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6850, 70 or 6950(ouch)

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February 13, 2011 7:37:56 PM

APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: Either end of this month or end of next month if I must wait.

BUDGET RANGE: Slightly negotiable BUT less is definitely better (no more than $1000 but thats eating Ramen for a few months)

USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: Star Wars the Old Republic, tossing movies up on my projector (would be great if both could be done at the same time) sound through HDMI would be a bonus but not a deal breaker by any stretch. Skyrim would be great but not holding my breath.

CURRENT GPU AND POWER SUPPLY: Currently running a Nvidia 9300e I think (hangs head in shame) PSU will be part of the overall upgrade so advice there would be handy as the Vid card will be the biggest factor there I imagine.

OTHER RELEVANT SYSTEM SPECS: Am looking at a Phenom II 965ish (can go up or down a tad on that one) 4gb ram (can go up) Vista 64bit

PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS: I like newegg, but willing to be persuaded elsewhere if good recommendations are made

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA

PARTS PREFERENCES: Have been looking mostly at AMD cards, Eyefinity looks like something I could have a lot of fun with.

OVERCLOCKING: Not normally but down with it later to extend comp life sure

SLI OR CROSSFIRE: I would like the option

MONITOR RESOLUTION: 1920x1080 60hz at Maximum (HPw2408h)

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: The only PC games I am really looking forward too in the year ahead are SWtOR and Skyrim. I do have a 360, but I love PC mods. I would prefer to spend as little as possible but I've been around long enough to know that spending a touch more now could save me a lot of love later. I would greatly love to be able to run SWtOR at full settings @ 1920x1080, I know the systems req's aren't out yet, but I'm not sure where I should put my money to get best results, more ram (on or off the card)? More CPU? Crossfire/SLI? I haven't built a puter in several years so I'm way too rusty to just start buying parts without asking for some advice. My max resolution is going to be 1920x1080 for now.

I very much would like some advice toward the future as well. Should I buy a lesser card now, with a mind to what may be coming out later in the year? Are there likely to be PCIe 3 cards out this year, so that building cheap now with the idea of moving parts to a new mobo in a few months would be wise?


More about : 6850 6950 ouch

February 13, 2011 8:18:23 PM

If you want, you can get the 6850 and unlock it to a 6870. If you have the money, get a 6950 and unlock it to a 6970. That's what I'm going to do. PCI-E 3 won't be useful any time soon, as GPUs haven't gotten that fast. Bottom line: get a 6850 if you don't like to pay much ($190), or get a 6950 if you have a little extra cash($250-$290). Don't get cards from the cheapest brands, as they don't have good support or warranty. today I ordered the XFX off of NCIX, as it was $260 including rebate, and has a double lifetime warranty.

I'd recommend waiting until April, and getting a fixed Sandy Bridge motherboard.

So I'd get:
CPU: i5 2500k $220
Mobo: MSI P67A-GD55 $150
RAM: G.Skill Ripjaws 1333 8gb $85
PSU: Cougar CMX 700 watt $85-$135
CPU Cooler: CoolerMaster Hyper 212 Plus $20
GPU: XFX, Sapphire, or MSI 6950 $190 or 6970 $250-$280 (recommended)
Case: if you really think you need a case get an NZXT Lexa S $90 or Phantom $140

Total: 220+ 150+ 85+ 100+ 20+ 260+ 140= $975

I have this exact system (but the GPU is coming tomorrow). If you have any problems or questions, just message me. Oh, and if you don't plan to do water cooling, get the Lexa S and safe some dough.

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February 13, 2011 8:28:54 PM

Here is the question I must ask tho,

Do you think I could run SWtOR on a single 6850 at 1920x1080 and be happy? Would also be far easier to slap a second 6850 in there to make up the difference, as I would have time to save (the same can be said of the 6950 tho I spose).

Also I have to say based on the reviews so far of the Sandy Bridge CPU's it seems like the extra bells and whistles will be relatively useless to me, as I intend to use a discreet graphics solution and do not intend to do things like Video conversion etc... Which is why I haven't looked too closely at Intel's offerings.

I would be very interested tho to hear what you think of your new GPU when you get it installed. I'm having a hard time NOT spending the extra money on a 6950, even tho I would have to give up little luxuries like... eating...
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Related resources
February 13, 2011 8:36:38 PM

I see. You should easily be able to run your game with a single 6850. It doesn't look too GPU demanding. If it lags, unlock the 6850, if it still lags, get another one and do CrossFire.
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a b U Graphics card
February 13, 2011 8:44:25 PM

unlock a 6850 to 6870? is that possible? never heard of that before, the 6950 can be unlocked to 6970 though.
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February 13, 2011 8:51:52 PM

6850 is possible to unlock. It's dangerous though. The 6950 can be unlocked to a 6970, but it's best to unlock it to an unlocked 6950 bios. This means that you get get all of the cores of the 6970, but the voltages don't go up, and your card won't fry up. So to stay on the safe side, you can get a 6850 and overclock it if your games lag, or you can get a 6950 and unlock it. If you don't have much money, just get the 6850. They can be found very cheap.
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February 13, 2011 9:13:48 PM

Okay so lets say I go with the 6850, and I'm lagging a bit more than I would like.. so I get another... and then a third...

The Mobo I have been looking at has 4 slots, the bottom one of course is in a bit of a tight spot so not likely to use it...

So I would be running my 3 x 6850's (not all bought at once of course) on a 16x8x8 setup. Would considering that as an option be worth it at all? Also would say a quad core Phenom II 965 be enough cpu to handle more than two?

Saying I can buy more cards by the end of the year and my major goal being to run SWtOR at smexyfied settings (still maxed at 1920x1080 60hz tho) Would buying a big shiny 6950 still be that much more worthwhile?

Also, what kind of PSU would I be looking at to run 2 6850's in Xfire? Am having a little trouble figuring that out, or at least what the mathematical formula would be to figure it out.

Also I probably wouldn't try to unlock a 6850 as they don't have the nifty bios "oh s***" switch that the 6950 has.

I know I'm asking a lot of varied questions, but you guys are the best so your help is fantastic. I simply do not have the knowledge at this point to be able to open the wallet and not feel dirty at the end of the day.
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February 13, 2011 9:21:27 PM

If you do go with Crossfire, you'll only need 2 cards.
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a b U Graphics card
February 13, 2011 11:57:28 PM

What are you guys blabbering on about? He said he'd spend $1000 in six weeks!

That means:
i5-2500K $230
1155 (PCI-e 8x/8x) mobo $150
8GB RAM $100
750W PSU $90
Case $70
DVD Free to reuse
Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB $60

That leaves $300 to spend on graphics assuming prices don't drop and now combos exist.

Get a 6950 2GB and unlock it to an unlocked 6950 bios for $260! With the extra $40, bump that PSU up to an 850W too.

Also, rice is much cheaper than Ramen if you buy 25lb or larger bags. I can give you tips on cheap tasty food--Ramen's not the cheapest thing there is. But I guess it's easier than rice if you're REALLY lazy.
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February 14, 2011 12:49:30 AM

Lawl rice ftw!

Let me switch gears here and explain my situation a weee bit better and ask a few related questions.

I'm currently disabled due to some fun side effects of open heart surgery little over a year ago. I LIVE online. WoW was great for a very long run, played NWN on an awesome persistent server that some very talented friends built for like 5 years.

I like LONG lasting games... So my "New Hope" to make a nerd joke, is going to be Star Wars the Old Republic.

Now I have always wondered what it would be like to crank my video setting to the maximum in a game. Having started on an Odyssey, and moved to the C64 that made gaming my new sport, I have always wanted to punch up the settings and really see what the game was supposed to look like.

My budget right now is about $500 a month towards this, but seeing as I am not able to work that is REALLY hard to spend without feeling bad about myself... And then my current computer died... So I got nothin...

I'm looking at an Antec 300 based on this sites review as well as some others, it sounds like what I want in a case. I want a Mobo that can handle Xfire, simply so I can if I must, but not all at once, and maybe not at all if I can rock SWtOR without it. Again I understand completely that we are speculating here, but I doubt the game will come close to DA2's recommended specs, so if I can get pretty close to that mark I will be happy.

So here are some questions:

1. Will an 6850, which only has up to 1gb of ram, have a chance of running SWtOR at 1920x1080 at a minimum of say 30fps? Or will I have to get the 6950 simply to get 2gb of ram to run at that resolution? This resolution seems kinda middle of the road on a lot of this sites benchmarks so I'm not sure the 1gb card would handle 1920x1080 well, even if I got another one in a month or two.

2. Is AA dependent on the cards speed? Shader count? installed ram? or is it more dependent on something like the CPU? Not a deal breaker, but is info I need to make a "wise" decision. Would like to give some AA a try even if I normally run without it.

3. With Eyefinity I can run 3 monitors on one card, can I then add a second card in Crossfire and run 6? Or am I limited to only having monitors plugged into a single card and thus I only get 3 monitors still... Also not a deal breaker but may as well plan ahead right? And I haven't found that exact info as of yet but still searching.

4. Will Crossfire on a 16x16 Mobo be noticeably better than an 8x8?

I feel like having recently survived (by a very small margin) having my chest sawed open and months of hospital food, I deserve to splurge just a bit and see what it is like to really pimp out a game on my new PC. At the same time I need to cost cut where I can, such as leaning toward an AMD cpu as opposed to Intel, even tho I feel like I am comparing a high priced hooker against a cheap one, wondering which will give me more STD's, and if in the end the cheap hooker is going to perform as well as the expensive one... well I get herpes either way right?

Also I have to feel really confident when I tell my wife how much I am spending on hook... I mean computer parts. So that is why I am asking such pointed questions. While I know a 6950 would handle it, if a 6850, or possibly 2x6850's will handle it as well, I have to see that as a better option. But if that 1gb memory is going to bend me over, I will get the 6950 happily knowing it is the best option even at the higher price.

On a slightly related note... does a third GPU actually help much at say 16x8x8? or do you run into some serious diminishing returns? Last time I built a comp SLI was a new thing so I'm not real sure about the tech.

Thanks again guys, so far you have been extremely helpful... <3 Tom's Hardware and all you crazy cats that make it so awesome!
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a b U Graphics card
February 14, 2011 1:29:20 AM

5850's and 5870's are hitting rock bottom prices at the moment and other then a 6950 2GB better then the other cards mentioned.
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a b U Graphics card
February 14, 2011 2:05:22 AM

If you care about your graphics and can afford it--get better than a 6850. It's definitely slower than a 5850. And if you want a couple years out of it, the 6950's the way to go--especially if you Crossfire another one in a year or two and flash to an unlocked 6950 bios. The 5870's got the best price/performance, but it will be tough to find a second one in two years.

AA's nice to have and entirely GPU dependent if your CPU is adequate. And no one here will recommend a build with an inadequate CPU.

I'm pretty sure Crossfire lets you run 6 monitors.

4x/4x is not noticeably worse than 16x/16x (http://www.hardocp.com/article/2010/08/25/gtx_480_sli_p...), but you still want 8x/8x. So you don't need an X58 (LGA 1366) board to run 16x/16x because 8x/8x is good enough.

The Intel hookers are clean. The AMD ones--well they don't perform as well, but get the job done either way, especially if you're strapped for cash. I dunno about that third GPU, but considering a 6850 runs you $175 and a 6950 runs you $260 (no rebates included), I'd go with the one that will let you run everything with max graphics now for half again more. Then your machine will be beasting through games two years from now when you crossfire. And it will still be able to play games in 4 years (I cite 8800's as evidence--which is why you want the 2GB RAM also).

If you're into overclocking and want to save cash, a Phenom II x4 955BE will serve you well with dual 6950's even. Match that with an ASRock 870 Extreme 3 and 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 and a 750W (double check that power requirement) PSU.

But if you're building in a month, I still think the extra $100 on a Sandy Bridge i5-2500K is worth it.

Third GPU? I dunno--but that's a large power draw and a hot system.

Oh--the case--I like the Antec 300 Illusion better than the Antec 300. I'd get something a little bigger (also w/ bottom mounted PSU) to make sure it had no trouble fitting dual 6950's.
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February 14, 2011 2:46:56 AM

Wow awesome stuff!! And I'm feeling much better about going with a 6950.

The board I have been looking at is: here!

But if 8x8 isn't going to be easy to notice then that can save me a good bit of cash. Part of why I was looking at that mobo is the combo deal they had with a AMD 970, which isn't a bunch faster than the 965, but hey basically a free upgrade. The other was the quad Crossfire, but from what I am seeing here it seems more than two just isn't worth it (and lets face it the game I am obsessing over isn't likely to need it).

I still am fuzzy about the Sandy Bridge, as the review I read here on the group that just came out (and subsequently went right back) seemed not to offer a lot of gaming specific bonuses. Am I missing something?

This is enormously helpful info thus far so please keep feeding me!
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a b U Graphics card
February 14, 2011 3:01:05 AM

you cannot crossfire more than two of the 6850s or 6870s, im pretty sure the same thing for the 6950s, besides that it would be a waste imo
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February 14, 2011 3:08:25 AM

Well thats good to know, seems more and more like a single 6950 would be a good way to go, with the possibility to plug in another a year or so down the road.

I still don't get what the Sandy Bridge does for gaming so will research that a bit... the guy on the newegg video for the one mentioned in this thread didn't answer that question in the slightest. But hey thats a CPU question so will head over to that forum if I can't find the answer.
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a b U Graphics card
February 14, 2011 3:31:30 AM

According to that review I linked, the performance of 8x/8x (v. 16x/16x) is not noticeable at all, but possibly benchmarkable with GTX 480's or higher. 4x/4x is probably not noticeable without benchmarking.

Sandy Bridge will not help with gaming for another two or three years. But if you have two 6950's in crossfire in 2014, you'll be able to play most new games on high or max settings with a Sandy Bridge CPU--but not with a Phenom II. Also, SB will OC to 5.0GHz+ on air. If you ever do more than play games, you'll notice the difference.

As far as the 965/970 debate--they're all black edition--which means the multiplier is unlocked and so they're identical! Get a 955 (C3) and spend 1 minute (literally, 60 seconds or less) going to your BIOS and changing the multiplier.
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February 14, 2011 3:54:40 AM

Okay so I get my nifty 955 and boost the multiplier are we talking stock cooling or do I need to spend extra on a new cooling solution. (I have no real problem there just figure it will be good info).

(been so long since I OC'd that my cell phone is more powerful than that old beast, 500mhz was awesome!)

Also in 2 to 3 years I will be happy to give this machine to my wife, who will surf the web REALLY fast, and move my better components to a shiny new machine, so seeming more like a 955 would be a good choice to match 1 6950, with a second 6950 down the line a bit.

Interesting how nobody has recommended the 6870, seems to hit a bad price point between the others.

Mayhaps 8gb's ram to start instead of just 4gb's with money I save.

Another related question, narrowing things down a bit more... "Back in my day" we didn't have the company Sapphire (unless names have changed or my age caused me to forget (34)) But they seemed to do well in the benchmarks I have seen and also seem to have better cooling, shoving the air out the back as it were.

Would they be a good company to choose in the opinions of those here? Or should I fall back on an Asus or XFX or one of the other more recognizable brands?
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a b U Graphics card
February 14, 2011 4:10:04 AM

Stock cooling if all you're doing is matching the 970's 3.5GHz. I do 3.7 on stock cooling with an unlocked to x4 565BE. My other 565BE didn't unlock, but did 4.0 without a hitch on stock.

But if you're going higher than 3.6--you really should watch your temps. You'd also want to set voltages to manual (if going higher than 3.6 or so) instead of Auto, because Auto can overvoltage sometimes. But this is getting into you doing a 30 minute overclock instead of 1 minute overclock.
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February 14, 2011 4:24:45 AM

Ah but it is fantastic info that is extremely helpful...

So at 1920x1080 I am seeing the Sandy Bridge i5 2500k did better than the Phenom 2 970. in a few games (metro 2033 and something else I don't remember) so that gives me pause.

The value of the 955 seems fantastic tho as I can get it for about $140 on newegg. The price difference makes me think it just wouldn't be worth getting the i5, but I have to ask if there is a compelling argument that would let 2 6950's rock harder with it than with a 955 OC'd a bit (say 3.6)? Seeing as I am looking at SWtOR and not Metro?

I already feel so much better about my purchasing options btw so kudos on keeping the info rolling (sorry if I seem thick lol).
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a b U Graphics card
February 14, 2011 4:26:41 AM

there are actually some great deals on 6870s now and I have mine oc'ed to 1030 core and 1240 mem, and it outperforms the 5870 most of the time and is darn close to the 6950, but since the 1 gig 6950s came out they are also dirt cheap so either way you will really not be disappointed imo, I plan on crossfiring my 6870 in the coming months, and also have a 955 at 4.0 ghz on stock voltage... Basically I plan on doing what you are going to do with my personal rig so I would say crossfire 6950s or 6870s is a good way to go... In a lot of instances the 6870 is not far behind the 6950 (especially with a nice oc) so the price difference is hard to gauge in that segment on the amd side, imo.

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a b U Graphics card
February 14, 2011 4:33:29 AM

in regards to the cpu, the 955 is hands down the best value for AMD right now, but for a little more money I would still go with the i5 2500k.... but then again if you go with the am3 setup and a 955 you can spend the extra money on a nice cpu cooler like a coolermaster hyper 212+ and you can easily OC the 955 to 4.0 ghz and beyond...

to sum things up if you go am3 get the 955....

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a b U Graphics card
February 14, 2011 4:42:36 AM

Agreed. If you go AM3, go 955. But with SB--you don't need an aftermarket cooler...yet.

The i5-2500K kicks the Phenom II's but in every possible way except price. The i5 does win price/performance too. It even matches or beats the hexacore Phenom II's in video conversion and other parallel processes. I highly recommend waiting and building with the Sandy Bridge processors. The only reason you shouldn't is if you cannot stand to wait.

With the i5-2500K, you'll be able to play new games in 4 years with high or max graphics (I cite the 8800's as evidence that dual setups can be useful this long) with dual 6950's with the unlocked 6950 bios. With the Phenom II--you'll probably start to see processor bottlenecks in two years. And the 6950's have large enough frame buffers (if you get the 2GB version for the same price) to be used that long down the road.

Don't get a 6870 if you can afford a 6950--it is not the same card--a 6870 cannot safely unlock to the performance of the 6970--a $370 card.
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February 14, 2011 4:43:21 AM

Again great info!

So with your 6870 and the 955 how well do your games run? Can you give me an idea of what you play and how high the settings go?
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a b U Graphics card
February 14, 2011 4:51:25 AM

I play a lot of BFBC2 1920X1080 all high and 2xaa I get no lower than 50 fps and it usually hovers around 60 (since I use vsync) most games are more than playable at max settings with just one 6870 although I do agree with dalauder that it is not the same card..

Dirt 2 all maxed out 4xaa never goes below 60 and that is usually the case for most games..

just cause 2 and batman aa go from about 48-60 fps at 1920X1200 all high out 4xaa

crysis is even nice and playable staying above 38 fps or so on all high and 4xaa, basically the card is more than suffiecient for 95% of games out this moment

crossfire 6950s with the 2gb frame buffer is probably a bit of a better investment at this point so the choice is one you can only decide for yourself
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February 14, 2011 4:54:49 AM

dalauder said:
Agreed. If you go AM3, go 955. But with SB--you don't need an aftermarket cooler...yet.

The i5-2500K kicks the Phenom II's but in every possible way except price. The i5 does win price/performance too. It even matches or beats the hexacore Phenom II's in video conversion and other parallel processes. I highly recommend waiting and building with the Sandy Bridge processors. The only reason you shouldn't is if you cannot stand to wait.

With the i5-2500K, you'll be able to play new games in 4 years with high or max graphics (I cite the 8800's as evidence that dual setups can be useful this long) with dual 6950's with the unlocked 6950 bios. With the Phenom II--you'll probably start to see processor bottlenecks in two years. And the 6950's have large enough frame buffers (if you get the 2GB version for the same price) to be used that long down the road.

Don't get a 6870 if you can afford a 6950--it is not the same card--a 6870 cannot safely unlock to the performance of the 6970--a $370 card.


Wow beat me there! You guys are fast!

So based on everything I have read I'm looking at buying most of my rig this month if the prices stay good (I have a few virgin modems I can sacrifice to keep the internet gods happy). Next month I buy a 6950 2gb, then when I feel the need get a second one.

I'm having trouble finding a price for a i5 2500k, obviously due to the current troubles, can you give me a ballpark? I am still mostly leaning toward the 955 with an eye to upgrade next year (or black Friday this year if fun tech is out bwahahaha). But I'm not 100% certain as I need to account for price. It seems the 955 will do what I want with a little overclock so that I get playable frame rates at 1920x1080 with high settings (as long as the game doesn't fail).

Also can I say the Intel dude on the Newegg Video for the i5 does not sell me near as well as you guys and Tom's reviews... way too excited about the name and the silver line on the box. Fail...

As to waiting... well who likes waiting? When are the i5's supposed to be on the shelf again anyhow? (I do have my limits)
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a b U Graphics card
February 14, 2011 10:06:04 PM

i5-2500K's are $229. Or $180 at Micro Center. You don't need one--but in the long run it's a better investment. They won't be out for three weeks, maybe a month. But if you can wait a little to build, that CPU will force others to drop in price if a couple bucks mattters.
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February 14, 2011 11:05:17 PM

The 2500k is already out. I have it! The motherboards have been recalled. So, wait until Intel fixes the problem (a month or so). Plus, if you wait, your parts will drop in price. :) 
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a b U Graphics card
February 14, 2011 11:36:34 PM

Dude, I know they're out. I meant wait until they're re-released.
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February 14, 2011 11:43:43 PM

Ah, I see.
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February 15, 2011 2:12:14 AM

Hrm... $229 could be a bit too much for now, I think I would rather rebuild in a year or so, as I'm pretty sure the laptop my wife is using wont make it much farther and she will need a system anyway.

Thus I can get a 955 now and use it till the lappy dies and then buy myself a few new parts and letting her use the older stuff, and shouldn't lose any money at all. (I do hold out hope that I can get her gaming some day...)
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February 15, 2011 11:55:04 AM

Since when did a 6850 can be flashed to a 6870? You're confusing it with the 6900s.
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a b U Graphics card
February 15, 2011 1:36:48 PM

yeah since never,it can be oc'ed past a 6870 performance sometime though
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February 15, 2011 6:52:44 PM

Sorry, I misread an article. :p 
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February 16, 2011 7:09:44 AM

Thats fine.

OP, if you can wait, get the 2500k. it will last you with no hiccups for the next 3 years at the very least. The most you need is to add a second 6950. I'll know, cause im planning the very same thing. Only consideration is the 1GB or 2GB which probably save me 20bucks:/

A good reason for a 6950 is its power consumption, not much above a 6850/70 at idle and way way below a 6970 at load. That is, if you're worried electric bills going through the roof. Anyway, the same explanation can be used for 955 and 2500k, we're not seeing much more power consumption increases as you overclock, meaning a very efficient processor. All I can say is, its a waste not to bring a 2500k to 4.3ghz at least. All on stock cooling.
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February 22, 2011 11:57:14 PM

rvd89 said:
Thats fine.

OP, if you can wait, get the 2500k. it will last you with no hiccups for the next 3 years at the very least. The most you need is to add a second 6950. I'll know, cause im planning the very same thing. Only consideration is the 1GB or 2GB which probably save me 20bucks:/

A good reason for a 6950 is its power consumption, not much above a 6850/70 at idle and way way below a 6970 at load. That is, if you're worried electric bills going through the roof. Anyway, the same explanation can be used for 955 and 2500k, we're not seeing much more power consumption increases as you overclock, meaning a very efficient processor. All I can say is, its a waste not to bring a 2500k to 4.3ghz at least. All on stock cooling.


Ya as I'm going to have to wait till the end of March now to do anything, I'm thinking more seriously about going with the 2500k. Definitely decided on the 6950 tho as it just seems to be the best way to go. I'm going with the 2gb because it would be a shame to not spend the extra say $20 for the extra gb of ram and then have that bottleneck in my way.

I acquired a rather ancient case many years ago that is huge. I remembered that it was under a table in my mothers house and thought I would get it from her and see what I could do. The layout is actually perfect, and I have tons of clearance for big video cards. Will need to make a air intake near the bottom (and paint that sucker glossy black like Vader's helmet), but it should do nicely.

Now I just need to find a good mobo and I'm ready to rule the universe.
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