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System Builder Marathon Q1 2015: $1750 Performance PC

Graphics, Motherboard, CPU And Cooler

Last quarter, I got stuck paying an extra $40 for a different, identically-equipped graphics card than the one I ordered (due to a processing delay at our office). A happy benefit of that premium was that the card came with a lifetime warranty for anyone willing to register their purchase.

Graphics Card: Dual PNY GTX 970 4GB cards in SLI

Realizing that the previous system’s slightly-overpriced GeForce GTX 980 came with an extended warranty, I was pleased to see that the same company’s 970 was available with the same warranty and without the price penalty. Highly recommended by Tom’s Hardware readers, the lower model number allows a dual-card SLI upgrade for just $60. We’re expecting big frame rate gain at high detail levels and screen resolutions to justify the expense of two cards.

Read Customer Reviews of PNY's GeForce GTX 970 4GB (opens in new tab)

Understanding the thermal impact of high-end graphics processors forces me to eschew internally-vented cards with axial fans in favor of externally-exhausted radial fan models, much to the chagrin of some low-noise advocates. The problem of internal heat becomes even more critical in dual-card builds, since the lower card’s thermal energy is partially recirculated by the upper card. Yet, while Nvidia previously diminished noise concerns in the design of its high-end Titan cooler, the cooler of PNY’s VCGGTX9704XPB does not appear privy to those improvements. I’m banking on a closed-sided case and reduced-energy GPUs to allow its fans to run quietly.

Motherboard: Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 5

One of the biggest complaints in my previous high-end build was the implementation of a low-cost Z97 motherboard. I didn’t see the problem, since its manufacturer is known for producing exceptionally good low-cost boards, but did figure out after ordering the part that one of the ways the company cut cost was by not having its board SLI-certified. That wouldn’t be acceptable in an SLI system.

Read Customer Reviews of Gigabyte's Z97X-Gaming 5 (opens in new tab)

Continuously priced over $140, Gigabyte’s Z97X-Gaming 5 won’t bear the brunt of cheapness complaints by most readers. A solid board in its review, the Z97X-Gaming 5 lost the awards race to an MSI board packaged with slightly more features. Gigabyte’s platform is currently cheaper, and I didn’t care about those other features.

CPU: Intel Core i7-4790K

Clocked 500MHz higher than its cheaper Core i5-4690K, Intel's i7-4790K has a tough time beating its lower-model sibling in games when both are overclocked to their limits. That's not a big issue to me because I keep in mind that only 15% of our benchmarks are games. Several of our other tests benefit from this processors extra cache, and Hyper-Threading technology even improves core utilization.

Read Customer Reviews of Intel's Core i7-4790K (opens in new tab)

Intel's highest-end mainstream processor did present a small pricing problem, since it's up $10 compared to last quarter. Still, I'd hate to create a performance deficit in one benchmark simply to satisfy a few readers in another benchmark.

CPU Cooler: Corsair Hydro H100i

Most Tom’s Hardware editors like closed-loop liquid coolers for their ability to take weight off the CPU compared to standard heat sinks and fans, without adding the maintenance hassle and potential spills of open loops. A luxury that I’ve typically given up in previous System Builder Marathons, Corsair’s award-winning Hydro H100i provides high-capacity cooling and low-risk portability for a mere $95.

Read Customer Reviews of Corsair's Hydro H100i (opens in new tab)

The fact that I used a $75 big air cooler of similar capacity in my previous two machines means that $20 is the price of portability. Maybe I should have chosen a $40 CPU cooler and instead put the $55 savings towards a 1TB storage drive? In response to previous reader complaints of cheap parts, this month I’m leaving the expense of added storage to the SBM giveaway winner.

Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • dish_moose
    GTX 970 SLI - I cannot see how this would be a proper config given that the 970 VRAM is gimped over 3.5G. That being said with potentially that much gpu power, you would think this would make a great system - I've seen too many threads where hitting the 3.5G limit cause very bad stuttering.
    -Bruce
    Reply
  • Crashman
    15379466 said:
    GTX 970 SLI - I cannot see how this would be a proper config given that the 970 VRAM is gimped over 3.5G. That being said with potentially that much gpu power, you would think this would make a great system - I've seen too many threads where hitting the 3.5G limit cause very bad stuttering.
    -Bruce
    Too many of which configurations? At this point I'd rather be running 5760x1080 than 4k, if that's where you're going.

    This happens when I build based on reader feedback. Guess what? I ordered the day 5 bonus build in anticipation of these responses, even though the 3.5GB barrier wasn't known until after I placed my orders. Enjoy!

    Reply
  • jezus53
    I love that color scheme of the case. Reminds me of me my 73' Nova with the 350 small block painted black and Chevy orange. Makes me want to paint my case with the same theme...CURSE YOU TOM'S HARDWARE!!!!! I though I was done with my pc...
    Reply
  • Onus
    My eyes!!!

    Actually, other than the case being an eyesore (IMHO, the high-end build should be at-home in a high-level corporate or engineering office), I might only grumble about the non-modular PSU. On a build like this, a larger data drive is a nit; such a machine could be intended for a networked environment and won't need it anyway.
    This brings back a point I've brought up before. For this machine in particular, I think it is important to identify the user, and design a build that meets that person's needs, whether or not it necessarily wins benchmarks.
    Reply
  • redgarl
    Multi-GPU without 4k benches is ridiculous. People are more likely to run at 4k than with three 1080p monitors.

    Also, 4k is a game by itself. AMD and Nvidia cards act really differently at UHD.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    15379845 said:
    Multi-GPU without 4k benches is ridiculous. People are more likely to run at 4k than with three 1080p monitors.

    Also, 4k is a game by itself. AMD and Nvidia cards act really differently at UHD.
    Is that an offer? I'd LOVE to have a 4k display. I'm sure my colleagues would as well. PM me for the shipping addresses :)

    Reply
  • Grognak
    Your own benchmarks showed that the 8GB versions of the R9 290X performed better than the 970 at higher resolutions, I know DX12 is coming with stacked memory and all but that's still the logical choice until Nvidia releases an 8GB 970.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    15380062 said:
    Your own benchmarks showed that the 8GB versions of the R9 290X performed better than the 970 at higher resolutions, I know DX12 is coming with stacked memory and all but that's still the logical choice until Nvidia releases an 8GB 970.
    Wait...you're blaming me for picking the cards? Did you even read the article? Your colleagues picked the cards in the previous SBM response thread :)

    Not sure about the higher resolutions situation though, since I only have a single 2560x1600 and a bunch of 1920x1080 displays. Given that 5760x1080 had already been determined as the limit, I think other readers chose fairly well!
    Reply
  • dark_lord69
    ugly case...
    Nice hardware.. but I'd add a few drives for mass storage.
    Reply
  • cknobman
    So personally if I am building a high end machine like this it is going to be for 4k gaming.

    With that said I would have:
    Ditched the k processor for a regular and used the box cooler.
    Take the extra money and buy a storage HDD and faster RAM.

    Also it would be really nice if on the high end builds we could get just a few 4k gaming benchmarks.
    Reply