Graphics, Motherboard, And CPU
Graphics: EVGA 04G-P4-2766-KR in Three-Way SLI
This build started out as an effort to find zero-cost upgrades to the previous quarter's machine in as many places as possible. But as it turns out, it's pretty hard to beat the gaming performance of a dual-GPU GeForce GTX 690. A pair of 780s would cost too much. Two GeForce GTX 770s looked to have great value potential. But what about a trio of 760s? Two of our graphics editors gave the three-way SLI solution a nod (though perhaps they were just curious about how it'd do).
EVGA alleviated my concerns about gaming at 4K by pricing the 4 GB version of its card under $300. Remember, just because we're going to be using three 4 GB boards doesn't mean all of that memory is accessible to each card; the same data is duplicated in each board's GDDR5.
Motherboard: ASRock X79 Extreme6
Nvidia doesn’t support three-way SLI in the x8-x4-x4 mode available from Intel’s mainstream processor interfaces, and LGA 1150 boards upgraded with high-bandwidth PCIe switches cost around $400. Adding to our upgrade woes, Haswell-based processors typically don’t perform much better than the Ivy Bridge-based part in last quarter's build. If we wanted to combine true CPU and GPU upgrades, we’d need to go LGA 2011.
Our search for affordable quality in a three-way SLI board turned up ASRock’s X79 Extreme6 for $220, which was $15 cheaper than the company’s lower-end model, the X79 Extreme4. This is the same motherboard we tested over a year ago in a different package, adding firmware patches to address our previous complaints, and subtracting its separate audio/network combo card.
CPU: Intel Core i7-3930K
Ordered long before the official launch of Intel’s Ivy Bridge-E processors, LGA 2011 didn’t leave any economical upgrades to the previous build’s four-core CPU. I’d need to step back in core technology and step up in core count. Sporting six unlocked Sandy Bridge cores, Intel’s $570 Core i7-3930K was the cheapest upgrade to fit the platform.
Then again, on a per-core basis, Sandy Bridge is barely a downgrade from Ivy Bridge, which in turn is barely a downgrade from Haswell. I’m relying on the -3930K’s extra x86 resources to boost overall performance through spectacular results in a handful of well-threaded applications, and my history of pushing it to 4.6 GHz.