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.