Motherboard, Graphics, And CPU
Motherboard: Asus P8Z77-I Deluxe
Managing editor Chris Angelini was first to suggest that my relatively high budget might allow this highest-priced SBM PC to outperform Falcon-Northwest’s super-expensive Tiki. Of course, we wouldn’t have access to the compact case that helps justify Tiki’s price premium. But we could use its motherboard.
Asus’ P8Z77-I Deluxe came incredibly close to winning our highest honor and, upon reconsideration, probably should have. Using it now helps remind our readers of its technical supremacy.
Graphics: Asus GTX690-4GD5 GeForce GTX 690
We also weren’t able to buy the GeForce GTX Titan graphics that Chris managed to wedge into the Tiki, because it wasn't in stock. Instead, we needed to shift our goals to gaming and outperform the Titan with a dual-GPU GeForce GTX 690. Of course, I'd also need to prove capable of picking the right case in order to cope with the 690's waste heat. This is a perfect opportunity to show Chris that Nvidia's dual-GPU flagship can work in a small form factor case, after all.
Graphics guys know that even though the GeForce GTX 690 is advertised with 4 GB, each GPU only has access to 2 GB of usable capacity. Game settings that demand more than this will exhibit the same behavioral issues as if they were running on a card with just 2 GB.
CPU: Intel Core i7-3770K
Don mentioned in his story that all of our parts were picked prior to Intel launching its Haswell architecture earlier this month. Had Haswell on the desktop proved impressive, we would have been stuck with a bunch of previous-gen Ivy Bridge stuff for the Marathon. Instead, the introduction was wholly uninspiring. And while Intel tries to sell Core i7-4770K for about $30 more than the -3770K, we're still plenty happy with the now-previous-gen part in today's small form factor configuration. Of course, if you'd like to burn through more of your budget for the slight per-clock speed up (and a likely-disappointing overclocking experience), that's certainly an option, too.
Besides being 100 MHz faster than its Core i5 sibling, the Core i7’s added L3 cache and Hyper-Threading technology give it noticeable performance benefits in a few of our benchmarks. Any lesser part would be too large a compromise for today’s system budget.