Big things in big cases
When it comes to sheer technological audacity, nothing beats a desktop. From face-meltingly fast hardware to ridonkulous workstations to massive CPU coolers that could blend into an art installation, the following examples of glorious excess are possible only with a PC.
The inspiration: The 24K-gold-plated PC shown at left. Yes, the $21,150 Voodoo OmenPC's precious case stood out when it was unveiled in 2008, but beyond the bling, that water-cooled beast absolutely screamed performance. Remember the wise words of Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler: "Anything worth doing [is] worth overdoing."
Let's (over)do this.
Emperor 200 workstation
The scorpion-shaped Emperor 200 workstation is the perfect accessory for your sci-fi supervillain fantasies. Stuffed with whatever computer internals you want—Intel Xeon? Core i7? No problem!—the Explorer 200 rocks Italian-leather seating, a Bose Companion 5 audio system, actuating chair controls, and up to three 2560-by-1440 monitors for glorious 7680-by-1440 gaming. And did I mention it comes in whatever color your heart desires?
Now for the downside: This superbad chair will set you back a few bank robberies at $49,150.
Nofan CR-95C Copper CPU cooler
Just look at that thing: It's utterly majestic. And while the picture at left doesn't give you a sense of scale, know that the Nofan CR-95C Copper is a massive 7 inches by 6 inches and 2-plus pounds. All that girth and copper is for a noble cause, however: This CPU cooler is essentially just a big ol' heat sink. While its size might just block your RAM slots, the lack of fans also allows you to run full-blown 95W desktop processors in whisper silence.
Why? Because you can. Pure, wonderful PC excess—and it's not the only ridonkulous PC cooler around.
Intel Core i7-4960X
You don't need this processor. It's as simple as that. But you'd be crazy not to crave it.
The pinnacle of Intel's enthusiast-oriented Extreme Edition lineup, the Core i7-4960X costs a cool $990 by its lonesome, and that sticker price doesn't even include a CPU cooler. What it does include is six, count 'em, six cores clocked at 3.6GHz, with a Turbo boost to 4GHz in times of duress—and they're unlocked to encourage you to overclock the Core i7-4960X to even loftier heights. Toss in hyperthreading and quad-channel memory support, and you're looking at the fastest, most capable CPU consumers can buy.
Then again, the chip alone costs more than the computers most people buy. Nothing wrong with dreaming.
Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan
What better follow-up to an outrageous CPU than a splurgetastic graphics card? Nvidia announced its crown jewel—simply and aptly named "Titan"—earlier this year. The $999 card easily and immediately laid claim to the single-GPU performance crown thanks to its 7 billion transistors, 2668 CUDA graphics cores, and 4.5 teraflops of single-precision computing chops.
In simple terms, the GeForce GTX Titan pumps a lot of pixels—roughly 50 percent more than Nvidia's previous flagship, the GTX 680. If you're jonesing for even more speed, eyeball the GTX 690. Its dual graphics processors suck a lot more power and toss off a lot more heat and noise, but it pushes frame rates even higher, delivering nearly the same performance as two GTX 680 units working in concert.
Asus PQ321 Ultra HD monitor
Pixel-packed 4K resolution displays aren't limited to the living room. The Asus PQ321 Ultra HD monitor brings the vaunted 4K resolution (3840 by 2160 pixels, technically) to the desktop, complete with the latest and greatest indium gallium zinc oxide (IGZO) LCD technology and 176-degree viewing angles. Gaze upon it and weep, mere mortals.
But be forewarned: Those eye-watering visuals come with an equally eye-watering $3500 price tag. Gamers will need to drop even more dough. Testing by AnandTech shows that playing cutting-edge games at maximum settings on a 4K monitor requires the firepower of four—four!—GTX Titans to hit 60 frames per second. Oof.
All the bits and bytes (and there are a lot of them) in a 4K video have to get from your PC to your screen somehow. While other connection technologies can handle 4K resolutions just fine, only Thunderbolt 2 can display a 4K video on screen while simultaneously transferring yet another 4K video file to another device.
Even better, Thunderbolt 2 dishes out data at a blistering 20 gbps. To put that in perspective, today's USB 3.0 ports poke along at a comparatively paltry 5 gbps, and USB 3.0 feels fast.
Blazing bit-streaming doesn't come cheap. Today, Thunderbolt's reach is limited, thanks to its pricey accessories and the fact that it's pretty much found only in the most exclusive PCs and Macs. Need proof? The first Thunderbolt 2–compatible motherboard is expected to cost at least a cool $350.
Red Harbinger's Cross Desk
Your computer's case is the beauty encasing the brawn, the visual representation of your PC's inner character. While plenty of computer case mods could be called extravagant—cough, cough—only one commercially available case screams "LOOK AT ME!" from its hardcore hilltop: Red Harbinger's Cross Desk, a 130-pound, steel-and-aluminum monstrosity that blends PC case with PC desk.
Underneath its tempered-glass top, the Cross Desk packs room for two (or more!) full PCs, motherboards of every size, and fans, expansions slots, and disc bays galore. Oh, and did I mention it was designed to support water-cooling setups, too? Read PCWorld's behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the Cross Desk for the full story.
Harman/Kardon GLA-55 computer speakers
Not only do these two, 56-watt-per-channel computer speakers look like "they were hewn cold out of the side of Superman's Fortress of Solitude," as their superb Amazon.com product description puts it, but they also pack onboard digital signal processing and a ludicrous $1000 price tag.
All that glitters is not gemstone, however: That cool, clear casing is transparent thermoplastic rather than proper crystal.
Maingear Alpha 24 Super Stock all-in-one
All in ones? Excessive? Don't they tend to use laptop parts? That's indeed the norm, but Maingear's Alpha 24 Super Stock is light-years apart from your average AIO.
Behind the Alpha's 24-inch touchscreen lie components powerful enough to turn most desktops green with envy. You can customize its specs, but our $2856 review unit included a Core i7-4770K processor, 16GB of RAM, a 480GB solid-state drive, and a full-blown Nvidia GTX 680 graphics card.
Yes, this comparatively chunky AIO plays Crysis. In fact, the Alpha 24 absolutely crushed Crysis 2, pumping out a whopping 87 frames per second. What's more, you can actually upgrade it—which reminds me…
Refine your rig
With all the tablets and locked-down, superslim laptops flying around these days, the art of tinkering with your electronic toys is becoming an extravagance all its own. Tight spaces beget few customization options. Sigh.
From excess to everyday
Computers hold appeal beyond lavish excess. If the PC ever does become obsolete, as so many doomsday prophets predict these days, how will you do this… and this… and this…?