Wednesday, November 16, 2011

IMS Gaming Rig 2011 Part 2

Welcome back! Things are starting to really come together. I have almost everything together and I'm getting really excited! The first game I plan to play after its all done is the original Crysis. There is just going to be something viscerally satisfying about turning all the settings up and having it run smooth as butter.

Lets look at the specifics of the build. This is the finalized list of parts.

Intel i7 2600k 3.4Ghz quad core
ASUS P8Z68-V Pro
Corsair Vengence DDR3 1600 16GB (4x4GB)
Cooler Master HAF 932 Advanced Full sized tower
Corsair Pro HX850 PSU
CoolerMaster 212+ Cooler

Intel’s i7 2600K is without a doubt, one of the best gaming processors you can get without dropping 2 month’s rent. Specs? You got it. The 2600K is an unlocked, quad-core, hyper threaded 3.4Ghz Sandy Bridge 32nm processor. It has four 256KB L2 cache and an 8MB L3 cache. Aren’t you happy you know all that now? Lets move on quickly to What does this mean? It means its damn fast. However, speed comes at a cost. Its around $100 more than the i5 2500K which is the non-hyper threaded version of the chip and almost $200 more than a higher end AMD quad-core processor. Why do I want to pay an extra $100 for something called hyper threading? Hyper threading is the term for a processor that can perform 2 operations at the same time. So for applications that can take advantage of it, its like having an 8-core processor instead of just 4. You don't actually get double the performance but the boost is measurable and will only get better as programs get better at using multi-core programming. Once I decided on this processor, I knew what kind of motherboard to get. How? Easy. Every processor is designed to fit into 1 and only 1 kind of socket on a motherboard. In this case the socket type is called LGA 1155.

A motherboard can be really difficult to pick out. The best thing to do is first figure out what things you need or want to have, then you can start paring down the options from there. I know I need a mobo with an LGA 1155 socket on it for the processor. I also know want to use two video cards together in SLI so I will need the motherboard to support that too. Unfortunately, that barely gets you half the way there. Other things to consider (which I won’t go into in detail here) is what kind of chipset, what kind of RAM it will take and how much, how many hard drives connections, and a ton of other things. I decided I wanted the new Z68 chipset which is optimized for a Sandy Bridge processor and I wanted it to have USB 3.0 and eSATA connections. End result was is the ASUS P8Z68-V Pro. My only issue with it is the color. I wish it was red.

As I said in the last post, the motherboard will determine what kind of RAM you can use. The mobo I picked can use a decent range of RAM speeds as long as its the DDR3 flavor. I could go on and on about RAM timings and voltages, but I would probably bore myself. My mobo supports up to 32GB of RAM but I am only going with 16GB. It will still be more than enough to do anything I want to do. I did a bit of research and decided the Corsair Vengence DDR3 1600 was in the sweet spot for price/performance. And it comes in red.

Cases are really were you can add a personal touch to your machine. As long as your components fit inside, you are really free to go with any case you like. I happen to love the Cooler Master HAF 932 Advance. It looks tough and burly inside and out which is exactly what I was looking for in a case. HAF stands for High Air Flow and they really mean that too. The case come with THREE 230mm exhaust fans and has tube routing cutouts for water cooling. If you have overheating problems in this box, you are probably doing something wrong. If you haven’t seen a full size enthusiast grade case in a while, you will probably be pretty impressed with the HAF 932A. As is now pretty much standard, the PSU can be mounted at the bottom of the case and even has vents under that to allow the PSU intake fans to work properly. Most of the removable side panel real estate is taken up by one of those massive fans and the rest is a fancy viewport to show off the rest of the awesome inside. The main drawback for most people for a case like this is the size. The measurements are h22”x w9”x d23”.

When you get a processor, you need to keep it cool. Most retail packaged processors will come with a free heatsink/fan combo. You can go ahead and throw it away. Beside being a huge pain in the ass to install, they really don’t do very well keeping your fancy new powerhouse cool, especially under heavy use. Here is where some huge choices come into play and many have as much to do with ascetics as they do with actual performance. You can spend some big bucks on a fancy water cooling system, but I decided air cooling was enough for me. I am using the Cooler Master 212+ heatsink/fan combo with an extra 120mm fan installed for a push/pull airflow across the heat spreader blades. It performs almost as well as coolers that cost twice as much. The downside is its size. It stands more than 6" off the top of the processor.

The Power Supply Unit is by far the unsung hero of any computer build but if you skimp here you will be very, very sorry. The biggest choices when picking out a PSU are total watts and modular cabling vs fix cables. In general, more watts are better but you can go overboard. There is no reason to get a 1000w PSU when your total usage is less than 500w. To power all the components I have installed I need around 700w. I got a good deal on the 850w Corsair Pro HX850 and the extra headroom is nice. I also decided to go with modular cabling because I want to keep the inside of my case as clean looking as possible. A happy side-benefit of this style is you can keep airflow in the case from getting blocked by unused cables that just take up space. Keep in mind also that if multiple video cards are in your plans the PSU specs will let you know if it supports it or not.

My least favorite part to pick out is always video cards. Its just so hard to try to separate the real info from the vast amount of fan boy hate that surrounds this market. In my opinion the best place to get real info about video cards (and most other hardware) is They have made a name for themselves providing charts comparing many different kinds video cards. Not that benchmark scores tell the whole story either. See how crazy this is getting already? I really liked my last video card which was a EVGA nVidia GTX 460. I liked it so much I am going for the upgraded version for the coveted PCI-e spot in my rig, the GTX 560. Running 2 of these in SLI should be more than enough to run most games on Ultra settings and get at least 30fps and damn near any game on high settings at 60fps.

Thats it for now. The last chapter will come when its all finished.