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Description complete as of 02/03/15
I bought this mainly to play games on (at 4K!) but I also run a lot of BOINC projects in my down time when I just want to watch something on YouTube and not actually play any games.
I started off with an AMD FX-4350 (overclocked to 4.51Ghz) and an ASUS Radeon HD 7850 Direct CUII (overclocked to 1,100 core and 1250Mhz memory). I'd bought it on a budget as I was only working part-time and didn't have a lot of expendable income to spend on a decent setup. It was good for the money I paid (somewhere between £400-£500) and was able to play games from a few years ago (e.g. Borderlands, Skyrim, Fallout 3, etc) with maxed out settings but I was craving more. I had tried heavily modding Skyrim with about as many graphics mods that I could find as well as an ENB but that was too much for the 7850 to handle and I'd only get about 20 FPS, if that. +1 for effort though.
Roll on 1 year and now I'm working full-time. I didn't want to save for the parts (because I'm pretty impatient!) so I applied for a credit card and the one I got had a limit of £2,500 so I planned my build around that figure.
Graphics - Since I'd already decided on two Sapphire R9 290X Vapor-X cards which are primarily blue I made that my theme for the build. I bought the parts roughly 2 weeks before the GeForce 980 was launched but even if I'd waited it would've put me over budget if I wanted to get two. Still, the 290Xs are no slouch and can run games maxed out at 4K resolution like the best of the rest of them. The only issue I have with them is that under full load (pretty much any game on ultra at 4K will do this) they get fairly hot and the fans running at 100% are particularly noisy. Not so much of a problem if you have headphones or simply turn the volume up. Now overclocked to a stable 1125mhz core, 1500mhz memory, baby!
CPU - As mentioned earlier, I run a lot of BOINC projects in my down time and I wanted a powerful processor to run more of them and finish them faster (and also so that it wouldn't be a bottleneck when playing games at 4K). I'd have loved to have one of the new Haswell-E processors (most likely the 5820K) but when you include the cost of an X99 motherboard, DDR4 RAM the price quickly adds up.
So what could I get that's powerful and wouldn't break my budget? Step up the 4790K "Devil's Canyon" Haswell refresh. Succeeding the 4770K as the new Haswell flagship it's slightly faster than the 4770K and boasts better TIM (thermal interface material) and more capacitors on the chip, which (in theory), means better overclocking potential. So far I've only pushed it to 4.4Ghz and I'm happy with that. I'm not getting any issues with performance so far so I see no need in pushing it any further and generating more heat unnecessarily.
CPU Cooler - What piqued my interest with the H100i is the ability to manually set fan performance curves via the Corsair Link software and the full colour customisable Corsair LED on the pump. It works well, it looks nice, was relatively easy to install and is easy to control. After reading numerous reviews of the product and deciding that I'd replace the stock fans that came with it I went for 4 of Corsair's own SP120 High Performance 120mm PWM fans with an impressive static pressure of 3.1mm/H2O. Effective, stable and the customisable colour ring was a nice touch (I went for blue, obviously).
I would have liked a Swiftech H220 but I had trouble finding one in the UK at a decent price.
Motherboard - With so many boards out there that'd do the job I narrowed the list down to colour. I was a little disappointed that ASUS didn't' have any enthusiast boards in blue or black and as the EVGA Classified was too expensive I went with the ASRock Z97 Extreme9. It's a very good board with plenty of features but most of all it has nice, shiny, blue heatsinks!
Plenty of PCIe slots for graphics cards, numerous USB 3.0 ports, supports XMP up to 3,200Mhz and has an S/PDIF output to my surround sound (I used a sound card before). The BIOS is fairly easy to navigate and all settings are available to adjust for overclocking. ASRock also provides their A-Tuning utility to automatically overclock your system but I prefer to dial it in manually for better voltages.
Memory - As the board only runs in dual-channel mode I decided to get a 2x8GB kit. 8GB was enough on my old system but BOINC is hungry and kept most of that for itself. Not a problem if you're only watching YouTube or general browsing but not so good if you want to run other memory demanding programs. 16GB is plenty and at most I'm only ever using about 14GB. I went with the 2,400Mhz kit as I'd never used 'fast' RAM before and wanted to try it out. I asked around (users on the Tom's Hardware forums were very helpful) and was told that 2,400Mhz would be a good choice.
The only reason I went with this particular G.Skill Ripjaws X set is because of the shiny blue heatspreaders (Yay!).
Power Supply - 1200W might seem like overkill but I wanted to be certain I'd have enough juice for two power hungry graphics cards (with the possibility of a third sometime in the future!). I hadn't really heard of FSP before until I watched an unboxing video on LinusTechTips (great YouTube channel by the way, you should totally check him out!) of the 650W model and fell in love with the look of it and the flat cables.
It's my first semi-modular PSU and I love the idea of only plugging in the cables I need as this helps to cut down on space and helps with cable management (I know behind the motherboard tray is rather messy but I don't plan on sorting it any time soon because you never see it).
Unlike the PSU in my last rig the FSP is quiet (I don't think I can actually hear it) and it doesn't get hot at all. Overall it's a great power supply and I would recommend it to anyone looking to run 2+ graphics cards.
Storage - The 840 EVO and the WD Caviar Black are from the old rig however the Caviar Green is new. I bought it as I was running out of space on the Caviar Black and I now use it to store all of my music, videos and other large files. The SSD holds the OS and a few other important programs and the Caviar Black hold all my other programs, games, pictures and serves as my primary storage.
The 750Ds built in 3.5" bays are well made and the tool free rails the HDDs sit in are easy to use and easy to move around. Initially I had both HDDs in one of these but as I wanted to add fans in at the bottom of the case I moved them to the 5.25" bays inside a Sharkoon HDD-Vibe-Fixer which is easy to set up and does a fantastic job of decoupling the vibrations from the HDDs and the case. As they are in the 5.23" bays they are also less visible and give the interior of the case a cleaner, more spacious look, not to mention better airflow!
Case - With so many cases on the market it was rather difficult to decide on what case to buy. I definitely wanted one that had a large side window without any obstructions (holes for fans, etc) and it had to be aesthetically pleasing. After watching a few videos of different potential cases I went with the 750D based on (again) one of LinusTechTips' videos. It has ample space for multiple graphics cards, fans, radiators and has lots of room behind the motherboard tray for cable management including loops to tie cables to and rubber grommets to run cables through. But why would you want to manage your cables? Well, first of all it looks nice and tidy (I love the clean look!) but also because you'll get much better airflow inside the case if there are less obstructions (you'd be surprised at much much a couple of dangling cables can affect this).
The 750D comes with 3 AF140 fans pre installed (two at the front behind a filter, one at the rear) but I've replaced them with blue LED versions of these to keep inline with the blue colour scheme. If you remove the HDD bays you get access to 2 120mm fan slots though if you do use these you will need a fan filter to stop dust getting inside your case (I used two Silverstone magnetic fan filters). There's room at the top for three 120mm or 140mm fans (Corsair's website lists it as only accepting two 140mm fans in the top but there's space and screw holes for up to 3). I'm not sure about radiator compatibility, be sure to check before you buy, but my H100i fits just fine at the top (even with 4 fans attached to it!). I even managed to squeeze another 140mm fan above my HDDs at the top (pictured). You needn't worry about dust getting in the top either as Corsair have included a flexible magnetic dust filter which is easily removable and washable.
Other nice features of the case: somewhat easily removable PSU intake filter; brushed aluminium front panel for a sleek and stylish look; white power and HDD activity LEDs (looks better than red IMO); tool-free SSD brackets; recessed reset button so you don't accidentally press it; 2 front USB 3.0 ports (somewhat common now on decent cases but this is the first case I've had that has them); did I mention lots of space for cable management? :D
Monitor - Initially I was going for a 120\144 Hz gaming monitor, probably IPS, but the more I read into 4K gaming the more I wanted to get one. After watching yet another product review on LinusTechTips (seriously, I love this channel :D) I went with the highly recommended ASUS PB287Q. Considerably cheaper than many other 4K monitors but still maintaining a high build quality and feature set (ASUS really did a good job with this) the PB287Q is fantastic for gaming at 4K. The only thing I dislike about it is the OSD, or rather the button layout I need to use to navigate it. ASUS has a row of buttons behind the lower right section of the monitor and it's not easy trying to figure out which button I should be pressing. After a while fumbling you kind of get the knack of it but I'd much rather have front facing buttons. It comes with a stand which you can rotate, tilt and adjust the height to suit your needs.
To play games at 4K however you will need a powerful graphics card (or rather two if you want your FPS to be at an acceptable level!). The two R9 290Xs have no trouble with this and even outperform SLI 780 Ti's on certain games. I think the new GTX 980s do even better, so if you've got the cash get two of those!
Fan Controller - I wanted better control over my case fans without having to go into the BIOS or use third party programs to control them via the motherboard so a fan controller was the obvious choice. I went with the NZXT Sentry 3 because it has a touch screen, looks nice, fits in a single 5.25" bay and supports PWM fans (some fan controllers don't have plugs big enough for 4 pin connectors).
It has two profiles, performance for when you want more cooling and quiet when you want less noise. The controller automatically ramps up or slows down all the fans in line with the current system temperature which it detects using a temperature probe which you can place anywhere you want (I tucked it in between the top GPU and the motherboard heatsink). My only issue with it was that at certain temperatures it would consistently ramp up and slow down the fans which was noticeable and annoying (to me). Thankfully though it also allows you to manually set fan speeds to a fixed percentage or RPM and that's exactly what I've done. The 3 AF140s are running at 100% (they're not particularly loud) and the 2 AF120s are running at 40% giving the best balance between airflow and noise. Originally I had it flush with the front panel but I felt it ruined the clean look of the brushed aluminium so I pushed it further back into the 5.25" bay. The cover panel wouldn't go back on even with the controller pushed back as far as it would go so I removed one of the protruding parts of the cover allowing it to fit but not compromising the covers ability to attach to the case. (I might get a picture to explain what I mean)
Case Lighting - Even though there's quite a bit of illumination from the fans there wasn't quite enough to light up the case to a level that I wanted. I went with the NZXT 2m blue LED cable because it was easy to install, easy to attach the cable with clips that have sticky feet and the cable has nice, tidy, black braiding. It also has a PCI slot controller (it's not actually plugged into the motherboard but rather it takes up one of the case slots). It's powered by a single molex cable, has a power button at the back of the bracket as well as a switch to change light level. Lights up my case very well (you might need to spend a bit of time fiddling with it to direct the light where you want it) and it's not too bright either.
Cables - I bought the molex to SATA splitter cable as the PSU cable wasn't quite long enough to power both HDDs (it could reach one but the second SATA connector was too far down the cable). The blue SATA data cables are long (to reach the HDDs) and are blue. Enough said.
Additional: I have since added two braided 8-pin cables, a braided 24-pin extension and a braided molex to SATA power splitter cable (see pictures at the end).
As my old Nikka wireless mouse was on its last legs I decided to get a new mouse. I choose the Corsair Sabre RGB optical mouse after reading good reviews and I have to say it lives up to expectation. Looks great, smooth black finish and is comfortable in my large hands. The RGB is a bonus!
I didn't really need to replace my Microsoft Wireless 3000 v2.0 keyboard but as I'd just bought an RGB mouse it was the only part of my rig that isn't illuminated in blue...
The K70 is great. Very nice looking and the cherry MX Brown switches are excellent. Software is a rather complex when you first start off but it's fairly easy to set up custom colour profiles after watching a few guides on YouTube.
System Overview - I'm very pleased with this system. It's considerably faster and nicer looking than my old computer and (hopefully) should last me for a good few years of gaming at 4K. Sometimes I don't even do anything on it and just peer into the side window for a few minutes admiring it, haha.
What would I do differently? I'd watercool the entire thing for ultimate silence and also because it'll look badass! It's still an option because EK does waterblocks specifically for Vapor-X cards but at the moment I don't have the time or the money to work on something like that. I'd definitely buy a larger case too (probably a 900D) if I was watercooling and I'd try to use at least two radiators with a big fancy looking T-virus reservoir!
If you've made it this far I'd like to thank you for sticking with it, I know there was a lot to read! I wanted to share my experience with the system so that others can make more informed choices when they go to build their own. That's what's great about this website. I enjoyed writing this review (sorry it took a while) and I hope you enjoyed reading it. Oh, and here's a link to Linus channel - https://www.youtube.com/user/LinusTechTips Go check him out!
If you have any questions feel free to message me or leave a comment!