Today we will be reviewing a system from Biohazard Computer Systems Inc., a US-based ultra high-end boutique system builder.
Biohazard has been around since 2003 and is well known for their unique cooling technologies and their insane levels of system customization. In fact, each of Biohazard’s desktop system offerings are separated by the cooling technology each employs, running the gamut from air cooling (a process they call Forced Air Thermal Exchange or F.A.T.E. for short) all the way up to their recently unveiled Rapture, which boasts Cryosphere™, their own in-house version of phase-change cooling,;think of it as phase change cooling on steroids.
The system we have received for review is the Armageddon which uses a chilled-liquid cooling system based upon CoolIT’s (makers of the Freezone, Eliminator and so on) chilled liquid cooling technology. While a name like Armageddon sounds imposing, we will certainly see if this system lives up to it’s larger-than-life name.
The Armageddon arrived safely in what can only be described as a rather ominous looking shipping box, black in color emblazoned with a red Biohazard logo on both sides. The sheer design of the box shows that Biohazard takes system protection very seriously.
Instead of cardboard, the walls of the box are formed from an extruded plastic that Biohazard claims is water resistant and sturdier than standard cardboard boxing. We pulled an unscathed Armageddon system from the box along with a keyboard, mouse and owner’s manual. The owner’s manual was comprised of a three ring binder including standard system software and documentation. Beyond the standard OEM Operating System disc, there was also a Recovery DVD unique to the system with a backup drive image of the system prior to leaving the factory.
The inclusion of both an OEM disc and Recovery DVD are nice, as it gives the customer an option to completely reinstall Windows from scratch if desired or if they choose to use the Recovery DVD, they can reset the system back to “factory defaults” with just a few mouse clicks in close to 20 minutes. Additional software included driver discs, anti-virus program disc of the customer’s choice, in this case ESET’s NOD32. Another awesome service offered by Biohazard is that they will preinstall your own games. To prevent piracy, Biohazard requires that the customer send in the product key for the games they wish to install and Biohazard does the rest, allowing you to get your Frag on as soon as the system arrives.
Documentation in the manual includes the manufacturer’s manuals for the software installed in the system as well as a system manual. The system manual touches on the main points of the system itself including a hardware configuration page listing the components in the system as well as a page of benchmarks performed on the system before it was shipped. There is also a fairly brief troubleshooting section that really only touches on the some of the more basic common problems a customer might run into setting up the system for the first time. There is a section that discusses how the cooling system works and also listing any maintenance procedures required for the system and its cooling system. The maintenance for our Armageddon seemed to be pretty light and the only real maintenance steps included removing any dust buildup over time with compressed air and monitoring the system for the first 48 hours to make sure that no leaks were caused in shipping.
The Biohazard Armageddon represents Biohazard’s liquid cooling offering utilizing what they call a chilled liquid cooling loop, but more on that later. This Armageddon is based on a full tower black aluminum Sliverstone case, although Biohazard says they plan to transition to a Lian Li case in the future.
As a side note here, perhaps one of Biohazard’s greatest strengths is their flexibility and willingness to build truly custom systems, including custom cases, configurations and so on, but more on that later. Biohazard has modified the case to suit their needs both aesthetically and structurally. Biohazard states that where possible all cuts to the case are done by laser.
The left side panel boats a laser cut window along with the name of the system also cut out below the window. Closer to the front of the case there is a Biohazard logo cut out of the side of the case backed with red mesh and an identical cutout is located on the opposite side panel. These matching cutouts are aligned with the cooling system inside, allowing intake and exhaust.
What’s on the Inside?
Removing the side panel reveals a surprisingly clutter-free interior. The wiring job on the inside of this case is exceptional, truly a masterpiece! All wires are fully sleeved, cleanly routed and secured out of the way, which is great not just for aesthetics but also allows proper airflow inside the case. Sometimes it’s the little things that count; for instance, the optical drive is mounted not just with screws but also silicone washers to isolate vibration, which is a great feature thanks to the high RPM optical drives in use today.
Attention to detail is evident even in the liquid cooling setup. Many liquid cooling setups are rather obtrusive with tubing running every which-way in an in-your-face manner. Biohazard went the opposite route. The black tubing blends into the interior of the case and is routed intelligently and features anti-kink springs to ensure coolant flow is protected. The tubing is routed so well that it is almost overlooked, the lack of the usual rat's nest of tubing really makes you appreciate how much work goes into each system.
The lower section of the case houses the hard drives and power supply. The hard drives are securely mounted in a tool-free drive cage and the 120mm fan attached to the HDD cage provides the airflow needed to keep today’s high RPM drives cool. In fact, airflow shouldn’t be a problem at all, as this case features no less than eight fans; one for each of the two drive cages, two rear exhaust fans, two top mounted blowhole/radiator fans as well as one fan on each end of the Boreas cooling unit.
With all these fans we expected the system to sound like a hair dryer when we powered it up, but it was just the opposite. Much to our surprise the system ran whisper quiet. We asked Biohazard about this and they explained that they “...look at the system as a total package. [We] hand select every component, even the fans, to ensure the compliment one another and add to the value of a the system as whole.”
Inside the case we are greeted by the heart of the Armageddon and its cooling system. As we mentioned before, the Armageddon sports a “chilled liquid” cooling system. The liquid cooling on the Armageddon differs from standard liquid cooled systems in that it actively chills the liquid. How does it differ from standard liquid cooling setups? This system is built around the Boreas cooling unit manufactured by CoolIt, a name synonymous with TEC-based cooling. TEC or Thermo Electric Chiller is also known as Peltier’s.
The basic principal behind TEC cooling is that when power is applied to a TEC plate, one side of the plate gets very cold while the other side gets very hot. In order for TEC’s to function properly it is imperative that the heat be removed from the hot side of the plate in order for the cold side of the plate to continuing cooling. Standard applications of TECs had historically been to mount the cold side of the TEC to the component/processor and then mount a heatsink/fan or waterblock to the hot side of the TEC.
The benefit here is that the full power of the cold side of the TEC is applied directly to the processor, but there are some downsides. First, dependent on power rating, TEC’s can quickly reach sub-ambient temperatures and as any overclocker can tell you, once you go sub-ambient you run the risk of condensation --definitely not a good thing for a box full of electronics—which necessitates the need for insulation and condensation proofing around the CPU or GPU, rarely an elegant solution.
Additionally, TECs can consume an inordinate amount of power, and depending on the size and desired cooling power, this can range anywhere from 80W to over 400W of power, and that is just for the TEC! The Boreas unit has a radically different approach with regard to the application of TECs. The Boreas is essentially a massive barrel-shaped heatsink with the hot side of the TECs (12 in all) mounted to it. At either end of the Boreas are two large 120mm x 38mm high flow fans, forcing air through the center of the Boreas to expel the heat from the TECs. On the flipside, four small aluminum reservoirs are mounted to the cold side of the TECs.
In this setup, the TECs actively chill the liquid, which is then pumped out through the cooling loop while the large heatsinks wicks away the heat from the opposing (hot) side of the TEC’s. In this configuration the remainder of the cooling system looks a lot like a standard liquid cooling setup with the tubing, blocks and a pump.
But how is this any better than a standard liquid cooling setup? The benefit here is that the TECs are able to chill the liquid coolant to much lower temperatures than a standard fan/radiator combo ever could, as in standard liquid cooling the best case scenario would be ambient temperature air being forced through the radiator. Further, as the TECs are directly chilling the liquid instead of processors themselves, there is a lower temperature delta and a lower risk of condensation.
Rounding out the package is the MTEC control unit and its “Predictive Cooling Software.” What this basically boils down to is a GUI-based app that monitors coolant temperatures and processor (CPU and GPU) utilization and can dynamically scale the amount of power supplied to the TECs thereby increasing or decreasing their cooling power. The software can function on its own, or can be controlled manually by the user.
Situated at the top of the case is a dual 120 Radiator that fits into the cooling loop between the CPU and the three video cards. The cooling loop is setup as follows: Boreasà CPU à Radiator à GPU1 à GPU2 à GPU3 à Boreas.
CPU: Intel QX9770 S.H.O.C.ed to 4.2GHz
Motherboard: eVGA 780i SLI FTW
GPU: 3x Evga GeForce GTX 280 S.H.O.C.ed to 686MHz Core
RAM: 2GB OCZ Reaper HPC PC2-9200 DDR2 1150
HDD: (2x) 150GB 10,000RPM Western Digital Raptor RAID 0 (system)
1TB 32MB Cache Hitachi Desktar (storage drives)
ODD: Pioneer 4x Blu-ray Burner BDR-202BK
PSU: PC Power & Cooling T12W 1200W
The system powered on and booted into Windows with no problem, as should be expected. The Windows install was clean and free of Crapware. This shows that Biohazard understands what gamers want and just as importantly what they don’t want, i.e. a bunch of preinstalled 30 day trial type software that seems so common with the big OEM’s.
All pertinent Windows updates were installed and checking the device drivers showed them all to be up to date. The software installations included NOD 32 antivirus, NVIDIA’s System Monitor with ESA support, as well as the system's Predictive cooling system software.
As we mentioned before, the system was near silent, thanks to the intelligent choice of fans. Interior case lighting was tastefully done with a mix of cold cathode and LED lighting creating a menacing red glow that emanates from the system.
Performance should be the name of the game with a system like this and the Armageddon was no disappointment. It’s no surprise that many of today’s gaming rigs come overclocked from the factory. That being said, I feel I need to rant a bit here. Many times before (and I am sure other reviewers can attest to this as well) I have received systems for review that are overclocked to the hilt…with one nagging problem, STABILITY. Nothing irritates me more than to receive a system that is touted as being overclocked to the next level, etc., only to find out the thing crashes or acts up when trying to do anything other than the standard benchmarks.
Thankfully, this was not the case with the Armageddon. Biohazard employs a process they call Stable Hyper OverClock (SHOC for short) when overclocking systems. In speaking with Biohazard, we learned that they take a “system-wide” approach to overclocking where they SHOC not just the CPU, but also the FSB, RAM as well as the Video Cards to provide a well balanced system. Another great feature is that Biohazard overclcocks their video cards at the BIOS. What this means is that even if you ever reinstall the operating system, the cards will maintain their overclocked speed…handy, indeed. The video card overclock is great to see from a performance standpoint, as well.
When playing games at high resolution, the video cards are doing most of the work, to the point that a system with a non-overclocked CPU & overclocked video cards will provide better results at high res (19x12, 25x16) than would the same system with an overclocked CPU and non-overclocked video cards.
To test the performance of this beast we loaded up a cross section of popular benchmarks and let ‘em rip.
Performance Test: 21328 Overall Score
23346 Graphics Score
Very High detail settings
Call of Duty 4
All Settings to max
Throughout the course of this review we had the chance to speak to a number of Biohazard employees and one thing that they all commented on was their level of customization. This applies not just to custom paint or lighting but also system configurations as well. I spoke with Josh Smith, CEO of Biohazard Computer Systems Inc. to get the official details.
What Josh had to say was that Biohazard prides itself on being a true custom house: “If a customer wants a specific case, component or configuration that is not listed on our website, we will work to accommodate that wish. It is simply not feasible to list every single option on our website, so we welcome customers’ input on their system, and if they have specific components they want as part of their system build, we are more than happy to help.”
It’s refreshing to see a system builder that still works so closely with their customers to meet their needs. Employees I spoke with at Biohazard said they had accommodated everything from discrete RAID cards, to professional sounds cards and more. Many builders will not take the time to meet such needs or to learn about such niche components, but it appears Biohazard is leading the way in this field.
Ok, here is the part of the review where I sum up the review and give you my opinion, and for the lazy ones out there, this is the part of the review you jumped to right away to see if the rest of the review is worth reading (hint: it is). To put it bluntly, this system rocks your world.
Running benchmarks on the Armageddon was like feeding wood to a chipper/shredder, it chewed them up, spit them out and asked for more. The system was very well balanced in ways that complement each other. Unlike other systems I have seen that seem to go all out in favor of getting the highest CPU clock speed, often choosing to neglect the rest of the system, Biohazard chose to overclock, excuse me, S.H.O.C. the entire system, S.H.O.C.ing the CPU, GPUs, FSB and Memory to provide one killer, blazing fast, rock-solid stable system.
As the name Stable Hyper OverClock says, this overclock was completely stable, we did not experience a single stability issue during testing and we beat on this system. I think Biohazard should be commended for their commitment to stability. It seems easy to overlook, but overclocking past a stable point may look good for magazine headlines but as anyone who has ever dealt with an unstable system can tell you, it’s just not worth the headaches. Not to mention, what good is having an incredibly fast system that is so unstable it crashes every 15 minutes?
With the Armageddon, Biohazard gets it right, great performance, stability and solid design. What more could you ask for? If you are looking for extreme performance, great aesthetics and complete customization, look no further, the Armageddon is the total package.