How to Build an Energy-Efficient and Quiet Gaming PC

Are you a gamer with a big electricity bill every month? Are you looking to build a great gaming PC that doesn't sound like a jet engine every time you start playing Diablo III? This build guide is for you.

Imagine a PC that will hit 60 frames per second running most games on today’s 1080p displays. Now imagine that system idling at under 70 watts. Even under the heaviest load, it consumes just 336 watts. That’s 336 watts generated when the system is running an eight-core instance of Prime 95 while simultaneously running 3DMark 2011 at 2560 by 1600 resolution with 8x antialiasing on--a far heavier load than most games will produce.

Better yet, this system makes few compromises in terms of overall performance. It runs the latest LGA 2011 hardware, including a quad-core Sandy Bridge Extreme CPU. It has 16GB of RAM, too, and a powerful current-generation graphics card.

Let’s go on a tour of the system first. Afterward I’ll dig into the component choices to show you how I built a killer system that’s fairly green. Click on any picture to zoom in for full details, and then click the left and right arrows to look through the photos.

Minimalist looks, minimal power usage, excellent performance.

It isn't much to look at, certainly, but that’s part of its charm. The case is a Corsair Obsidian 550D midsize-tower chassis. Offering most of the amenities of high-end cases, it’s also designed to minimize noise. The front cover hides the optical drive, but its real purpose is to help baffle noise.

In addition to creating a front that's sleek and minimalist, the 550D has foam for deadening noise.

This gaming machine isn't just easy on your electric bill, it's also remarkably quiet thanks to some simple soundproofing. Though you can't see it in these pictures, the dense foam material lining the front cover also lines the two side panels.

Optical drives are rarely in demand these days, but they still come in handy on occasion.

With the PC's front cover removed, you can see the optical drive nestled near the top of the tower. These days I download most of my games, but I threw in a Blu-ray combo drive--a Blu-ray reader plus a DVD burner--for the odd DVD-based game as well as the occasional high-definition movie. The Corsair case is also a nice choice because it fully supports internal USB 3.0 connections for the front-panel USB ports. The power and reset buttons remain exposed even when the cover is installed.

Like most current-generation systems, this machine has plenty of input/output options, including lots of USB 3.0 ports, eSATA support, two flavors of digital audio outputs, gigabit ethernet, and multichannel analog audio. It even sports a PS/2 keyboard connector for hard-core gamers who want to use PS/2 keyboards capable of supporting overloaded keystrokes.

No lack of I/O in this system. And that back panel adds a splash of color, too.

Like most of Corsair’s cases, the 550D has plenty of room under the motherboard tray to route power and other cables.

Yes, I could have dressed the cables a little more neatly. But who’s going to see them?

System Performance

Now that you’ve had a brief tour of the system, it’s time to talk performance. Although this machine is built to run PC games at high frame rates, it’s also not a bad all-around performer, and it posted great results in our PCMark 7 and 3DMark testing regimen. Both benchmarking utilities offer simplified versions that are free to download, so grab a copy of each and run your own tests to see how your PC stacks up against our power-sipping gaming machine.

BenchmarkResult
PCMark 7 score 4625
PCMark 7 storage score 4781
3DMark 2011 (Performance) 9270
3DMark Vantage (Performance) 30,058
Shogun 2, frames per second 35
Dirt 3, fps 105
Far Cry 2, fps 154
Metro 2033 (4x AA), fps 26
Metro 2033 (AA off), fps 33
Stalker: Call of Pripyat, fps 86.5
Batman: Arkham City, fps 62
Cinebench 11.5 (CPU), score 7.15
Cinebench 11.5 (GPU), fps 52
Mainconcept 2.2, seconds (fps) 559 seconds (136 fps)

For reference, we ran all the games at 1920 by 1200 resolution, with all detail levels completely maxed out and 4x multisampling antialiasing enabled. The Mainconcept test transcoded a 4.3GB high-definition video file from 1080p MPEG-2 to H.264 iPhone (304MB final size).

These performance numbers are quite good, coming within a few percentage points of a system running a Core i7-3960X CPU. Yet our PC idles at just 69W, significantly lower than the power usage of most gaming PCs (which pull hundreds of watts out of your outlet). What’s inside this box? Let’s take a look.

Next Page: Components and Cost

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