PC Specialist Sabre MK1 full review
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The PC Specialist Sabre MK1 is one of the most affordable gaming rigs on the market right now. Go much cheaper than this and the specification will start making too much compromise to be worthwhile.
The desktop builder undercut its closest rivals at the checkout, but can it keep up the quality and performance levels?
Design & Build
PC Specialist has built this system around its own Wraith chassis. It’s a good-looking bit of kit: the meshed plastic front panel looks smart and contains three intake fans with bright RGB LEDs.
This chassis has top- and bottom-mounted dust filters and a single USB 3.0 port on the roof alongside two slower USB 2.0 ports.
The Wraith has a tempered glass window that swings open smoothly and sits on hinges for easy removal, and the front panel is magnetic, so it’s easy to remove.
On the inside, the Wraith is basic but serviceable. There’s plenty of space, which makes building and modifying easier, and PC Specialist has done a great job keeping cables neat around the front and at the rear. You get room for a spare 2.5in drive, but sadly there’s no 3.5in hard disk bay.
The biggest issue is build quality. That mesh front panel and the top panel are both sturdy, and the glass side window is rigid. However, the rear side panel is weaker and the internal PSU shroud is flimsy – and the case also has some sharp edges and corners, so you’ll need to be careful.
The Kolink chassis used by Chillblast is undoubtedly stronger, and with more room for storage space. AlphaBeta’s bespoke case is sturdier, with better USB connectivity and more upgrade room.
Specs & Performance
The GeForce GTX 1660 Super is designed for affordable 1080p gaming. That designation means that the GTX 1660 Super has a relatively modest specification. This GPU has 1,408 stream processors and 6GB of dedicated memory, but it doesn’t have any Ray-Tracing technology.
PC Specialist has picked a Zotac-made card in this machine, and it runs at the GPU’s stock base and boost speeds of 1,530MHz and 1,785MHz.
The GTX 1660 Super is a good option for 1080p gaming. At this resolution – and with our test games ramped up to Ultra quality – the PC Specialist returned averages between 45fps and 57fps. That’s enough pace to ensure smooth framerates in triple-A titles.
It’s enough speed to handle today’s top esports games at triple-figure framerates, too, so they’ll run smoothly on 144Hz gaming monitors. However, you won’t get games running at 1440p unless you cut back on graphics settings.
It's solid pace, but the PC Specialist only has single-channel memory, and that impacts on performance. Those 1080p scores are a frame or two behind the Chillblast, which had 16GB of dual-channel memory. The gulf can be clearly seen in theoretical benchmarks: the PC Specialist scored 27,902 in 3D Mark Sky Diver, but the Chillblast scored 34,450.
The AlphaBeta i5 RTX is far faster thanks to its RTX 2070 Super. That rig scored 42,924 in Sky Diver, and its 1080p gaming averages ran between 70fps and 95fps. If you want 1440p, widescreen, Ray-Traced or 240Hz gaming, that’s the way to go.
The Core i9-9400F is a popular CPU for affordable PCs. It’s got six cores that run at 2.9GHz and 4.1GHz, but no Hyper-Threading. It’s also only paired with single-channel memory. While the 8GB capacity is fine, the single-channel configuration and sluggish 2,400MHz speed will both hinder performance.
You'll notice we also included the Asus ROG Strix GL10CS in the benchmark chart above. That machine also has the same Core i5 chip, but runs a GeForce GTX 1660 Ti graphics card instead.
In Geekbench 4’s multi-core test, the PC Specialist scored 16,565. That’s underwhelming. It’s not only at least 5,000 points behind the AMD-powered Chillblast and the AlphaBeta, which had a better Core i5 CPU, it’s around 2,000 points slower than the same specification with dual-channel memory.
The PC Specialist has enough CPU speed to handle day-to-day computing, Office software and 1080p gaming, but the absence of dual-channel memory delivers a significant performance hit. Happily, it’s an easy problem to solve: switching to two 4GB sticks on PC Specialist’s website costs less than £100, which means this machine is still cheaper than both rivals.
The 256GB SSD and 1TB hard disk are both fine, although at this price the SSD is only a SATA drive that delivers read and write speeds of 528MB/s and 424MB/s – enough to keep loading times reasonable, but miles behind Chillblast’s NVMe drive.
PC Specialist has added wireless to this PC, but the single-band 802.11n card is an entry-level model and you’ll want something better if you’re serious about online gaming.
The power supply is an unsurprisingly basic unit without a modular design, but its 80Plus Bronze certification is reasonable.
The motherboard, too, is basic but decent. The Asus TUF B360M-Plus Gaming board has spare memory slots and M.2 connectors, and it has reasonable audio and Gigabit Ethernet chipsets. It’s got spare fan headers, an extra USB 3.1 header and loads of SATA ports. However, its microATX form factor means fewer PCI slots, which means less room for upgrading.
The port selection isn’t particularly good, either – it’s got a USB 3.1 Type-C port and two full-size USB 3.1 connections, but only two extra USB 2.0 ports and only three audio jacks.
Both of the PC Specialist’s pricier rivals are competitive here. The Chillblast has a better SSD and 16GB of memory, albeit with a poor motherboard. The AlphaBeta has a similar SSD to the PC Specialist but it does fight back with better memory and a slightly better motherboard.
The PC Specialist has no thermal issues: internal temperatures are fine and the low CPU rumble is easy to mask during gaming.
PC Specialist’s machine costs just £819 and is available direct. It revolves around an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Super graphics card and an Intel Core i5-9400F processor, bolstered with a 256GB SSD, 1TB hard disk and 8GB of memory.
The Sabre squares up against pricier contenders. The Chillblast Fusion Sorcerer arrived at £1,049 and includes the same GTX 1660 Super GPU alongside 16GB of memory, a larger SSD and an AMD Ryzen 5 3600 processor.
There’s also the AlphaBeta i5 RTX, which costs £999 and includes a benchmark-busting RTX 2070 Super. Closer in price is the Asus ROG Strix GL10CS, which is available for £849 with the same processor and slightly more powerful GTX 1660 Ti - it does have a much less interesting case, though.
The PC Specialist is protected by a three-year labour warranty that has one year of parts coverage but just one month of collect-and-return service.
It’s a good deal – better than the AlphaBeta, which has one year of parts and labour service as standard. However, Chillblast’s warranty is better, with five yeas of labour coverage and two years of parts protection and collect-and-return service included.
Check out our chart of the best gaming PCs.
PC Specialist’s system has enough GPU power for 1080p gaming and butter-smooth eSports, and its Core i5 CPU is good enough for day-to-day computing. Its components sit inside a good-looking chassis that’s easy to access.
It does have issues, though. The SSD and the motherboard are entry-level components, and the single-channel memory hinders performance. It’s an easy and relatively inexpensive fix, but it’s still going to add around £100 to the cost.
The relatively low price – even with that memory change – makes this rig a better option than the Chillblast, which offers similar gaming performance at a significantly higher cost. The AlphaBeta is a big threat, though; if you’re willing to spend more than it’s far faster.
If you’re not interested in taking a step up in terms of power, though, the PC Specialist is a well-built and affordable entry-level option for 1080p gaming and esports.
PC Specialist Sabre MK1: Specs
- Processor: 2.9GHz Intel Core i5-9400F
- Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Super 6GB
- Memory: 8GB 2,400MHz DDR4
- Storage: 256GB PC Specialist SATA SSD, 1TB Seagate Barracuda HDD
- Ports: Front: 1 x USB 3.0, 2 x USB 2.0, 2 x audio
- rear: 2 x USB 3.1 Gen 2, 1 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C, 2 x USB 2.0, 1 x Gigabit Ethernet, 1 x PS/2, 3 x audio
- Connectivity: Gigabit Ethernet, Single-band 802.11n wireless
- Case: PC Specialist Wraith RGB
- Power Supply: Corsair CV550 550W
- Dimensions: 210 x 410 x 460mm (WxDxH)
- Warranty: 3yr Labour (1mth C&R, 1yr parts)
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