Pre-built systems are starting to become financially viable again. Whereas a few short years ago if you were looking for anything remotely capable of playing something more demanding than Freecell, you usually had to pay through the nose to achieve it. Even then it was usually the case that an element of the system was expensive to give the big in-store advertising something to shout about, but the rest of the system was pretty sub-standard.
Thankfully with the sheer amount of performance you can get from good value options, the days of £2000+ systems, whilst still around, are no longer the norm.
We've looked at some Aria.co.uk bundles before, and found them to provide exceptional value for money. So today we're looking at the latest in their Gladiator range, the Gladiator Punisher. A relative snip at £999, it's stuffed with some excellent hardware choices.
You only have to glance down the specifications to see how much thought and little compromise has gone into the Gladiator Punisher. The excellent i5-3570K provides the backbone, and continues the excellent i5 performance we saw in the i5-2500K. Aria have overclocked the CPU to 4.3GHz, which is a perfect compromise of speed and stability. More importantly in such a small case as the BitFenix Prodigy, it wont pump out too much heat, and the Corsair H80i balances cooling ability and noise very well.
Elsewhere there are many choice bits. The Samsung 840 is one of the faster SSD's on the market, and the 120GB capacity is enough to hold the majority of your applications and favourite games. The Seagate Barracuda provides media storage, and the 8GB of Corsair RAM, whilst not the speediest on the block, is enough to ensure things never slow down.
Finally the XFX HD7870 Tahiti LE is one of the best price/performance GPUs around and with some sensible image quality choices will be able to run even the most demanding games in a smooth fashion.
• Pre-installed Microsoft Windows 8 64-Bit
• Overclocking: Intel i5 professionally Overclocked to 4.30GHz
• 3rd Generation Intel Core (Ivy Bridge) i5-3570K Quad-Core Processor
• AMD Radeon HD 7870 Tahiti LE 2048MB GDDR5 DirectX 11 Graphics
• 8GB Corsair 1600MHz DDR3 (2x4096MB) Dual-Channel Memory (16GB Supported)
• 120GB Samsung 840 Series SATA 6GB/s (SATA-III) Solid State Drive (85,000 IOPS) - OS & Applications
• 1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200RPM 64MB Cache SATA 6GB/s (SATA-III) Hard Drive - Storage
• Intel Z77 Express Chipset Motherboard - Support for RAID 0, RAID 1, RAID 5 & RAID 10
• 600W Corsair Builder Series CX600M 80PLUS Bronze Modular Power Supply
• BitFenix Prodigy 'Yang' Black/White Mini-ITX Gaming Case
• Corsair Hydro H80i Water-Cooling CPU Cooler
• DVDRW Dual Layer DVD Rewriter (m-Disk Support) 24x DVD±R
• Onboard 2/4/5.1/7.1 Channel High Definition Audio
• 300Mbps Wireless N Adapter (Wi-Fi)
• Bluetooth 4.0 Adapter
- Rigorously tested at 100% CPU workload & 90% memory workload for 18 hours continuous to ensure complete stability.
- Shipped with full packaging protection.
- Full 12 month warranty.
- Telephone technical support on call 5-days a week.
- All driver CDs, periphery items and manuals provided.
The BitFenix Prodigy is our favourite little case, and although it's available in a rainbow of colours, with the all-black interior and light XFX graphics card, it looks especially good in this Ying/Yang colour scheme.
There is a load of connectivity on the Punisher, and with the case only having a mere 10x14 inch footprint, you wont have any difficulty in either reaching the rear or finding a home for it. Hell it would fit on most TV stands.
Despite the incredibly compact workspace on the interior, Aria have done a fine job in finding homes for everything and leaving the internals looking very tidy indeed. Making a Cosmos 2 look neat is easy, but doing the same with such tiny internals takes a special effort.
As you can see the XFX HD7870 LE is clocked at the 1GHz mark, and there is plenty of overhead if you wish to sneak a little more out. The i5-3570K is overclocked to 4.4GHz, although our system came with a 4.4GHz overclock. Certainly the system is speedy enough for all but the most demanding, and given the limited room inside the Prodigy case, we wouldn't want to go much further without upgrading the cooling.
Speaking of cooling, both the graphics card and CPU top out at 80°C. Right on the threshold of where we would consider tolerable. However, as both of these hit the same temperature it's clear that Aria have put a lot of thought into optimising the package, rather than just throwing it all together and it getting as warm as it does without any care.
Most impressively, and we really can't stress this enough, is that the whole system is near as makes no difference silent. Balancing the temperatures of such performance hungry hardware in such a small package is hard enough, but to do it in a manner than even under the harshest of stress tests it remains silent is jaw-dropping.
Demonstrating how much a good graphics card can help, the HD7870 LE at the heart of the Punisher makes a good showing in 3D Mark. As the stress of the tests increases the system continues to perform well, and by the time we reach Fire Strike it's left the GTX650Ti Boost buried in the weeds.
3D Mark 11
The combination of a speedy CPU and the latest Catalyst drivers give the Punisher some excellent performance in 3D Mark 11, considering this is just a HD7870 LE beating at the heart of it.
3D Mark Vantage
In 3D Mark Vantage we find the Punisher out-performing the standard HD7870 thanks to that Tahiti LE core. We should have plenty of oomph for some gaming fun.
Even with a lesser graphics card, such is the performance from the overclocked i5 in the Aria Gladiator Punisher that the HD7870LE is capable of an 11 FPS improvement over the All-AMD system we tested previously.
Here is one of those scores that needs explaining. For all of our tests here at OC3D we maximise everything. Resolution, anti-aliasing, detail level etc. So it's no great surprise that we get a single digit average frame result in Crysis 3. However if you run at a sensible level of anti-aliasing (at 1080P you barely need more than 2x) and perhaps High rather than Very High then, as you'll see in the companion video, that the Punisher is capable of running smoothly.
Far Cry 3
We see similar performance in Far Cry 3. At maximum settings it's a little too jerky for our tastes, but lowering the settings a little bit makes it all much smoother. If you haven't played Blood Dragon by the way it's worth checking out.
A title that is far more reliant upon the graphics card than the cpu, the reboot of Tomb Raider performs well on the Gladiator Punisher, albeit not up to the levels of the HD7970.
Obviously we're not comparing this to the ARES II. That would be ridiculous, and whilst we might occasionally be irreverent here at OC3D, we're not into making unsustainable comparisons. So let's look just at the linear performance drop of the Punisher. Considering it's 'only' running a HD7870, it can handle the obscene detail and resolution requirements of the 1440P test with aplomb.
Valley is a harsh mistress and the relative lack of performance of the HD7870 when compared to the top end models is shown up. But don't be so swift, the HD7870 is MUCH cheaper than the range-topping HD7970, and indeed it costs the same as the GTX650Ti Boost. Which doesn't perform as well. Not looking so bad now, is it.
Unigine Heaven 0xAA
Moving back to Unigine Heaven, which looks absolutely glorious if you've never downloaded it, and we get an average frame-rate of a smooth 53 FPS.
Unigine Heaven 8xAA
Cranking up the eye-candy and the Aria Punisher keeps on trucking, with performs equal to our LGA2011 based system with a similar GPU.
PC Mark 7
So it would be easy to wonder why we're comparing the whole of the Aria.co.uk Gladiator Punisher to our bench rig, but there is method to the madness. Our bench rig is based upon a i7-3770K with a HD7950 and a SSD. So as you can see, despite being without hyper-threading and having the smaller Radeon installed, the Punisher performs very well indeed.
The age old adage goes something along the lines of "good things come in small packages". Usually said by those small packages. So does the Punisher exact vengeance in the manner of it's anti-hero namesake, or is it a case of bigger is better?
We think it's a case of good things in small packages. We're so used to seeing pre-built systems that are a series of compromises, or that have been built without a particular thread running through the hardware choices, that having one in which everything is clearly aimed at a goal is refreshing.
The choice to employ a BitFenix Prodigy case defines the whole of the Gladiator Punisher. If you've got a small case then you can't just stuff anything into it and hope it will work. Equally we've become so accustomed to big = best that seeing something barely a foot square instantly adjusts your expectations. However, even a cursory glance down the specifications shows that every part of the Punisher has been chosen wisely.
If you want a PSU you nearly always get a Corsair, and the CX600M is the perfect balance of price and ability. This is a theme that resounds through the Punisher. Best value for money CPU on the market? Intel Core i5-3570K. Highest performance GPU for around £150? Tahiti LE HD7870. Fast, stable SSD? Samsung 840. But it's not just the items themselves that speak to the depth of thought that Aria have put into the system. It's not just a regulation HD7870LE, but the XFX model. The i5 isn't overclocked to unstable, heat-pumping levels just to provide a headline grabbing bit of fluff, but to something that is fast enough without over-soaking the temperature dispersing capabilities of the H80i. Especially in such a small case.
Special mention must be made to the outstanding job that Aria have done in keeping the Punisher quiet. Between the XFX HD7870 and the H80i, even at full chat it's silent. Seriously silent. Yes if you strap it to your head you'll be aware of it, but even three feet away you wont notice it at all. Perfect for a media server underneath the TV or gaming in the family room without disturbing those watching the telly. We know how hard it is to get the Corsair H80i to do its cooling job whilst being this quiet, so kudos to Aria.
So although there aren't any compromises within the build and components of the Punisher, nonetheless there are a couple of things to be aware of. Firstly despite its excellent cost-relative performance, the HD7870LE has to be treated with a little caution when selecting detail levels. Some, such as Bioshock Infinite, can be maxed instantly without a second though whilst others, Crysis 3 for example, need to be balanced between performance and eye-candy. So if you accept that this isn't a max-and-forget gaming rig, then it is still capable of providing smooth gameplay in any environment. Secondly we understand that you have to supply the latest OS because that's the way the market works, but damn Windows 8 sucks on a non-touch interface. Really it's awful. The sooner the Blue update arrives to fix these many issues the better.
For £999, the Aria Gladiator Punisher makes light work of the Sisyphean task of finding a prebuilt system with an excellent set of components at a very affordable price. We all know that you can build your own for a few quid less, but in the case of the Punisher it really is only for a few quid less, and that would come without the serenity that comes from a 12 month warranty. For providing gaming possibilities and the endless joy that is silence, we're awarding the Aria Gladiator Punisher our OC3D Gamers Choice, and Silence awards.
Thanks to Aria for supplying the Gladiator Punisher for review. Discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.