Maingear MG-1 Ultimate Review: The Most Powerful PC We’ve Ever Tested

A desktop computer setup includes a monitor displaying "MAINGEAR" with the Petapixel logo above. Beside the monitor are a camera, a mug, and a keyboard on a wooden desk. A PC tower with blue gradient design and "Petapixel" branding is also present.

Maingear has been a big name in custom PCs for over 20 years and has earned a sterling reputation for its high-end PCs, especially for gaming, and strong customer support. While its flagship MG-1 line, ranging from just over $1,100 to the $4,000 machine I tested, has plenty of features for hardcore gamers to drool over, the MG-1 can also be an outstanding option for creatives.

The Specs: The MG-1 Ultimate Has Serious Horsepower

As mentioned, the MG-1 as a series is available in many different variations, ranging from $1,149 to $3,999. While Maingear sent an MG-1 Ultimate for review, the top-end option, the Silver and Gold pre-configs at $1,149 and $1,299, respectively, are far from lightweights.

The entire series currently comes with Nvidia Geforce RTX 4000-series GPUs and, with one exception, reasonably high-end Intel CPUs. Base RAM ranges from 16GB DDR4 to the 32GB DDR5 in my test unit.

A sleek, black gaming PC tower with a side glass panel is shown on a wooden surface. The interior is illuminated with blue and purple LED lights, showcasing the components, including a GeForce RTX graphics card. The front panel features a glowing logo.

To contextualize the rest of this review, it is worth drilling down on precisely what’s included in my test machine. The MG-1 Ultimate has an Intel Core i9-14900K with 24 cores. This is paired with 32GB of DDR5 RAM, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090, and 2TB of Gen4 M.2 NVMe SSD storage. For the same price as the “standard” MG-1 Ultimate, there’s an Nvidia Studio configuration, which Maingear sent me to try, and this includes Nvidia Studio drivers pre-installed for content creation workflows. A Boost option for an extra $400 doubles the RAM and storage, although that’s not the unit I had.

Although specific photo applications, as we’ll see, don’t take full advantage of the power the MG-1 Ultimate offers — looking at you, Lightroom — there is much to like here regarding hardware.

Design and Build Quality

The good news continues when looking at the MG-1’s design and build quality. While some users may look at the glass side panel and customizable RGB strip lighting and think, “This is a bit much,” others will love it. I am more in the latter camp, although turning them off is always a viable option. Turning the lights down to a dim white glow is a lovely, somewhat classier choice if constantly changing rainbow lights aren’t your thing. I’m one of those simpletons who laments the loss of an illuminated Apple logo on my MacBook, so take what I say on PC lighting with a grain of salt.

The MG-1’s chassis is also quite big, so users will need a decent amount of desk or floor space for this powerful tower. It’s 19 inches tall, 8.1 inches wide, and 16.9 inches deep (48.3 by 20.6 by 42.9 centimeters).

A desktop computer with a transparent side panel displaying internal components, including RGB lighting, a "GEFORCE RTX" graphics card, and a cooling fan. The interior is neatly organized with visible cables. The setup is on a wooden surface.

The front fascia is extremely clean, sporting a customizable face plate that swaps using a magnetic system. It’s a fun way to add a personal touch to your tower, especially if you have it in an area where you won’t see the clear side panel and entertaining light show. Speaking of the inside of the machine, Maingear prides itself in really clean builds with excellent cable management, and, no surprise, the review unit I was sent ticked all these boxes. The company also ships its machines with extras from component manufacturers, including a bundle of various cables for the CPU and GPU.

On top of the machine are a couple of USB-A ports, a USB-C port (3.2 Gen 2×2), an audio-out port, and a power button. There’s also a power switch on the back, by the way. I don’t fully understand the redundancy, but it’s very common with PCs.

Close-up of a computer casing highlighting ventilation slits on the top half and multiple ports at the bottom. Ports include two USB-A ports, one USB-C port, a headphone jack, a small blue button, and a larger illuminated blue power button.
The top of the MG-1 features a handful of ports and a power button

The back of the machine will vary a bit depending on the configuration, as ports are reliant on the internal components, but there are eight USB type A ports and one USB-C port on mine, plus multiple DisplayPort and HDMI ports. The HDMI port tied to the GPU is HDMI 2.1, and the RTX 4090 supports four monitors.

While I appreciate that Maingear sells pre-configured units that are easy to set up and use, even for a lifelong Mac user like me, I also love how easy it is to get inside the MG-1’s case. After removing two screws, quickly done by hand, you’re inside the machine and free to tinker. Everything is very easily seen and accessed. This is great if you want the MG-1 to be a long-term machine, as it enables incremental upgrades over time. While the tower may seem excessively large when you see all the space inside, this space is helpful at times. It’s a plug-and-play computer, which I like, but it also remains easy to tweak and expand as you see fit.

Overall, the MG-1 design is nice. I wish there were more USB-C ports, as that’s primarily what I use, but I appreciate that many people, especially PC users, have more USB-A devices than I do. It’s a beautiful machine.

The image shows the rear view of a desktop computer tower featuring various ports including USB, Ethernet, HDMI, and audio jacks. A cooling fan is visible through the mesh panel, and the power supply is connected to the power cord at the bottom.


There’s no sense beating around the bush here. Let’s just dive straight into the results, see how the MG-1 Ultimate performs, and contextualize it against the other machines in our benchmark library.

Lightroom Classic

Looking first at import performance when generating 1:1 previews, the MG-1 Ultimate doesn’t dethrone the current champ, the Mac Studio (M2 Ultra), but it comes close and simultaneously outperforms the other Windows machines on the list.

A bar graph titled "Lightroom Classic Import - 1:1 Previews" compares the performance of various computer models. Blue bars represent Sony a7R V, and red bars represent PhaseOne XF. Elapsed time is measured in minutes; lower values indicate better performance.

When looking at export performance, the story is the same, with the MG-1 Ultimate delivering performance almost as good as the Mac Studio. Although Lightroom doesn’t let the MG-1 Ultimate use all its graphical power, it still bests the other Windows machines we’ve tested.

Bar chart displaying Lightroom Classic Export times for various computers in seconds, comparing two cameras: Sony a7RV (blue bars) and PhaseOne XF (red bars). Lower times are better. The fastest device is the Maingear MG1 with the Sony a7RV, and the slowest is the MSI Creator Z17HX Studio with the PhaseOne XF.

Bar chart comparing the Lightroom Classic Export speed (in minutes and seconds) of various computers for Sony a7R V and PhaseOne XF 16-bit TIFF files. The M2 Pro Mac mini has the fastest time for Sony a7R V at 2:17, and the slowest for PhaseOne XF at 12:15.


Moving over to the Photoshop benchmarks, we have a new champion. The MG-1 Ultimate delivered the best overall bench score of any machine we have tested. While the PC is bested in the “general” score, its exceptional GPU gets to stretch its legs in this test. While Lightroom is more CPU-intensive and doesn’t take full advantage of the RTX 4090 GPU, Photoshop does a better job of utilizing all available resources.

A bar chart titled "Pugetbench Photoshop - Overall Scores" shows performance scores of various machines. The highest score is by Maingear MG-1 Ultimate with 1633.6, and the lowest is by MSI Creator Z17HX with 1257.6. A legend notes "Higher is Better.

When the individual component scores of the Photoshop benchmark test are broken down, it’s immediately evident how the MG-1 Ultimate took the crown. Look at that red GPU bar. Thanks to the RTX 4090, it redefined the chart boundary.

A bar chart titled "PugetBench Photoshop - Category Scores" showing scores for 16 different computer models across four categories: General, GPU, Filter, and Photomerge. Each category is color-coded, with longer bars indicating higher scores.

Premiere Pro

Due to revised benchmarking, our Premiere Pro testbed is relatively thin. However, like Photoshop, Premiere Pro can leverage GPU power more efficiently than Adobe Lightroom. It should come as no surprise that the MG-1 Ultimate is the champion here as well. We added a couple more Macs to the list today, including the M2 Ultra Mac Studio and the M3 Max-powered MacBook Pro.

Bar chart showing overall performance scores of various computers in Pugetbench Premiere. Higher scores indicate better performance. Scores: MacBook Pro M1 Max: 5414, Mac Studio M2 Ultra: 9896, MacBook Pro M3 Max: 8034, Asus ProArt PD5 PD500TE: 6121, Maingear MG-1 Ultimate: 10550.

Bar graph comparing PugetBench Premiere Pro category scores across five devices: MacBook Pro M1 Max, Mac Studio M2 Ultra, MacBook Pro M3 Max, Asus ProArt PD5 PD500TE, and Maingear MG-1 Ultimate. Scores are given for LongGOP, Intraframe, RAW, and GPU Effects. High scores are better.

As you can see, the MG-1’s strong performance is driven primarily by its performance in graphics-intensive tasks. The M2 Ultra comes close and achieves some solid category performance, too. It’s difficult not to imagine what a machine might look like if it could leverage the best of both high-powered desktops.

Performance Takeaways

There’s a lot to like here when it comes to straight-up performance. In Lightroom tests, the Maingear MG-1 Ultimate slots in between the M2 Ultra-powered Mac Studio, a similarly priced albeit much smaller and less customizable machine, and the M3 Max-powered MacBook Pro, which is also far from cheap.

And when it comes to the specific M2 Ultra we tested, the situation gets a bit murkier. At launch, the test unit would have set customers back $8,800. While it is available for under $7,000 these days, that’s still a heavy premium. There’s little doubt that the “base” M2 Ultra Mac Studio would still deliver outstanding results. Still, it helps contextualize that even after paying for the convenience of a pre-configured PC like the MG-1 Ultimate, it offers a lot of performance per dollar.

In Photoshop and Premiere, the MG-1 Ultimate’s extreme graphics power is much more evident, enabling the machine to become the new top dog in our benchmarks.

For creators who use Windows-only software, an admittedly rare instance these days, the MG-1 Ultimate offers ample performance for photo and video editing, plus some serious gaming chops thanks to the Nvidia RTX 4090.

However, it is worth contextualizing the overall experience of extracting the MG-1’s power. While it takes quite a bit of heavy lifting to get an Apple Silicon-powered machine to break a sweat and start breathing heavily, the MG-1 Ultimate’s large fans quickly got to work during intensive tasks. They aren’t exceptionally loud, but they can be distracting in a quiet work environment. Importing or exporting a batch of photo files is a very normal thing for a photographer to do, and they will need to accept that the MG-1’s strong performance comes with some noise. If your tower is tucked under a desk, it will likely be less of an issue, but it’s something to keep in mind.

A Powerful, Beautiful, and Expensive Desktop PC

The Maingear MG-1 Ultimate is a heck of a machine. It’s not the best choice for all creative tasks for photographers and videographers, but it’s the best for some tasks and very much in the upper echelon for the rest.

Is getting more performance for less money in the custom-built PC space possible? Sure, if you have the time, knowledge, and willingness to build a computer yourself. However, the MG-1 Ultimate is an excellent plug-and-play PC with good style and strong customer support. For users who do more than use Lightroom, Photoshop, and Premiere, and venture off into the gaming space or even tinker with some 3D modeling, the MG-1 Ultimate is more than up for it.

Are There Alternatives?

Yes. As mentioned, you can build a PC with similar components for less than the MG-1 Ultimate’s $3,999 asking price. You’re paying for convenience, security, and support, which understandably comes with a premium. Compared to something like the Intel NUC we reviewed last year, the MG-1 Ultimate is even more accessible. You would be hard-pressed to get a PC this powerful that is any easier to get up and running. It took five minutes to start using the MG-1 Ultimate.

On the Mac side of things, quite a few compelling alternatives offer similar (or better) performance for creative apps. The Mac Studio, while not yet on the M3 or the even newer M4 platform, remains very powerful and comes with a similar price (at least to start).

A black desktop computer tower with a transparent side panel revealing internal components, including a GeForce RTX graphics card. The front panel has a blue pixelated design with a white logo and "PetaPixel" text, illuminated with RGB lighting.

There are, of course, notebooks, too, which are more versatile and not significantly weaker. The M3 Max-powered MacBook Pro goes toe-to-toe with the MG-1 Ultimate in some areas.

There is also the Mac Pro, Apple’s only traditional tower computer. That machine is costly and offers little more than the Mac Studio, aside from more expandability that most users don’t require.

Should You Buy It?

Yes, if you’re firmly in the Windows camp and don’t require the portability of a laptop. If you’re seeking a tower PC that can shred through creative tasks, play the latest games, and be straightforward to use and maintain, the Maingear MG-1 Ultimate is the best option we’ve tested.

Disclosure: Maingear provided a loaner MG-1 Ultimate PC for the purposes of this review and it has been returned to the manufacturer. The PetaPixel front plate seen above was provided as an example of the company’s custom plate option which costs $69. Maingear requested not to receive it back at the conclusion of the review.