Introducing the WarFactory Sentinel

Getting the monster gaming machines from boutiques in house for testing is often at least interesting if for no other reason than to see just how fast a computer can get when all bets are off, but most of us just don't have four or five large to shell out for a gaming machine. What if we still want to play but can only afford to pay a reasonable price? This is the market that boutique builder WarFactory is aiming for with their price and power efficient Sentinel. Does it deliver?

WarFactory sent us their exact stock configuration for the Sentinel, and you'll find visiting their site that they try to keep from swamping the buyer with options. "Here is the standard configuration we ship, and then if you want you can tweak it." It's appreciated, but more than that, this inexpensive build seems to be a relatively thoughtful, balanced configuration.

WarFactory Sentinel Specifications
Chassis CoolerMaster HAF 912
Processor AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition
(spec: 4x3.2GHz, 45nm, 6MB L3, 95W)
Motherboard ASUS M4A87TD Evo Motherboard with AMD 870 and SB850 chipset
Memory 2x4GB G.Skill Sniper DDR3-1333 (expandable to 16GB)
Graphics ASUS GeForce GTX 460 TOP 768MB GDDR5
(336 CUDA Cores, 700/1400/3680MHz Core/Shaders/RAM, 192-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) Corsair Force F40 40GB SATA 3Gbps SSD
Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB SATA 6Gbps HDD
Optical Drive(s) ASUS DVD+/-RW Drive
Networking Realtek PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Audio VIA VT1818S HD Audio
Speaker, mic, line-in, and surround jacks for 7.1 sound
Optical out
Front Side 2x USB 2.0
Mic and headphone jacks
Optical drive
Top -
Back Side 2x PS/2
6x USB 2.0
Optical out
6-pin FireWire
Gigabit ethernet
2x USB 2.0
Speaker, mic, line-in, and surround jacks for 7.1 sound
2x DVI-D
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Dimensions 19.5" x 9.1" x 18.9"
Weight 17.8 lbs (case only)
Extras Corsair 650TX 80 Plus Certified PSU
Warranty Limited lifetime warranty
Pricing $1,089

Hey, we're testing AMD hardware for a change! While the biggest and baddest boutique builds inevitably include an Intel Core i7, WarFactory is gunning for value with the Sentinel and their CPU choice reflects that. The 3.2GHz quad-core AMD Phenom II X4 may not be as fast as Intel's chips, and it certainly isn't a "green" CPU, but it's entirely serviceable for gaming as you'll see later.

WarFactory includes the 955 Black Edition with its unlocked multiplier by default, but curiously doesn't ship with an overclock, nor can it be ordered with one. An overclock isn't strictly necessary but may have helped ameliorate the performance difference between the Sentinel and Intel-powered competition somewhat. Recognizing just how far DDR3 prices have fallen, WarFactory also straps 8GB of G.Skill DDR3-1333 to the Phenom II's integrated memory controller in two 4GB sticks.

Performing gaming duties is the ASUS GeForce GTX 460 TOP 768MB. NVIDIA doesn't really seem to have kept to their spec clocks on this, one of its best price/performance cards, but the 700MHz core clock (and corresponding 1.4GHz on the 336 CUDA cores) is among the lowest available. Still, that isn't a major complaint as the GTX 460 768MB is a perfectly reasonable video card and suitable for gaming up to 1080p.

Reflecting the fundamental sea change in the industry is the Sentinel's storage subsystem. The operating system drive is a Corsair Force F40 40GB SSD using SandForce's SF-1200 chipset, while mass storage duties are handled by a Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB mechanical drive. The only curiosity here is the use of the Caviar Blue when the Caviar Black with SATA 6Gbps connectivity is largely bog standard in other boutique builds. I don't think it makes much of a difference in terms of performance, but it's an odd choice nonetheless.

Finally, we come to the motherboard, enclosure, and power supply. The ASUS M4A87TD EVO has all the modern connectivity you could ask for, including USB 3.0, and WarFactory smartly opted for a name brand quality power supply in the Corsair 650TX. This is an easy place for a manufacturer to cheap out, and we're grateful WarFactory chose not to. The CoolerMaster HAF 912 is an inexpensive chassis, but it's one that proves that cheap and inexpensive don't mean the same thing. The case is solid, feature-rich, and reasonably quiet.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this review is WarFactory's "limited lifetime warranty". The company was founded in 2009, so obviously they haven't been around as long as most of their competitors, but they're making a pretty big claim there. With no overclocking and a selection of high quality parts, the hope is most hardware will never fail (at least not before you retire the system and upgrade). In a sense, offering such a warranty isn't really that different from a 3-year warranty, and if the company folds you'll be stuck with a useless slip of paper, but we do give them credit for not going the cheap 1-year route that we've seen elsewhere.

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  • f4phantom2500 - Wednesday, June 8, 2011 - link

    but i just couldn't justify spending $1,000 on a system if it doesn't have at LEAST a Core i5 750, if not Sandy Bridge (read: it should have Sandy Bridge). Also, as solid as the GTX 460 is, I would expect something beefier when dropping that kind of cash. Kudos to having a good SSD, but 40GB sounds like it'd be pretty cramped on a Win 7 64 install. I'm using 24GB of my 64GB Microcenter G2 SSD with Windows 7 Ultimate, and that SSD set me back about $100 (The Corsair Force F40 costs $110 on newegg right now).

    However, I do like the approach of a fast SSD and a big hard drive for storage, and the 8GB RAM is a nice touch (as mentioned in the article, a wise move considering how cheap RAM is these days). This computer is actually very similar to mine, and I am completely satisfied with it.

    Overall, this is a good computer, and I understand computer manufacturers need to make money (the $200~300 markup sounds reasonable, considering the unexpected pitfalls that inevitably come up with building your own system), but I think they could have made some wiser choices in this build.
  • TrackSmart - Wednesday, June 8, 2011 - link

    I agree. If they used a 64GB SSD and a Core i5 750 they could have sold the system at a similar price and ended up with better build. Still, it's a much better selection of components than I've seen from any of the big PC makers (Dell, HP, etc) and the long warranty deserves some kudos...
  • Sunburn74 - Wednesday, June 8, 2011 - link

    For $1000 a much more powerful system can be assembled. If power isn't your interest,that $250 could be spent on a nicer case, nicer peripherals (a 27in monitor, etc), etc

    A user would be better off buying a dell xps desktop or similar product from a number of manufactueres and throwing in a gpu if warranty support is truly an issue.
  • mino - Wednesday, June 8, 2011 - link

    That assumes:

    a) customer can, or for that matter WANTS, to
    - spent their time choosing components and assembling
    - troubleshooting any issue that might come up

    b) customer deems Dell's component choice/freedom acceptable

    While I never buy boxen prebuilt, I strongly feel that this enthusiast pre-occupation of "how you can make it a DIY" while reviewing complete systems is stupid.

    People that are in the market for boutique setup ARE NOT interested in hearing how they can do it themselves.
    While a nice BOM-vs-price point is welcome, criticising such companies for their pricing is silly. The testing, warranty customizability and service is part of such a product and is not free.

    No I am not in this business, never been.
  • karielash - Wednesday, June 8, 2011 - link

    Nice comments, good to see someone with a brain for a change.

    I spent 2K on a boutique system, going for a balance of performance and price, although I could have easily built my own for the money and maybe even got a little more. I was more than willing to shell out the cash for a pre-built system (with on-site support) and not have the hassle of building the damn thing myself, money well spent imo.
  • TrackSmart - Wednesday, June 8, 2011 - link

    I build my own systems, but I don't kid anybody that I'm saving money once you factor in the massive amount of time invested. It takes hours of research to pick the right components. Many more hours building and troubleshooting. And further hours setting up exchanges if one of the parts is dead on arrival.

    That said, I build my own systems because I enjoy all of that stuff and take great satisfaction in the final product. If I've saved $200 after all is said and done, that's a bonus. Assuming I've spent 20 hours of my time from research to final build, that's $10/hr. If you don't enjoy doing this stuff, you are much better off buying a nice system like this and spending that extra 20 hours actually using it.
  • Lunyone - Wednesday, June 8, 2011 - link

    This is a decent build that covers most areas of computing needs (office work, gaming, etc.). It's more than I'd pay for a system like this, but I build my own, so that isn't a fair shake. If I didn't know any better (or didn't know how to build computers) I'd say this would be a good deal (of coarse, I'd have to ask around to see if War Factory was reputable).

    I think the SSD is good for snappiness/resposiveness, but only 40gb's? I think a 64gb SSD would be a better selection for the main boot drive, since you'd have room for a few programs to reside on the boot drive for better resposiveness.

    Overall the system looks pretty good, especially since they used a reputable PSU (thank god). I would also agree that a good 500w PSU is more than enough for this build, even a quality 400w PSU is plenty. It is nice that the PSU leaves room for future upgrades, so that is nice too.

    P.S. Last sentence has a typo:
    in other words, you can get similar or better performance at lower prices and still have money left for a <b>decend</b> SSD (or a 2-year extended warranty).

    I think you meant "decent" not decend on the last line. :)
  • voidi - Wednesday, June 8, 2011 - link

    This system is quite interesting because it pretty much chooses the opposite route of most of the other boutique manufacturers.

    The reason for most of the criticism when looking at a pre-configured build is, that components are simply chosen by their marketing value, that is: a cool looking, cheap case, a huge PSU, high clock rates and as much GDDR as possible for CPU and GPU and sometimes extreme, useless amounts of RAM (16GB). Big numbers mean it's good, right?

    All the other aspects, such as a practical case, 3rd party CPU cooling and a focus on a GFX card with good cooling for decent noise and thermal characteristics, and a high quality and efficiency PSU with less unused capacities are were the money is usually saved and what often turns a seemingly great deal into a rip-off.

    In this scenario, some of these rules are turned around. The PSU is still way too big, but it's from a quality manufacturer. The case is unusually practical, good noise and thermal characteristics for little money, form follows function. As mentioned before, this kind of warranty being included in the price is not something you see often nowadays either. 8 GBs of RAM are not something many people are going to need anytime soon, but RAM has gotten cheap enough to take it while you're at it. 40GBs is possibly a bit small, although the idea of a small, dedicated SSD for the OS is of course entirely reasonable. I would've preferred to see 64GBs here.

    As for the GTX 460, I would've liked to see a quieter, more efficient Radeon instead, and I do not think it's smart to cheap out on the CPU, with the i5-2500 simply offering the best bang for the buck, in my opinion. A H67 motherboard going with that would be a smart an inexpensive choice, as I don't think the average buyer of boutique PCs is going to overclock his CPU at all, especially not with a box cooler. Finally, a 1TB HDD is industry standard as of now, also something I don't approve. I have a 750GB internal HDD and a 500GB external right now, and both are coming close to being full. A 2 TB HDD is entirely reasonable and affordable today.

    In conclusion, I like that WarFactory is trying to "do the right thing" from a practical, value-oriented perspective, in some of the aspects. It mixes up the boring landscape of "big number" boutique machines that are configured purely for marketing reasons.
    I still would not buy the Sentinel, but I have never felt interested to buy any pre-configured PC, as a custom-built will always be able to offer exactly what I want, and not half the features plus a couple of useless ones plus a 200$ fee for the middle-man. But that's just my opinion.
  • Wurmer - Wednesday, June 8, 2011 - link

    It's interesting to see a company taking the less travel path. I have been switching back and forth between AMD and Intel rigs for years and I am happy to see that someone, somewhere acknowledge the value of AMD CPU. It's a given that this system doesn't compete with an Intel equivalent but it's beside the point. Up this very recently, I had a rig pretty similar to this one but my CPU was an unlocked BE 555 which is basically the same CPU and my GPU was an OC'ed 460. Honestly, there was no tasks that this computer couldn't do at a decent pace. I'd say that a rig like that is plenty powerfull for a majority of people that doesn't the very best with bleeding fast performances.

    It's a good compromise between buying in a retail store and building your own. I don't buy pre built rig but that's a system I could see myself recommand to someone that isn't to much into computer but needs a decent system.
  • DonMiguel85 - Wednesday, June 8, 2011 - link

    Sorry to go OT, but... whatever happened to the Rockus 3D prize giveaway? I never saw any update on it.

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