System Builder Marathon: The $4,500 Super PC

Case, Cooling, And Power

Zalman LQ1000 Liquid-Cooling Case

Our highest-priced System Builder Marathon configurations have used liquid cooling for a long time, but our choices this time were a little different. Because we sourced all our components from NewEgg, we had to limit our selection to in-stock parts. And while the vendor did carry the most important components used in previous builds, we’d already found a slightly better solution in the Zalman LQ1000.

Improvements over our previous selection of custom-matched components include a thicker case that better blocks noise, a large built-in radiator that’s easier to purge, a huge side fan that helps to cool expansion cards and motherboard components, automatic fan and pump controls that assure quieter operation under all but the most demanding loads, and a more compact size that allows the LQ1000 to sit perfectly on top of most desks.

There’s a lot to love about the LQ1000, but it’s still not the perfect choice for everyone. Full-sized expansion cards won’t fit into the lower slot, since it’s partially blocked by a hose and pump, and those restrictions also apply to a few motherboard and graphics combinations where huge card coolers consume all the space of the lowest slot. Also, after checking a couple cases from different sources, we’ve come to believe that all LQ1000 cases share one particularly annoying defect. Motherboard mounting holes are offset by approximately one-eighth of an inch from the center. Assembling a functional PC is possible, but this single defect violates our principle that such as expensive system should be as perfect as possible.

Another more pressing concern is that NewEgg dropped the Z-Machine LQ1000 from its product list after we’d already received ours. Alternative solutions include the slightly under-powered Titan TWC-A88, the significantly oversized Thermaltake SwordM VD500LBNA, and a combination of the Cooler Master Cosmos S case with third-party cooling components. As always, we’re interested in hearing reader opinions about these options.

Corsair CMPSU-1000HX Power Supply

While we were still undecided between three GTX 280 and two HD 4870 X2 graphics cards, we found one well-priced power supply that had the proper connectors for either configuration. The Corsair HX1000W (Model CMPSU-1000HX) has six PCI Express graphics connectors, each with six-pin/eight-pin split leads.

Most of the HX1000W leads are modular, allowing builders to simplify cable management by leaving out cables they don’t need. Soldered in are one ATX/EPS 20-pin/24-pin split-able main power connector, one of the two ATX12V/EPS12V split-able CPU power connectors, and two pre-split six-pin/eight-pin PCI Express connections.

We know that many readers are choosing 1,200 to 1,600 watt units for similar systems, but we feel confident in the ability of a 1,000 W PSU to handle the load. Our only reservation in selecting this particular power supply is that one of its dual 12 V rails could potentially be overloaded if we put too many devices on "one side."

To balance the load, we put one graphics card and CPU power connector on one 12 V rail, and the second graphics card plus all other devices on the other 12 V rail. If we had used a third graphics card, we would have powered its two connectors using both 12 V rails.