Here at The Tech Buyer's Guru, we think it's really important that we give our readers a good feel for what it's actually like to use the tech we write about. That's why we've created these how-to guides, which go beyond our single-product reviews by showing you what it's like to "put it all together." When you're dealing with PCs, sometimes integrating all the latest gear can be trickier than it should be. We're right there with you, figuring it out for ourselves to make your next PC building experience an easier one.
This guide is our sixth in a series, the previous five covering assembly of a basic PC, a mid-range PC, a high-end PC, a bookshelf PC, and an extreme ITX PC. If you're brand-new to PC building, we suggest you start with the very first in the series and then jump to whichever one best meets your needs and goals. This particular guide is going to step through the assembly of an ultra-high-end gaming PC, incorporating a lot of the newest tech available, including a liquid-cooled Haswell-E six-core processor, dual GTX 980 Ti 6GB video cards in SLI, dual SSDs in RAID, and an M.2 SSD. We'll also be overclocking our CPU, memory, and video cards to extract the maximum performance possible from the system. That means there's a lot of setup involved, so prepare yourself: this is not going to be simple! The end result, however, is going to be pretty cool, so if you have your sights set on building a wildly-powerful gaming PC, get comfortable, because we're going to walk you through the process, step-by-step.
Here's are the components we'll be showcasing in this system, which is based in part on our $2,500 Extreme 4K Gaming PC Buyer's Guide, with elements of our $3,500 Ultimate Gaming PC, as of August 2015:
- CPU: Intel Core i7-5820K
- Motherboard: Asus X99-Pro/USB3.1
- Video Card #1: EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti ACX 6GB
- Video Card #2: Asus GeForce GTX 980 Ti 6GB
- RAM: G.Skill 4x4GB Ripjaws4 DDR4-3000
- SSD #1: Samsung SM951 M.2 256GB
- SSD #2: 2x Samsung 850 Evo 500GB in RAID0
- Case: Corsair Carbide 500R
- Power Supply: EVGA Supernova 1000 PS
- CPU Cooler: Corsair Hydro H100i
- Upgraded Case Fans: Noctua NF-A14 PWM and Noctua NF-A15 PWM
- Operating System: Windows 10
- Monitor: Acer XB270HU 27" 2560x1440 144Hz G-Sync
In this guide, we'll be going into a lot of detail on more advanced building techniques, like running an M.2 SSD, RAID0, SLI, overclocking, and liquid cooling, while only saying a few words about basics like how to connect data and power cables, the CPU, and system memory. If you need help with those steps, jump back to our Guide to Assembling a Basic PC.
We think it's always informative (and fun) to start with a box shot. It gives you an idea of the number and size of components you'll be dealing with when building a new system. The higher-end the system, the more parts there are to juggle, and in this system, we have quite a few, as shown below:
We've included the box for our Acer 27" G-Sync monitor in this photo because we want to encourage you to consider your entire computing ecosystem when building a high-end PC. A gaming computer is nothing without the right accessories, and simply put, there's no reason to build a system like this unless you're going to be using a high-end monitor. Today, that means either 2560x1440, 3440x1440, or 4K. Have a 1080p monitor that you'd like to push 200fps into? Well, we can't stop you, but we do want you to know that you're wasting your hard-earned money, at least as of the year 2015. If you're reading this years into the future, well, we're glad someone's still visiting, and all bets are off on how much graphics power it will take to run games at 1080p.
The first step of any PC building project is to take stock of your components, and it's a good idea to start with the case. We're using the venerable Corsair Carbide 500R, which we used previously in our High-End Builder's Guide with great success, and are re-using here. Yes, there are newer cases out there, but the 500R still offers great usability and style at a very nice price. We'd put the fit and finish of this case right up there with newer but much more expensive cases. We've included a photo here of the case before we've done any installation of parts or modification of stock accessories.
Just a few of the 500R's feature are a bit out of date, as follows: (1) it has a now-obsolete FireWire port on the front panel; (2) it relies on 120mm case fans, whereas newer cases will use 140mm case fans; and (3) it doesn't easily accommodate 280mm liquid coolers. None of these are critical to us - the FireWire port can just be ignored (it still has two USB 3.0 ports up front), some of the 120mm case fans can be upgraded to 140mm fans, as we'll do in this build, and it has an ultra-slick cutout up top for a 240mm liquid cooler, which provides plenty of cooling potential. And because we like the styling of this case more than other cases in its price range (or even well beyond it), we're happy to stick with it.
The first thing to come out of this case will be the middle drive cage, which isn't going to be used in this build (and probably won't be used in most builds). We will also replace the rear Corsair 120mm case fan with an ultra-quiet Noctua 140mm model. Finally, because we aren't using 5.25" optical drives in this build, we will be installing another Noctua 140mm fan in the 5.25" expansion area to dramatically increase intake air capacity. Many newer cases are reducing the number of 5.25" bays, or eliminating them all together, in order to use space more efficiently and provide mounting slots for up to three front fans. Many older cases, however, can be retrofit with a fan in the 5.25" bays, as we'll be doing here.
On the next page, we'll walk you through installation of the CPU, RAM, and CPU cooler.