How to Build a Powerhouse PC Worthy of Sandy Bridge Extreme Edition

A Chassis for All Seasons: Corsair Obsidian 650D

I've used Corsair's midrange 600T tower before, and the Obsidian 650D's internals are almost identical, right down to the external USB 3.0 connection (but with two instead of just one). The 650D offers additional amenities such as a transparent side panel and a top-mounted bay for directly attaching a SATA hard drive or an SSD drive. As a bonus, it's a little lighter than my 600T, even when fully loaded.

The 650D shares some of the same internals as the midrange 600T case, but it weighs less and has additional features.

Windows 7 Ultimate

One thing you definitely don't want is a memory limitation. Although this system currently has 16GB of DDR3, you want the ability to add even more DRAM. That means Windows Home Premium is a no-go, since it maxes out at 16GB. Windows 7 Ultimate OEM is only about $20 more than the Pro version, and picking up that edition gives you access to Media Center. Plus, it runs a wealth of DirectX games.

Performance

Let's take a look at the finished system, and compare it with a relatively stock Sandy Bridge PC: the LAN-party system I built sometime back. That computer has a Core i7-2600K CPU and a factory-overclocked Asus GTX 570 graphics card. Let's pit the two systems against each other, and toss in a couple of benchmarks that I ran on the insta-overclocked Sandy Bridge Extreme System for good measure.

BENCHMARKSandy BridgeSandy Bridge Extreme (3.3GHz)Sandy Bridge Extreme (4.12GHz)
3DMark 2011 (Performance) 5745 12,667 13,390
3DMark Vantage 22,979 40,806 45,505
PCMark 7 3928 5488 n/a
Unigine Heaven 2.5 28 fps 68.5 fps n/a
Dirt 3 54 fps 112 fps n/a
Dawn of War II: Retribution 81 fps 82.8 fps n/a
Metro 2033 19 fps 47 fps n/a
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat 60 fps 140 fps n/a

So with two factory-overclocked graphics cards and Intel's shiny new Sandy Bridge Extreme chip, this machine is hitting some pretty high scores. Over the next few weeks, I'll be hammering on it with Photoshop CS5 and Premiere Pro CS 5.5 as well.

Of course, this system isn't going to be cheap. Let's break down the price:

COMPONENTPrice
Intel Core i7-3960X $1100 (estimated)
Intel RTS2011LC Sealed Liquid Cooler $90 (estimated)
Asus P9X79 Premium $300 (estimated)
EVGA GTX 580 Classified 3GB graphics card (two) $1220
Corsair Dominator 2133MHz 16GB DDR3 RAM Kit $300 (estimated)
Corsair Force GT 240GB solid-state drive (two) $820
Corsair AX1200 1200W power supply $300
Asus BW-12B1LT Blu-ray burner $130
Corsair Obsidian 650D case $190
Windows 7 Ultimate OEM $185
Total $4635

If you instead go for a fast 2TB hard drive, a single EVGA GTX 580 SC graphics card (with a 1.5GB frame buffer), a Corsair AX850 power supply, and a Core i7-3930K CPU, the overall price will drop to $2619. If you want to come close to the overall performance of our monster system here, add a second EVGA card, which will push the total up to $3119. That's still pricey, but it's considerably less than what we started with. Remember, the price of glory is always high.

How to Build a Sandy Bridge Dream Machine

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