In a word: damn! What I mean by this, the Neptune is a machine that makes a statement, pure and simple. This is a computer enthusiasts computer, and it probably won't appeal to just anybody. You don't buy one of these if you like ponies, play with dolls, and do flower arrangements. You would buy one of these if you regularly shaved your testicles and were planning world domination from an underwater lair. You wouldn't buy one of these if you just wanted a machine to check email and play minesweeper. It seems almost a crime to use it for normal everyday things. The Neptune would be a very different sight at a show or LAN party for sure.
While we deeply appreciated the tempestuous and unbridled nature of the Neptune, we felt that it needed just a touch more polish. The first and most worrisome were the occasional BSOD when cold booting. Honestly anybody who has overclocked their system has these, it's how you know you've pushed the limit. SmoothCreations assured me this particular machine had been burned in at 4.2GHz for 3 days prior to shipping, so we know that the limits on this machine are very high indeed. Once the machine was up and running, however, it was completely stable and was even left on for about a week at 4GHz with no problems whatsoever.
So, this reviewer's lack of overclocking ability and a twitchy motherboard had a lot to do with that.
The second issue is with the shipping, where some of the internal components came loose and were allowed to rattle around inside. It's unclear if a different packing material could have helped, since the shipping company seemed to have a different idea of what fragile means. The outside box looked a bit roughed up. This could have been a disaster if the cooling system had leaked, but thankfully it didn't.
Some other issues were a 1TB RAID array that had mismatched drives and the different GTX280 cards. The GTX280 cards didn't pose an issue; they worked great. However I do feel that it is better to keep RAID members identical to avoid performance problems. Obviously, if you were going to buy one of these, you'd spec that out, and it would be thusly built. Some other issues would be considered convenience at best, like a flow meter and a fan control, but you'd just ask SmoothCreations to sacrifice a CDROM drive and include those.
In benchmarks the Neptune proved to be very fast, if not the fastest system we've yet tested. For an SLI system, it crushed everything we threw at it. Of course, with a cooling system that the Neptune is gifted with, it is only natural to feel the urge to overclock anything and everything (including the mouse reporting, heh).
Once the overclocking issues were ironed out, the Neptune proceeded to blow away our benchmark suite. The BFG GeForce GTX 280 cards were probably the most surprising, we managed to hit an impressive 756MHz on them, good for a 20% boost in FPS. No doubt about it, the Neptune is very, very fast. While we left the Rampage II Extreme motherboard to handle an easy 4GHz overclock, the RAM proved to be trickier, leaving the Neptune refusing to boot. I'd love to see what someone with real overclocking skills could do with the Neptune.
The real star of the show is the artwork. Some folks thought the airbrush was kinda cheesy, others were too stunned to speak. It's easy to dismiss custom painted cases from looking at a photo on the web, but being in front of one of SmoothCreations' cases is a different matter. I rather liked it, the detailing is very impressive, and it gives the machine a real human touch. No matter what, the Neptune never failed to generate conversation here in the lab. It's going to be lonely again when it's gone. Sigh.
The other stand-out feature of the Neptune is the cooling system. When you're thinking of using water cooling, the main component to consider is the radiator. The Neptune comes with a massive 120x4 radiator, far more than a CPU and two video cards need. At 4GHz and full load, the CPU cores did get pretty hot at 80+ C. But the cooling system brought it down within seconds after the load was removed. Playing Far Cry 2 doesn't tax the CPU as much (two or three cores at 90%), the system barely made 45 C. The expense of such a cooling system is that it is quite loud, just about talking voice level.
Now then, if you want something a bit more sedate, a little quieter, or just a simple custom paint job for your current machine, give SmoothCreations a call. Nobody does it like SmoothCreations. Yeah, I'm going on like a shill, but they have built an incredible machine. I mean, you can love your computer can't you? (Uh, but don't love your computer) Anyway, their attention to detail is nothing short of exceptional. The Neptune feels special, like a hand built, one-of-a-kind computer. Is it worth the enormous outlay of cash? Absolutely.
Bottom line: A beautiful and powerful machine that lives up to its name.
Extreme Thanks to: Jim, Randy, and Nick at Smooth Creations for sending this Monster to us. You've ruined my taste for ordinary 'enthusiast' PC's. Special thanks to King Hilbert for letting me be in his reef. Many thanks to Jeff, Jason, Danny, Benson, the girls at All Star, and Luis at RiteAid, for using the mains power, considerable knowledge, internet connection, and precious time.
SmoothCreations LANShark! SmoothCreations delivers another thrilling custom computer. The LANShark is small, light, and fast. While it is plenty fast, its overclocking potential is limited by its cooling, however. The aim towards durabilty may compromises its full speed, but the custom paint job totally makes up for it.
SmoothCreations Neptune Xtreme Machine Listen up buttercup, King Neptune just mopped the floor. What I thought was going to be a custom case review turned out to a full-on bad-ass PC system to review. OK, I'm game. While it might not be the ultimate to the hardcore, SmoothCreations built an awesome machine, worthy of praise and attention.