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THE CHEAPEST CPU WE'VE EVER USED IN A DREAM MACHINE—AND PERHAPS THE FASTEST, TOO
Winston Churchill once said, “Never in the field of computing was so much power given so cheaply.” OK, we’re making that up, but if Churchill had access to Intel’s Core i7-2600K part, such a proclamation would be inevitable. And it’s not just that the Core i7-2600K is so freaking cheap, it’s also freaking fast! An overclocked quad-core Sandy Bridge chip will give even Intel’s Big Kahuna, the Core i7-990X, a run for its money in many benchmarks.
Even better, the chipset for the 2600K is modern, not the old fogey still powering LGA1366 motherboards, and if all goes as planned, it offers an upgrade path to the 22nm-based Ivy Bridge CPUs next year. For DM2011, we overclocked the 3.4GHz part to 4.8GHz, which appears to be the limit of our D2 core sample. That’s fine with us. For $317, we’ll take it and smile too.
TRI-SLI IS READY AND RARING TO RUN UNREAL ENGINE 3
For our GPU selection, we had two possible routes to take: three-single GPU cards or two dual-GPU cards. Dual dual-GPU cards are sexy, but many games simply don’t scale to four GPUs. And getting multiple GPUs to behave on a single card often requires clocks to be scaled back. That’s not the case with individual GPUs in three-way mode. It’s this thinking that led us to select three of EVGA’s GeForce GTX 580 Superclocked cards. The cards run fairly cool, even with the factory overclock, and thus don’t pump heat into a case.
RUN TRI-SLI WHILE YOU CHARGE YOUR TABLET
We’ll admit that for our purposes, Z68 gives us no performance advantage over P67. We’re not, after all, going to run SSD caching since we have two big, fat Vertex 3 SSDs in place. With three GPUs, we’re also unlikely to run the integrated graphics. Still, there’s no reason to use the end-of-life P67 if Z68 is here. And that’s what Gigabyte’s GA-Z68X-UD7-B3 gives us. It’s pretty much the same as a GA-P67-UD7 board, but with the updated chipset. The board itself has everything we need: the ability to charge high-drain devices via USB, even when the board is powered off; a crapload of SATA connectors; USB 3.0 internal headers; and not just SLI and CrossFire X, but also tri-SLI. Tri-SLI is accomplished by using an nForce 200 chip to balance the load from the single x16 PCIe 2.0 in the Sandy Bridge CPU.
SQUEEZE THE MOST OUT OF THAT 6GB/S SATA CONTROLLER
What’s faster than one SF-2281-powered SATA 6Gb/s solid-state drive? Two of ’em, in RAID 0. A single OCZ Vertex 3 can hit sustained read speeds of 550MB/s and writes of over 250MB/s; we hit nearly twice that using Intel’s onboard RAID: 1,000MB/s reads and 500MB/s writes. Two 240GB drives give us 480GB of storage for our OS and any game we care to play or app we care to install.
YOU SAW IT HERE FIRST, FOLKS
The case for this year’s Dream Machine is so new you can’t get it in stores. In fact, we barely got ours in time for this month’s issue. Cooler Master’s Cosmos II isn’t supposed to be revealed at all for another month, but given our fondness for the Cosmos S (the chassis for our 2007 Dream Machine), the company snuck us a preproduction model of the Cosmos II. Since it’s not a production model, it still has some kinks to work out, but it’s a beaut nonetheless.
The Cosmos II is fully 20 percent larger than the Cosmos S, and takes full advantage of four years’ worth of improvements in chassis tech. The PSU and six drive bays are sequestered in a compartment at the bottom of the case, while the motherboard compartment features cable-routing cutouts, hot-swap docks, more toolless drive enclosures, and room for a 360mm radiator up top. The result is a roomy, well-ventilated chassis with plenty of space to accommodate our tri-SLI setup, five hard drives, a 240mm radiator, and more, while still looking classy. And that's before we added the custom Smooth Creations paint job.
Acquiring a preproduction model of the majestic Cosmos II was plenty special in its own right, but this being Dream Machine, we had to kick it up a notch. Enter Smooth Creations. The company, which was founded in 1999, is the originator of custom graphics on boutique PCs. Smooth’s case-painting masters got their start on automobiles and custom bikes before their love of hardcore PC gaming led them to their present calling.
With any case-painting job, preparation is no small matter. A case has to be completely disassembled to properly prep all the different substrates. But our Dream Machine case presented its own unique challenges. As Smooth Creation’s CEO Jim Saling recounts, “We had never gotten a Cosmos II before and it was sent overnight from Taiwan… giving us only two days to paint it and send it out to [Maximum PC].” He adds, “Taking it apart, with all its moving parts, and putting it back together to function properly after paint required a few notes during tear down.”
As for the paint itself. It’s an automotive paint from Germany called Glasurit, which is used on high-end European sports cars. Our Dream Machine is painted Super Fly Yellow, a true Lambo color. Saling adds, “Will it make the PC faster? That’s up to the DM builders.”
Well, Jim, we think you’ll find that we did justice to your handiwork.