We like to spotlight one ultra high-end system build at PAX every year, at a minimum. This year’s rig of choice was built by Maingear, a system integrator, and is at the corner of Intel’s booth. It was the white Corsair Obsidian 900D and custom liquid cooling loop (complete with vibrant, green fluid) that drew us toward the system.

Skylake is in full production – as is Broadwell. And the Kaveri refresh. And a lot of things, really – it's been a busy summer. With all the simultaneous product launches comes the industry-wide update to system integrator websites and pre-built offerings.

iBUYPOWER is the first SI we're reviewing for its implementation of Intel's Skylake platform. The company's “Gamer Paladin Z980” pre-built machine is now shipping with the Core i7-6700K and Core i5-6600K, with our deployment hosting an i7, GTX 980 Ti, and 16GB DDR4-2800. The total build cost for our (loaner) review system is priced-out to ~$1824. That's a big sticker.

Our review of the Gamer Paladin Z980 aims to benchmark the system for gaming performance (FPS), thermals, and compare the pre-built option against a DIY approach. We've assembled a part-to-part price comparison and matched that against a GN-recommended build. Not everyone wants to DIY – and that's fair – but it's still important to ensure the prices match up.

Let's get to it.

In our review of Syber's new $1500 “PC console” pre-built machine, we criticized the box for using a loud, hot stock Intel CPU cooler in lieu of something higher-end. The unit exceeded TjMax when under 100% CPU load and regularly hit moderate to high temperatures while playing thread-intensive games. We complained that the system would be significantly quieter and cooler with better cooling options, and it looks like Syber listened to that feedback.

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The advent of affordable, low TDP, high-performance PC hardware has enabled configuration of living room gaming PCs that act as consoles once did. The difference, of course, is more versatile functionality and greater immediate upgrade potential, ensuring gaming at the highest settings possible while retaining DVR-replacement options. There's no argument that traditional gaming consoles – like the Xbox and PS4 – have their place in this industry, but diehard PC enthusiasts finally have affordable Small Form Factor (SFF) HTPC configurations.

We recently explored the possibility of a $665 DIY HTPC with moderate graphics performance, effectively serving as a budget console replacement with Netflix / streaming options. The entire system measured in at just 20.9” x 10.2” x 14.5” – easily hidden beneath the TV.

Today's review looks at a significantly more powerful option, featuring the GTX 980 (which we've called “the best video card available”) and an i7-4790K CPU. The “Vapor Xtreme” is CyberPower's latest venture, branded independently as a “Syber” PC, similar to Kingston's branding separation with its HyperX division.

Everyone's making a home theater PC now. They've all entered the market, but we've seen names vary from “HTPC” to “Steam Machine” to “Mini Gaming PC.” They're everywhere: We recently reviewed Zotac's EN760 gaming box outfitted with the 860M, a ~$500 solution to mid-range gaming in the living room; Syber Gaming, a subsidiary of CyberPower, also has solutions shipping; Gigabyte has its Brix that we've spoken about; Alienware is making a mini PC for the living room, too.

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After its CES debut, system integrator iBUYPOWER has officially launched its “SBX” entertainment system, a dedicated cross-breed of a console/PC for the living room.

Most of our readers (and staff) are avid PC builders, generally opting to select and install components from one of our DIY PC guides. There are entire companies devoted to custom PC builds, though, and they often build and ship hundreds of custom gaming PCs each day; that's a huge number, considering the relative size of the “gaming PC” market compared to biz-client sales. Out of curiosity, we toured a few of these SIs (system integrators) to observe the process and learn about the automation involved in system building.

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We previously toured CyberPowerPC, where we looked at a high-end PC build with custom NZXT components. Today, we're looking at iBUYPOWER's warehouse and assembly line, where you'll see a wall of thousands of dollars of video cards, conveyer belts moving rigs from one bench to another, and even packing tape automation. Yes. A robot that does nothing but tape boxes.

Most of the tech industry’s major players are located somewhere in California – a state that has, in our experience, proven to be very large and very saturated with horrifyingly bad drivers. It also happens to be saturated with leading technology innovators and game development companies; the hardware split is pretty even between SoCal (Orange County, Fountain Valley, LA, Industry) and NorCal (home to Silicon Valley). Game developers mostly hang-out in San Francisco and San Jose.

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We’ve previously toured both regions, with some of our best content focusing on nVidia’s silicon failure analysis lab (San Jose) and Kingston’s automated RAM/SSD manufacturing line. Following Game24 and the GTX 980 launch, we returned to the Los Angeles area for more. In our most recent California trip, we visited NZXT, HyperX, CyberPower, and iBUYPOWER to see their assembly lines and warehouses.

Given our dedication to DIY system building, we've historically been wary of system assembly companies and still maintain that building your own rig is the best option. That stated, there are a number of legitimate reasons to contract your build out to an assembly company: Maybe there are time constraints, or maybe the system is a gift / not for you, or maybe you need a half-way step between the Dells and HPs of the world and a DIY machine.

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We've been wanting to post a round-up of all the major system builders for a while now; with the rise of companies like Origin PC, Digital Storm, CyberPower, iBuyPower, and plenty of others, we've heard enough horror stories and high praise to thoroughly confuse newcomers to the market. The issues that arise with system building organizations is often one of quality of service and price: We've received numerous consumer complaints over CyberPower shipping rigs in such a way that the weight of the video cards rips the PCI-e sockets from the board, and I've personally commented on their $50 charge for a 20% overclock -- which can be done in 5 minutes.

After talking with Origin PC Product Manager Jorge Percival at PAX Prime 2013, we're a bit more hopeful about the future of pre-build companies. Let's hit the video before discussing why we walked away with that feeling.

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