CPU, CPU Cooler, And Memory
CPU: Intel Core i7-3770K
Every hot new technology inspires early adopters to keep their eyes out for performance data, and so we felt compelled to beg, borrow, and steal to get a Core i7-3770K in our top-end machine, even if it wasn't around when we started our shopping trip. Although availability remains spotty, we thought it important to represent Intel's most modern architecture before we start drawing comparisons to other Sandy Bridge-based machines.
We couldn’t find a good reason not to include the i7-3770K in this particular machine, though we did consider revisiting Sandy Bridge-E again. The performance benefits of the more expensive Core i7-3930K would have also had to overwhelm a pricier motherboard and memory, and that math simply didn't work out in our minds.
In weighing a minimum 15% increase in machine cost against a maximum 15% increase in average performance, we decided that a mainstream quad-core chip gave us the best possibility for exceptional value.
CPU Cooler: Zalman CNPS12X
Our last build hid a beautiful cooler behind a solid side panel, if only because we were doubling up on noise reduction (function over form, and all of that). Other than looking good, the cooler itself was a low-noise part. And we were so pleased with its cooling-to-noise ratio that we brought it back for an encore.
Zalman’s CNPS12X is a truly massive component that we probably wouldn’t use in a PC we planned to carry around. But we're more than happy to pick it for a stationary system. Large enough to cool even a highly-overclocked Sandy Bridge-E-based processor, we’re relying on it to mitigate the thermal issues inherent to Ivy Bridge CPUs.
DRAM: G.Skill Ares F3-1600C8D-8GAB
A powerful cooler helps with our CPU overclocking endeavors. But combining size and silence with style, leaves us in a position where we encounter severe memory clearance issues. Fortunately, G.Skill has a solution:
For less than $60, G.Skill’s Ares-series DDR3-1600 C8 dual-channel 8 GB kit adds a performance kick to low-profile memory. This is probably the company’s best-kept secret, since our testing has shown similar overclocking capabilities between its Ares and better-known Ripjaws X modules.
These low-profile parts also cost about the same as their “high-performance” siblings of the same data rate/timing combination.