What time is it? It's time to build a PC with our Blueprints! This month, we've built three rigs at three approximate price points: Baseline, Performance, and Ultra. Baseline gets you a powerful, no-compromises rig, suitable for gaming and content creation at 1080p. Performance gets you more, and the Ultra is for those who want a killer PC.
These rigs are lab-tested and editor-approved. Feedback is, of course, welcome. Tell us what you think!
Our baseline build represents the minimum level of performance we’d accept on a semi-strict budget (by our gearhead measurement, at least). This month, we wanted to upgrade to an AMD Radeon HD 7870 XT for a graphics boost, but we haven't gotten hands-on yet. The Samsung 840 Pro is our favorite SSD , hands down, and the 128GB version is surprisingly affordable at just over $1/GB, so we’re sticking with it for the time being. RAM prices continue to creep up, so we switched our PSU to the Seasonic M12II 650-watt to help bring the system price back down. That’s less wattage than we were getting from the Cooler Master Silent Pro M2 720W we used previously, but 650W is plenty, even if we eventually add a second video card for CrossFire.
For the Performance build, we upgraded from Intel's Ivy Bridge to its Sandy Bridge-E platform, where we have more PCIe lanes for multiple video cards, and a socket that should see Ivy Bridge-E CPUs through 2014. The Core i7-3820 can overclock using gear or strap ratios, despite not having the "K" that indicates an unlocked clock multiplier. We thought about upgrading the CPU cooler to something with a 240mm radiator, but we wanted to keep the budget under control. The Cooler Master Silent Pro M2 850W is a good buy at $120. It's a 100W boost over the Corsair HX750 we used previously, and it costs about the same. It's a lot of power, but we’ll need the extra juice if we decide to add another AMD Radeon HD 7970 down the line.
At the Ultra tier, money is of no concern, so we upgraded our case to the Corsair 900D . We love the Cooler Master Cosmos II that has been part of this build since we started this column, but it can't mount a 420mm radiator, and we want that option for the future. The Cooler Master Silent Pro Gold 1,200W is a 150-watt upgrade from the Thermaltake ToughPower Grand we were using, and it's about the same price while offering comparable quality and features. We also updated the CPU cooler from the Corsair H100 to the H100i since it produces less noise and lower temperatures, and offers software control over pump and fans speeds. On the GPU front, we considered swapping the GTX 690 with the slightly faster Radeon HD 7990 , AMD’s new fl agship dual-GPU card. But at press time, the card was still experiencing frame latency issues, and the company only had a “prototype” fix for it that wasn’t final. We’re confident AMD'll lick the problem eventually, but it's hard to say when, so for now we’ll stick with the GeForce GTX 690.