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System Builder Marathon, June 2011: $2000 Performance PC

Motherboard And Case

We put the two big changes up front in today’s build.

Motherboard: ASRock Z68 Extreme4

A simple PCIe bridge was enough to put ASRock’s Z68 Extreme4 far above its competitors in our recent roundup, and even earned it an award following hotly-contested races in both performance and overclocking. That PCIe bridge made this the only board in the competition that could support an upgrade to three-way CrossFire without sacrificing a slew of on-board features, compared to its competitor’s configuration that shed functionality in a three-way graphics setup.

Read Customer Reviews of ASRock's Z68 Extreme4

While we chose not to use the four-lane slot for today’s test, we still wanted the system to provide our giveaway winner the option to do so later. Of course, they’d need an eight-slot case for that.

Case: Lian-Li PC-9F

Our case needs were fairly specific: at least two 120 mm intake fans must deliver air to the graphics cards and GPU cooler before the air exits the graphics card and rear-panel exhaust. A single 180 mm fan would also work, but anything smaller would not. Antec’s low-cost Three Hundred Illusion filled that role admirably in the past, but we also needed eight slots this time. The newer One Hundred has the extra slot, but lacks the quality materials used in the Three Hundred.

Stepping down from a good $65 case wasn’t an acceptable option for our $2000 build, so we decided to step up.

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Read Customer Reviews of Lian-Li's PC-9F

The PC-9F increases fan size to 140 mm, while partly blocking that extra airflow with a sideways drive cage that makes installation easier. It also gets rid of the flashy LEDs to draw more attention to its brushed aluminum finish.

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The PC-9F doesn’t include a top fan like the Antec Three Hundred, but it does have a mount for one. Removing a brushed-aluminum filler panel allows an included mesh fan cover to be installed in its place, but we didn’t even bother to order a separate fan for this location. This builder believes that a good rear-panel fan is the best solution for the removal of CPU heat from the case, and kept his fingers crossed that the included rear-panel fan would be good enough.

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