How to Build a Powerhouse PC Worthy of Sandy Bridge Extreme Edition
A good motherboard and CPU pairing demands exceptional memory, so I popped in 16GB of Corsair Dominator DDR3 rated at speeds of up to 2133MHz.
With the auto-overclocking tool, the memory I used was stable at 2122MHz. Note that it's also stable at 2133MHz while the CPU runs at its base frequency of 3.3GHz. Clearly, we've just scratched the surface with overclocking on this new platform; expect to see clock frequencies north of 4.5GHz on hand-tuned systems.
Graphics: EVGA 3GB GTX 580 Classified
If you want great graphics, you'll need to include a pair of Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 cards. The specs are impressive, but keep in mind that it's not clear whether a bigger frame buffer helps when you're running games; if you're using very high antialiasing settings, the extra memory may or may not come into play. However, in this PC we also want to use these cards for GPU computing, and the extra RAM will likely prove useful for that purpose.
The only drawback to using these cards is that they require three power connectors per card. You'll need a pair of eight-pin PCI Express power connectors and one six-pin power connector per card, so you have to choose a robust power supply with enough wattage to handle these cards in addition to overclocking the CPU.
Power Supply: Corsair AX1200
Having 1200W on tap is certainly handy, but it's equally important to have a power supply that's efficient. I chose the Corsair AX1200 because it's a single-rail power supply capable of delivering as much current to the GPUs or CPUs as needed. It's also rated at 80 Plus Gold, which means it runs at 87 percent efficiency or better throughout its output range.
My system idles at just 181W--not bad for a machine with 16GB of RAM, a 130W CPU, and a pair of heavily overclocked GTX 580 graphics cards. Under full load, running the 3DMark 11 benchmark at 2560 by 1600, with 8X antialiasing and all other settings cranked as high as they'll go, my system's power consumption maxed out at 660W. It wasn't that long ago that I built a compact and energy-efficient PC; but this time we're going all out, and so power consumption is going to be high.
Storage: Corsair Force GT SSD RAID Array
Speed, speed, speed. I'm now hooked on having solid-state drives as my primary boot drives because of their speed. I've had very good luck running Corsair SSDs in RAID 0 mode on my production PC, so it was a no-brainer to use Corsair's new 6-gbps SATA ForceGT SSDs in this dream build. These drives sport the latest Sandforce controllers as well, offering excellent read and write speeds.
Since this PC is intended to be used for content creation, you need a Blu-ray burner, too. The Asus BW-12B1LT is speedy, and makes an attractive addition.
Next page: the case and OS, plus performance tests and the total cost