The 3XS Carbon Aura offers mighty performance and it certainly looks the part, but can it justify the gigantic £2,750 price?
The flagship chip inside the Carbon Aura is one of Intel’s Skylake-X parts. These new chips are beefy parts with a new naming convention, but they follow a familiar Intel strategy – take last year’s processors, ramp up their specifications, and release furiously powerful parts for power users.
The processor deployed here is the Core i7-7820X. It’s an eight-core beast with Hyper-Threading, which means it can address sixteen concurrent threads. That’s double the core count of more conventional Skylake parts, and Intel has achieved this by tweaking the internal circuitry in the chips and in accompanying motherboards.
The powerful new chips use the new LGA 2066 socket, and they’re paired with the X299 chipset. Intel has included more PCI lanes, so this combination of processor and chipset now has 52 – ample for the CPU, high-end graphics cards and loads of storage.
The X299 chipset supports fewer SATA ports and more USB 3 ports than its predecessors, and it only has dual-channel memory. These are shortcomings, but few people will notice them in daily use.
And, of course, there’s the fact that these chips are based on the Skylake architecture – rather than Kaby Lake. That means the Skylake-X parts may lack a bit of power in single-threaded tests, but the gap will be minimal, and multi-threaded tasks won’t suffer.
Scan has slotted the new processor in an Asus ROG Strix X299-E motherboard. It’s a high-end slab of black PCB, so it’s got lots of the features we expect: RGB LEDs sit in the heatsinks and in the smart ROG logo in the centre of the board, and there are eye-catching metal heatsinks and on-board diagnostic LEDs.
It’s got two M.2 slots, beefed-up audio, dual-band wireless and three PCI-Express x16 slots with steel reinforcement. There are power and reset buttons and a POST display, and plenty of SATA ports to expand storage. The Asus has eight memory slots, four of which are vacant.
It’s a superb high-end motherboard, and one of those steel PCI slots holds an excellent graphics card. Like the board, the GTX 1080 Ti used here is made by Asus – and, like the CPU, it’s overclocked. The original stock speed of 1,480MHz has been improved to 1,569MHz, and it’s accompanied by a whopping 11GB of GDDR5 memory that runs at its original 11,000MHz speed.
The rest of the components are suitably high-end. There’s a 500GB SSD and a 2TB hard disk, and 32GB of DDR4 memory. That’s a huge amount, but only high-end productivity applications will really benefit from anything more than 16GB.
The rig is powered by a Corsair RM850x PSU, which serves up 850W of power in a fully-modular design with an 80Plus Gold efficiency rating. We’ve no complaints there.
CPU: 3.6GHz Intel Core i7-7820X overclocked to 4.8GHz
Memory: 32GB 3,000MHz DDR4
Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti 11GB
Motherboard: Asus ROG Strix X299-E Gaming
Hard disk: 500GB Samsung 960 EVO SSD, 2TB Seagate Barracuda HDD
Ports: Front: 2 x USB 3, 2 x USB 2, 2 x audio, 1 x HDMI; rear: 6 x USB 3.1, 2 x USB 2, 1 x Gigabit Ethernet, 1 x optical S/PDIF, 5 x audio
Case: NZXT Source 340 Elite
Dimensions: (W x D x H): 474 x 432 x 203mm
Extras: Dual-band 802.11ac WiFi, Corsair RM850x PSU, Corsair Hydro H100i V2 water-cooler
Warranty: 3yr RTB, parts & labour, 1st year on-site
The NZXT Source 340 is a smart and subtle enclosure. It’s got a tempered glass side panel, and the rest of its panel are matte black. The solid material is only interrupted by small logos, and build quality is fine – this case feels sturdy, and it’s simple to remove the thumbscrews and gain access to the Carbon’s organised interior.
The roof has four USB ports and an HDMI connection for easier VR usage, and the inside has a neat shroud that hides the PSU, its cables, and the hard disk.
Scan has done a superb job of keeping this machine tidy. Plenty of cabling is hidden behind that shroud, and many other wires are sequestered behind a raised band of metal that rises through the middle of the case. The wires around the back are kept in straight lines, and the connectors at the base of the motherboard are arranged discreetly.
The Corsair Hydro cooler sits at the front of the case with two 120mm fans, while a single 120mm exhaust sits at the rear. That’s it for cooling.
The 474mm-long case is moderately sized, and Scan’s neat building makes it easy to get inside and access the components. Upgrade room, though, is mixed: there are four memory slots free, and it’s easy enough to get to most of the motherboard’s vacant slots and SATA ports. Storage is a little trickier. There are three 2.5in bays free around the PSU shroud, but only one hard disk bay around the rear.
Its Cinebench CPU score of 2,042cb is the best we’ve ever recorded, and is hundreds of points quicker than the AMD Ryzen 7 1800X inside the Chillblast Fnatic Ryzen – and that is another chip that’s been praised for its multi-core performance.
The Scan then scored 30,125 in Geekbench’s multi-core test. That’s another record-breaking result – the best result we’d previously recorded was a figure of 19,799, again from that Chillblast machine.
The Scan’s single-core Geekbench score of 5,425 is good, although that result isn’t the best we’ve seen – it’s a tad behind the PC Specialist LS-Surge. That’s not surprising, because the Scan’s single-core speed and ability is no better than machines with more conventional Kaby Lake CPUs. Despite that, it’s hardly a slow machine in these tests.
The mighty CPU was bolstered by the Samsung SSD, which delivered fine read and write speeds of 1,917MB/s and 1,624MB/s. It’s a fantastic bill of health for the new chip, then, which concentrates on multi-threaded tasks to deliver huge performance in more demanding scenarios.
The monster processor and overclocked GTX 1080 Ti helped the Scan deliver stonking gaming speeds, too.
Its 3D Mark Fire Strike Extreme result of 13,692 is the best we’ve recorded – albeit by a slim margin – and its Cinebench GPU pace of 179.1fps is only a handful of frames behind the PC Specialist. It’s no shock that those two machines are close, as the LS-Surge deployed a GTX 1080 Ti running at its stock speed.
The Scan ran every test title at 107fps or beyond in 1080p tests, and its averages ranged between 86fps and 166fps at 1440p. These lesser resolutions are no problem for this machine.
The Carbon Aura didn’t struggle at 4K. Its 37fps minimum in Fallout 4 was the poorest here, and that’s still a great result. It hit minimums in the 40s in Crysis 3, Shadow of Mordor and Witcher 3, and blitzed through Battlefield 1 at a minimum of 72fps.
Those are fantastic results, and they’re routinely a handful of frames faster than the PC Specialist – no surprise given the graphics card overclock, the extra memory and the huge processor.
Scan’s machine doesn’t just have the power to swat aside 4K games. It’ll run titles on any widescreen panel, and VR headsets won’t prove problematic. It’ll handle multi-monitor rigs, too, and high-end streaming.
There were no thermal issues with this PC, despite its huge performance levels. The overclocked, eight-core processor was restricted to a chilly peak temperature of 62°C in a stress-test, while the GPU topped out at a reasonable 72°C.
The Scan’s key component is the new Skylake-X processor, and it’s a barnstorming bit of silicon. Its record-breaking speed in multi-threaded tests is backed up by excellent performance in single-threaded tasks, which makes it a fantastic chip for high-end gaming and productivity tasks.
The GPU is rapid, so is the SSD, and the rest of the specification is solid. So is the build itself: the case is a high-quality unit, and Scan’s construction remains among the best in the UK.
This subtle system is undeniably expensive, and few people will genuinely need this level of power – whether it’s for gaming, content creation or multi-threaded work applications. If you do need this level of grunt, though, the Scan is a superb machine that easily justifies its price.