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System Builder Marathon: $2,500 Enthusiast PC

Case, Power, And Optical Drive

Case: Cooler Master Stacker 830 Evolution

Overclocking places a far greater demand on case ventilation when using a CPU air cooler, rather than a liquid-cooling radiator, because the heat sink cannot be moved to an optimized location. The good news for this $2,500 PC is that our case choices wouldn’t be limited to those that support a large radiator as they had in previous, more-expensive builds. Better yet, manufacturers have long known how to design a case to support optimized air cooling, so that making our selection was like stepping into a time machine.

Read Customer Reviews of Cooler Master's Stacker 830 Evolution

Open ventilation and directional flow are competing concepts in case design, but with flexible fan placement, Cooler Master’s classic Stacker 830 is able to provide a little of both.

Two design advantages that caused us to choose the CM Stacker 830 over newer models are its side fan and power supply placement.  The side panel supports up to four fans and the two front fans point at the front of our graphics cards and system RAM. Cool air is directed into the CPU cooler and both graphics coolers, with the added benefit of cool-running RAM that is easier to overclock. And the top-mounted power supply, with its intake fan on the underside, assists the case’s exhaust fan in removing heat from the CPU area without the added noise of an additional top-panel fan.

Competing cases often use a bottom-mounted power supply, which is generally a bad idea from both ventilation and cable-management standpoints, but many buyers choose those because of the novelty associated with how "new" they are. Possible advantages of the "newer" design include cooler power supply operation and added space at the top of the case for large liquid-cooling radiators, but good power supplies are very heat tolerant and our system doesn’t require additional space for liquid cooling. Furthermore, the advantage of "cooler operation" goes away quickly as bottom-mounted power supplies plug with dust from the average user’s floor.

One problem with open-ventilation cases is that they aren’t very good at containing noise, but mitigating the issue is our selection of quiet components. We added two quiet fans to the two that Cooler Master includes and connected them all to motherboard headers for automatic speed control. Our graphics cards are also relatively quiet under normal loads and our hard drives make minimal noise even during seeks.

Power Supply: SilverStone OP1000 Evolution

While many manufacturers would love to up-sell buyers on super-high-capacity power supplies, we at Tom’s Hardware know a little about the real power requirements of various hardware. Careful consideration of our components lead us to an estimate of around 800 W at peak system load. Rather than pad those numbers by 50% as so many manufacturers prefer, we began our search for a better-value, high-quality unit in the 850 to 1,000 W range.

The problem with finding an adequate part is that most manufacturers don’t even sell a 3-way SLI power supply with less than 1,200 W capacity, and the few reasonably-priced 1,200 W units we did see were from brands we didn’t completely trust. The only company we found with enough faith in its own products to produce a 1,000 W power supply with enough PCI Express (PCIe) power connectors to support our graphics configuration was SilverStone Technology.

Read Customer Reviews of SilverStone's OP1000 Evolution

A total of 80 amps of power on a single 12 V rail can generate up to 960 W of the SST-OP1000-E’s 1,000 W rating to high-draw devices such as the graphics and CPU power regulators. Still far from cheap, a $200 price tag provides high value given this copious capacity.

SilverStone’s excellent reputation has only been slightly tarnished by rumors of modest amperage limits on the modular connectors of its dual-output PCIe power leads. As a non-modular design, the OP1000 Evolution can’t have that problem. While it lacks the cable-management benefit of a modular design, buyers benefit from a lower-cost product with the solid internal components on which SilverStone built its glowing reputation.

Optical Drive: LG GGC-H20LK DVD burner with Blu-ray and HD-DVD ROM

A Blu-ray reader might not add to the performance of our $2,500 system, but details like these are what separate high-end from mainstream PCs. Buyers of upscale machines shouldn’t be limited to old media formats, but added support for DVD burns and steeply-discounted HD-DVD movies can help somewhat frugal buyers to justify the added expense.

Read Customer Reviews of LG's GGC-H20LK Burner

DVD burn speeds of 16x might not set any records, but anyone who is seriously impatient could cheaply add a second higher-speed DVD burner while keeping the GGC-H20LK for its 6x BRD read capabilities.

  • tipmen
    LG GGC-H20LK 6X Blu-Ray/HD DVD-ROM, 16X DVD±RW for $23??? you mean 223?
  • douglesso
    Thanks for the fantastic information and detailed analysis. I just ordered the same motherboard and video card last week for my new build. Glad to see that holding out for the i7 was a worthwhile wait.
  • tipmen
    Sorry couldn't read my comment but nice blbuild by the way nice to see this. Hlaf the price and more performance.
  • Ph0X
    This is... really.. Wow.
    I'm not big in hardware, but this is just, WOW...

    There's 3SLI GTX260, 3 x 1TB, Bluray WRITER!, but it doesn't even have 6gb ram!!?

    That's just lame. Imo maybe get raptors / SSD instead? Also, Instead of 3SLI, just get a 4870x2. You will maybe get 2-3FPS less, but instead get 6gb ram and i7 940, and I'm pretty sure that will also boost your fps.

    Again, I'm not a hardware pro, but I'm pretty sure my thing would be way better.
  • Total price is off. Should be something like 2,447 and not 2,247
  • kelfen
    Ph0XThis is... really.. Wow.I'm not big in hardware, but this is just, WOW...There's 3SLI GTX260, 3 x 1TB, Bluray WRITER!, but it doesn't even have 6gb ram!!?That's just lame. Imo maybe get raptors / SSD instead? Also, Instead of 3SLI, just get a 4870x2. You will maybe get 2-3FPS less, but instead get 6gb ram and i7 940, and I'm pretty sure that will also boost your fps.Again, I'm not a hardware pro, but I'm pretty sure my thing would be way better.+1
  • kelfen
    except the cpu is fine because of oc
  • kelfen
    antec twelve hundred
  • dieseldre2k
    appreciate the article but i would drop the third HD (keep the other 2 in RAID) and use the extra money to get 6 gigs of ram instead. i'd also be wary of the scaling on 3 video cards but i dont know enough about that, plus i'm sure u guys were trying to use up all $2,500.
  • thomasxstewart
    Lastly, GTX 295 in 3 way sli should hit 38,000 in 3D Vantage. Thats ALL Folks.