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