Whenever discussing gaming PCs, I'll be the first to tell you that building one yourself is always better – mostly because it's infallibly cheaper. But, if you have the scratch, Maingear makes the most compelling case to buy instead of build that I've seen with its Shift gaming PC.
As an original, full-tower chassis design, the Shift is Maingear's flagship gaming PC, and it more than earns that moniker. With enough room for three graphics cards, six hard drives and three 5.25-inch drive bays, the Shift is (practically) infinitely expandable.
Of course, it looks slick as hell, and employs some clever twists on gaming PC design that help it keep pace with rivals, like Origin PC's Genesis chassis. In spite of some nagging component issues, I'm left (almost) wanting to buy my next gaming rig after testing out the Maingear Shift.
Frankly, the builders at Maingear know their stuff. They've designed the Shift chassis from the ground up to literally flip the concept of a PC case on its head.
Unlike most other PC chassis – with the exception of Silverstone – the Shift accepts motherboards that are flipped 90 degrees, so that the ports are accessible from the top of the case rather than the rear. Then, an easily removed (just a few screws) top panel hides the ports and cables from plain sight.
Of course, this top panel is heavily ventilated, which supports another unique feature of Maingear's case: "VRTX Cooling Technology," or vertical exhaust. Essentially, the flipped motherboard positioning allows for GPU heat to flow through the top of the chassis, allowing thermodynamics to do its job. This is supported by upward-facing fans located near the power supply in the lower chamber of the case.
Between the VRTX technology – or, you know, physics – and Maingear's tidy, attractive Epic 180 Supercooler closed loop liquid cooling system, the Shift never gets hot or makes a sound – even when rendering games in 4K. Overclockers: this is the case you want.
Six (no typo there) easily hot-swappable hard drive bays make expanding your system super easy, which will come in handy for those likely enormous virtual reality game files. Plus, the case's front door opens to reveal those three drive bays, and a flip-up top panel reveals even more USB ports, audio ports and card readers.
With everything closed shut, the Shift cleans up well and transforms into one seamless desktop PC. (You should check out Maingear's cable management skills, too – they put my home build to utter shame.)
Finally, the entire case is comprised of brushed aluminum, but you wouldn't know it beneath the gorgeous, automotive-grade paint job that Maingear customized our review unit with. Sure, our configuration costs a fortune at nearly seven grand, but why buy a boutique PC if not for its builders to do what you can't, like a paint job you could only dream of replicating?
Enough about the case itself – let's get an idea of what Maingear can cram into this thing.
Here is the Maingear Shift configuration sent to techradar for review:
- Case: Shift Chassis with Advanced Vertical Heat Dissipation and Window
- CPU: 3.0GHz Intel Core i7-5960X (octa-core, 20MB cache, overclocked to 4.2GHz)
- Graphics: 2 x Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 Ti (8GB GDDR5, SLI)
- RAM: 16GB Kingston HyperX Predator DDR4 (4 x 4GB, 3,000MHz)
- Motherboard: Asus X99 Deluxe (Haswell-E, PCI-E)
- Storage: 400GB Intel SSD (PCIe, NVMe Gen-3), 4TB Seagate Barracuda HDD (7,200 rpm)
- Optical drive: LG 16X Blu-Ray Writer/DVD-RW
- Ports: 12 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, 1 x SPDIF-Out, Mic, Line-In and Line-Out ports
- Connectivity: 2X RJ-45 Ethernet, Wi-Fi + Bluetooth radio adaptors
- Operating system: Windows 10 (64-bit)
- Weight: 60 pounds (approx.)
The configuration that you see listed above (and pictured throughout) goes for an insanely steep $6,809 (about £4,777, AU$9,024) – but this is obviously an extreme enthusiast machine.
Of course, this accounts $1,000 total for the custom paint job that Maingear provided our review unit to demonstrate its capabilities, not to mention the $250 closed loop liquid cooling system, $50 overclocking service and $60 worth of interior lighting. (Oh, and the $99 case window addition, too.)
But, don't worry: this isn't even close to the price ceiling for this rig.
That said, the Maingear Shift starts at $1,499 (about £1,051, AU$1,986), but that basic price cuts all the extras you see on our unit. Well, all that and the insanely powerful components – the basic model starts with half of the RAM, an AMD Radeon R9 360 and an Intel Core i3 chip, to give you an idea.
At this point, it's tough to say whether the Maingear Shift is a decent value, as is the case with all boutique gaming PCs. It depends entirely on how much value you put on not only eliminating the hassle of building a gaming rig, but possibly overclocking it and giving it a sharp paint job.
There's also the hidden value of having someone else accountable when something goes wrong, as every Maingear PC comes with a comprehensive 1-year warranty and free lifetime "Angelic" service and phone support. If you were to build this thing yourself, you'd only have your own brain and the internet to figure out how to resolve an issue.
Now, it's time see how the Shift performs on a day-to-day. (Spoiler: well, really well.)
Here's how the Maingear Shift performed in our suite of benchmark tests:
- 3DMark: Cloud Gate: 30,542; Sky Diver: 36,394; Fire Strike: 21,457
- Cinebench CPU: 1,294 points; Graphics: 146 fps
- GeekBench: 3,340 (single-core); 25,257 (multi-core)
- PCMark 8 (Home Test): 4,043 points
- Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor: (1080p, Ultra): 176 fps; (1080p, Low): 224 fps
- Grand Theft Auto V: Ultra: 73 fps; Low: 166 fps
As you can see, this configuration of the Maingear Shift can handle basically anything. I even managed to play The Division, which released last week (as of this writing), at a silky smooth 60 frames per second (fps) at 4K resolution.
Of course, none of this should be surprising. The thing goes for almost $7,000 – it damn well better be able to handle anything I throw at it.
While I wasn't able to test it out in earnest, I have no doubts that this Maingear Shift is ready for the most demanding VR experiences from either the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive, at least in this configuration. That should go without saying, but just to dispel any worries.
There's not much nuance to be said of the Shift's performance. It simply can handle any type of task with little issue, from 4K gaming to spreadsheets executing functions on 4,000 entries.
Thank heaven for that Angelic service and warranty
However, not everything with techradar's Shift unit was sunshine and rainbows. I encountered several issues in regards to the SLI implementation and graphics drivers when playing the latest games, not to mention plenty of hard crashes and temporary power supply surges.
Naturally, Maingear's Angelic Service people were there with me every step of the way, and not just because I'm reviewing this device. The standard 1-year warranty guarantees you against component failure, and the company offers free phone support and labor-free service beyond that indefinitely.
None of the issues I experienced were permanent, and such problems are more common than you might think with boutique PCs, hence the comprehensive warranties. Regardless, should this be the kind of scenario you're paying $7,000 for? Hardly.
For a desktop that's guaranteed to handle 4K and VR gaming with aplomb, the Maingear Shift is a fine place to start your search.
But, like with any boutique PC, just be sure of the service support and warranty that comes with that hefty price tag – not to mention warranties on the components themselves.
Regardless of your intent for the Shift, it's smart case design and optional liquid cooling system will keep things quiet and cool while running the most intense games or work applications.
From the glorious paint job to the incredibly tidy case build inside, Maingear doesn't use the term "flagship" lightly. The Shift will now be my first stop should I ever want to go bought over built.