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IT & Systems Management

Velocity Micro Raptor Z95: Modern components, dated enclosure

Boutique gaming PCs usually have a few things in common: enthusiast-class components, enthusiastically overclocked; state-of-the art enclosures, with over-the-top paint jobs at the upper echelons; meticulous wiring jobs, in which internal cables are camouflaged or hidden entirely; and high price tags, sometimes steep enough to induce a nosebleed. With its Raptor Z95, Velocity Micro hits most of those notes, but without the nosebleed pricing.

The Raptor Z95 is outfitted with one of Intel's best performance CPUs, which you might be surprised to learn is not based on Intel's Haswell microarchitecture. Despite the 4000-series part number, the Core i7-4930K is instead based on the chip maker's Ivy Bridge-E template.

Whereas Haswell parts top out at four cores (with hyper-threading to support eight simultaneous threads), Ivy Bridge-E components--including the Core i7-4930K in this machine--have up to six cores (with hyper-threading to support 12 simultaneous threads). Ivy Bridge-E parts offer other performance features, too. They deliver four memory channels to Haswell's two. They can address up to 64GB of memory, whereas Haswell maxes out at 32GB. And they support 40 PCI Express lanes versus Haswell's 16. Ivy Bridge-E parts can do all of that in large measure because Intel doesn't leave any room on the die for an integrated GPU.

An integrated GPU would be wasted in a machine like the Raptor Z95 anyway. Velocity Micro packs in two video cards powered by Nvidia's midrange GeForce GTX 770 GPUs running in SLI. The Asus P9X79 LE motherboard also supports CrossFire, in case you want to switch allegiance to AMD graphics hardware down the road.

Neither the Raptor Z95's CPU nor its video cards are the fastest available, but Velocity Micro's choices help to keep this rig's price tag out of the stratosphere ($3999 is not chicken feed, but the Z95 is a whole lot less than the $6555 Origin Genesis Z87 or the $8000 Maingear Shift Super Stock Z87). The next-best processor in Intel's Ivy Bridge-E line--the Core i7-4960X Extreme Edition--has a retail price tag of $1059. And the Raptor Z95 carries dual video cards based on the GeForce 770 GPU because dual GeForce GTX 780 Ti cards would have added another several hundred dollars to its asking price.

Velocity Micro overclocked the components it did choose, taking you part of the way toward the performance of those money-is-no-object rigs for a whole lot less cash. The company elected to water-cool the CPU with an Asetek 570LC cooling system (an integrated pump and copper water block connected to an aluminum heat exchanger) that's coupled with a pair of 120mm Corsair fans in a push/pull configuration (one fan pushes air across the radiator while the other pulls air across it). This cooling arrangement enabled Velocity Micro's techs to goose the processor's clock speed from a stock 3.4GHz all the way to 4.5GHz.

The Z95's dual 120GB solid-state drives running in RAID 0 contributed to a strong score in our WorldBench 8.1 tests, but the system's 2TB, 7200-rpm hard drive guarantees that you won't soon run out of storage (RAID 0 arrays are supremely fast, but configuring two 120GB SSDs in RAID 0 yields only 120GB of capacity). The Raptor Z95 also holds 16GB of Visiontek DDR3/1600 memory in the form of four 4GB sticks.

All those premium components come housed inside Velocity Micro's "Classic Aluminum Case," which has a clear side panel so that you can lovingly admire the components and the expert cable management inside. The case itself, however, feels about as sturdy as a beer can. The flimsy side panels fit poorly, and the panel blank covering the vacant 5.25-inch drive bay up top is recessed by about a quarter of an inch, leaving a visible gap all around it. I thought it might have been pushed in during shipping, but closer examination revealed that it's supposed to look like that.

If you decide to use that bay, you'll need to perform a little cable management yourself, because the tech who assembled our unit used that space to stash some of the system's excess wiring. The louvered front panel, the rubber-coated lockable wheels on the bottom of the case, and the power supply mounted at the top of the case, meanwhile, leave the rig looking like something that might have been shown at the final Comdex (the famous trade show was cancelled in 2004).

But you certainly won't find any PC of that vintage capable of rendering BioShock Infinite at more than 78 frames per second, with the game's resolution set to 1920 by 1080 pixels and its visual quality set to Ultra. Still, the other boutique rigs I compared it against were all faster. The freakishly expensive machines from Origin and Maingear, for example, were more than twice as fast.

The four WorldBench 8.1 scores were a little closer, though I would have thought the six-core-powered Raptor Z95 capable of outrunning its more expensive rivals here, considering that they all had only quad-core processors. Here again, however, if you decide to upgrade components such as the memory, Ivy Bridge-E gives you a lot more headroom. 

I'm not really bashing the Raptor Z95. It's a very powerful computer for the money. But when you're dropping four grand on a boutique PC, you expect a precision instrument. The Raptor Z95 has all the right components, the handcrafted assembly, and the performance tuning that its price tag warrants. But the funky enclosure that you'll have to look at every day just doesn't rise to the same level.

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