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Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R
We knew we were going to use two graphics cards, so the first thing we looked for was a super-stable board with two PCIe x16 slots that were at least three spaces apart. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any within our budget. Giving up our three-slot spacing desires, Gigabyte’s X58A-UD3R was the default choice.
The X58A-UD3R became our top choice because it’s the only full-sized $200 model that we’ve successfully overclocked to high settings, and it even won our Recommended Buy award.
All of its competitors either failed to reach high settings or blew sparks from the voltage regulator within hours of reaching similarly-high clock rates. Though we could view this fact as an indicator of Gigabyte’s superior quality, what we’re really buying is a $240 motherboard with a steeply-discounted price. Several competitors at that higher price point are just as capable, but why would we want to pay more for a similar product?
Graphics: Two GeForce GTX 460s in SLI
Notice we didn’t specify brand and model. That’s because, unless you get this particular SKU in a combo deal, the pair will push your purchase over our $2000 budget.
Newegg addressed our out-of-stock selection by choosing EVGA’s model 01G-P3-1372-TR, based on customer feedback. While we certainly value the feedback of actual owners, this particular model’s higher price and shorter two-year warranty reflect EVGA’s assessment of factory-overclocking.
We planned on overclocking manually (rather than relying on a higher factory setting), and EVGA offers a lifetime-warranty without overclocking restrictions in a different model at the same price. Meanwhile, other manufacturers offer three-year warranties on factory-overclocked cards for $20 less.
One issue our specific configuration could face is the effect of internally-venting cards on case temperature and, in return, CPU overclocking. Axial-fan coolers that vent internally tend to be quieter than radial-fan coolers that vent externally. But our case was specifically chosen for its low noise and adequate CPU airflow when using externally-vented graphics cards. On the other hand, non-overclockers need not worry about a few degrees of increased case temperature; we're just giving you full disclosure here.