These days, boutique system builders offer endless customization options at affordable professional assembly rates. iBUYPOWER has been in the business for 20 years now, and they’ve built their reputation on providing gamers robust hardware at extremely low prices. Assembling a powerful machine has never been easier, especially for those who lack the time or experience to tackle building their own PC. And with Steam OS just around the corner, it won’t take long before console makers will have to rethink their efforts to remain relevant. PC gaming is slowly but surely taking over the living room.
Today I’m taking a look at iBUYPOWER’s latest signature model, the Gamer Special Z170. I want to analyze overall system performance by focusing on everyday scenarios, whether you are a gamer, graphic artist or videographer. If you’re looking for precise benchmark charts for the individual parts, there are plenty of resources for that. I’m also taking a close look at construction quality and delivery packaging. But before we dive into specifics, let’s start with the shopping experience.
iBUYPOWER has shifted through a handful of drastic site redesigns over the years. Structurally, the layout is now more streamlined and user-friendly, making shopping notably easier. Major deals and special offers are displayed with vibrant banners and clean text, while the top-gaming deals are presented with a grid-like system towards the lower end of the site. iBUYPOWER has also added their own line of gaming peripherals, which are typically offered at sale prices when assembling your desired system. (We’ll cover their MEK keyboard in the near future).
Each core system has carefully selected parts that use the best possible combination of price and performance. Our Gamer Special Z170 unit is a modified version of the base build. We’ve upped the GPU from a 960 to a 970, added an extra 1TB of HD space and installed a small RGB case-lighting strip for extra aesthetic pizzaz. You can view the full specs in the chart below.
Once a base build is selected, you’re presented with a vast selection of different parts and features to modify your PC as desired. The list can be overwhelming at first, but iBUYPOWER has done a great job of color coding special offers and how each item affects final pricing. If you’re unfamiliar with certain parts and don’t feel like researching them individually, just click the small question mark beside each product, and you can view all the necessary specs and features.
"iBUYPOWER took the defensive route and didn’t skimp on the protective packaging. The PC was wrapped with so much padding, it could’ve probably survived a drop from a three-story building."
iBUYPOWER has made sure that the most recently released products are available for assembly, like the new i7 6700k CPU and NVIDIA’s latest GPU lineup. It’s very easy to mix and match parts based on your needs, and if you’re unsure about compatibility, iBUYPOWER’s system automatically flags incompatible parts and highlights the proper options.
The final cost of our build was $1409, an absurdly low price considering the quality of parts used and the excellent performance. If you were to assemble the same system yourself, it would average to around $1200-$1300 (based on a rough estimate of current part prices). This is an incredible value for professional assembly and testing.
One of the biggest fears surrounding purchasing pre-built computers online is whether everything will arrive in one piece. Fedex and UPS are notorious for manhandling fragile boxes. If you’re ordering a system from across several states, you can expect your package to endure some serious abuse before it arrives at your doorstep. Our PC traveled a whopping 2600+ miles, from California to Virginia, and I’m happy to say it arrived in flawless condition. iBUYPOWER took the defensive route and didn’t skimp on the protective packaging. The PC was wrapped with so much padding, it could’ve probably survived a drop from a three-story building. Several layers of thick foam enveloped the product box, which was placed inside a larger secondary box. Solid insulation filled the PC interior to keep all parts in place.
"The base fans hum lightly, but that’s pretty much the only thing you’ll ever hear coming from the Chimera. Add to that CPU liquid cooling and the energy efficient 970, and you have a system that stays cool and quiet at all times."
We received the Chimera 5 Flame Edition case, a black and red system with the company’s logo illustration covering the entire right side. The left side boasts a transparent panel window, allowing you to see all the parts in action. There are red orange lights installed throughout the case (mainly on the fans) that illuminate the build with a fiery glow. The engineers at iBUYPOWER have done a superb job with the cable management. Everything is elegantly wrapped and carefully positioned to ensure all parts have plenty of breathing room.
The Chimera 5 has fans on each side of the case, excluding the right panel. With this much air flow, the system never gets hot, even after hours of extensive gaming and multitasking. The constant airflow also prevents dust from gathering on the inside. The base fans hum lightly, but that’s pretty much the only thing you’ll ever hear coming from the Chimera. Add to that CPU liquid cooling and the energy efficient 970, and you have a system that stays cool and quiet at all times. It’s also worth noting how color coordinated the interior is. The red RAM sticks combined with MSI’s signature red highlights beautifully compliment Chimera’s exterior.
"The Gamer Special Z170 is a true powerhouse. The combination of NVIDIA’s 970 with Intel’s brand new i7 6700k serves up compelling performance without an extravagant price tag."
The overall construction is sturdy and has a nice industrial feel. However, the glossy front door and top surface are a fingerprint magnet. I wish the designers had chosen a more matte finish to prevent the glossy areas from collecting dirt. A brushed metal surface would have been perfect, but that’s just my preference. The red stripes where the power/reset buttons are located are also made of relatively cheap plastic, but the strips are so narrow it never becomes an issue. To be fair, certain compromises had to be made in order to keep costs so low. Aesthetically, the Chimera 5 looks stunning, whether you’re going with the Flame Edition or the white Snow Edition.
The Gamer Special Z170 is a true powerhouse. The combination of NVIDIA’s 970 with Intel’s brand new i7 6700k serves up compelling performance without an extravagant price tag. Nearly every modern AAA title maxes out at 1080p. And at 1440p, the Gamer Special Z170 delivers better results than expected. When testing Witcher 3 on ultra settings (with only hairworks turned off and shadows kept on medium settings), the game performs effortlessly at all times, with only minor framerate dips in Novigrad. Maxing out graphics settings in the newly released Mad Max results in buttery smooth gameplay that never dips below 60fps. Even at 1440p, the game runs flawlessly with only a few options de-selected. Even titles like Metro and Crysis 3 run without a hiccup at 1080p, although it does get tougher to stay at 60 when all settings are maxed out.
"The Gamer Special Z170 is a monstrous beauty with one of the best price-performance ratios I’ve seen in a long time."
If you’re keen on overclocking, both the 6700K and 970 can be pushed relatively far with remarkable results. The MSI is great for tuning due to its highly effective cooling system. With an increased core clock of up to 200 MHz, the 970 gets a solid 11% increase in performance. The 6700k can be overclocked to a whopping 5.20 GHz, thanks to efficient cooling and airflow. This not only makes 1440p gaming notably better, but it’s possible to push several titles at 4k, albeit at much lower settings. Keep in mind that this is the 970 we’re talking about, a card that’s nearly two hundred bucks cheaper than the 980.
The system impresses beyond gaming. With the i7 6700K and 8GB of new DDR4 RAM, multitasking has never been easier. Batch processing images in Photoshop takes mere seconds, and you can keep multiple programs running at the same time without a single hitch. Only a few years ago, it cost nearly twice as much to get the same kind of performance. The system also comes with iBUYPOWER’s software-controlled LED lighting kit. This lets users change the colors of the installed strips for extra flashiness.
The Gamer Special Z170 is a monstrous beauty with one of the best price-performance ratios I’ve seen in a long time. Being able to future proof yourself for under $1500 is quite an accomplishment.The folks at iBUYPOWER have done a superb assembly job, and I can’t stress enough how impressive their delivery method is. The Chimera 5 case looks great, and while I wish the glossy exterior parts were treated with a matte finish, it’s a small nitpicky issue for an otherwise excellent build.