CPU, Motherboard, And Case
CPU: Intel Core i5 750
Intel's Core i5 CPU is similar to the LGA 1366 Core i7s we're already familiar with, but saddled by three main disadvantages: Hyper-Threading is unavailable, the chip's memory controller offers two channels instead of three, and the CPU is limited by a 16-lane integrated PCI Express controller, whereas X58 enables 36 lanes of its own second-gen PCI Express.
Since Hyper-Threading and triple-channel memory offer arguably limited benefits in a number of applications, the only time we'd be concerned about selecting a Core i5 is if we plan to share those 16 PCIe lanes with more than two graphics cards. Testing has shown that two graphics cards can still perform exceptionally, even when limited to using eight PCIe 2.0 lanes each, so we're happy to employ the Core i5 for dual-card SLI or CrossFire setups, but not for triple- or quad-card configurations.
On the plus side, of course, compared to the Core i7 CPUs, is the price. The Core i5-750 2.66 GHz CPU costs $200, while the cheapest Core i7-920 2.66 GHz CPU weighs in at $80 more and won't offer a tangible performance boost over the i5 for most applications. Because we've chosen a simple two-card graphics configuration in CrossFire, the Core i5-750 is the obvious choice for this price bracket.
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-P55-UD4P
When Thomas Soderstrom rounded up enthusiast-class P55 motherboards, the Gigabyte P55-UD4P scored his highest recommendation by offering high performance and good overclocking capabilities, coupled with low power consumption and a more-than-acceptable VRM temperature. At $170, it's not a budget board, but a full-featured enthusiast-class platform that will serve us well in this $1,300 machine.
PC Case: NZXT M59
Quickly running out of room in our budget, we had to find a case that didn't break the bank. Instead of choosing the Antec Three Hundred for a solid budget case, we thought we'd mix things up and try something new. We're fans of NZXT's Tempest case, so we gave its M59 a try.
We were very pleasantly surprised by the M59. The relatively low price provided a very stylish, good-quality case with quite a bit of room inside. While this price point only affords two 120mm fans, they were quiet and did the job.
However, the real treat is upgradeability. The top of the case can be fitted with two more 120 or 140mm fans so that hot air can be exhausted upward, just like the Tempest allows.