Boutique Skylake Builds
We live and breathe high-performance PCs. We also appreciate our community. So, as often as possible, we try to bring both together through heavy-hitting hardware giveaways.
Last year, we asked the best custom builders in the business to submit configurations for a sweepstakes based on Intel’s Haswell architecture. That was followed up by another competition centering on Haswell-E CPUs. Hot on the heels of Skylake’s introduction, it’s time for a third competition that pits each company’s creativity, customization and value against the rest of the industry. And you decide who wins.
The following pages contain the submissions of Skylake-based systems from the biggest boutiques, with enthusiast builds that range from small and quiet to massive and powerful, all sporting unlocked K-series processors. Take a look at these sweet rigs, vote for your favorite three picks and enter to win one of 10 prize packages that include an Intel Core i7-6700K CPU, an MSI Z170A GAMING M5 motherboard, a 16GB G.Skill F4-3000C15D-16GTZB DDR4 memory kit and a 400GB Intel 750-series PCIe SSD (special thanks to all three companies for sponsoring the festivities). In addition, three systems receiving the most votes from our audience will receive Tom’s Hardware Reader’s Choice awards.
In our Haswell-based System Builder Sweepstakes, AVADirect submitted a fairly conservative machine with a Core i7-4770 CPU priced at a modest $1245 and housed in a basic Antec Three Hundred ATX case.
This time around, the company pulled out all the stops for Skylake and offered up its Avalanche II, a custom 20-color LED-lighted Corsair Carbide Series Air 540 tower containing an overclocked Core i7-6700K on an Asus Z170 Deluxe motherboard with 16GB of Kingston HyperX Fury DDR4-2133. A 1200W 80 PLUS Platinum-certified modular PSU provides the dual EVGA GTX 980 Ti Superclocked 6GB graphics cards in SLI with more than enough power, and the custom single-loop liquid cooling kit keeps thermals under control. With 1TB of solid-state storage and an additional 3TB HDD, this beefy configuration goes for a much more liberal $5900.
CyberPowerPC didn’t get a submission in for our Haswell-based System Builder Sweepstakes, but the company came out swinging for this contest with its Gamer Xtreme 3000.
Although it’s known for value-oriented configurations, CyberPowerPC does not disappoint our enthusiast audience with a powerful platform that includes Intel’s Core i7-6700K, an Asus Z170 Deluxe motherboard and a whopping 32GB of DDR4-2800 memory. Two Asus GeForce GTX 970 Gaming 4GB graphics cards in SLI provide plenty of horsepower for 4K and VR gaming, and Corsair keeps the setup running stably with an H110i GT 280mm liquid CPU cooler and RM1000i 80 PLUS Gold-certified modular power supply.
Solid-state storage is on the more modest side; you get access to a 250GB Samsung 850 EVO for your operating system and critical apps. But CyberPowerPC also includes an additional 2TB of mechanical storage. For all of that, expect to pay a mere $2999, which is an excellent value for the hardware in this custom build.
CybertronPC believed that less would be more for its Skylake-based submission. And given the efficiency of Intel’s host processor and Nvidia’s Maxwell architecture, that line of thinking might resonate with our readers. The Titanium Z170 leans on a 240mm closed-loop water-cooler sitting on a Core i5-6600K (instead of the higher-end Core i7). An Asus Z170-A motherboard also steps back a bit from the pricier platforms competing builders appear to favor, and 16GB of Kingston HyperX DDR4-2133 is decidedly minimalist.
However, CybertronPC adds incredible performance to this rig using two GTX 970 OC graphics cards in SLI, a 500GB Samsung 850 EVO SSD and a 2TB/8GB Seagate Hybrid SSHD, all powered by a 1000W Corsair PSU. This configuration also includes a Corsair Raptor K30 gaming keyboard, Corsair Vengeance M65 gaming mouse and a Blu-ray DVD writer, which helps justify its $3099 price tag.
The last time we held one of these competitions, Digital Storm sent us a beast of a machine that topped the price charts of our Haswell-based contest with four GeForce GTX Titans under the hood.
This time around, it provided us a brand new Aventum 3 that seems conservative by comparison. In reality, though, cutting the price in half and whittling off a couple of GPUs is just smart. Four cards in SLI simply don’t scale well. And today’s high-end GPUs are notably faster—enough so that gaming at 3840x2160 shouldn’t be an issue.
Digital Storm’s sample includes a Core i7-6700K, an Asus Maximus VIII Hero Z170 motherboard and 32GB of DDR4-2666 memory. The company adds a 1TB Samsung 850 Pro SSD and a 2TB storage drive. An 850W PSU drives the SLI-configured Asus Strix GTX 980 Ti graphics cards, while Digital Storm’s custom cooling system with red tubing keeps the CPU stable at overclocked frequencies between 4.5 and 4.8GHz.
Armed with incredibly powerful hardware, a stylish custom case and a price tag of $5979, Digital Storm’s cherry-picked Aventum 3 could easily be a top contender in our Skylake System Builder Sweepstakes.
This new Tiki comes configured with a Core i7-6700K on an Asus Z170 Pro Gaming motherboard rocking 16GB of DDR4-2400. A 2TB storage drive and a Samsung SM951 512GB NVMe SSD offer more performance than the previous build’s SATA 6Gb/s-attached dual 960GB SSD RAID configuration, simultaneously saving quite a bit of money (the submission we received sells for $3420).
An Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 Ti is prominently displayed in the Tiki’s lighted graphics card window, and customizable chassis colors give it a stylish and personalized look. Fitting full-sized performance parts into a 13x4-inch case takes a lot of careful design work. But that’s why the Tiki, which launched back during Intel’s Ivy Bridge days, is still such a compelling platform.
Another value-oriented brand, iBuyPower offers up plenty of horsepower with a very modest price tag. This Gamer Paladin Z980 sports a water-cooled Core i7-6700K, a Gigabyte GA-Z170X-SLI motherboard and 16GB of DDR4-2400 in an exclusive Noctis 450 case by NZXT.
A 750W Thermaltake PSU handles the single GTX 980 Ti graphics card with plenty of power to spare, but storage is somewhat limited with only a 128GB SanDisk SSD and a 1TB HDD. Still, for an impressively reasonable $1799, iBuyPower sells a powerful Skylake-based system that offers ample performance without breaking the bank.
By configuring its Gamer Paladin Z980 with a mind to real value, iBuyPower creates one of the most inexpensive contenders in our Skylake-based Builder Sweepstakes.
Origin PC is no stranger to muscular configurations. In one of our previous contest, it presented us with a potent Haswell-based system sporting four GeForce GTX Titans under the hood. This time around is no different. Its Genesis wields a Core i7-6700K, an EVGA Z170 Classified motherboard and 32GB of Corsair Dominator Platinum DDR4-3000. Four custom liquid-cooled 12GB GeForce GTX Titan X graphics cards represent as much graphics performance you can get into a desktop PC. There’s no real way to best that in the latest games, so Origin PC gets the distinction of topping the charts in today’s competition.
A 512GB Samsung SM951 M.2 NVMe SSD and five 8TB HDDs in RAID 10 are equally impressive. Clearly, this system takes everything from storage, processing power, memory capacity and speed, aesthetics and graphics performance to the highest levels. For $13,198, you shouldn’t expect any less.
The Serenity underwent some significant changes since we saw it last. Now a small form-factor machine, this newly configured version offers a Core i7-6700K on an Asus Maximus VIII Gene motherboard with 32GB of DDR4-2133 in a compact SilverStone SG10 microATX case.
Our configuration packs an amazing amount of storage into its tiny footprint, with an Intel 750-series 1.2TB PCIe NVMe SSD as its primary drive, two 2TB Samsung 850 Pro SSDs for projects and three 6TB HDDs for storage. Further cementing its awesome spec sheet is a single GeForce GTX 980 Ti graphics card powered by a right-sized 650W Seasonic PSU. The Serenity is also one of the only builds in our contest using an air-cooled CPU heat sink (Gelid’s Tranquillo Rev3), which promises minimal noise and excellent thermal dissipation.
Puget Systems makes its machine even more unique by adding a modification package that includes quieter fans and acoustic dampening material placed strategically in the chassis to help the Serenity live up to its name. For $7480, this incarnation of the Serenity may be one of the quietest and most versatile offerings in our sweepstakes.
If you want an elite machine, the Leet personifies that concept (going so far as to spell it out, for the less subtle enthusiasts out there) with a custom case boasting a built-in seven-inch display for hardware monitoring. You won’t see anything quite like this from our other entries, and we haven’t even looked at the hardware yet.
This particular configuration has a Core i7-6700K, an Asus Maximus VIII Gene microATX motherboard, 32GB of DDR4-2800, a 1050W Seasonic modular PSU and two EVGA GTX 980 Hydro Copper 4GB graphics cards in SLI.
The Leet is designed for near-silent operation, helped along by a liquid-filled custom loop to keep the graphics and CPU running stably. Add a 256GB Samsung XP941 M.2 SSD and four 2TB HDDs in RAID 10 (for a total of 4TB usable capacity), and you have an impressively unique and powerful system for $5754.
In our Haswell contest, Velocity Micro put the performance pedal to the floor with its Edge Z55 gaming box, and today the company pushes even further with its Raptor Z55, configured with a Core i7-6700K, 16GB of DDR4-2400 and dual EVGA GTX 980s in SLI on an Asus Z170-P motherboard.
Not only are there two graphics cards, but you also get a pair of Crucial BX100 250GB SSDs configured in RAID 0 (for 500GB total) and a 1TB HDD for user data. An 850W PSU gives the rig enough headroom for its high-end GPUs, and a 240mm closed-loop water cooler keeps CPU temperatures low.
If it weren’t for the custom LED lighting, you might say the Raptor Z55 looks a little ordinary. But not all power users want a flashy rig. This machine is more of a sleeper armed with plenty of performance. Enthusiasts in the market for a sleek yet powerful system may find themselves drawn to the Raptor X5S at just $3329.