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Performance Gaming - CF to TriFire - 1 to 3 monitors - $2k+

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September 24, 2011 2:07:16 AM

As I've done a good bit of research, I'm revising my list here. My original goal was eyefinity across 2 - 3 video cards and to be able to boast high to ultra settings in current and end of 2011 games, like BF3. However, the mixed reviews of the BETA is making me a bit cautious and hesitant to jump right out and spend the money if I'm going to be the least bit disappointed.

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Approximate Purchase Date: First week of October 2011

Budget Range: $2,000-$2,500 (Prices not listed as they are not too much of a concern)

System Usage: Gaming, Misc

Parts Not Required: keyboard, mouse, headphones

Preferred Website(s) for Parts: newegg or other

Country of Origin: US

Parts Preferences: No preference: ATI seems to give better performance to cost value, but I value NV as an option.

Overclocking: Yes

SLI or Crossfire: Yes

Monitor Resolution: 1920x1080 single, eyefinity/nv surround 5760x1080

Additional Comments: I need suggestions on whether to TriCF/SLI or jump to two cards at the next tier. Suggestions on overclocking CPU, and limiting bottlenecks.



Display: If performance allows, 3x 21-25” LCDs, not yet decided. If I'm not excited about going eyefinity 3x1 then probably a 120hz monitor.


Graphics:
Crossfire (2) - MSI 6970 Lightning
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... ($387 x 2)
then
Add a 3rd card if I believe I can push 3 displays

Processor:
Intel i5 2500k ($220)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

and
Corsair H80 ($95)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

RAM:
CORSAIR Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Motherboard:
ASRock Z68 Extreme7 Gen3
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Unless I can get a better suggestion on a solid MB

Primary Drive (SSD)
Crucial M4 128Gb
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Secondary Drive (HDD)
Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB ($60)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

PSU:
Corsair AX1200 ($280)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Case:
Silverstone FT02
http://www.amazon.com/SilverStone-Aluminum-Uni-Body-Com...

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Questions:

1. Should I TriCF 6950s, which all may not be able to be unlocked, or should I CrossFire 6970s? I've not found a good comparison and given the price they cost about the same total.
A. I decided to start off with crossfire 6970s, while I'd like 580s, the price v performance makes the ati just a better buy. (I'm not saying a better card.)

2. The combo motherboard, cpu and corsair cooler, from what I've read I should be able to get a stable overclock to around 4.5Ghz or maybe a bit better. Is this accurate?
A. About as accurate as I can find, of course those who wait for bulldozer are looking for higher clock speeds.

3. Can you find some reasonable areas to improve overall performance? Take the liberty of suggesting different hard drives, cards or solutions in general.
A. Silverstone over CM, changed out the power supply for one with a better rating, more reliable SSD and no reason to change from Intel to AMD processors.

Continued input is welcomed. Thank you
September 24, 2011 9:29:03 AM

Well the tri-fire should give you better performance, and if you are lucky and they all unlock... massively so.

While it is pricy, I would also consider the Asrock Z68 Extreme 7 Gen3 - might have more of the features you want.
Worth a look anyway.

As for the PSU. I would keep with the quality 1000W+ units like that one or better yet the Corsair AX1200 when going tri-fire.
It's one of those things that will help with the OC's as the power in the units is extremely stable.

As for the overclock, Tom's HW guys just got a 4.6GHz stable OC from an i7 2600k with 1.35V on the Extreme 7 so it should be stable enough.

Well obviously you will get even more performance if you Raid 0 two of those SSD's but I have to say that since I own one, I doubt you would miss it.

While it's not a massive improvement, you should get some benefit from actually having i7 2600k instead on the build since they are generally the best parts that intel produces.
Might OC a bit better, and the extra threads might help in future games as well. It is an extra $100 though.
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October 7, 2011 5:23:09 AM

I updated the list, after doing a week or so of research, I decided that I would start with (2) 6970s and if eyefinity was a strong possibility that I would purchase a thread.

This should enable me to do so. So please, I welcome feedback as I want to place my order soon.

Thanks
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October 7, 2011 6:10:56 AM

While I like the Silverstone, the additional 100$ will provide a benefit as well as fit potentially 3 6970s comfortably?

The cooler looks good, I read through the reviews of it. I saw it under-load, I'm looking to overclock my cpu to help reduce any bottleneck I can - and this cooler should be sufficient to see 4.7Ghz or greater?

Thanks
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Best solution

October 8, 2011 2:27:57 AM

stick with 2 6970's. upgrade to three when you feel the 2 is not enough

go with the silverstone ft02- best air cooled case on the market

+1 for the corsair ax1200- best psu on the market according to jonnyguru

change your ssd to the crucial m4 128gb. the downgrade in speed it worth it because it is much more reliable. undoubtedly the vertex 3 will fail you and leave you with ocz's crappy customer service.

saves 10$ on cpu and cpu cooler- http://www.newegg.com/Product/ComboDealDetails.aspx?Ite... free money

corsair 8gb 1600mhz- http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... not a bright red like the one you selected.
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October 8, 2011 6:39:03 AM

I had a chance to look up some reviews on the Silverstone FT02 and they all had great things to say, however, they said crossfire/SLI is a tight squeeze. I even saw pictures that would make me doubt 3 video cards will fits with any 5.25 drives or if the 6970s are long, they would touch the fans at the bottom.

Should I be concerned?
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October 9, 2011 12:58:38 AM

Ok, I see. They put the 5.25" up at the top so that the power connector did not touch the 3rd card.

Appreciate your help mjmjpfaff. I think I have everything ironed out and game plan. Now the question is do I wait for Wednesday to see if AMD announces the bulldozer. I sure wish some benchmarks were leaked to give me an idea if I should wait 3 business days.
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October 9, 2011 1:14:11 AM

ykp said:
Ok, I see. They put the 5.25" up at the top so that the power connector did not touch the 3rd card.

Appreciate your help mjmjpfaff. I think I have everything ironed out and game plan. Now the question is do I wait for Wednesday to see if AMD announces the bulldozer. I sure wish some benchmarks were leaked to give me an idea if I should wait 3 business days.

If you can wait a few days, I would, just so you don't get buyer's remorse if it's tons better, but I doubt it. I'm pretty confident that Intel and AMD are not stepping on each others turf. Plus, only recently are games getting coded to use 4 cores. Getting the game devs to implement 6+ cores is some time away.

EDIT: If you're wanting to use Eyefinity, I highly recommend getting an ASUS monitor that comes with DisplayPort built in. That way you're not fumbling with active adapters and such. DisplayPort is required if you are using 3+ monitors (third and subsequent monitors only).

Also, if you really want to get best bang for your buck, CF 2x OC'd 6950's (turned into 6970's). Then 2 years later or so, upgrade to better card/s. That's what I'm doing. 3-way just isn't cost-effective....yet, it's purely for pushing higher numbers. PCI 3.0 may change that limitation (x16 x8 x8 in your case) in the future however. Plus, AMD/NVIDIA still has to tidy up their code for 3x GPUs.
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October 9, 2011 1:46:58 AM

steelbeast, your Gaming Rig thread is what I started my research from. The only hiccup that I found is that the success rate of unlocking and overclocking the 6950s with the bios switch is between 50-60%. While the 6950 is a cost saver, I thought I'd go for the 6970s. Just stock, I could later add a 3rd card and get performance that I justified when buying the pc.

Your thread is good, I haven't see you update it for a few weeks. It has a lot of views and its worth bumping from time to time with an update :) 
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October 9, 2011 1:57:22 AM

ykp said:
steelbeast, your Gaming Rig thread is what I started my research from. The only hiccup that I found is that the success rate of unlocking and overclocking the 6950s with the bios switch is between 50-60%. While the 6950 is a cost saver, I thought I'd go for the 6970s. Just stock, I could later add a 3rd card and get performance that I justified when buying the pc.
Your thread is good, I haven't see you update it for a few weeks. It has a lot of views and its worth bumping from time to time with an update :) 


Ahh yes, my $2k rig with 3 monitors! Glad to see my thread has helped you :)  I do need to update it. You know I got that Vertex 3 SSD...yeah, it bit the dust, they are TRULY that terrible in the reliability department. They are wicked fast though! Sigh... oh well. I'm exchanging it for a Crucial M4. Don't take a gamble like I did, it really isn't worth the gamble man. I've been on my HTPC (that link you might like) for a week now. I also need to update the cooler to the Corsair H80 watercooler I'm using with 2x Noctua fans, which does rock! I also got rid of the RAT 7 thanks to the newly released Razer Imperator that is extremely comfortable and accurate (RAT 7 had slight tracking issues).

EDIT: Off my soap box now :)  if you feel comfortable spending the $$$ on the 6970's then do it, but just understand it's not the most cost-effective option is all. Oh yeah, you may want to look more into the NF200 chip as well if you want to cut back on the $$. Either way, your rig will rock :D 

Also, you don't need a BIOS switch or "shader unlocks" to get the 6950 to 6970 specs. Just OC it using MSI After Burner. That's also included in my gaming rig thread.
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October 11, 2011 4:35:18 AM

Updated on the suggestions I received. I may go ahead and order the basics and see what is announced on Wednesday in regards to AMD's Bulldozer. Hopefully any NDAs will be lifted and we're given an idea of cost vs performance, similar to that of ATI to NVIDIA. (fwiw - I am going to cut corners where I can but overall try to purchase a solid gaming machine this week!)

Thanks
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October 12, 2011 8:41:37 AM

After reading Tomshardware and HardOCP review on the Bulldozer, I see no reason to change my build or wait any longer. I would like to have the order completed by Friday. So if you can see any performance gain in changes that can be made here please let me know.

I do have to admit, recently reading posts about ATI driver issues regarding games like Rage does make me cautious. I suppose the extra 150$-200$ per video card buys me peace and a better chance at playing a new game on the day its released.

Thanks all

------- Listed Below are the changes made per the suggestions above -------

Graphics:
Crossfire (2) - MSI 6970 Lightning
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168... ($387 x 2)
then
Add a 3rd card if I believe I can push 3 displays

Processor:
Intel i5 2500k ($220)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

and
Corsair H80 ($95)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

RAM:
CORSAIR Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2x4GB) ($52)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...


Motherboard:
ASRock Z68 Extreme7 Gen3
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Unless I can get a better suggestion on a solid MB

Primary Drive (SSD)
Crucial M4 128Gb
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

OCZ Vertex 3 ($200)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...


Secondary Drive (HDD)
Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB ($60)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

PSU:
Corsair AX1200 ($280)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Case:
Silverstone FT02
http://www.amazon.com/SilverStone-Aluminum-Uni-Body-Com...

Cooler Master HAF X ($180)
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Cooler Master HAF 932
http://www.amazon.com/Cooler-Master-Advanced-Tower-Supe...
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October 12, 2011 2:16:03 PM

looks like a solid build. i would go ahead and pull the trigger.
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October 12, 2011 2:18:48 PM

Depending on what CPU cooler you use, you will most likely have issues with the Corsair Vengeance RAM. They have the tallest heatsink on the market of any RAM. I would recommend the Corsair H80 Water cooler if you dont want to worry about any clearance issues, it pretty much performs the same as the Noctua NH-D14, but doesn't warp your motherboard with a ton of weight lol. It's a tad noisier however.

EDIT: You can easily skimp on your PSU to 1000W, unless you are absolutely sure you're going to tri-fire. If you're 100% about tri-fire, have you verified that your PC Case can accommodate 3x 6970's?

Also, if you're still looking for a solid motherboard, the ASRock Z68 Professional Gen3 is a 5-star board, the Extreme7 is a 3-star board. The GIGABYTE GA-Z68X-UD7-B3 (my top pick of the three) is a solid board too, it accommodates 3-way, has the inclusion of DriverMOSFETs (best quality) and has 24 phase/dual CPU power for the ultimate in stability and durability. Just something to take note of that the NF200 board is proving to have stability issues, which is the last thing I would want honestly.
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October 12, 2011 9:22:13 PM

On the topic of motherboards, I've looked as a few reviews. (ie: http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/z68a-gd80-p8z68-del...) I didn't see much of a difference between the ASRock Z68 Pro and Extreme7. If there is a compelling reason to go with the pro, I will.

As far as the case, the case is my greatest concern as I'm aircooling. From the reviews, the Silverstone FT02 is a great aircooling case and from my googling I've found pictures of people trifiring in it

Take a look: http://img845.imageshack.us/img845/9501/dscn3772.jpg


Edit: My early research showed that the HAF X would fit 3 cards comfortable and the FT02 looks like its snub, BUT DOABLE. If it does have better airflow then that is a plus for me. I've tried googling trifire in FT02, I come up with a lot of threads on this case, but none that say DEFINITELY that it works well. BUT, there are a number of pictures like the one I posted of people appears to be running it.
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October 13, 2011 12:26:00 AM

steelbeast said:
Depending on what CPU cooler you use, you will most likely have issues with the Corsair Vengeance RAM. They have the tallest heatsink on the market of any RAM. I would recommend the Corsair H80 Water cooler if you dont want to worry about any clearance issues, it pretty much performs the same as the Noctua NH-D14, but doesn't warp your motherboard with a ton of weight lol. It's a tad noisier however.

EDIT: You can easily skimp on your PSU to 1000W, unless you are absolutely sure you're going to tri-fire. If you're 100% about tri-fire, have you verified that your PC Case can accommodate 3x 6970's?

Also, if you're still looking for a solid motherboard, the ASRock Z68 Professional Gen3 is a 5-star board, the Extreme7 is a 3-star board. The GIGABYTE GA-Z68X-UD7-B3 (my top pick of the three) is a solid board too, it accommodates 3-way, has the inclusion of DriverMOSFETs (best quality) and has 24 phase/dual CPU power for the ultimate in stability and durability. Just something to take note of that the NF200 board is proving to have stability issues, which is the last thing I would want honestly.

you would be pushing it with a 1k watt psu. 6970's take up about 300 watts at full load and if a 850w psu is recommended for cf. if he is going tri cf the extreme7 is the best board for the money. great overclocking, z68, and nf 2000 bridge. also the extreme7 is tomshardware recommended enthusiast motherboard. he has the h80 already listed.
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October 14, 2011 8:06:16 AM

Best answer selected by ykp.
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October 14, 2011 8:09:05 AM

This was a group effort here and while there were a few posts that collectively give the "Best Answer" I had to pick on because these forums bug me to do so.

Regardless, I purchased all the items, about a week after the original planned date, but I blame that on Bulldozer Hype. Thats again mjmjpfaff and steelbeast - not only do your posts in this thread help but also in response to other threads that I've read.

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October 14, 2011 3:07:28 PM

ykp said:
This was a group effort here and while there were a few posts that collectively give the "Best Answer" I had to pick on because these forums bug me to do so.

Regardless, I purchased all the items, about a week after the original planned date, but I blame that on Bulldozer Hype. Thats again mjmjpfaff and steelbeast - not only do your posts in this thread help but also in response to other threads that I've read.

Glad to help a fellow enthusiast. Keep us updated on your rig.
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October 15, 2011 4:04:18 AM

steelbeast said:
Glad to help a fellow enthusiast. Keep us updated on your rig.

ya id love to see pictures of ur rig OP
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October 19, 2011 2:55:06 AM

So within 2 business days (yesterday-Monday) I received all items! I finished piecing it together today and everything is working great. Only problem I have is that the Power Switch on the Silverstone FT02 does not work. So I have the reset place hooked to its jumpers. (There is no way I'm paying 30days to ship it back to Amazon - so we'll see how Silverstone responds to my RMA request).

I'll trying to put up a picture tomorrow, right now I'm trying to work on my cable management as its pretty tight behind the motherboard on the FT02. Other than that tomorrow I plan on running the system at load and overclocking it to see how all these component perform together.

Thanks again for suggestions, so far I'm quite happy!

Edit: It looks like Trifire will work well, I will know more after I monitor the temps with these two MSI 6970s
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