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Are Liquid-Cooled Graphics Cards Worth The Extra Expense?

System Builder Marathon, Dec. 2011: $2400 Performance PC
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Our new PC was more expensive and it performed better. But was it worth the increase in price? Using the same performance formula from our efficiency calculations (10% storage, 30% each Games/Encoding/Productivity), we compared the overall performance of each system to its build cost using the former non-overclocked build as our baseline.

Most of the extra money in this month’s budget was spent to promote improved overclocking, and the new system did overclock better. Its performance increase was far smaller than its price increase, however. Furthermore, if you're not an overclocker, then that money would go to waste on unrealized potential.

At the same time, most of that extra money was spent in an effort to boost graphics performance, so perhaps a chart comparing each system’s highest-resolution gaming performance to its price will be the saving grace for our latest build?

And there’s what we wanted to see. The only problem with our new build is that it doesn't achieve similar benefits at lower game settings or in other applications. If you're spending big money on a pair of GeForce GTX 580s, though, we'd recommend using a display (or displays) befitting such a powerful combination.

The reason we put such a large percentage of our budget into graphics is that it accounts for 30% of our overall performance score, and there are few other places where big gains can be achieved. We are after all using the second-best LGA 1155 CPU at a fairly high overclock, and even fewer of our programs could benefit from the hundreds of dollars it would cost to upgrade to a Core i7-3930K. In this instance, the only buyers who can justify the added expensive of liquid-cooled graphics cards are the ones who value gaming supremacy above every other task they plan to throw at their new PC.

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  • 0 Hide
    HEXiT , 20 December 2011 00:02
    gotta say im a little surprised you didnt go for the 2011 socket and the new i7 for such a pricey setup...
    im pretty sure if you had re-jigged the numbers a little you could have squeezed this in instead of the i5 based architecture of the 1155 sockets.
  • 0 Hide
    HEXiT , 20 December 2011 22:34
    not being sarcastic m8, its just when it comes to the high end builds , toms usually shows off the latest tech... as you have with the water cooling. but i would have liked to have seen the new cpu's at work productivity wise with a decent gfx card... its a nice build but just not the build i was hoping to see this month...
  • 0 Hide
    damian86 , 21 December 2011 07:10
    I think the only reason they installed a i7 instead of an i5 is because it's supposed to be a performance pc(not only for gaming) which is where the i7 scores a bit more, so it deserves the pole. I agree with you that they could have ordered a better gfx set (imo a nice evga hydro/or phantom edition)+ I would have tried a Gigabyte or Asus MB,I quite like the msi though.
  • 0 Hide
    lkuzmanov , 21 December 2011 20:09
    Price/performance wise a pair of Gigabyte 6950 1gb OC absolutely murders GTX 580 SLI.
    They're roughly two times cheaper, quiet and cool, require less power (another saving) and would've avoided this water cooling misunderstanding at the same time allowing for a better MoBo, a better fitting top-mounted H100 and perhaps a cache SSD or a better case.
  • 0 Hide
    damian86 , 21 December 2011 21:41
    I would like to see why you think 2 6950s would murder 2 580s..
  • 0 Hide
    lkuzmanov , 21 December 2011 22:47
    @damian86 "Price/performance wise"... If you refer to Anand's Bench:

    FPS FPS (OC) Price FPS/Price FPS/Price (OC)
    2384.60 2647.15 1030.00 2.32 2.57
    2081.60 2263.74 480.00 4.34 4.72

    I've addded the OC figures assuming perfect scaling with the OC for both the PNY 580's used here and 2 x GIGABYTE's GV-R695OC-1GD.

    Things may change slightly if you only consider 2560 or 1920, remove the CPU limited titles from Anand's selection, plus the individually more powerful 580's may (or may not) provide better smoothness at higher resolutions (see micro-stuttering), but you see what I mean, I'm sure. Total Load Power under Furmark is 850 vs 510, so you can save some cash on the PSU or move up in quality.

    In the meantime I noticed they've already added a pair of 1Gb 6950's to their Enthusiast build, so I see what they've done now...