Motherboard, CPU, And RAM
Motherboard: MSI Z68A-GD55 (G3)
Overclocking is the biggest performance upgrade any builder can add to a PC, even though it comes at some risk. Our previous $2000 machine used a motherboard that had been awarded for its low-cost overclocking capability, yet our retail sample overheated when it was pushed past 1.35 V. In the famous words of a not-so-famous politician, “Oops.”
We were hoping to come back with the runner up from one of our previous motherboard round-ups to see if it would out-overclock the former winner in a real-world test. While MSI’s Z68A-GD55 was no longer available in its original form, the G3 version was priced only $10 higher.
Both versions include heat sinks on all CPU voltage regulator phases, and the extra $10 gets buyers a set of third-generation PCIe switches to keep their next-generation processors and graphics cards working at peak performance. That last part assumes that, between now and launch day, Intel won’t make its Ivy Bridge-based processors incompatible with existing platforms.
Processor: Intel Core i7-2600K
We ordered our System Builder Marathon machines prior to Intel’s Sandy Bridge-E launch, secure in the knowledge that at least the flagship would cost more than our $2400 budget could bear. Chris Angelini’s recent Core i7-3930K review did little to change that opinion, since such a small upgrade to our desktop-oriented benchmarks would have taken hundreds of dollars away from other components.
That left Intel’s Core i7-2600K and Core i5-2500K as the only choices for top performance (Ed.: assuming the -2700K wasn't worth the increase either, right?). We’re counting on this processor’s legendary overclocking capability to push its value, even though the added benefit Hyper-Threading alone is somewhat questionable.
RAM: Corsair CMZ8GX3M2A1600C8R
Also known as Vengeance DDR3-1600 CAS 8, this is the same memory that won our recent 8 GB value-oriented round-up.
Differences between AMD and Intel memory controllers mean that we won’t see the exact results from that round-up, but we’re still certain this memory will give us excellent timings at low cost.