System Builder Marathon Q1 2015: Mainstream Enthusiast PC

CPU, Motherboard, Cooler And Graphics Card

CPU: Intel Core i7-4790K

My increased budget left me with about $100 more than last time. That wasn't enough to upgrade the GeForce GTX 970 to a 980, but it was exactly what I needed to jump from the Core i5-4690K to a Core i7-4790K, giving me access to Hyper-Threading technology and an extra 2MB of L3 cache, in addition to higher 4GHz base and 4.4GHz Turbo Boost clock rates.

Read Customer Reviews of Intel's Core i7-4790K

As a result, we're expecting better threaded performance than the Q3 2014 build, although it might be tough to match that machine's stable 4.6GHz overclock. Luck of the draw dictates much of our success, but we'll do what we can.

Motherboard: MSI Z97 PC Mate

Read Customer Reviews of MSI's Z97 PC Mate

Admittedly not an enthusiast-targeted motherboard, MSI's Z97 PC Mate comes with a reasonable $90 sticker price ($80 after rebate) and includes the overclocking-friendly Intel Z97 chipset, DDR3 3000 (OC) support, six power phases, multi-GPU support and a solid Newegg review rating. It checks all of the tick boxes, so we'll give it this one chance to impress us. 

CPU Cooler: Zalman CNPS9900 Max

Read Customer Reviews of Zalman's CNPS9900 MAX

The Core i7-4790K is no slouch in its stock form, but I'll need some serious cooling hardware to maximize an overclock.

I was surprised to see Zalman's capable CNPS9900 MAX on sale for $40 back when we placed our orders. Now it's back up to $50. But with other components appearing less expensive, I can't say I'm sorry for picking it.

Graphics Card: Asus Strix GeForce GTX 970

Despite the recent 3.5GB/500MB memory split controversy, Nvidia's GeForce GTX 970 remains the best choice for a mid-range cost-effective build. We expect it to trump the Q3 2014 configuration's GeForce GTX 770 by a significant margin in our gaming tests, at the same time reducing power consumption.

Sporting a 1114MHz base and 1253MHz GPU Boost frequency, Asus' Strix is significantly faster than the reference specification. The company's graphics coolers have a good reputation too, so we'll see how far we can push this board in our overclocking trials.

Read Customer Reviews of Asus' Strix GeForce GTX 970

Priced at $340, it's only about $10 more expensive than the cheapest GeForce GTX 970 models back when we placed our orders.

  • hausman
  • Grognak
    Your builds are getting more and more expensive.
  • tom10167
    Looks pretty good but get a Black Series for $20 more
  • g-unit1111
    Honestly I would go optical drive less and get a H440 or something similar. Was it a requirement to spend $50 on the blu-ray burner?
  • damric
    Dear God, why another junk Compucase PSU?

    And why a PNY SSD? Save the packaging for that. You will need it for RMA.

    With a budget that large there is no room for parts with high failure rates.
  • de5_Roy
    nice build. my only nitpick is about the motherboard. would choosing a xeon e3 12xx v3 have led to better mobo and/or gfx card and/or psu?
  • cknobman
    Waiting for the day one of you SBM folks take your panties off and skips the optical drive.

    We have reached the day and age where optical drives are really not necessary and just eat into budget for more useful things.
  • des99
    how does the math add up?
    $925 Performace hardware +
    $240 case, os and optical $240
  • pepsimtl
    I think cpu I5 K whill do the same job for gamer and least expensive :)
    This motherboard color is so ugly ( same color 1985 pc ) and all the component except for memory . Just look inside the computer depress me
  • Onus
    Given the power numbers (which I think you know enough to have anticipated), even a 450W Rosewill Capstone would have sufficed. I just don't see an EVGA "B" series making it into an enthusiast build; ever.
    I also really don't like seeing 1.65V RAM. Perhaps 1.6V, but allowing for how different motherboards may tweak RAM for stability, already running at 1.65V seems like more of a risk to the Intel IMC than is worthwhile. I'd really prefer to keep at the standard 1.5V.