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As far as software is concerned, we get the usual 64-bit edition of Windows Vista Premium (with an optional upgrade to Windows 7, downgrade to XP or you can opt for no OS saving you around £76), with a few useful utilities (Nero Essentials 7 and CyberLink's DVD Suite 7) but no bloatware - just the way gamers like it. CoolIT's MTEC Control Center lets you monitor the CPU and coolant temperatures, as well as the TEC and fan loads in real-time, while Asus' excellent TurboV software lets you manually adjust the clock speeds and voltages of every single component on the motherboard.
The big question, of course, is how does it perform in games? The answer is, as expected, superbly. At 1,920 x 1,200 with two samples of anti-aliasing and details turned up to maximum, Call of Duty 4 flew along at an average of 135 frames per second (fps).
At the same resolution and high detail settings most systems struggle with the DirectX10 version of Crysis, but not the Vortex i950. In our standard Crysis benchmark it returned an impressive average of 50fps. During our manual run-through at Very High detail this PC returned a still very playable 30fps, and surprisingly the Core i7 950 overclocking made a difference here, lending us an extra 2fps on average.
So there we have it then, this is essentially the best-performing gaming PC we've ever reviewed, especially if you give its CPU the overclock CooIT's water-cooling system is absolutely begging for. Which of course begs the question (if you'll forgive the wordplay) of why PC Specialist doesn't offer any overclocking options on its configurations page to go with this £225 liquid cooling option in the first place, especially since this is far from a silent beast when under load.
As is, there's no reason not to save £157 by going for the cheaper CoolIT Domino A.L.C, which is more than competent enough to allow for a decent overclock on the CPU - as we saw with the Wired2Fire HellSpawn ALC where it let a 2.66GHz Core i7 920 hum along at 3.8GHz. Speaking of which, the adventurously-inclined could just go for a 920 instead of the 950 included here and overclock it themselves, saving a further £196 to bring the total system price down to £1327.
PC Specialist has put together a good PC with quality components, but the lack of overclocking on a system with such an exotic cooler is inexplicable, and a few niggles (like the blue-LED fan in a case sporting red lighting or the right side panel which has been forced on over bunched-up cables) leave a bad taste in the mouth.
On the other hand the standard one-year Return to Base warranty can be upgraded to a Free Collect and Return one for only £5, and little touches like PC Specialist's full colour 'Welcome Booklets' are much appreciated for first-time buyers. However, since overall the Vortex i950 doesn't offer outstanding value over similar configurations from rival system builders, there's no strong reason to recommend it. We'd rather take the £1263 configuration of the aforementioned HellSpawn ALC that has overclocking thrown in for free and, with two Radeon 4890s in CrossFire, should give similar performance in most games.
PC Specialist's Vortex i950 is an impressive machine with plenty of overclocking headroom that will happily chomp its way though any game you throw at it, but it doesn't stand out from the crowd in terms of value and thanks to a few niggles and puzzling component combinations it fails to win our hearts.