reputable vendor such as a Corsair.
Here’s a look at the iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine when switched on. The system has several LED lit components which makes the system look quite nice in the dark.
[section label=3. Testing Setup/Initial Boot]
IB (Ivy Bridge) Reference System
For reference, we’ll be using a well equipped Ivy Bridge based reference system for comparison. Our Ivy Bridge reference system doesn’t necessarily represent the fastest PC on the market, but it’s very well spec’d as a fantastic mid-range gaming PC capable of playing a majority of the latest games on the market at medium settings at 1080p. The specifications for our Ivy Bridge reference system are as follows.
|CPU||Intel Core i5-3570K|
|Memory||Kingston HyperX Genesis 16GB DDR3 2133MHz|
|Graphics||MSI R9 270 Gaming 2GB|
|Boot Drive||Kingston HyperX 3K 240GB SSD|
|Storage Drive||Western Digital Caviar Green 3TB|
|Power Supply||Corsair HX650|
|Case||HSPC High Speed Tech Station|
|Optical Drive||ASUS OEM DVD Drive|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Ultimate x64 SP1|
iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine Initial Boot
[section label=4. CPU Performance]
iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine Performance
SuperPi is a single threaded benchmarking tool which for our purposes simply calculates pi for us and records the time to calculate 32 million digits after the decimal point.
WPrime is a multi-threaded benchmarking tool which for our purposes simply calculates pi for us and records the time to calculate 32 million digits after the decimal point.
x264 HD Video Benchmark v5.0.1
x264 HD video benchmark tests how fast the system can encode a 1080p video into a high quality x264 video file. The most recent 5.0.1 release includes a more advanced benchmark script to better stress test newer multi-core processors.
Cinebench is a real world benchmark that tests system performance using the Cinema 4D animation software. For our benchmarking, we’ll be testing multithreaded performance only.
Although the Intel Core i5-4460 equipped in the iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine isn’t quite as powerful as our reference system’s Intel Core i5-3570K, it’s a decent processor that offers exceptional value for the price. In our benchmarks, the Intel Core i5-4460 was only slightly behind the Intel Core i5-3570K.
[section label=5. Graphics Performance]
iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine Performance
3D Mark is Futuremark’s latest benchmark utility used widely by gamers, enthusiasts, and overclockers to benchmark system performance and stability under consistent graphics loads.
Although the GeForce GTX 750 Ti equipped in our iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine is extremely efficient, it still underperforms compared to our Ivy Bridge reference system’s Radeon R9 270. In our gaming benchmarks, games running 1920×1080 and 2560×1440 resolutions at maximum settings proved to be a bit of a challenge. That said, the GTX 750 Ti is a mid-range graphics card which is much better suited towards gaming at medium settings. Those looking for gaming at maximum settings at resolutions of 1920×1080 or beyond are recommended to upgrade to the GeForce GTX 960 or above.
[section label=6. System Performance]
iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine Performance
PC Mark 8
From the creators of 3D Mark, PC Mark 8 is a full system benchmark designed to test real world system performance. PC Mark 8 is the latest in the PC Mark series, now replacing PC Mark 7.
The PCMark 8 Home benchmark includes workloads that reflect common tasks for a typical home user. These workloads have low computational requirements making PCMark 8 Home suitable for testing the performance of low-cost tablets, notebooks and desktops. Home includes workloads for web browsing, writing, gaming, photo editing, and video chat. The results are combined to give a PCMark 8 Home score for your system.
The PCMark 8 Creative benchmark includes workloads typical of advanced home computer users. With more demanding requirements than Home benchmark, this benchmark is suitable for mid-range computer systems. PCMark 8 Creative includes web browsing, photo editing, video editing, group video chat, media transcoding, and gaming workloads. The results are combined to give your PCMark 8 Creative score.
The PCMark 8 Work benchmark test includes a set of workloads that reflect common tasks for an office environment, such as writing documents and browsing websites. These workloads have low computational requirements and are suitable for measuring the performance of typical office PC systems that lack media capabilities. The results from each workload are combined to give an overall PCMark 8 Work score for your system.
Given that the iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine and our Ivy Bridge reference system are similarly equipped, we expected total system performance to be relatively similar with the Ivy Bridge reference system slightly outperforming the iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine which was the case here.
[section label=7. Disk / USB 3.0 Performance]
iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine Performance
1TB WD Blue 7200RPM HDD
In order to fit into the sub-$800 budget, there was simply no way a SSD would be possible so the iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine was equipped with a simple 1TB WD Blue 7200RPM HDD. Performance for a hard drive was decent although I’d definitely recommend upgrading to a SSD for those picking up one of these systems. With every system here at the Custom PC Review labs equipped with SSDs, waiting for system boots, system restarts, game loads, game restarts, game installs, application installs, etc. on the SpecOps Stream Machine was incredibly painful.
USB 3.0 Performance
For USB 3.0 testing, we used the ADATA DashDrive Elite SE720 128GB USB 3.0 SSD. USB performance was as expected as sequential read/writes easily surpassed 400MB/s.
[section label=8. Power Consumption / Temperature / Noise]
iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine Power Consumption
Here we’ll be testing the maximum power consumption of each of the test systems shown below. Idle power consumption is taken after the system is left idle for a minimum of 5 minutes. For load power consumption numbers, both Prime95 and Furmark are run simultaneously for a minimum of 5 minutes before the final results are taken.
With the combination of a microATX motherboard, Maxwell architecture based GTX 750 Ti graphics card, and Haswell architecture based Intel Core i5-4460, power consumption especially at load is very low. Idle power consumption while low is slightly higher than our reference system, which I think is due to poor efficiency from the generic power supply. At idle, the power supply registered a power factor of just 0.54 which is very inefficient.
iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine Temperature and Noise
Prime 95 + Furmark Testing
This test is primarily to figure out the maximum temperature the system can reach by using an artificially generated load that most users would not be able to achieve in normal testing. Temperatures are taken after a minimum of 30 minutes of running both Prime 95 and Furmark simultaneously.
Ambient Temperature – 17.8°C (Taken via Extech EA10 dual probe thermometer)
Recently, we’ve also used AIDA64’s included stress testing utility, which is nice as it’s able to stress the system in a different way compared to Prime95 or Furmark. The utility also allows us to find out when the system is throttling due to too much heat.
Cooling on the iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine is pretty overkill as demonstrated in our stress testing here. Despite the extremely heavy loads thrown at the system, the CPU barely broke 60°C and the GPU didn’t even pass 57°C. Good cooling is extremely important to system longevity and it’s nice seeing that iBUYPOWER has gone far and beyond in this department.
Although there were quite a few fans onboard the iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine, overall noise on the system is fairly low. Since most of the components onboard are very energy efficient, they run extremely cool as well which means fans onboard the system can stay at lower RPMs and lower noise levels without issue.
[section label=9. Conclusion]
iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine Conclusions
So after testing the iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine, I was initially a bit confused as to why iBUYPOWER was so excited about this system. While the sub-$800 pricetag certainly does make it quite affordable, performance in our benchmarks was mediocre at best and it was even beat by our Ivy Bridge Reference System in nearly every benchmark. Traditionally, game streaming machines are powerhouse systems with dedicated capture cards, high end CPUs, and high end graphics cards, but the SpecOps Stream Machine was none of that. Instead, iBUYPOWER outfitted the system with fairly modest specs carrying a fairly modest pricetag. What’s the deal here?
Well, luckily iBUYPOWER posted their entire development process for the SpecOps Stream Machine (here and here), and it became evident that iBUYPOWER designed this system for a specific niche of gamers who are mostly interested in playing games at the lowest possible settings then streaming these games over services such as Twitch.tv. For those of us gamers and hardware enthusiasts who don’t follow this logic, let me explain…
While this initially sounded outrageous given my love for high end hardware and playing games at the highest resolutions and the highest settings possible, a sizable chunk of amateur and professional gamers are actually opting to play games at the lowest possible quality and resolution settings. By doing so, this removes all the graphics “fluff” such as anti-aliasing, HDR, bloom, advanced textures, etc. which is preferred by many pro gamers as they claim it’s less distracting. Additionally, lowering game settings makes games much more CPU rather than GPU dependent which means gamers with entry level graphics cards and decent CPUs will be able to play at frame-rates northwards of 200, 300 or 400 FPS – something else many pro gamers claim makes a huge difference despite the fact that most monitors these days are capped at 60Hz (60FPS) or 120Hz (120FPS).
For this specific purpose, the SpecOps Stream Machine performed very well and was obviously an objective for iBUYPOWER when they designed the system. Although our benchmarking suite doesn’t test for gaming at low settings nor do we benchmark non-repeatable multiplayer games, I did confirm that the SpecOps Stream Machine will play games extremely well at the lowest possible settings. While this might not be something I’m interested in, I can definitely understand the customer base iBUYPOWER is targeting with their SpecOps Stream Machine.
Overall for the sub-$800 pricetag, I think the iBUYPOWER SpecOps Stream Machine is a great value. While I do suggest those interested in picking one of theses systems up spend the extra to upgrade the power supply to a more reputable unit, gamers looking for an entry level system that can adequately play games at lower settings and stream them online won’t find much better at the price.
Sample provided by: iBUYPOWER
Available at: iBUYPOWER