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System Builder Marathon, Q2 2014: A Balanced High-End Build

CPU, Graphics, And Memory

CPU: Intel Core i7-4770K

Based primarily on reader requests not to use another six-core CPU, last quarter’s high-end build still featured Intel’s revered Core i7-4770K overclocked to 4.50 GHz.

It was the fastest unlocked CPU in Intel’s LGA 1150 arsenal back when we placed our orders for this quarter, and nothing less than the best would approach that machine's compelling performance. Of course, in the time between then and now, Intel introduced the Core i7-4790K. But it's only supposed to hit availability today.

Read Customer Reviews of Intel's Core i7-4770K CPU

For now, we make do with the -4770K. Hyper-Threading will help in a few of our tests, and top-end processors tend to enjoy the best binning. But the conspiracy theorist in me is suspicious that maybe Intel was setting aside its best quad-core Haswell dies for Devil's Canyon way back when this Core i7 was manufactured (Ed.: Are you trying to foreshadow something, Thomas?).

Graphics Card: PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X 4GBD5-PPDHE

Last quarter, I struggled and failed to fit two GeForce GTX 780 Tis into my budget, settling instead for two vanilla 780s.

This quarter’s budget is a lot tighter. I don't even have the money for one 780 Ti, let alone two slightly cheaper 780s.

Read Customer Reviews of PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X 4GBD5-PPDHE Graphics Card

Given a choice between a single GeForce GTX 780 or a single Radeon R9 290X, most of us are going to go the AMD route. Selling for about $30 more than the noisy reference design on the day we placed our order, PowerColor’s PCS+ comes with a big quiet cooler and a small factory overclock. That kind of value is good enough to earn it an award.

Since we made our purchase, the cheapest Radeon R9 290X cards dropped by $20 while the PCS+ went up by $90 and back down to $570 with the 250 GB Samsung 840 EVO. According to PowerColor, this sale will end in days. So, we're using the original and eventual $530 price point for our calculations.

Memory: 8 GB G.Skill DDR3-1866 CAS 8

At least one of our benchmarks speeds up dramatically when we add more than 8 GB of RAM, but the price of a 16 GB kit would have a detrimental impact on value. Limited to a pair of 4 GB modules, we at least needed a good set.

Read Customer Reviews of G.Skill's 8 GB DDR3-1866 CAS 8 RAM

I’ve reviewed enough DRAM to notice that G.Skill uses the same ICs at various frequencies and latencies under a variety of part numbers. Maybe the company bins these differently? While searching for a set that I know would contain the “good stuff” (DDR3-1600 C8, DDR3-1866 C9, DDR3-2133 C10), I found a great deal on a kit that might have been binned a little higher: G.Skill's Ripjaws X F3-14900CL8D-8GBXM DDR3-1866 CAS 8.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.