Enthusiast-class cases have trended toward heavier focus on ease-of-installation features, almost creating the perception that performance features were "maxed-out," so to speak. There's inarguably a place for enthusiast enclosures whose headlining acts are the likes of a 70-color LED strip (like the Phantom 820), but there's an equally-large market contingent that demands nothing but the best performance.
SilverStone originally impressed us with their SG08 mini-ITX SFF case (which we used for an HTPC); they further impressed us at CES 2013, where we were given a pre-production look at the RV04/FT04 enthusiast-class enclosures. SilverStone's recurring message to us has been communicated as a focus on performance. At CES we asked SilverStone for thoughts on the industry's trend toward ease-of-installation and cable management perks, to which they countered: "How many times are you going to install the system? Probably once." They have a solid point.
NVidia's GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost was first revealed to us in one of the most straight-forward press events we've attended: It's running on the known GK106 platform, uses nVidia's Boost 1.0 tech (not available on the original 650s), and it wants to dominate AMD in the sub-$200 market. There was only a single question asked by the press corps—"is voltage user-controlled?"—and that was that. End of meeting. The answer was 'yes,' by the way.
We've historically recommended AMD for budget and entry-level PC builds. The 7850 has reigned king of our sub-$700 system guides for nearly a year, and before that, the 6850... and the 5000 series. The point is, AMD's always been good at cutting into their margins and designing inexpensive chips for gaming. NVidia wants to take that away from them.
In benchmarks across the web so far, we've seen the 650 Ti Boost exhibit lower frame latencies than AMD's similarly-costed 7850 and push equal or slightly higher framerates (discussed below), so in that regard, nVidia has established a foothold. The 650 Ti Boost has also been performing admirably in SLI when matched against even the 670, and that's what we're here to explore today.
This mid-range gaming PC build aims to use SLI and overclocking to amp-up your ability to play games on max settings, all while supporting high resolution displays (19x10 or high on 25x14).
As with any modernized adaptation of an existing technology, closed-loop liquid coolers (CLCs) have become almost fad-like in their adoption. In part, this is because CLCs actually do have very legitimate advantages over traditional air coolers - they are highly noise-to-temperature efficient, for one thing, and have an aesthetic appeal for some users. The other part of this liquid cooling craze, though, I believe is attributable to a general doting of something new.
The thing is, not every liquid cooler is going to be inherently better than similarly-priced air coolers. Just having liquid in tubes (rather than copper-encased capillaries) does not make the units predisposed to superior cooling qualities; this said, a well-constructed liquid-cooling solution can certainly trounce a well-constructed air cooling solution -- it just comes down to the engineering in each product and consideration of other differences (noise). There's a reason we use radiators for large, hot things (cars, for one) in tandem with traditional air-cooling engineering (also found in car cooling systems in the form of air intakes, copper/aluminum sinks, etc.): Both have their place for optimizing maximized potential for thermal dissipation.
Few things tax hardware to the extent that video encoding and rendering tasks do; H.264 encoding (soon to be superseded by H.265 - which is incredibly promising) is one of the best-optimized, multithreaded encoding methodologies and scales predictably with increasingly-advanced hardware. Still, with all this optimization, it's easy to want more. Always more. Rendering is an arduous task that beats up the processor, RAM, and storage heavily, and so expedition of such intensive tasks demands specialized hardware for the objective at hand.
This high-end DIY gaming PC build is intended for those looking to get into game streaming (see: Twitch, YouTube, etc.) and video production with a focus on playing games; everything herein is spec'd toward someone who sees professional streaming or video production as a future (or current) career path, and will help in completing your goals efficiently. As we'll discuss below, the biggest bottleneck in rendering and video content production is time -- it may not be a piece of hardware, but losing time to the hours spent rendering means less time to produce the next video.
The legacy left by the original Crysis is one of worldwide renown: Shipping at just around the same time as nVidia's 8800-series GPUs—which were ground-breaking in their own right—the game promised to push PC gaming to new heights. It delivered. Well, graphically, at least; Crytek's CryEngine has famously pushed multi-FPU (floating-point-unit) support to better accommodate multi-core chips, and that trend continues with CryEngine 3.
Crysis 3's new host engine natively employs up to eight simultaneous threads, though most games (Crysis 3 included) will stick with a three-thread foundation with the possibility of spawning additional concurrent threads when necessary. By default, the engine runs a thread for game logic, one for rendering, and one for computation-intensive software-side physics solutions; this means that, unlike most other sub-optimized games (read: console-inhibited), Crysis 3 should theoretically occupy the CPU cores with relative equilibrium and a more optimized load-distribution methodology than ported games.
Obviously gameplay is an entirely different matter, but speaking entirely to the technical and graphical capacity of the game, we find Crysis 3 to be incredibly promising for hardware benchmarking and for the scenery the engine is capable of rendering. Besides, it's the very same engine that Star Citizen is being built on, so if there's any endorsement of potential - that's it.
This high-end gaming PC build for Crysis 3 takes DIY to the next level, offering overclocking options and potential for running the game on high settings with a smooth framerate. Let's hit the specs before we dive into the build list:
As I've explained innumerable times this past month, the overwrought enthusiast market has clambered over itself with new hardware for 2013. It's really quite unbelievable: As the mainstream desktop market wanes—due to many factors, like prolonged usable system lifespan and minimized consumer interest—the enthusiast and gaming markets have picked up competitive interest among manufacturers. There's suddenly a much greater incentive to establish and maintain a foothold in enthusiast computing, making for undeniably excellent news for our readers; today's case review of NZXT's Phantom 630 is a testament to that, given its swath of features for a previously unachievable price-point. We originally previewed the Phantom 630 at CES, found here.
This is also evident in other recent cases we've reviewed (or intend to review), like the upcoming Throne, Corsair's 900D (which looks amazing, by the way), SilverStone's entire line-up, and the far more affordable RAIDMAX Cobra and Armor Evolution. Quite simply put, we're seeing more features, more efficiency, and better performance at a lower cost to the consumer -- or as it's affectionately known, competition at its finest.
NZXT's Phantom 630 is the next to be reviewed & benchmarked, a particularly interesting case for its appeal to more budget-conscious gaming hardware enthusiasts. The price scale for gaming enclosures is an interesting one -- it's very heavy in the mid-range (~$100 sector) and top-end, but lightens up toward the bottom of the scale ($50~$70). The Phantom 630 is targeted at around $180, placing it firmly between mid-range full towers and hardcore enthusiast systems (like the Phantom 820 we reviewed, which was $250ish).
As always, let's start with the video review component and the hard specs.
Not all chips are produced as equals: Some bin-out with a higher frequency threshold than others, and K-SKUs (by both AMD and Intel) often have a higher bottom-line than their non-K brethren; these chips are made for overclocking, and we think you should take advantage of that function -- it's a quick way to eek more life out of your system, oh, and it's fun. I love seeing how much I can get out of my system, and with this in mind, we designed this build to push the limits of what you may think a gaming rig can do. Oh, and as a quick side note, we're currently giving away a 256GB Samsung 840 Pro SSD, so go check that out if you'd like to win an expensive drive.
In this joint-effort "intro to overclocking" high-end gaming PC build, we've picked out the best components for an affordable, beginner's overclocked gaming system at around $1000; if you're interested in learning how to overclock, be sure to check out our Overclocking Primer guide for a quick intro on the basics.
I realize that the FX series was designed with intentions to overclock, but they just do not perform as well as Intel in gaming uses (a mix of issues with architecture -- like fewer FPUs -- and poor overall performance in non-integer-based applications). We put together a build with the i5-3570k, a Z77 motherboard, and an MSI 660 Ti built for overclocking, all capable of playing nearly all modern games out there at the highest settings, and will overclock like a champ in the process (and quite easily).
Brought to you by GN's Steve and Mik, let's get to this killer build.
NZXT's cases have secured a reputation for their knifelike designs: the cases are sharp and emit an almost preternatural aura, using jagged, cutting elements in unique combination with rounded and beveled-out features. And in that fashion, they're almost very Alienware-like in aesthetic -- astral and radiant.
The company's offerings range from dirt cheap to otherworldly, with build quality scaling immoderately within that spectrum. We had the chance to review the crème-de-la-crème of NZXT's cases recently (including a video review, below): The behemoth Phantom 820, currently marketed at $250 for high-end or enthusiast system builders.
We were impressed.
Following up with our guide to picking the best gaming case for your PC, we went on a quest to review more cases and research the facets of system builder personalities. We recently introduced you to the affordable mid-tower Rosewill R5; today, we switch gears and take a look at a high-end gaming case, NZXT's Switch 810 full tower.
Evolutions in PC gaming technology make staggering, industry-driving lunges forward with each passing year; somehow, though, enthusiasts continue to demand increasingly-more from hardware companies as time drones on, and luckily, they're listening.
Or, at least, we think they are. Some of them.
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