Computer

Velocity Micro Raptor Z55 (2018)

The Raptor Z55 (starts at $ 1,599; $ 3,399 as tested) is one of the latest gaming desktop offerings from boutique manufacturer Velocity Micro, built to order by the custom-PC veteran. You can configure the system with myriad component choices when ordering to fit your needs and budget; ours is a high-end loadout with premium parts and performance to match. Its seldom-seen Intel Core i7-8086K Limited Edition CPU and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti video card lead the way to a capable 4K gaming machine, and the case is easy to work in, if tame given the price. The Origin PC Neuron remains our Editors’ Choice for its top mix of substance and style, but it ultimately boils down to aesthetic preference. Along with the Neuron, the Maingear F131, and a few others, this Raptor is worth a look if you’re considering a deluxe custom build.

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A Window With a View

The Raptor Z55 is built into Velocity Micro’s all-new GX5 chassis, though it should look very familiar if you’ve seen other Velocity Micro systems. It’s the newest evolution of Velocity Micro’s ATX tower, like the GX4 I worked with for my 2017 review of the Velocity Micro Raptor Z95. The GX5 is nice and slim, with a minimal desk footprint for a full-size tower. (You can also order the Raptor Z55 in MicroATX form in Velocity Micro’s MX3 chassis.) It has the same dark, brushed-metal finish and clean, minimal face as the GX4, but some structural differences.

The GX4 had only a small cutout for two fans to show through, but the GX5 has a tempered-glass window that takes up about three-quarters of the left panel. The windowed panel pulls away very easily by hand, with no tools required, but it still snaps securely back into place. Instead of the radiator fans showing out the side window, they now show out through a grate on the top of the chassis.

The rear is home to most of the ports, including two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, a USB 3.1 port (all of the preceding being Type-A), as well as a USB Type-C port, Ethernet, and non-used DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort outputs. The top panel houses two USB 3.0 ports, along with headset and mic jacks. The front face is flush except for the power button and a DVD drive.

The larger window actually lets you see the costly components that tend to be in these high-end machines, and the Z55 is definitely clean and organized inside. It is a little spare inside, though—there simply isn’t very much to look at inside this machine.

Velocity Micro text and a logo are imposed on the window, which I’m not crazy about. An EVGA CLC 240 liquid cooler pumps away at the CPU, its EVGA logo glowing blue by default but customizable. (The Intel Core i7-8086K is overclocked to allow for up to a 5.3GHz boost clock.) The EVGA-brand Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti doesn’t have the traditional lime-green illuminated block writing of the card’s name on its side, but smaller text glowing in white. The 16GB of Crucial Ballistix Tactical Tracer RGB RAM is the flashiest aspect, glowing a light-blue color by default but also customizable and synchronizable with case lighting.

Other than that, it’s a bit sterile inside. The Asus Prime Z370-A motherboard (a nice, gaming-centric model with support for dual M.2 drives, USB Type-C with Thunderbolt 3, and Intel Optane Memory) has a big white cover over most of the heatsink, but it isn’t much to look at otherwise. The interior itself is shiny silver metal, and a shroud covering the power supply (a 650-watt EVGA SuperNova Gold unit) and cabling comes up to the bottom edge of the window, minimizing open space.

A set of blue lights underneath the motherboard shines out to the right, which provides a very low-key glow. You can also see a metal grate on the right-hand side blocking off the chassis’ drive bays, but underneath that is just open space and a case fan. The overall design just feels a bit empty and underwhelming. As opposed to the Origin Neuron, the Acer Predator Orion 9000, the Origin PC Genesis, and the (admittedly much pricier) Maingear F131, the Raptor Z55 doesn’t trade in flashy design. That, however, that may be a boon depending on your tastes, and its restrained look can come in handy if you are in an uncommon professional niche where you need both a capable 3D machine and a solid gaming rig. It won’t stick out in an environment where it needs to look sober.

Rounding out the components are two forms of storage. This Z55 configuration offers both a 4TB hard drive and a 512GB Samsung SSD Pro 970 NVMe SSD. That’s plenty of storage capacity, clearly, and a very speedy boot drive. The huge hard drive can fit more game installs than you’ll likely ever need at once, and you can keep the OS and essential programs on the SSD.

Again, this lineup is for the specific configuration we were sent for review, but it’s pointless to list all your alternatives. A boutique manufacturer like Velocity Micro offers nearly every possible component combination you could ask for, from storage capacities to graphics cards up and down the hierarchy, so I can’t cover each possible permutation. If you like the case and the support that Velocity Micro offers, head over to the configuration page and see what components you can put together for your budget.

An Overclocked Dream

That leads us to performance for this particular rig, which is nothing short of blazing fast. The processor (reminder, it’s an Intel Core i7-8086K) is the centerpiece, a six-core, Hyper-Threading-capable, overclock-ready top-end chip. Outside of this specific system, the general context for this chip is it’s a limited-edition offering with extra overclocking potential and a modest speed bump over the more standard Core i7-8700K, for a slightly higher price. There’s a lot more to be said about this processor and its value, and it is unusual to see one in a prebuilt system when only 50,000 of them have been made, but that discussion is more suited to a separate review of the chip. (We’re working on one.)

Velocity Micro Raptor Z55 (2018) BM

Regardless of its head-to-head standing with the Core i7-8700K, it seared through our benchmark tests, posting one of the higher PCMark 8 Work Conventional scores of any system we’ve tested. It should go without saying that it’s more than effective for everyday multitasking, but now there’s empirical proof.

Similarly, its scores on the multimedia tests demonstrate an effective professional-grade machine for video and photo editing. You’d probably opt for a different type of machine if this were strictly a professional desktop, but it can definitely serve multiple purposes if you’re someone who wants both a gaming machine and high-end computer for work or a serious hobby. Some of the competitors charted here were still on “Kaby Lake” seventh-generation chips when tested them, so the Raptor Z55 isn’t exactly a fair fight, but this limited-edition chip still cleaned up on these tests. To their credit, the AMD chips made just as good or better showings on Cinebench and Handbrake but struggled on Photoshop by comparison. (The Threadripper 1950X chip in the Alienware machine is a 16-core monster with its own special set of considerations.)

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Our direct comparisons of 3D-graphics performance to other gaming systems here need to be taken in context. The other comparable high-end desktops in our charts, barring one, boast dual graphics cards (either two GeForce GTX 1080 or two GeForce GTX 1080 Ti cards) to the Raptor Z55’s single card. And they are priced appropriately: The Raptor Z55 is the least expensive among them, while the MSI Aegis Ti3 and the Origin Neuron ring up just under $ 4,000, and the others are many thousands more. I’ve also included a single-card GeForce GTX 1080-based system, the CyberPower Gamer Master Ultra, for a comparison that factors in taking a step down the graphics ladder.

Velocity Micro Raptor Z55 (2018) BM

All of that said, the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti is as capable as ever in this machine. This EVGA model is particularly effective, churning out more frames on the Heaven and Valley simulated-gaming tests at Ultra quality settings in full HD than you’ll ever need, at 169fps and 177fps, respectively. On these tests, 60fps at 4K proved to be an, ahem, SLI bridge too far for a single card, but its 45fps and 54fps scores were respectable.

How About Some Games?

Those tests only approximate gaming, so I also rolled out a couple of demanding, recent real ones. Rise of the Tomb Raider proved less strenuous: The Raptor Z55 posted 66fps on its in-game benchmark test at maximum settings and 4K resolution. The system was slightly less successful with Far Cry 5 in the same scenario, coming in at 54fps. But if you knock down a couple settings from the maximum levels, 60fps at 4K is easily attainable.

That’s a solid endorsement of the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti from modern, visually demanding games, and the EVGA version with its enhanced cooling and clocking spits out a few more frames than the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition, to boot. It’s worth noting, however, that following the reveal of Nvidia’s new generation of GeForce RTX graphics cards, the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti won’t be at the top of the heap come late September. At this writing, however, neither PC Labs nor any other outlet had the opportunity yet to benchmark those cards, so there’s no telling what sort of performance increase you can expect at this time. Velocity Micro has already added the GeForce RTX 2080 and GeForce RTX 2080 Ti as options to the Raptor Z55. That means the Raptor will remain relevant later this year once those cards roll out, if you’re looking into buying one of these machines then. So you don’t have to disregard the build or its other components; you’ll just have some pricier top-end graphics options to consider.

Build to Your Budget

In some ways, it’s difficult to review a desktop with so many configuration options. Our tester unit is configured at a very high level, but most consumers can’t afford its $ 3,000-plus price. For those that can, though, you’d be getting a very fast and no-fuss machine that tips you into the borderlands of high-frame-rate 4K gaming. Other than that, I can only speak to the case and build quality. The GX5 is on the minimalist side, to be sure, and that fact either will or won’t appeal to you on an aesthetic level. I personally like the style, but I would also understand if a buyer wanted something a little more eye-catching for $ 3,399.

The case is easy to work in, though, and Velocity Micro gets everything running in top shape, presented with clean cable management. As with many of these boutique machines, you are paying a premium on the parts for assembly and support. Which model you choose and which vendor you frequent comes down what pleases your eye and your budget; most offer a similar panoply of core components.

Our bottom line? The Raptor Z55 is a worthy custom gaming-PC candidate, along with other top picks from Falcon Northwest, Maingear, and Origin, and it gets some bonus points for incorporating the unique limited-edition Intel chip. If you want the bragging-rights cachet that the 8086K processor carries in enthusiast-PC circles, you’ll want to snag one—or a system built around one and optimized to cool it—while you can.

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