I’ve been wrestling on how to write this review for the Aftershock Explorer Open Loop gaming PC. Mainly because you will never get the exact machine that I have here for review. Each Explorer is a handcrafted, water-cooled PC that is as much art as it is a high-performance system and it is made to exacting customer requirements.
Everything from the choice of components, lighting, cable sleeves choices and even watercolour are unique. They are designed to be wall-mounted so you can show off the parts and believe me, you will want everyone to see this.
I’ve not owned a gaming PC in over a decade. Laptops are my thing mostly because I need a high-performance mobile machine I can use for work and play. But after several weeks in lockdown and using the Explorer as my main machine, I am now a believer. Make no mistake though, this is a dream machine costing a little over $4000.
While that is a healthy pile of cash, there are laptops like the Alienware M17 R2 or Gigabyte AERO 17 which cost more than that but have nowhere near similar performance. And yes, being a PC, you can probably cobble the same specs together for much cheaper but I’m pretty sure it won’t be water-cooled or even built so damn beautifully as the Explorer.
Aftershock Explorer Open Loop Showcase PC
But let’s first deal with the basics. Here are the specs in our test machine:
|CPU||Intel Core i7-9700K (Coffee Lake-S) 3.6GHz Base with 4.9 GHz Boost|
|Motherboard||ASUS ROG STRIX Z390-F GAMING|
|Memory||2 x 8Gb Klevv CRAS X RGB DDR4 3200Mhz|
|Graphics||Zotac RTX 2080 Super Twin Fan8192 MB GDDR6 SDRAM|
|Storage||1TB M.2 PCIE G3x4 NVMe SSD,3TB SATA HDD|
The specs aren’t the most impressive thing by themselves but the Explorer is truly a case of the whole being greater than the sum of parts. And what’s more, is that you can pretty much order any specs you wish with your own build. Richard Noble at Aftershock PC Australia tells me that they will have extensive discussions with you regarding your personal needs and tastes. He says some customers come up with their own designs while others want to select every teeny-tiny details like the colour of the fittings, cable sleeves, watercolour and more.
The entire process of putting together one of these beasts is around 1-2 weeks from initial discussion to the building, testing and final delivery. The chosen CPU, GPU, RAM are all individually tested before the build begins. If the customer has asked for specialized components, those have to be sourced first. Probably one of the greater complexities has to be the water cooling design. Once the routes are decided, expert open-loop builders begin hand-bending the pipers, cutting and routing them. They are then pressure tested to make sure there are no leaks. In fact, the entire machine goes through so much testing to ensure peak performance and maximum cooling.
Richard tells me that the open-loop systems with a 360mm radiator will typically achieve an impressive 20-degree temperature reduction over air-cooled systems. In my experience using this machine, I was never worried about temperatures. The exposed nature of the Thermaltake case also allows for additional cooling and not even once did I come close to redlining this beast. And believe me, I tried. I’ve done a ton of benchmarking and extensive gaming in 1440p, ultra settings with RTX on and this machine has never come close to complaining.
A work of art
As Richard said, the Explorer is meant to be shown off. Plonk it on your desk or better yet, mount it on a wall in full view for all to see. From the moment I unboxed it, I was mesmerised by the geeky beauty of it. Your eye is immediately drawn to the huge water reservoir and the trail of pipes that spout out of it to the CPU block and GPU which is mounted parallel to the motherboard unlike the traditional orientation. And you won’t easily miss the two large digital gauges mounted on each pipe leading to the CPU and GPU. These show things like temperature and water pressure. I felt extremely nerdy watching the numbers on the digital readout as I was a nameless white-coated lab assistant in a movie.
Three giant RGB lit fans generate not only good airflow but so much light that bathes the entire machine. Even the Klevv CRAS X RAM sticks have RGB light strips that can sync with the other system lights. The I/O block on the Asus Motherboard also has subtle lighting that stays on even when you turn the Explorer off. And the way the light shines through the CPU and GPU water blocks is a never-ending delight.
They say God is in the details and the builders at Aftershock know this all too well. I love the chrome ‘caps’ that connect the water pipes at their terminal points. They look solid, striking and even a little blingy. I can’t get over the meticulous cable management with its green braided cable sleeves. Suffice to say, the only reason your Explorer could look bad is because of your poor design choices and not Aftershocks builders.
The Explorer is certainly a work of art but it’s first and foremost a high-performance gaming PC. Everything in the Explorer is handpicked and tested to meet that goal. When combined with the excellent water cooling, everything is free to perform at its best for longer periods of time. I literally could not make this beast choke no matter what I threw at it.
Have a look at these benchmarks for yourself. I’ve included results from both base out of the box settings (3.6Ghz base) and overclocked (5.1Ghz) so you can see how much of a difference it makes. Ultimately, I ended up leaving the CPU running at a very smooth and stable 4.6GHz.
Overclocking can be done in a multitude of ways which makes the Explorer a great choice for both novices and pro-overclockers. The Asus z390 Motherboard is a formidable piece of kit and has easy BIOS overclocking using AI Overclocking. I’ve had no previous overclocking experience but with just a few clicks, I was able to get stable overclocks without too much fuss.
At its simplest, overclocking allows you to run the CPU and GPU faster than their stock factory setting and get better performance. You increase the CPU’s base frequency and voltage in steps while continuously testing the system for stability and temperatures. If the processor gets too hot, the machine will choke with a Windows blue screen or even fail to boot.
Luckily, there are built-in safeguards but I didn’t tempt fate and played it safe. I increased the clock speeds by 200Mhz increments and tested for stability each time. Without too much effort, I was able to get the CPU to run at 5.1Ghz which is almost 30% faster than stock and you can see the results in my benchmarks.
The Explorer’s excellent water cooling kept the core CPU temperature at a surprisingly low 45°C under load. For context, I’ve had gaming laptops get as high as 85 – 90° C when under load. So in comparison, the Explorer is pretty frosty and the best thing is you can barely hear it. Gaming laptop fans get incredibly loud but the Explorer could almost be mistaken for being off if you weren’t paying attention.
I did try to go higher but then I started getting frequent blue screens so I eventually knocked it back down for a more stable experience. Overclocking aside, the Explorer has far more power than most people will ever really need. However, if you are a streamer, video content creator or 3D artist, you may indeed want to milk as much power as you can. Either way, noob or pro-overclocker, the Explorer is really easy to get running the way you want.
Super gaming all-day
It goes without saying that the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 Super combined with the i7-9700K performs like a champ in gaming. I’ve played a ton of games from less demanding Diablo III and Ori and the Will of Wisps to heavy hitters like Destiny 2 and The Division 2 at Ultra settings in 1440p HDR on my MSI monitor. Every game runs well over the desired average of 60 frames per second with no perceptible frame drops.
The RTX 2080 Super also runs RTX games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Metro Exodus very smoothly. I’m sure I could run 4K games on this beast at a comfortable 60fps without compromising visual fidelity. I’ve never found myself having to fiddle around with settings like I have to on gaming laptops and that my friends, is such a great feeling. Everything just runs great and now I’m not sure I can ever go back to anything less.
The Aftershock Explorer open loop has convinced me. I now finally understand what the whole PC Master race is all about. There’s just something about a meticulously, hand made gaming PC that gives you a sense of pride and power. With the Explorer, I felt a confidence that I didn’t know I needed. There simply wasn’t any use case where I was worried that apps or games wouldn’t run as beautifully and smoothly as I’d like.
All this power is presented in such a dreamy way with a kaleidoscope of brilliant colour and an eerie quietness that belies the great power within. I’m truly impressed with Aftershock’s craftsmanship and attention to details. If I had to complain about something, it would be the open case. I don’t like having my components exposed especially since I couldn’t wall mount this beast away from prying four-year-old fingers.
But that’s something easily fixed by choosing a different style of case. And on top of all that, you can configure an insane system for as little as $3500 and still get an exceptional gaming rig. Aftershocks Explorer line is a seriously good PC and I would wholeheartedly recommend trying them out for your next custom PC build.
The Aftershock PC Australia loaned the Explorer Open Loop High Performance PC to PowerUp for the purpose of this review.