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Computer For The Holidays: The Enthusiast's Dream Machine

Computer for the Holidays: The Enthusiast Dream Machine originally appeared on Quora: the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Last time we talked about a budget computer that lets people that are new to PC gaming get started, or for any PC gaming enthusiast who wants to keep up with modern titles without breaking the bank.

But what about the enthusiast that wants to get the most out of modern games? The gamer who might have their eye on an Oculus Rift or HTC Vibe and VR games but needs a system powerful enough to handle the demanding requirements of VR gaming.

Part two of my Computer for the Holiday series is going to focus on delivering an enthusiast-grade experience on a budget that’s still fairly reasonable. We’ll save the money-is-no-object stuff for part three.

When it comes to dream machines there are three things that our rig needs to give us:

So, what are we looking at to get there?

The Build: As before, I’ll include a PCPartpicker list at the bottom of the article with a complete listing. At the end, we’ll also take a look at options to both add a little money to the build, and to lean it down a bit to keep the performance without some of the ‘dream machine’ aesthetics.

Here’s the core of what we’re looking at this time around with a sticker price around $1500 if you also need a Windows license:

The Parts: Let’s dive deep, past the spec sheet and see what makes this beauty tick.

CPU: Modern games are increasingly requiring quad core CPUs and the i5–6600K sits firmly at the top of the quad core stack. The fact that this chip is unlocked and overclockable gives us access to even more horsepower when we start to fine tune our system.

CPU Cooler: Because this is an unlocked K-series chip, Intel includes no stock CPU cooler which means we need to pick up one of our own. While we could throw a Hyper Evo 212 on it and call it a day, we’re going to look for something that gives us a little more headroom to overclock against. We’re also going to opt for something that gives us a cleaner look overall.

The Corsair H100i v2 is one of my favorite all in one coolers for both performance and reliability. With a 240mm radiator we get enough headroom to overclock against to be able to notice the performance improvement from overclocking without the expense of getting into full up custom water that would be a little bit wasted on an i5. As an added bonus, the CPU block/pump features a controllable RGB light that will let us tie into our lighting theme nicely.

System Board: For an enthusiast build we want something that’s going to be solid, reliable and offers us all of the little goodies we could want for a system we’re expecting to overclock and push a little. And it has to look good (you’ll see why shortly.)

The MSI Z170A Gaming Pro Carbon is one of my favorite boards to accomplish all of that without spending an arm and a leg. It gives us all of the connectivity we could want including a USB Type C connector, plenty of fan headers, along with everything you’d expect from a performance gaming system board. Bonus: We get RGB lighting on board and an all black PCB that will really compliment our case.

Case: Speaking of cases. There’s a little gem from Corsair that I’ve been waiting for and it’s come available just in time for the holidays:

The Corsair Crystal 460X RGB is just about everything you could want in a sleek, modern and still reasonably compact case. Corsair’s gone with full tempered glass panels not just on the side but the front as well. Paired with Corsair’s RGB fans, we have the ability to execute color schemes of our choice, and to change our mind later on. This is one of those cases that gets just about everything right for anyone who wants to put together a clean and beautifully executed build. Bonus points for the PSU and 3.5″ bay cover at the bottom that let us enjoy the massive side panel window without having to stare at a mass of cabling coming out of the power supply.

One note and a place I’d criticize Corsair on the case: There’s no included exhaust fan. We’re going to go ahead and add another of the RGB fans that Corsair has up front to round things out and give us the airflow we need. While I understand wanting to keep costs down on what is already a fairly lavish case, I think a small increase in price wouldn’t have turned off most gamers and having all the fans you need from day one is worth it.

RAM: Our RAM of choice shouldn’t be any surprise if you saw part one of this series:

Corsair’s LED RAM makes for a nice touch next to the LED CPU block. The only disadvantage to the LED RAM is that unlike all of the rest of the lighting in our project, this one isn’t RGB. In this case, I’ve gone with a blue kit, but it’s open to a color of your choice. If you’re wanting to take advantage of all the other RGB lights in the system to do things in a color you can’t get LED RAM in, I’d opt for a basic black kit of G.Skill Ripjaws, Corsair Vengeance or Hyper X.

GPU: The GTX 1070 is a beast of a card. Make no mistake, this isn’t just here for gaming on 1080p on high to ultra settings but for stepping up to a higher resolution 1440p monitor. In some games, it’ll hang with us all the way up to 4K, though I wouldn’t quite call it a 4K-ready card.

The Asus ROG Strix GTX 1070 is one of my favorites and not just because we get more RGB lighting for our system. For people who want to overclock their cards without swapping out to custom liquid cooling, the three fan cooler on the Strix edition gives us a little bit more room to play with and of course, under a light load it runs absolutely silent until the card gets warm enough to need to kick on the fans. Of course, an EVGA FTW edition would do just as well for us.

I’d take whichever one is on sale on the day you happen to be looking. All things being equal, I’d lean towards the Strix card but that’s really personal preference.

PSU: This time around we’re looking a little higher end then our budget build with an EVGA SuperNova 650 G2

(Power supplies aren’t that exciting to look at, are they?) Besides the basics of being a solid and reliable power supply with more than enough extra room for the extra power draw of overclocking, the thing I like about EVGA’s SuperNova G2 is the braided cables. They help give a nice finished look to the overall build.

Storage: Much like our budget build, we’re including a 1TB Western Digital Black spinning drive for mass storage. This time around, however, we’re also using a 480GB SSD for OS and a handful of choice games. While many games don’t benefit significantly from being on a SSD, we’re starting to see a few games that have significant numbers of assets to load where a SSD can be really handy. I’m not going to lie, there’s little I hate more than being the last person in my guild to zone into a dungeon which keeps Guild Wars 2 living on my SSD.

There’s very little that we don’t already have in this enthusiast build. The big suggestions for improvement are fairly simple:

There are several places where we can step back just a little, drop out some of the aesthetic features and still get most of the performance we would have gotten with the computer presented in this article. For the person who demands all of the performance but cares a little less about aesthetics, we’ve included a revised version of the build that dispenses with a majority of the lighting, opts for less expensive versions of GPUs, system boards, RAM and uses a smaller SSD to drop the price by around $250.

For the gamer who wants the ultimate experience this year’s cycle of new hardware has given us a number of excellent options to indulge a bit and for the gamer who wants all the performance but none of the bling, we’ve still got a plethora of options that leave almost no performance behind and still manage to be beautiful pieces of hardware any gamer could be proud to have on their desk.

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