Graphics, Motherboard, CPU And Cooler
Graphics: PNY GTX 980 4GB
Newegg originally offered three GeForce GTX 980 reference-design cards for less than $600, and the two other models were $560 and $555 respectively. Newegg had dropped both of those cards by the time our office had forwarded my order, leaving PNY’s $599.99 model as the cheapest example.
Read Customer Reviews of PNY GTX 980 4GB (opens in new tab)
PNY's $40 upcharge includes a lifetime warranty to registered original buyers, compared to Asus's three-years. But I was already $2 over my intended budget and would have been unwilling to pay that extra $40 had other reference-design cards been available.
In a market where the majority demand differentiation, conforming to the original standard is rebellion.
Motherboard: Biostar Hi-Fi Z97WE
My previous machine was $35 more-expensive than planned, and my intended 3-year-warranted GTX 980 would add another $30 to component cost. Forgetting that I lost my selected card and was forced to overpay for its replacement, budget planning meant cutting $65 from the rest of the machine. The easiest places to cut would be the motherboard and RAM, but cheap RAM doesn’t usually overclock. That left me considering a cheap board that did overclock. Whenever I see cheap and overclocking in the same sentence, I think Biostar!
Read Customer Reviews of Biostar Hi-Fi Z97WE (opens in new tab)
Biostar has a track record of breaking overclocking records with low-cost motherboards, and this one would cut $20 from the price of my previously-economized motherboard selection. You don’t get a bunch of extras on a $115 Z97 board, but Biostar at least sets this one up with dual Gigabit Ethernet, from the same IC vender, which allows teaming. And with a name like Hi-Fi, I’m sure the company would love for me to tell you about its enhanced pre-amp, bonus calibration software, and improved-current headphone amplifier.
CPU: Intel Core i7-4790K
My build goals are simple in concept yet complex in execution. The simple concept was that I didn’t want to go backwards in one benchmark in order to gain in another. And not going backwards on performance meant using at least as-good a processor as before. Clocked at 4.0 to 4.4 GHz under various loads, Intel’s Core i7-4790K can’t be beat at its price. In benchmarks that support four or fewer threads, it can’t be beat by any desktop CPU! And as soon as you mention overclocking, Intel will mention “Devils Canyon” (its new internal thermal interface) to shoot you down.
Read Customer Reviews of Intel Core i7-4790K (opens in new tab)
Retaining the previous machine’s processor meant that I’d need to make other deep cuts to reach budget goals. Worse, the price of this processor has increased by $5 since our previous System Builder Marathon. It’s crunch time!
CPU Cooling: Phanteks PH-TC14PE
The TC14PE should have been an easy choice, since anything less would limit my overclocking capability and anything greater would break the budget. Still, I searched for a better deal and found none. That’s still a slight problem, since this cooler costs $75.
Read Customer Reviews of Phanteks PH-TC14PE (opens in new tab)
Similar in both design and capacity to Noctua’s NH-D14, the PH-TC14PE was the cheaper option on the day of my purchase. It presents the same risk of motherboard damage when the system is transported, which is why I pack these separately when shipping the entire system to our SBM giveaway winners. The danger of moving the fully-assembled system makes a dual-120mm closed-loop cooler a safer choice, but not necessarily a better-performing choice, and all of those options were budget-breakers.