2015 - 07 (July) Enthusiast Build

The Enthusiast Gamer Component List for July 2015

As mentioned in the introduction, all prices are from PC Part Picker unless explicitly specified otherwise. No special prices (e.g., after mail-in-rebate prices or combo prices) are included if that can be avoided. If you are a conscientious rebater, you may be able to spend a bit less. I will include the PC Part Picker link at just below the table that tallies up all the prices. You should be able to load these items in your cart using the link and get them at or near the prices quoted. In the enthusiast build, I'm trying to build the most cost effective top-end system I can imagine. I don't really have a firm limit here, but expect it to be more than $2,000 and less than $6,000.

CPU
As said, the prices here will be what's reported as the best found by PC Part Picker. However, if you happen to live close enough to a Micro Center, you can probably do even better. If you buy a CPU in the store, you can save anywhere from $20 - $100 off the price. In addition to that, they regularly give another $30 - $40 off on a CPU and motherboard bundle. Recently, they also had another $10 off for buying a Samsung SSD with a CPU or motherboard. Of course, they are hoping you'll see some other deals you can't resist. (They are often proven correct when I go there.)

My current choice in this category is the Intel Core i7-5930K. This is the middle of the three new LGA2011-3 socket parts introduced by Intel last year. It is unlocked for easier overclocking, uses DDR4 memory in a quad-channel bus (requiring four sticks of matched memory DIMMs rather than two like dual-channel memory), has six cores (with twelve threads) and 40 PCIe 3.0 lanes.

A lot of people would argue that the 5820K is all that's needed, but I'm planning on going with 2-way SLI initially with room to go up to 4-way SLI later. The 5820K PCIe lanes are pared back to 28 from 40. If we were only gaming on a 1080p monitor with a single graphics card, 28 lanes are plenty. My belief is that a system at this level should be paired with at least a 1440p (2560 x 1440 pixels) or more likely, a 4K monitor (3840 x 2160 pixels) and dual Nvidia GTX 980 Ti graphics cards in SLI. I think those lanes are going to be pretty darn handy.

In addition to SLI, we're going to pair this with a closed-loop water-based CPU cooler and a gaming motherboard that both aid in overclocking. We may not be doing any overclocking from day one, but we will have the option available and incredible cooling either way. This CPU goes for $560.

Good resources to check out the benchmark scores are Tom's Hardware's Best Gaming CPUs For The Money article (June 2015) and Anandtech's CPU Benchmarks.

CPU Cooler

Unlike other Intel CPUs, these don't come with any stock cooler. Intel surmised (correctly, in my opinion) that people building with these CPUs aren't interested in a stock CPU fan and heatsink. Instead, they will want to use their preferred air or water-based system. For this build, I'm using a Cooler Master Nepton 280L (RL-N28L-20PK-R2) closed-loop water CPU Cooler. Reviews on this liquid CPU cooler have be very positive and the $120 price tag is reasonable. It does take a bit of room for the pair of fans and a radiator, but we are using a case with lots of room.

Motherboard

When it comes to enthusiast builds, I like Asus. While Gigabyte and MSI have very good boards is this arena, Asus wins my head and heart. Their ROG series has more tweaks than I will likely understand. Even their low-end enthusiast boards have the key features that makes the board stable and overclockable. Also, Asus really loves to promote their products. You will find Asus reps at gaming conventions and talking on hardware sites. I get the sense they really understand the enthusiast community and love what they do.

I want a motherboard here that makes every tweak I've ever heard of and a few I haven't. I also want more ports than I can ever use. The Asus Rampage V Extreme/U3.1 is an enthusiast's dream in those regards. It is a based on an Intel X99 chipset. That board has twelve SATA 6Gb/s ports, two SATA Express ports, an M.2 (Gen 3.0) socket, 8 DIMM slots, five PCIe 3.0 x16 slots, two USB 3.1 slots (in the form of an expansion card), ten USB 3.0 ports on the back I/O panel plus four more (two headers) placed in the middle of the board near the SATA 6 connectors (for front-panel case connectors), two USB ports on the back I/O panel plus four more (two headers) on the motherboard.

This motherboard also comes with OC Panel, which is an overclocking tool that can be handheld or converted to be mounted in a 5.25-inch drive bay. The tool displays several overclocking values, can be used to apply overclocking profiles, control fan speeds and more. It also has built-in 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac wireless networking (whether you want it or not) and Bluetooth 4.0. The integrated sound has several features to work with up to 7.1 speakers and a feature to improve audio when using a headset (via the front panel audio). This isn't even a complete list of all the features.

GPU (Graphics Card)

Rather than repeat it here, see my rant against AMD cards in the GPU section of the budget build.

For this build, I'm going with a pair of Nvidia GTX 980 Ti graphic cards in SLI. This motherboard supports two cards in X16 mode (requiring 32 PCIe lanes). As my favorite video card vendor at the moment is EVGA, for this build, I picked the EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti Superclocked ACX 2.0+ (06G-P4-4993-KR) which is overclocked at the factory from the base specifications. Each card has a dual cooling fan unit and has an HDMI port, three Display Ports and one DVI-I port. Each can handle up to four monitors simultaneously, but our target in this build is to be able to support a single 4K resolution monitor (3840 x 2160 pixels). Each card requires two 8-pin PCI-E connectors. That implies a maximum allowable draw on the 12V rail of 75W (supplied by the motherboard) + 150W (1st 8-pin PCI-E) + 150W (2nd 8-pin PCI-E) for 375W total. However, at EVGA's web site, they claim the card draws 250W max. The extra power is there for overclocking headroom.

Memory

This motherboard sports eight slots supporting two banks of DDR4 memory in a quad-channel arrangement. We are going to fill half of those with 16GB of DDR4-2666 CL13 DIMMs from the Kingston HyperX series (HX426C13PB2K4/16). Technically, a gaming system will run fine on 8GB of RAM, but we want to take advantage of the quad channel architecture and putting four 2GB DIMMs in there just seems silly.

This motherboard has been tested with up to DDR4-3200, but the sweet spot at the moment seems to be DDR4-2666 and the HyperX memory has the best timings on the Qualified Vendor's List for the Asus Rampage V Extreme. Since DDR4 RAM is the new hotness, it hasn't had its price driven down yet, so this is a bit pricey at $225.

Storage (Hard Drive[s])

No moving parts. Starting off with a screaming fast Samsung SM951 512GB AHCI MZHPV512HDGL-00000 M.2 80mm PCIe 3.0 x4 SSD. I could not find the official data at Samsung, so I offer this TweakTown review instead. This drive has up to 2150/1500 sequential read/write data transfer rates, which is about four times the read speed and three times the write speed of a fast SATA 6Gb/s SSD and so far ahead of rotating hard drives, they aren't worth mentioning. However, this comes at a cost of $370. (Note that PC Part Picker doesn't have a category for this class of SSDs yet, so this was added as a custom part using Newegg's listing. They were $30 cheaper than anyone else I could find. They were $40 cheaper when I first wrote this, but raised the price $10. I better write faster.) It's going to absolutely scream. My system boots in 15 - 20 seconds on a Samsung 830 from a couple years ago; this one should boot before you even finish thinking about it.

Since 512 GB isn't enough storage by itself, let's pair a screaming fast SSD with a pair of fast, large(r) Samsung 850 EVO MZ-75E1T0B/AM 2.5" 1TB SSDs. We can even put those in RAID 0 if we like. That's 2.5 TB of disk space without any rotating hard disk drives. We have plenty of room to add one of those if we need it for video or the like, but the going in stance is SSDs all the way. They go for $360 each, so that's about enough cost for storage.

PSU (Power Supply)

Wimpy PSUs need not apply here. We have two high-end video cards, a power hungry CPU and motherboard, and they all need unwavering power. PC Part Picker estimates this build at 779W. That doesn't include the M.2 Samsung SM951 512GB drive, which is estimated at 6.5W. If we want a PSU at 50-60% load when this system is running full tilt, that's a 1310W to 1572W PSU. (The PC Part Picker total is an estimate of the power required by the build. If you click on the estimate, a list is displayed with the min to max numbers they used to make the estimate.)

I still want a PSU with a single 12V rail and semi-modular connections (or fully modular, but that's rather a bit of overkill). The single rail keeps me from having to figure out how to balance the load across the connections. A modular PSU lets me use only the power connectors I actually need. I have picked the EVGA SuperNOVA G2 1600W 80+ Gold Certified Fully-Modular PSU for this build. At $325, it alone costs half of what some complete systems cost, but it is what this type of system deserves.

Case

A system this good should be cuddled inside a killer case. I actually wanted to go with something a bit snazzier, but I really couldn't find one that had the right amount of pizazz without looking gaudy. At one time, there were a number of companies doing custom painted cases, but I wasn't able to find one still left in the business that had something as big as I was looking for. I eventually settled on the subtle, but still great-looking Corsair 900D ATX Full Tower Case. The black brushed aluminum front looks quite professional - like this is not a system to be triffled with. At $340, it's not cheap, but then cases built like tanks are bound to cost more.

This case is tall and deep - 25.60" long x 9.90" wide x 27.20" high. It's all aluminum on the outside with a steel frame and weighs 41 lbs empty. It can handle a pair of PSUs or a PSU and a water-cooling system reservoir. It has room for nine 3.5" or 2.5" drives (or up to fifteen with the purchase of additional drive cages) and four 5.25" optical drives. It has fifteen fan mounting locations for regular fans or less if one or more of the five radiator mount points is used. There are four USB 2.0 ports and two USB 3.0 ports on the front (which I wish was the other way around) tucked in behind a closeable panel at the top. Dust filters cover all the air intakes to keep the bunnies out. There's cable management everywhere there needs to be. Any build into this case will have plenty of room and should be able to be made quite tidy.

Optical Drive(s)

Even though an optical drive is pretty much an optional part nowadays, if we are going to have a 4K monitor with this system, it should be able to play the occasional Blu-ray movie. Since the LG 16X BD-R 2X BD-RE SATA Blu-ray burner (WH16NS40) is under $60, there's no reason not to have one in a system of this sort. If you find you need to back up 100-128 GB of data on a reasonably permanent medium, this burner can to that - at $12 - $27 a disc.

Sound Card

While I still like sound cards and think they produce better sound than on-board audio, I found myself convinced by Asus YouTube videos on this motherboard that there's really no reason to go there. The on-board sound supplied by this motherboard sounds excellent on paper, and if it doesn't pan out, there's plenty of room to add one later.

Operating System

Take your choice of Windows 7 (Home Premium SP1 64-bit) or Windows 8.1 64-bit - OEM. Both are about $100. I use Windows 8.1 because it understands how to tread SSDs better, but pick either one. You're going to take the free upgrade to Windows 10 in a few months anyway. Do get the 64-bit version of whichever one you pick.

Component List and Tally

The prices given below are static and are the ones captured when this was written. Click on the link below the table to load the list into the PC Part Picker system builder.

Component Description Cost
Enthusiast Gaming Component List
CPU Intel Core i7-5930K 3.5GHz 6-Core Processor 560
CPU Cooler Cooler Master Nepton 280L 122.5 CFM Liquid CPU Cooler 120
Motherboard Asus RAMPAGE V EXTREME/U3 EATX LGA2011-3 516
GPU
2 - EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6GB Superclocked ACX 2.0+
($650 times two for 2-Way SLI)
1300
Memory Kingston 16GB (4 x 4GB) DDR4-2666 225
Storage SAMSUNG SM 951 MZHPV5 12HDGL 512 GB M.2 SSD
2 - Samsung 850 EVO-Series 1TB 2.5" Solid State Drive ($360 X 2)
370
720
Sound Card Stock (motherboard - believe it or not) 0
Optical Drive LG WH16NS40 Blu-Ray/DVD/CD Writer 50
PSU EVGA SuperNOVA G2 1600W 80+ Gold Certified Fully-Modular 325
Case Corsair 900D ATX Full Tower Case 340
OS Microsoft Windows 8.1 OEM (64-bit) 97
     
Total   4623

OK. This one is a bit higher than my usual "money is no object" system at $4623. The dual GTX 980 Ti are a bit of a splurge. They would be wasted on less than a 4K monitor. Going with all SSDs is another high dollar decision, but I absolutely, positively won't build another system for myself that isn't using SSDs for booting and the primary storage. I'm able to get by with 1.5TB on my own desktop, but that's not the point. With this much SSD space, there won't be much of a reason to worry. If more space is needed, there's room for three or four hard disk drives in addition to the SSDs. It's a lot of money, but I don't think any of it is wasted. To see the current prices for these components, check the link to the PC Part Picker list.

If I were to build this system, I would want to pair it with a strong 4K monitor. The Asus PQ321Q 31.5" UHD monitor would probably be my first choice at the moment. That said, at $1400, it makes this system - already pricey - downright expensive at about $6K.