There’s an old saying that we stand on the shoulders of our predecessors, because without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Sure, sometimes you may want to throw the CPU out with the liquid-cooling water, and shrink everything into a proprietary PC shaped like a garbage can, but that pays absolutely no respect to our past.
Don't let the vintage look fool you. Though the DM's exterior is an homage to PCs of yesteryear, the interior is pure liquid-cooled, benchmark-busting badassery.
Rather than pretend to be with the cool kids in some chic, brushed-aluminum chassis, or lie our asses off that a 2-watt CPU/GPU is something to crow about, this year’s Dream Machine is an audacious tribute to all that has gone before it.
So, here’s to manually jumpering IRQs and clipping single sided floppies so you can use the other side. Here’s to ISA, VL-BUS,and PCI. Here’s to the glorious sound of a floppy head stepper motor, the shriek of a dot matrix printer, and the clunk of a buckling spring keyboard built with more metal than today’s laptops.
And here’s to beige. Oh, wonderful IBM beige, Compaq beige, Dell beige, and hell, even Apple beige. No two parts ever matched but no one cared.
To see videos of Maximum PC Editor Gordon Mah Ung walking you through each component, click on the image above!
Today, we embrace the beige and all that it stands for while celebrating the very best parts that modern computing has to offer. Continue reading to learn how we built this year's über rig!
The Dream Machine has always been about one thing and one thing only—absolutely ridiculous amounts of power, with not a single ounce of performance left on the editing room floor. If we left one PCIe slot or SATA port unused, it would be the equivalent of a hate crime against our readers.
Beige is back and badder than ever!
2. Hybrid This Drive
We used four SSDs and three HDDs to achieve a voluminous 15TB of storage in Dream Machine 2013. So, for all who think the hard drive is dead: It ain’t.
3. Cool and Collected
With 17 fans and two massive radiators, the temps on the overclocked CPU and GPUs rarely ever moved. Hell, the temps were so low, we thought the utilities were reading them wrong.
4. Think of it as the 900B
The Corsair 900D looks like it offers excessive space—until you actually put all your hardware inside of it. Then it’s actually a pretty tight fit.
5. Absolute Power
Behind the radiator lies the LEPA G1600-MA PSU, among the most powerful single PSUs on the market and, believe it or not, we needed every single watt this sucker could produce to run this year’s Dream Machine.
Click the next page for a complete rundown of all the Dream Machine 2013's specs.
That’s what the top-dog hexa-core Core i7-3970X gives us with its 12 threads of computing might that chew through 3D modeling or video rendering in a way no quadcore could ever dream of doing. Last year’s foray into Xeon territory also taught us that not having the option of overclocking hurt us against those pesky quad-core parts in some tasks.
With our massive liquid-cooling setup, we were able to easily push our 3.5GHz Core i7-3970X to 5GHz all day. Six cores buzzing along at 5GHz with Hyper-Threading gives us a great balance of core count and frequency. Enough that Dream Machine has the gusto to compete with newer quad-core chips in workloads that can’t exploit all 12 threads.
The best part of going with LGA2011 is that we’ll get a CPU upgrade in a few months when Intel finally releases Ivy Bridge-E.
Note: This article was written before the recent release of Ivy Bridge-E.
If all we cared about was color scheme, we’d have tapped the Rampage IV Extreme’s little brother, the X79 Sabertooth, whose brown-and-black stylings would have nicely matched our beige case. But our needs demand more than the Sabertooth and most “regular” X79 motherboards can provide, so we reached for Asus’s well-respected Rampage IV Extreme board. The board is aimed at the overclocking enthusiasts who like to crank their CPUs to low Earth orbit using liquid nitrogen or liquid helium, so for our OC, it was more than enough. Even better, the R4E is one of a handful of X79 boards rated to run four-way SLI.
The Extended ATX board is a bit larger than others, but in the cavernous 900D, it practically looks like a microATX board. Since SNB-E parts and X79 don’t officially support PCIe 3.0, we used Nvidia’s utility to enable it. The difference? Not much that we could see on our 4K monitor, but it’s nice to know we can run PCIe 3.0 on all four of our board's slots.
When evaluating the current crop of GPUs for possible deployment to the Dreamghanistan theater, the Titan was always a leading contender for obvious reasons. This $1,000 GPU is the fastest single GPU on the market by a huge margin, and though it’s not as fast as a GTX 690, two Titans make a GTX 690 look like a quaint collection of silicon. And three Titans? Well, there’s nothing else that can even begin to approach that level of performance. Which is why we have gone with the only choice possible given this magazine’s pedigree—four GTX Titans, and not just regular Titans, but the water-cooled kind that cost more than most foreign-bred cat species.
Out of the box these tasty bits of gaming ordnance are overclocked 100MHz above stock speeds at 928MHz, with a boost clock of 980MHz.
You know what’s wrong? That a frakking 10-inch tablet (and no it’s not the iPad) packs as many pixels as those “high-res” 30-inch panels. To put all tablets to shame, we had to up the ante with Asus’s newly minted PQ321 that uses an Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide panel. The PQ321 packs 3840x2160 pixels into a 32-inch panel. How does that translate comparatively? Take two 30-inch, 2560x1600 panels and put them side by and side and the PQ321 still has more pixels. If you had three 1080p monitors lined up, the PQ321 would exceed their combined pixel count by 25 percent. It’s Retinastic ™!
There are so many pixels that it’s beyond the capability of even dual-link DVI. The only way to display images on the PQ321 is to use its DisplayPort 1.2-compliant port along with a video card that also supports DisplayPort 1.2, or to daisy-chain across multiple HDMI ports. Fortunately for us, the Titan supports DisplayPort 1.2. We had to resort to beta drivers and we’re using pre-production firmware on the PQ321 but it works, offering us glorious 4K Ultra HD quality. All we can say is that we’re glad we’ve finally broken through the 2560x1600 barrier.
We considered a PCIe-based SSD setup this year, but all those damned Titan cards prevented us from using one, so we went with the next best thing: two of the fastest SSDs available, in the highest capacity available. With only two SATA 6Gb/s ports on the Intel controller, we rocked dual Samsung 840 Pro 512GB SSDs for a single-terabyte partition for our OS, giving us 1Gb/s read and write speeds, and sub–15 second boot times. Hell, yeah.
The Crucial M500 is currently the highestcapacity SSD drive available at 960GB, but we didn’t choose it just because of its huge size (for an SSD). We chose it because it’s also one of the fastest drives in its class, and it’s semiaffordable, too, at $600 per drive (previous 1TB drives cost over $2,000). Even though we have a terabyte of fast SSD storage for our OS, we ran two of these M500s for an extra layer of SSD storage, just because we could.
Not even the Dream Machine can get away with an entirely solid-state storage scheme, so we had to ask ourselves, “What is the fastest, highest-capacity mechanical hard drive these days?” After we polled the staff and consulted the benchmark charts, the answer was clear: WD’s 4TB 7,200rpm Caviar Black hard drive. This one’s got it all—a fast spindle speed, a long five-year warranty, and a fat 64MB buffer. We only used three because, well, we ran out of SATA ports.
Dream Machine boasts 840mm of AX-series XSPC copper radiators with aluminum enclosures that help dissipate heat. They're strapped with 1,850rpm Gentle Typhoons on either side. Typhoons deliver top-tier performance while generating a relatively low amount of noise, which is preferable when you have 17 total in your case. We replaced the case's front fans with 1,450rpm Gentle Typhoons, and a 14cm Arctic Cooling F14 PWM fan replaces the rear. Typhoons don’t come in the 14cm size, but the F14 is a high-caliber alternative.
EK’s Supremacy Elite CPU blocks are premium hardware, with a price to match. Our trusty Swiftech MCP655 pump is not a bank-breaker, but it's highly reliable and has five speed settings. All of our Tygon silver tubing is attached with chromed compression fittings with an ID (inner diameter) of 3/8 inches using the G1/4 thread standard. The juice we set loose is simply distilled water, the base ingredient for any liquid-cooling system.
We also want to give a shout-out to FrozenCPU.com for all the help with the DM's waterworks.
Click the next page to read about the Dream Machine 2013's computer case, RAM, and accessories.
The Corsair 900D is a thoroughly modern "super tower," with mounts for 16 fans, nine hard drives, 480mm radiators, and EATX motherboards. It’s a giant mofo of an enclosure, with a shipping weight of more than 50 pounds. We ended up using nearly every available inch of space, and we could have used more. You need a lot of legroom to water-cool four video cards and a massively overclocked Intel Core-i7 3970X. The 900D is one of the few cases that can deliver.
The 900D cuts a fine figure in its stock matte-black trim, but for Dream Machine, we wanted more character. It's funny how such a low-key, otherwise forgettable shade of not-quite-white can trigger so many memories, from fond recollections of D&D Gold Box games to wrestling with IRQ confl icts into the wee hours of the morning.
All that nostalgia comes courtesy of our old friends at Smooth Creations. Yes, asking Smooth Creations to paint our Dream Machine case beige was a like asking SEAL Team 6 to work security at our 6-year-old’s birthday party. But leave it to Smooth to make something as seemingly mundane as beige into a luscious, creamy paint job that’s simply drop-dead sexy. (See if this doesn’t become the look of the season.)
Smooth’s work didn’t stop at just the exterior; besides painting the outside vintage ’97 Packard Bell Beige, the company also painstakingly turned the interior into a beautifully smooth silver that perfectly emulates the cheap pot-metal look of a case from the turn of the century. The real testament to Dream Machine’s paint job is that the already handsome 900D, frankly, looks even better in beige.
Last year, we made the bold, ostensibly “forward-thinking” decision to jettison the optical drive from Dream Machine. We figured the ubiquity of downloadable software and streaming media rendered the ol’ ODD obsolete. Boy, did we get an angry earful! While an optical drive can be easily sacrificed when building on a budget, Dream Machine has no constraints, so why not include one? This year, we tapped Pioneer’s 15x BDR-208DBK Blu-ray burner to wave the flag. Write speeds of 15x for BD-R, 14x for BD-R duallayer, and 16x for DVD, plus brisk ripping chops, have all our optical needs covered.
Given our need to feed the mouths of four-way SLI and an overclocked CPU, we reached for the burliest PSU we could find: LEPA’s G1600-MA unit. Fully modular, the G1600-MA gives us a continuous 1,600W, and we need every bit of that because the Dream Machine sucks power in a way no meager 1,000W or 1,200W PSU could muster. In fact, we found that we could use even more power for this setup, but we just couldn’t fit it in the case.
It’s hard to believe, but this year we’re “settling” for 64GB of Corsair Dominator Platinum RAM. Our original plan was to scrounge up 128GB of RAM using 16GB DIMMs, but there are no DDR3 16GB modules that aren’t registered ECC parts. Even worse, Intel has intentionally neutered the civilian Core i7 to “just” 64GB. To get to 128GB, we’d need a Xeon. Oh, phooey. We guess we’ll just have to slum it.
Few keyboards get the legendary reputation for sturdiness and typability that the IBM Model M has. With its buckling-spring design, typing on this bad boy makes you feel like you’re reliving the late 1980s and early 1990s all over again. In fact, our Model M has a manufacturing date almost as old as one of our interns. If you’re wondering how we got a 21-year-old keyboard to work, the Model Ms were manufactured in the United States for IBM’s ill-fated PS/2 lineup and, fortunately, our motherboard has a PS/2 port.
Where other mice aim to impress with crazy, futuristic design and surplus buttons, the Sensei offers unparalleled performance in a classic and attractive form. Inside its metallic shell, the Sensei sports a 32-bit ARM processor, which enables you to customize nearly everything about how the mouse performs— from sensitivity to pointer acceleration to lift distance. No other mouse matches this level of control, and the internal processor allows you to use your personal settings no matter what computer your Sensei is connected to.
Click the next page to check out the Dream Machine 2013's awesome benchmark scores!
Though the Dream Machine is a mere toy compared to modern supercomputers, it’s not all that far removed from supercomputers of the previous era, which begs the question: Will we be using today’s supercomputers as our home PCs in 20 years? To give you an idea of how far we’ve come, consider Intel’s ASCI Red supercomputer of 1996. It packed 9,298 Pentium II Overdrive processors clocked at 333MHz and filled up 104 fridge-size cabinets. This rig was the first computer to ever achieve one teraflop of performance in the Linpack benchmark, meaning it could perform over 1 trillion calculations per second. In comparison, each Nvidia GTX Titan in the Dream Machine is capable of 4.5 teraflops, so theoretically, you could say we have the power of 16 ASCI Red’s in just the GPU department alone. The crimson supercomputer also had 12TB of storage, just like this year’s Dream Machine.
If all this means we can expect to be using a smaller version of today’s supercomputers in the year 2040, then let’s examine the current No. 1 supercomputer: China’s Tianhe-2. This machine, which was deployed in 2013, two years ahead of schedule, has more than 3.2 million CPU cores, one petabyte of memory, and 12.4 petabytes of storage (a petabyte is 1,000 terabytes), and can throw down 30 petaflops, with a P. That will be one hell of a PC, but then again, that’s the very definition of Dream Machine.
Tribute to yesteryear aside, we wanted to bust benchmark records!
Our beige box wouldn't be complete without iconic relics from a bygone era. Nagel and Netscape Navigator, anyone? Underneath the Retrofukation skin is Windows 8.
This year’s Dream Machine may look like a throwback to 1996, but when it comes to performance, there’s nothing old-school about it.
To test this year’s Dream Machine, we used our standard zeropoint machine, which is no slouch with its overclocked Core i7-3930K and GeForce GTX 690.
The benchmarks themselves are mostly custom workloads using off-the-shelf applications and favor either high clocks, processor efficiency, or core count.
Since our benchmarks haven’t changed in a little over a year now, we have a fairly lengthy record of machines we can use in comparison to Dream Machine 2013.
This year’s Dream Machine buzzes along at 5GHz, but for the most part, it’s still a Sandy Bridge-E CPU, just like the overclocked SNB-E in our zero-point box. Dream Machine’s 5GHz is about 30 percent higher than the 3.8GHz of the zero-point, and the results were pretty predictable. In computing tests, DM2013 enjoyed a 25 to 27 percent performance boost. In gaming, though, we’re not running quite the same GPU. The zero-point sports a GeForce GTX 690, which is pretty much the equivalent of two GeForce GTX 680s in SLI. How much faster is this year’s Dream Machine? Try 134 percent in Batman: Arkham City and 194 percent in 3DMark 11, baby. Not bad.
Of course, the zero-point box isn’t the only rig in town. We’ve been keeping a tally of all the world-class production boxes that have crossed our paths, and in that elite club, two PCs in particular come to mind: the Maingear Shift that we reviewed in August and the Geekbox Ego Maniacal that we reviewed in February. The Geekbox Ego Maniacal uses the same Core i7-3970X, while the Maingear Shift is powered by Intel’s new Haswell Core i7-4770K chip. Both über desktop machines currently hold the bulk of our benchmark records.
The Geekbox Ego Maniacal could be a soul mate to the Dream Machine. It packed the same CPU, albeit clocked down a tad to 4.8GHz, and at its time, its two GeForce GTX 690 cards were as good as it got in GPUs, which allowed it to slice through our benchmarks with abandon. Compared to Dream Machine 2013, CPU performance is pretty close. It’s damn near a tie in Premiere Pro CS6, but DM2013 manages to pull down a 5 to 6 percent advantage in Stitch.Efx and x264 encodes. It’s also very close in ProShow Producer, but the cigar still goes to Dream Machine. Applause, please.
As for how a pair of GeForce GTX 690s does against four Titans, it’s no contest. Dream Machine has a 33 percent boost in Batman: Arkham City and a whopping 42 percent in 3Dmark 11. Buh bam. Yeah, to be fair, an updated Geekbox would likely produce similar results, but until then, we’ll use more sound effects: Zam zing!
Believe it or not, our real concern was actually the Maingear Shift box. With its Haswell clocked at 4.7GHz, we didn’t know if it could be beat. In fact, it couldn’t be beat in everything. Stitch.Efx, for example, is only multithreaded for the last third and ProShow Producer 5.0 tops out at four threads. These scenarios favor the more efficient Haswell microarchitecture over Sandy Bridge-E. Clock for clock, Haswell is about 15 to 18 percent faster than SNBE. Luckily, the higher overclocking capability of Sandy Bridge-E keeps Dream Machine within striking distance and it trails the Maingear Shift by just 5 percent in those two benchmarks. Dream Machine gets payback, though, in the more multithreaded tasks, and we see a 31 percent advantage in Premiere Pro CS6 and an even better 34 percent advantage x264 HD 5.0. Take that, quad-core!
In gaming, it’s a give and take. The Maingear Shift has a tri-SLI Titan setup while Dream Machine has four-way. In Batman: Arkham City, the Shift’s Haswell part again pays off dividends and it wins by 3 percent. In the more GPU-heavy 3DMark 11, though, the additional Titan in DM2013 gives about 24 percent more performance.
In pure benchmark records, Dream Machine 2013 holds three titles, as it unseats the Geekbox in Premiere Pro and x264 and pushes the Maingear Shift into second place in 3DMark 11. Oh, and as of this writing, the Dream Machine would be ranked No. 6 on the 3DMark Hall of Fame leaderboard. Not bad, when you consider the top spot is achieved using liquid nitrogen.
In 4K gaming, we saw amazingly playable performance, with Dream Machine giving up 56.9fps in Hitman: Absolution. When set to Ultimate, DM2013 achieved 113fps in Tomb Raider, and 89.2fps in Heaven 3.0 and 53fps in Heaven 4.0. Some will say quad Titans are overkill, but the 4K gaming results clearly show their advantage.
This article was taken from the September 2013 issue of Maximum PC magazine.