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System Builder Marathon, May '09: $2,500 Performance PC

Motherboard, Graphics, And Power

Motherboard: DFI LANParty Jr X58-T3H6

After choosing a small case that would fit “two big graphics cards” and an over-sized power supply, the next task is to find a motherboard that will support those graphics cards and still fit within the confines of the case. Adding Intel’s Core i7 processors to the list of criteria made the choice easy, since Newegg's catalog did not list this board's alternative under "Motherboards->Intel->LGA-1366->Micro-ATX".

Read Customer Reviews of DFI's LANParty Jr X58-T3H6

DFI has a longer history in gaming-oriented Micro-ATX motherboards than any other company we know of, and its LANParty Jr X58-T3H6 is identical in many respects to the firm’s full-sized X58-T3eH6. Two PCI Express (PCIe) 2.0 x16 slots provide nearly twice the bandwidth required to meet the performance needs of most high-end graphics processors, and the LANParty Jr even includes a full compliment of overclocking controls.

However, one thing missing from the LANParty Jr is the IEEE-1394 FireWire controller. While most users never need it, leaving the corresponding front panel connector “dead” wasn’t ideal. Today’s component installation page details an easy workaround.

Graphics: 2 x EVGA GeForce GTX 295 in SLI

We were originally gunning for two standard (black) GeForce GTX 295 graphics units, but they were out of stock at the time of order. So, we went with these Red Edition cards instead.

Read Customer Reviews of EVGA's GeForce GTX 295 Red Edition

EVGA’s Red Edition follows reference specifications down to the use of the stock fan and sink, but with a custom-painted cover and a matching custom-manufactured back plate. While the visual enhancements add no performance, the price does increase by around $50 per card. Because the parts we had originally chosen are still available and are the most common, and because both models use the same clock speeds and cooling hardware, we’re treating these as standard replacements for the parts originally sought. The winner of today’s system might have additional admiration for EVGA’s handiwork, but seeing it properly requires the removal of  several parts from the case.

Power: Corsair CMPSU-1000HX

Corsair’s HX1000W power supply tops a short list of reasonably-priced parts capable of reliably powering two GeForce GTX 295 graphics units.

Read Customer Reviews of Corsair's CMPSU-1000HX

Corsair even provides six individual PCIe cables—two soldered-in and four removable—to support up to three graphics cards.

While single-rail power supplies are often preferred when load splitting is in doubt, choosing the correct cable connectors allows a builder to balance the load between both 12 volt rails. We configured the two six-pin PCIe connections to share power with the CPU, while the two eight-pin PCIe connections share power with remaining system components.