Tom's Hardware's Haswell-Based Builder Sweepstakes
We're big fans of fast hardware, and we know you're big fans of winning free stuff. It just so happens that Intel is sponsoring a sweepstakes that puts 20 Core i7-4770K processors, 20 Z87-based motherboards from Asus (Maximus VI Hero) and Gigabyte (Z87X-D3H), and 20 SSD 530 180 GB drives in our hands to give away. Interested? Of course you are!
In the pages that follow, we have 15 computers from system builders based on Intel's Haswell architecture. Some are naturally gaming-oriented. Others are purpose-built workstations. There's even a rack-mounted NAS appliance running Windows Storage Server in there. Flip through the systems, check out the specs and pricing, and then click the contest link on the last page to tell us which three of these configurations are your favorites. Base your decision on performance, form factor, price, or a particularly well-planned balance of parts. Whatever's most important to you!
At the end of the contest, the top three will be given Tom's Hardware Approved awards, so make those votes count. In the process, you'll be entered to win one of 20 prize packages that includes a new CPU, motherboard, and SSD.
Our first entry comes from AVADirect, aiming for the value-oriented crowd. This configuration is based on Antec's Three Hundred chassis. Inside, you'll find a Core i7-4770 CPU at 3.4 GHz, 4 GB of DDR3-1600 memory split across two channels, and Asus' Z87-WS motherboard. The company targets light gaming with a Radeon HD 7770 graphics card with 1 GB of GDDR5 memory, and a 1 TB Barracuda hard drive is plenty large for a mainstream user's data. The whole platform runs on Windows 7 Home Premium and sells for $1245. Power comes complements of a 650 W Cooler Master unit, while optical storage is handled by Lite-On's iHAS 124 dual-layer DVD burner.
Priced $50 under Don's Q3 2013 System Builder Marathon box, which configuration do you think crams the most value under its hood?
According to CybertronPC, its NightHawk II is a gaming-optimized box built for easy transport, making it easy to use at home or tote to a LAN party. The key to this is BitFenix's Prodigy mini-ITX enclosure, which houses Intel's Haswell-based Core i5-4670 CPU on a Gigabyte H87N-WIFI motherboard (adding 802.11n wireless networking), 16 GB of DDR3-1600 memory, and a GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost 2 GB card. Storage consists of a 60 GB SATA 6Gb/s-capable SSD, a 1 TB hard drive, and a DVD writer. The whole Windows 8-based configuration is driven by a 600 W power supply, and it sells for $1300. A Logitech keyboard and mouse are included.
Beyond simply combining a handsome collection of mainstream parts, CybertronPC puts a bit emphasis on customer satisfaction, which includes providing one year of parts and labor coverage, plus free lifetime technical support. I think we all know one or two gamers who could use a dedicated number to call when questions arise, right?
You recently saw us feature Digital Storm's entry in The Making Of Digital Storm's Copper Tubing-Filled Aventum II. Not surprisingly, the company picked that same system to represent it today.
This particular sample includes a Core i7-4770K on Asus' Maximus VI Extreme motherboard. Digital Storm is using 32 GB of Corsair Dominator Platinum DHX memory, along with Corsair's 480 GB Neutron GTX SSD and 1200 W Pro Platinum series power supply. The real pièce de résistance, however, is four GeForce GTX Titan 6 GB cards in SLI, pretty much serving up the craziest gaming performance possible right now.
Complementary hardware includes Digital Storm's custom copper piping with cooling for the video cards, CPU, and chipset; a 4 TB Western Digital hard drive; and a Blu-ray player/DVD writer. Branded lighting and airflow control systems add an even grander degree of customization, as does the company's overclock between 4.5 and 4.8 GHz. What can you expect to pay? How about $12,374 for a beast of a machine.
You've also seen us shine a spotlight on Falcon Northwest's Tiki (Meet The Tiki: Core i7-3770K And GeForce GTX 680 In A Mini-ITX Box?), which is pretty much at the other end of the spectrum from the Aventum II. And yet, it's still an immensely powerful machine.
The Tiki that Falcon Northwest configured for our contest is a modernized version of what we first tested in our lab. It features a Core i7-4770K CPU, overclocked, on an Asus Maximus VI Impact motherboard. Sixteen gigabytes of DDR3-1866 memory, a GeForce GTX Titan graphics card, dual 960 GB M500 SSDs in RAID 0, and a 3 TB Western Digital hard drive are all very much high-end specs.
Just how efficient is this configuration? It's driven by a 450 W SilverStone power supply. Falcon protects the Tiki with a three-year warranty and includes 802.11ac wireless networking, a slot-loading Blu-ray writer, Windows 8, and a USB rescue drive, then prices this specific build at $4539. Truly, it's amazing how much performance can be crammed into a compact chassis sitting on a black granite base.
Highly Reliable Systems
Most of the machines submitted for our contest are decidedly aimed at enthusiasts. But if you've been involved with technology for long enough, then you've no doubt known the sinking feeling of losing data that cannot be replaced. Highly Reliable Systems chose to design an appliance on the shoulders of Intel's Haswell-based Xeon E3-1245 v3 to prevent those accidents.
The BNAS 501 serves as a roll-your-own backup and disaster recovery platform. A base configuration includes one 120 GB SSD boot drive, 32 GB of RAM, and Windows Storage Server 2012 for $2500. It employs a microATX motherboard with Intel's H87 PCH, one gigabit Ethernet port, and two eSATA ports for external connectivity.
You can fit up to two SSDs in the 2U chassis' front-accessible trays, though. A trio of swappable 3.5" drive bays take up to 4 TB of storage each, and can be configured for automatic mirroring. Add storage, 10 GbE networking, and redundant power supplies to best suit your specific application, and pick the software you want to run (ShadowProtect, True Image, Backup Exec, etc.) without sinking tons of cash into proprietary solutions.
AMD's Radeon R9 290X isn't even available yet, but Maingear will happily sell you a Shift with three of them in CrossFire when the time comes. Believe us, we'd love to get our hands on this hot little number. Also inside you'll find Intel's Core i7-4770K on Asus' Maximus VI Formula motherboard, cooled by Maingear's EPIC 300 open-loop liquid cooler with 180 and 120 mm radiators, 32 GB of Corsair's 2133 MT/s Dominator Platinum memory, a 1 TB Samsung EVO SSD, and a 4 TB Seagate hard drive. It's all driven by a 1200 W Corsair Platinum Professional power supply and Windows 7 Professional. Maingear includes a Blu-ray burner, a Cyborg V5 keyboard, and Logitech G500 mouse.
The windowed chassis with LED lighting, keyboard, and mouse are all finished in Maingear's Rosso Scuderia featuring Glasurit Paints, tying together nicely. This specific configuration goes for right around $6400, which is clearly high-end. Of course, we're looking forward to running three R9 290X cards together in CrossFire for a better idea of how this Haswell-powered setup will perform.
Micro Express is a bit more conservative with its Microflex 47T, aiming at a practical $1700 price point (with no monitor). The company has been around since 1986, building systems for its customers. This particular setup employs Cooler Master's Storm Enforcer chassis, though you can also get it with In Win's C583 or Cooler Master's HAF XM.
Inside, there's a Core i7 4770K on Asus' Z87-Pro motherboard, 16 GB of DDR3-1600, and a GeForce GTX 780 graphics card driven by a 700 W power supply. The Microflex's storage subsystem includes a 24x DVD burner, a Samsung 250 GB SSD, and a 1 TB Western Digital disk drive. Micro Express bundles Windows 7 Home Premium.
That's not a bad combination of components, in our minds. Price-wise, the Microflex falls somewhere between Don's Q3 2013 System Builder Marathon box and Thomas' Q3 2013 System Builder Marathon machine.
One of the things we learned starting with Intel's Ivy Bridge architecture was that there is big demand for small systems packing plenty of performance. MicroATX and mini-ITX enclosures got more popular, and a greater selection of truly enthusiast-oriented motherboards sprung up to support the ecosystem. NCIX's 506-IA is a good example of how all of those pieces come together.
The system centers on BitFenix's Phenom M chassis, which contains an Asus Gryphon Z87 motherboard, an Intel Core i5-4670K processor, and Corsair's H60 closed-loop liquid cooler. Eight gigabytes of Kingston HyperX memory and an EVGA GeForce GTX 760 2 GB card also plug into the board. NCIX adds a Seasonic 750 W power supply and bundles Windows 8 with its machine. Storage includes a 120 GB Kingston SSDNow V300 and 3 TB Western Digital hard drive; by default, no optical drive is included. A mouse and keyboard are optional, too.
We dig the compact design, balanced combination of parts, and room for expansion (you can add a second card in SLI if you want). Priced at $1400, NCIX's 506-IA actually compares really well to the $1300 mini-ITX box Don built for Q2 2013's System Builder Marathon.
Origin PC calls its flagship desktop the Genesis, packs it with high-end hardware, and ships it with aggressive tuning for maximum performance. As with many of the high-end configurations in this contest, the company starts with Intel's Core i7-4770K and drops it onto an Asus Rampage Maximus VI Extreme motherboard (one of the few Z87-based platforms able to support four-way SLI). It's only fitting, then, that Origin PC plugs four GeForce GTX Titan cards into the board as well. Those graphics cards, along with the Haswell-based CPU, are water-cooled by a custom Cryogenic kit consisting of Origin PC's favorite blocks, fittings, and radiators.
Supporting and complementing that monster of a processing and graphics configuration are 16 GB of Corsair Vengeance DDR-1866, a 1 TB Samsung 840 EVO SSD, a 4 TB, 5400 RPM hard drive, and a Blu-ray burner. Origin packs the whole collection of components into Corsair's 900D chassis (which won our Smart Buy award in Corsair Obsidian 900D Review: Making Room For High-End Gear), adds remote-controlled system lighting, and paints the enclosure in a beautiful shade of White Glacier.
The Genesis comes with Windows 8 and is protected by a three-year parts replacement and shipping warranty (you could also say it's protected by the wooden crate it arrives in), plus lifetime tech support. For all of that, expect to pay a cool $10,000.
When we talk to system builders about what the latest desktop technologies are allowing them to do, fitting more performance into small, quieter, and more power-friendly packages is perhaps the top response. Puget Systems is another company we've featured for its efforts in enabling powerful processing in configurations that are easy to live with. Most recently, we published In Pictures: Puget Systems' 16-Core Genesis II Quiet Edition, covering the company's dual-Xeon setup.
For today's contest, it submitted the Serenity, said to be quieter than a night in the desert. How much performance does it enable within those acoustic constraints? Well, our build includes a Core i7-4770K on Asus' Sabertooth Z87 motherboard, 16 GB of Kingston DDR3-1600 memory, a GeForce GTX 770 graphics card, Samsung's 1 TB 840 EVO SSD, and a Western Digital 2 TB hard drive. All of those components, plus an Antec CP-1000 power supply, extra cooling, and noise-dampening material, go into an Antec P183 V3 chassis.
Puget Systems bundles Windows 7 Professional with its Serenity. The system enjoys lifetime labor and tech support, and a one-year parts warranty. The configuration we spec'ed out runs $3457.