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System Builder Marathon, Q3 2013: $2550 Performance PC

Graphics, Motherboard, And CPU

Graphics: EVGA 04G-P4-2766-KR in Three-Way SLI

This build started out as an effort to find zero-cost upgrades to the previous quarter's machine in as many places as possible. But as it turns out, it's pretty hard to beat the gaming performance of a dual-GPU GeForce GTX 690. A pair of 780s would cost too much. Two GeForce GTX 770s looked to have great value potential. But what about a trio of 760s? Two of our graphics editors gave the three-way SLI solution a nod (though perhaps they were just curious about how it'd do).

Read Customer Reviews of EVGA's 04G-P4-2766-KR

EVGA alleviated my concerns about gaming at 4K by pricing the 4 GB version of its card under $300. Remember, just because we're going to be using three 4 GB boards doesn't mean all of that memory is accessible to each card; the same data is duplicated in each board's GDDR5.

Motherboard: ASRock X79 Extreme6

Nvidia doesn’t support three-way SLI in the x8-x4-x4 mode available from Intel’s mainstream processor interfaces, and LGA 1150 boards upgraded with high-bandwidth PCIe switches cost around $400. Adding to our upgrade woes, Haswell-based processors typically don’t perform much better than the Ivy Bridge-based part in last quarter's build. If we wanted to combine true CPU and GPU upgrades, we’d need to go LGA 2011.

Read Customer Reviews of ASRock's X79 Extreme6

Our search for affordable quality in a three-way SLI board turned up ASRock’s X79 Extreme6 for $220, which was $15 cheaper than the company’s lower-end model, the X79 Extreme4. This is the same motherboard we tested over a year ago in a different package, adding firmware patches to address our previous complaints, and subtracting its separate audio/network combo card.

CPU: Intel Core i7-3930K

Ordered long before the official launch of Intel’s Ivy Bridge-E processors, LGA 2011 didn’t leave any economical upgrades to the previous build’s four-core CPU. I’d need to step back in core technology and step up in core count. Sporting six unlocked Sandy Bridge cores, Intel’s $570 Core i7-3930K was the cheapest upgrade to fit the platform.

Read Customer Reviews of Intel's Core i7-3930K

Then again, on a per-core basis, Sandy Bridge is barely a downgrade from Ivy Bridge, which in turn is barely a downgrade from Haswell. I’m relying on the -3930K’s extra x86 resources to boost overall performance through spectacular results in a handful of well-threaded applications, and my history of pushing it to 4.6 GHz.

Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.