This year's visit with representatives from some of the custom-build computer boutiques has been enlightening, if for no other reason than to highlight the sometimes extreme differences between each of these companies.

Our first visit was with CyberPower, and while most of the hardware they had on display was pretty much par for the course when it came to boutiques, there was one machine built in the Azza Fusion 4000 that was pretty mindboggling. The Azza Fusion 4000 itself is a case we currently have in house and will review sometime soon, and it's huge, capable of supporting up to an XL-ATX system in the bottom chamber and an entire Mini-ITX system in the top chamber. CyberPower took the case, which they co-developed with Azza, a step further by installing Windows Home Server 2011 into the Mini-ITX compartment and then a custom liquid-cooled system in the main chamber. It's a pretty impressive piece of hardware, and CyberPower has been gracious enough to volunteer sending it in for us to review. We hope to have it in soon.

Our next meeting was with Origin PC, and Origin is doing some completely different stuff. In an effort to better distinguish their brand, they're now producing custom matte and glossy lids for the Clevo notebooks they resell. Along with that, their entry-level Millennium also uses one of our favorite chassis, a BitFenix Shinobi that has been slightly modified with a glowing Origin logo on the face. Their big boy is their Genesis, a desktop that can be built in a Corsair Obsidian 800D and will soon be offered with phase change cooling; the unit they had on display took an Intel Core i7-3960X and overclocked it to a searing 5.7GHz. Last but not least, they've also announced lifetime 24/7 technical support for all purchases, based out of the United States.

The last meeting was with iBuyPower, and the systems in their suite stressed two focuses: innovation and value. Both of those are catchy marketing buzzwords, so we'll unpack them. On the innovation front, iBuyPower is offering laser-etched graphics along with airbrushed artwork on their machines, and showed off a series of prototypes involving using a laser to cut out pieces of acrylic for custom designs or images. That leads into their Erebus flagship desktop, which has the distinction of actually having an entirely custom-designed enclosure. On the value front, they stressed the availability of legitimately powerful gaming PCs starting at $800, complete with a K-series Intel processor and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550 graphics or better.

Ultimately it's good to see the boutiques doing what they can to distinguish themselves from each other, and we're looking forward to having hardware from all three in house for testing over the coming year.

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  • LB-ID - Thursday, January 12, 2012 - link

    Always good for we consumers to see healthy competition and innovation in the PC space. While a lot of us still like to roll our own, a lot of these innovations (as in the case designs) tend to make their way into the mainstream sooner or later. Reply
  • SNORK - Thursday, January 12, 2012 - link

    I won't consider any laptop based on the Clevo chassis until they ditch that goofy number pad. Reply

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