System Builder Marathon, Q4 2012: $2,000 Performance PC

Graphics, CPU, And Motherboard

Graphics: 2 x MSI Radeon HD 7970s in CrossFire

AMD’s Radeon HD 7970 is a formidable weapon in the graphics war. But most of the models with aftermarket cooling employ designs that exhaust heated air back into your chassis. That's bad news, particularly when you have two of them in CrossFire.

MSI’s R7970-2PMD3GD5/OC uses an axial fan that, even though it's noisier, blows most of the card’s heat out of its rear I/O panel. We purchased a pair.

Read Customer Reviews of MSI’s R7970-2PMD3GD5/OC

CPU: Intel Core i7-3770K

Intel’s flagship LGA 1155-based processor is about 34% less-expensive than the Core i7-3930K, which drops into the company's LGA 2011 interface. It also has 33% fewer cores.

On paper, that sounds like a fair trade. Consider, however, that there are still many applications unable to utilize a processor with six cores, ready to execute 12 threads concurrently. In that context, the Core i7-3770K is set up to score a win, we think.

Read Customer Reviews of Intel's Core i7-3770K

Other components, such as the hard drive and SSD, won’t suffer at all from the fact that we're choosing a less expensive CPU. So, we’re not counting on the entire system rewarding a 34% price reduction in return for 33% fewer cores. Instead, we’re looking for improved graphics test results to overwhelm the combined performance charts.

Motherboard: Gigabyte Z77X-D3H

Gigabyte's -D3H-series motherboards are designed to provide high value to performance seekers on a budget, lacking many of the so-called high-end add-on controllers that most of us ignore anyway. The last time we tried one in a high-end build was more than a year ago (System Builder Marathon, Sept. 2011: $2000 Performance PC). But, with graphics eating most of our budget, we thought this was a good time to bring out a value leader.

Read Customer Reviews of Gigabyte's Z77X-D3H Motherboard

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • Novuake
    Yeah, should have gone for an ASRock board at the same price point...
  • Crashman
    NovuakeYeah, should have gone for an ASRock board at the same price point...Maybe, maybe not, motherboard market has changed a little since the parts were bought and I've since seen some D5-series Gigabyte boards (with their better PWM) drop to $ least temporarily.
  • mayankleoboy1
    Too much of cheap CPU coolers
  • For the next SBM build, use the "SAMSUNG 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) MV-3V4G3D/US". People are posting low timings with very high frequencies. Plus it is low profile (half the size of every other non-heatsink memory modules on the market) and operates at 1.35v (overvolt it to 1.65v without worry).
  • kj3639
    After building that awful piledriver rig you go ahead and do something like this... and totally REDEEM YOURSELVES!!!

    -Good Job
  • herooftimex
    Suggested changes:

    Core i5 3570k - savings of $120
    2x - MSI N670 PE 2GD5/OC - $800 (gtx 670 OC'd to 1019 core clock)

    Rosewill FORTRESS-750 - $140 (80 plus platinum + 7 year limited warranty)
    LIAN LI PC-7B plus II - $100 (gamer cases look tacky, less is more)
    I think Toms needs a new article: "The Dream Build" with gaming in mind.
  • Darkerson
    kj3639After building that awful piledriver rig you go ahead and do something like this... and totally REDEEM YOURSELVES!!!-Good JobThey really had nothing to redeem themselves about. They went with something a little different, just to try it out. Id rather they go off the beaten path so we can get a better idea of how these builds would turn out without having to buy and build them ourselves.
    Also, if they didnt try something different, they would almost always be cookie-cutter builds until the next big thing came out. No thanks!
    At any rate, this is a really nice build. Have to say, though, I would be happy to win any of these.
  • C12Friedman
    My first thought, I kept going back to it also, was the motherboard, why? I kept going 2nd page, 1st page, 2nd page, back to first page, confusion reigned in my head. Took me a while to get past the second page. But since it was addressed at the end of the article, I guess it's known.
  • One think to consider are both Q3 and Q4 systems future proof. It's important for games and serious task to be able to extend life of your PC and Q4 in this category is certainly penny wise but pound foolish.