The Making of a Boutique Gaming PC (Part 4 of 6): IT Direct
Q: The new X79 platform has caused quite a stir for high-end system builders. Tell us about what you've been able to achieve with this new platform.
A: Current pricing on X79 MBs and LGA2011 CPUs, together with low availability of products in channels have lowered the interest f enthusiasts here. Also, the very good price/performance ratio and very good general performance and OC potential of current LGA1155 (ex: i5-2500K) platform is causing low interest for anything that does not provide substantial performance improvement in 3D performance. However, for the 3D gaming enthusiast who demands only the best of the bunch from a performance standpoint, X79 is the obvious choice, as there is no other CPU platform that comes anywhere near it in terms of pure performance.
Q: Almost all of your X79 systems are built with two or more GeForce graphics cards in SLI. Why is this? How do these two technologies complement each other?
A: SLI demands high CPU performance for building a balanced platform. More than that, the X79 is the highest-end consumer platform available. Thus, SLI comes as a natural multi-GPU solution for any enthusiast seeking top-knotch performance, leveraging the highest performance available from a graphics performance point of view, through the use of the highest performing CPU platform.
Q: Of all your gaming PCs, which model are you most proud of? Please give us a rundown of how it's built, from the component selection, construction, to testing.
A: Bit Engage 3D. We see it as the best in terms of price/performance, providing gamers and enthusiasts with everything they need in order to play the latest 3D titles at high/max settings. Good OC potential also provides the system with longer life-span, making it a future-proof investment.
1) Component selection: The MB, CPU and RAM are chosen from a price/performance perspective, taking into account the OC potential of the CPU. The natural choice of CPU is the i5 2500K CPU, which provides an unlocked multiplier, thus providing and easy choice for the MB: a no thrills SLI certified MB with a solid CPU VRM is more than enough, as it also provides an easy upgrade path to those who want to better the graphical performance through an SLI configuration. Extras like Firewire or third-party SATA controllers do nothing for the performance, so these are not taken into account. RAM brand is chosen from a reliable vendor, and from a price/performance perspective. Given the fact that the 2500K can be easily OCed through use of the unlocked multiplier, a no-thrills DDR3 1333 RAM kit is more than enough, as higher spec RAM does not provide any real performance improvement.
GPU selection is easy: GTX 560 Ti is a monster from a price/performance point of view. SLI scaling is also wonderful.
HDD/SSD - 1 TB is standard nowadays, and 60 GB of SSD are enough to make the OS feel blazing fast.
PSU - an SLI-certified model, from a respectable vendor. Current high-end Antec offerings have obtained good reviews and are very reliable. So this was an easy choice.
Case - good airflow and easy access to components were the decisive factors here.
2) Building: Good looks are important, as it shows our commitment to providing high quality service, so good wire-management is compulsory, as it also provides good airflow to the components. At the same time, we take into account what the end-suser might want to add to the PC, so we usually leave power connectors available in all the right places.
BIOS setting consists of the following:
- setting the right boot order
- disabling any unused integrated components
- putting every basic CPU/RAM settings into manual mode, to assure the PC is running in spec with regards to every component (from voltaje to timings and frequency)
3) Testing: The SLI certification checklist is a good start for us, and we build our testing protocol based on it:
- Memtest 86+ (running at least 5 complete loops)
- OS installation using the latest available drivers (no beta or anything provided by the manufacturer on the CD)
- NVIDIA SLI certification checkbox
- 3D Mark suite: 06, Vantage, 11 - running at max quality and 1920x1080 resolution
- 3 Prime 95 instances + one Furmark instance, running for at least 2 hour
Repeating the above for testing max CPU frequency given max 5% increase in CPU core voltage. 3.8 GHz is the lowest allowable frequency.
Q: When people buy a multi-GPU PC from you, what percentage choose SLI? What are the main reasons why people go with SLI?
A: ~90% choose SLI based on our advice. Better scaling of performance over Crossfire, no driver related issues, and better game title profile support. 3D Vision and 3D Vision Surround also make a good argument when the budget permits it.
Q: Many of our readers are avid system builders themselves. What are your top three tips for someone looking to build a high-end gaming PC?
- Choose the optimal GPU/multi-GPU solution based on the monitor resolution and display type (non-3D Vision, 3D Vision, 3D Vision Surround).
- Choose a CPU that will not bottleneck the performance of the GPU setup, and has good OC potential in case of future GPU upgrades. That way you may be able to save money if one has no problem with the idea of CPU OC.
- SSD. Overall feel of how the PC is responding is boosted by a big margin with an SSD. Games load faster, OS boots faster, applications start almost in an instant. It's the third most important aspect of improving on the total UX of a PC.
Q: Finally, there are quite a few vendors building high-end gaming PCs. What makes you special? What's your philosophy when it comes to building systems and taking care of customers?
A: Beside always giving advice on how to build a well balanced PC, we can provide detailed support for OC fanatics. We always encourage gamers to experiment with OC, to boost the price/performance ratio of their PC, and are quick to solve any hardware or software related issues in this respect. That way, the gamer has peace of mind in knowing they have full support from us in case of any fiddling around with the frequencies of their components.