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Graphics, Memory, And CPU

System Builder Marathon, Q4 2013: A $2400 PC That Costs $2700

Graphics: Two Asus R9290-4GD5 In CrossFire

The choice was easy a month ago. If AMD's $400 Radeon R9 290 could roughly match the performance of Nvidia’s GeForce GTX 780, an $800 pair of 290s should outperform September’s trio of GTX 760s at $900. More performance for less money was the theory, before Hawaii-based boards shot up in price online and the increase was blamed on a crypto-currency gold rush. Now we're stuck with two $530 cards that are identical to the $400 boards we purchased a month ago. Talk about buyer's remorse. 

Read Customer Reviews of Asus' R9290-4GD5 Radeon R9 290

Choosing a brand wasn’t hard, since all of the cards we've seen in stock follow AMD's reference design. Since Chris’s best retail sample came from Asus, I went that route as well.

DRAM: G.Skill Ripjaws X F3-14900CL9Q-16GBXL

Several of our memory reviews have shown that the best gaming experience comes from DDR3-2133 with optimized timings. Those same articles showed some of our benchmarks slowing down when we used DDR3-2400, probably because motherboards offset higher data rates with relaxed timings that are more difficult to optimize.

The problem with my previous system was that its DDR3-1600 wasn’t overclockable. In fact, I had to use overclocked voltage levels just to guarantee stability at its rated settings. I’m not going to make that mistake again!

Read Customer Reviews of G.Skill's Ripjaws 16 GB DDR3 Memory Kit

G.Skill sells the same modules in various colors, with various heat spreaders (Ripjaws or Ares), and under various model numbers. I’ve been using these 4 GB DIMMs for a couple of years, and find that, while they don’t always win round-ups, at least they overclock with a fair amount of consistency. Unless there’s a problem with the motherboard or the CPU’s on-die memory controller, I expect to reach DDR3-2133 while only paying for DDR3-1866.

Formerly a good value, these modules are also 30% more expensive than the day we placed our order. Ouch!

CPU: Intel Core i7-4930K

With the same 12 MB shared L3 cache as its award-winning predecessor and the advanced architecture of its flagship sibling, Intel’s Core i7-4930K is an easy choice to replace my previous machine’s Core i7-3930K.

Read Customer Reviews of Intel's Core i7-4930K

I’m also expecting a little more forgiveness from this part when it comes to overclocking, whether that comes from lower power consumption or the 22 nm manufacturing process. A 200 MHz-higher baseline clock rate is the only actual evidence I have to support my enthusiastic expectations.

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