Assuming I've made up my mind about buying from Cyberpower, I would love some suggestions on how to improve this setup. My top priorities are reliability and gaming, specifically running things like BF3 and Skyrim as high as possible. I also do a good bit of Photoshop/Painter stuff, which can drag sometimes on my current (very outdated) machine. I've spent the better part of the day researching options, but will readily admit I lack the fundamental knowledge to feel confident, so any help is appreciated. A couple specific questions: do I really need liquid cooling here, and should I bother with overclocking?
CASE: Thermaltake Element-T Mid-Tower Case
COOLING: Corsair Hydro Series H60 High Performance Liquid Cooling System 120MM Radiator & Fan
Now the i7, its overkill IMO just the flashy Flagship of Intel, the only thing that separates the i7 from the i5 is 2Mb of cache and hyper threading. Hyper threading is used by very few programs in the world and only a handful of them can utilize more than 4 cores( hyper threading splits the quad core into 8 cores) including but not limited to high end video and photo editing, rendering, and processing programs and programs that crunch major numbers, to the best of my knowledge it is not used in gaming at all yet. I would go with the i5 2500K, now that you saved all that money on the CPU and axed the audio card you can spend more money on the GPU maybe upgrade to the 580 now something like this( http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... ) would be a hell of a card!
First, to answer your question, you definitely don't need liquid cooling if you're not overclocking, and if you are overclocking you won't need liquid unless it's a serious overclock. Also, if you're inexperienced with overclocking then I wouldn't recommend planning on it.
I guess I would suggest not buying from Cyberpower. If you're sticking with Cyberpower then I don't have too much to say about it. If you're willing to buy the components individually, then I have some suggestions.
The first thing that sticks out to me is one single 80GB hard drive. You will fill up 80GB very fast. Using an 80GB SSD as your boot drive is a good idea, but you will want another drive for mass storage. I suggest the Samsung Spinpoint F3 http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
You don't need a cpu with hyperthreading for gaming. The 1366 socket and X58 chipset are outdated and you're better off with 1155 and Z68. 1155 sockets will support ivy bridge if you want to upgrade and ivy bridge will support PCIe 3.0 x16 slots. You should go with the i5-2500K cpu for your budget. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
There is a Z68 version of the Gigabyte Sniper if you're committed to that look, but it's overpriced for its features. I would recommend this ASRock board http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
It will support x16/x16/x8 for three-way sli and x16/x16 for standard sli and also the PCIe are 3.0 instead of 2.0 (which won't matter until you upgrade to ivy bridge, but still).
You don't need a sound card unless you're working with $300 speakers.
The Corsair Dominator memory is overpriced and overrated. There are cheaper options that perform just as well.
That isn't true. The i7-960 uses LGA 1366. It's the i7-2600 that uses LGA 1155. Agree with other comments, though.
Ya forgot bout the 960 with all the hype about the 2500 and 2600 out there. Still the i5 2500k can perform much higher clocks if planning on overclocking. I personally run the i5 with a mid range OC and love it stable at 4.7GHz.