Gamer's delight

While the HTPC on the previous page is designed for intensive video transcoding and therefore is built around a Intel Core i7-2600K with Hyper-Threading, this rig is devoted to gaming and therefore utilizes an Intel Core i5-2500K. You can see clearly from Bench that most games do not benefit from the 2600K's Hyper-Threading. Instead, it's a better idea to spend that $100 or so savings elsewhere if your primary consideration is gaming.

Because games do respond well to increased clockspeeds, and the Core i5-2500K is a multiplier unlocked CPU (so overclocking it is a breeze), we're recommending Corsair's H80 closed-loop CPU water cooler. All-in-one water-cooling kits like this Corsair are not only (generally speaking) great CPU coolers, they're also an easy introduction to more sophisticated water-cooling setups in case you're interested in exploring water-cooling at some point in the future. Jared recently reviewed the H60, H80, and H100—all of these fit in the Fractal Design Define R3 case we're recommending.

Gigabyte's GA-Z68XP-UD3 is an ATX form factor motherboard with all of the bells and whistles. It is a very capable overclocker and in my experience very reliable as well. While it's definitely not in the highest echelon of LGA 1155 motherboards, it is a solid higher-end mainstream motherboard. Perhaps of most interest to gamers, it supports both SLI and CrossFire—more on those in a moment.

Though not many current games benefit much from more than 8GB of DDR3, given the low prices of RAM and the larger budget, we're recommending two 8GB kits for 16GB total RAM. The G.SKILL Ripjaws X in the parts list below are great performers, but there are many other comparable kits.

Games don't always benefit much from an SSD, either, but again given the bigger budget, this build has a 128GB Samsung 830 Series SSD for its OS and application drive. That's enough space for plenty of both productivity and entertainment applications. I cannot stress enough how much general responsiveness and overall, day-to-day computing benefit from the addition of an SSD. Samsung's 830 Series drives are already developing a reputation for reliability, and as Anand found in his recent review, they also perform very well. In case your game—or media—library is very large (e.g. you play Rage!), the stalwart Samsung F3 1TB hard drive should be enough space for even the most prolific gamer.

The heart of any gaming rig is its GPU—or GPUs. The NVIDIA GTX 580 is the most powerful single GPU discrete video card available, and at $500, it's really pushing the envelope for "mainstream". You can see how it fares in Bench. The GTX 580 will play Crysis: Warhead at 1920x1200 resolution on gamer quality settings at an average of 60 frames per second. So, yes, it will run Crysis! But what if you're interested in SLI/CrossFire? $500 will buy one GTX 580—or two AMD Radeon HD 6950s. In general CrossFired 6950s outperform a single GTX 580, in some cases by a large margin. You can see how the two configurations compare on Bench. That said, I've yet to see a CrossFire (or SLI) setup that didn't have a few quirks—or downright aggravating issues. If you don't want to bother with SLI/CrossFire, the GTX 580 is your best bet (unless you want to plunk down even more money on a single card with dual GPUs, but I don't consider those much better than SLI/CF setups). If you are willing to put the additional time and effort into a CrossFire/SLI setup, you'll get a lot more bang for your buck with two Radeon HD 6950s.

SeaSonic's X850 is an extremely well-built 850W power supply capable of powering this impressive system whether you decide to go with a single GTX 580 or two Radeon HD 6950s. That said, the Bench test system hit 850W with two GTX 580s in SLI under Furmark—so if you plan to go with one GTX 580 initially and add a second card later, you will want to upgrade to a more powerful PSU. Finally, everything is housed in a Fractal Design Define R3. I recently recommended this case in the midrange buyer's guide and while there are other comparable cases like Corsair's 500R and Antec's P280, I like that the Fractal R3 is less expensive and, in my opinion, looks better.

Component Product Price
CPU Intel Core i5-2500K $220
CPU cooler Corsair H80 $94
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-Z68XP-UD3 ATX $150
RAM (2) G.SKILL Ripjaws X 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 1600 $60 (total)
GPU EVGA GeForce GTX 580 1536MB GDDR5 $500
GPU alternate (2) XFX Radeon HD 6950 1GB GDDR5 $500 (total)
SSD Samsung 830 MZ-7PC128D/AM 128GB $230
HDD Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB $150
Power supply SeaSonic X850 Gold 850W $150
Case Fractal Design Define R3 $110
Optical drive ASUS DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS $19
Operating system Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (OEM) $100
Total: $1783

Next up, we're sacrificing graphics capability/gameplay ability for raw CPU speed. If you want an incredibly powerful computer, check the next page.

$1900 SFF HTPC $2200 Work PC
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  • ckryan - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    I really like the upscale HTPC build. I've been wanting an InfiniTV quad for quite some time now, but I've been told it won't work well with my cable provider (by one of their technicians).

    I like that all the systems have SSDs (M4s and Samsung 830s). The new Marvel controlled drives with Toshiba toggle NAND have a healthy increase in speed over the Marvel-equipped M4 and it's 25nm Micron *AAB sync NAND. The Corsair undercuts the M4 in price at the 128GB level, but the M4 seems to have gone up in price recently. The Samsung 830 is similarly fast, and I got a free copy of Arkham City with mine.
  • A5 - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    Unless your provider doesn't issue Multistream CableCards, the Ceton will work fine with any system.
  • konroh - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    As an alternative to the Ceton, consider the HD Homerun Prime from Silicondust ( I have one and love it, every machine (with windows 7 MC) on my network can tune and record cable. It was a little buggy at first but with the latest firmware it's been solid.
  • konroh - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    broken link:
  • QChronoD - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    The technician was lying to you.

    "Cable companies in the United States are required to provide CableCARDs conforming to this specification, and must correct incompatibilities between their networks and certified CableCARD devices." - from wiki about cablecards

    You will lose some features that the cablebox provides, namely VOD and their guide data and oh-so-lovely GUI.
  • mdlam - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    WD 2tb Green for $98 at = win.
  • sna1970 - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link


    X79 is supposed to be quad channel memory ... you should add 4x4G there not 2x4
  • JarredWalton - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    It's two kits of 2x4GB, which is why it says "(2) Crucial 8GB...."
  • chrone - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    the board only have 4 dimm slots dude. Zach already posted that he had choosen 2 8gb kit in the above specs (2 x 2 x 4gb ~ 4 x 4gb). :D
  • MrCrispy - Friday, December 9, 2011 - link

    I recently built the following -

    Asus P8Z68-V LX
    Corsair H80
    Seasonic X760
    Fractal R3
    16GB Ripjaws X

    I feel really good about my choices now :) Haven't bought a video card, I can wait till the 7000 series debuts. Already have an old ssd and optical. The whole thing only cost me $640 incl tax+ship, no rebates involved, thanks to all the BF deals. I have a $200 budget for a video card (new or refurb) and it should be plenty.

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