When I first saw the Maingear F131 with my own eyes, I knew it was unlike any gaming desktop I had ever built or seen on display. This particular configuration I’ve been using costs nearly $8,000, which is well out of the price range of most PC gamers, but it’s mostly a showcase for the case and Maingear’s unique open-loop cooling system called APEX. That system can be added to far more affordable configurations (starting at $1,920 for an Intel chipset or $1,699 for AMD’s Ryzen) for $300.
Those prices look even more appealing when you consider the fact that the popularity of cryptocurrency mining has inflated GPU prices — which makes it cheaper to buy a gaming desktop than it is to build your own, sadly.
Every F131 is hand-assembled in New Jersey, then shipped out in heavy-duty boxes across the globe, which partly inspired the unique cooling blend that Maingear CEO Santos Wallace was unwilling to fully disclose the formula of. Originally, Maingear had difficulties shipping liquid-cooled desktops in colder climates because the coolant would freeze inside of the reservoir and pipes. The custom blend found in the F131 includes antifreeze to prevent this problem.
Maingear started off by creating a custom acrylic slab to contain the liquid, thus avoiding a few of the nuisances of liquid cooling. It shelters the non-conductive liquid away from the power supply and has easily accessible valves for draining and refilling the liquid for maintenance. However, if 360mm copper core radiators and a custom liquid cooling setup aren’t enough for your gaming or heavy processing needs, then there’s what Maingear calls metal hardline tubing — it’s simply nickel-plated metal tubing which dissipates extra heat from the coolant, thus making it just as efficient as it is aesthetic.
When hardline tubing, APEX cooling, and three case fans are used in conjunction with the hexacore Core i7 processor and GTX 1080Ti graphics SLI setup, the result is a nearly inaudible gaming desktop, which only runs slightly warm under strain. It’s uncanny.
If you take a step back and look at the internals of the F131, you’ll notice something peculiar about all that tubing (metal or otherwise): not only does it operate with dual pumps as a fail-safe, but it’s pressure-regulated and runs in parallel from the reservoir. In the case of this rig, APEX cools the SLI setup containing two GTX 1080Ti graphics cards, independently, rather than sharing coolant between the two (as is the case with most other liquid-cooled systems).
Also, just in case you were wondering how customizable the F131 is, you can custom-order the case with custom colors or graphics or request coolant in white, red, green, blue, yellow, or a custom color.
Of course, it would be wrong to not include the full specs of this $8,000 F131, so here it goes: it has an Intel Core i7 8700K 6-core 3.7GHz/4.7GHz (Maingear overclocks it to 5GHz); 32GB of DDR4 RAM; two NVIDIA GTX 1080Ti cards; a 512GB Samsung NVMe SSD; 4TB standard hard drive; MSI Z370M gaming motherboard; a 1200W EVGA Supernova power supply; and finally leftover space for an optional 12x ASUS Blu-ray drive.
With specs like that, the F131 is practically future-proof for at least the next one to two years, but Maingear tells me the F131 is designed to be serviced every five years. Basically, longevity is ingrained in the chassis and specs of the F131, and it shows. The case itself is made from server-grade metal, with a metal filter on top of the case which can be removed for routine cleanings.
Of the F131’s many bells and whistles, the supplied RF remote for changing the RGB LED case lighting is my favorite. You can select static colors as well as different lighting modes that range from pulsing lights to waves throughout the entire color spectrum. You can also just shut it all off, so the only light emerging from the F131’s glass window is from the RAM’s blinking indicators.
How is the F131 for playing games? As well as you’d expect a desktop of this caliber, at 60 fps, 120 fps, or 144 fps. While most new and popular PC game titles don’t have native support for SLI graphics, a single GTX 1080Ti is more than enough to drive 1080 or 1440p displays at max resolution, and the desired 120 / 144Hz refresh rate. Gaming in 4K on a single 1080Ti is possible, but this usually occurs at 30–75Hz, due to current gaming monitor limitations.
If you’re in the market for a gaming desktop or an editing powerhouse, APEX cooling sounds like a great idea considering the benefits are a quiet, cool, and powerful system that rarely needs maintenance. The F131’s main shortcoming is its pricing; APEX is $299 extra along with the hardline pipes that support SLI, which is another $399 on top of APEX. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but the results speak for themselves.
Photography by Stefan Etienne for The Verge