System Builder Marathon, March 2012: $2600 Performance PC

CPU, CPU Cooler, And Memory

CPU: Intel Core i7-3930K

Several readers voiced their displeasure with the CPU that powered last quarter's $2400 build, preferring the six-core design of Intel's Sandy Bridge-E. But we just couldn’t bring ourselves to spend more than $1000 on a Core i7-3960X, and the award-winning Core i7-3930K was not yet available when we placed our order.

A brief wait briefly fixed the availability issue. And as of this writing, the still-expensive, but certainly more accessible processors are in-stock.

Read Customer Reviews of Intel's Core i7-3930K

Six cores provide 50% more peak compute performance than four, though many programs are still unable to utilize every core. Six more logical cores, enabled by Hyper-Threading, allow well-threaded apps to keep physical resources more completely loaded.

As a multiplier-unlocked K-series SKU, we even expect to blow way past the processor’s 3.80 GHz peak Turbo Boost limit in our overclocked configuration.

CPU Cooler: Zalman CNPS12X

We really loved the CNPS12X’s great cooling and low noise in our recent round-up of LGA 2011-compatible coolers. But fitment issues forced us to give our award to someone else. While we still have the same reservations about Zalman’s top-performing model, we knew the parts selected for this specific build would make it a perfect fit.

Read Customer Reviews of Zalman's CNPS12X Heat Sink/Fan

A 6” width fills most of the socket area of an ATX motherboard, while a 5.2” thickness hanging over DIMM slots typically requires memory no more than 1.5” tall. We had already picked a compatible motherboard prior to selecting Zalman's CNPS12X, and found that our chosen memory modules were available in both 1.25”- and 1.55”-tall varieties. Our choice was made easy at that point.

Memory: G.Skill F3-1600C9Q-16GAB

From a value and overclocking standpoint, we love G.Skill’s Ripjaws-Z DDR3-1600 CAS 9. The only problem was that it didn’t actually fit beneath our behemoth CPU cooler. We would have simply gone to a different cooler, if not for the alternative model of our chosen RAM.

Read Customer Reviews of G.Skill's F3-1600C9Q-16GAB Memory Kit

Using the same on-module components and performance rating as the Ripjaws-Z kit, unassuming heat spreaders on these Ares modules should allow us to use our preferred CPU cooler without sacrificing memory performance. G.Skill even sells this model for the same price, and a low heat signature for the underlying parts gives us hope that we'll see identical overclocking capability.

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  • Steveymoo
    Thomas: Y U NO USE 2 GPU?

    But srsly, I don't get this set up... Why not scrap the expensive (and kinda pointless for gaming) 3930k, and spend the extra cash on a dual GPU set up?
  • LePhuronn
    SteveymooWhy not scrap the expensive (and kinda pointless for gaming) 3930k, and spend the extra cash on a dual GPU set up?

    Because, as clearly stated in the introduction, this isn't a gaming rig - only 30% of the system's overall score is gaming.