Mean and green: How to build a gaming PC that’s fast, quiet, and efficient

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If you’re keeping track, the complete parts breakdown for the system is as follows:

  • CPU: Intel Core i7-4670 - $219.99
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte Z87X-UD3 - $159.99
  • Memory: G.SKILL Sniper 8GB (4GB x 2), Low-Voltage DDR-1600 - $84.99
  • GPU: EVGA GeForce GTX 750 Ti FTW with ACX Cooling - $174.99
  • Storage: Crucial M550 1TB SSD - $529.99
  • Optical drive: Samsung DVD-R - $19.99
  • Chassis: ZNXT H230 - $59.99
  • Power Supply: EVGA 430W 80 PLUS Certified - $39.99
  • CPU cooler: Xigmatek Prime SD1484 - $39.99
  • Miscellaneous: Fractal Design Silent Series R2 120mm Fan - $11.99
  • Operating system: Windows 8.1 OEM - $99
  • Total cost: $1,441.89

At over $1400, this system isn’t exactly cheap. Note, however, that you could save a significant amount of money and bring the price much closer to the $1000 mark if you opted for a smaller SSD, a cheaper motherboard, stock cooling, and a previous-generation (but still low-power) graphics card like the GeForce GTX 650 Ti .

Putting it all together

Physically putting this system together was as easy as pie, with no surprises or snags.

The CPU, GPU, and RAM are keyed and only fit in their respective sockets or slots one way, so you can’t really do it wrong. The case had no trouble accommodating our motherboard and drives. And there was ample room to route, tie-down, and hide cables at various points throughout the rig.

back done

There was plenty of room to route cabling behind the motherboard tray, which helps to keep the system looking fresh and clean.

The only extraordinary steps we took with this build were to install an additional intake fan into an available location at the front of the case, adding the aftermarket cooler with its unique mounting accessories, and connecting the case’s cooling fans to the motherboard to provide automatic fan control.

cooler mount

Now that's no stock CPU heatsink!

If you’d like more detailed steps on actually assembling a PC, we’d recommend checking out a couple of recent articles. Follow our PC building best practices and you shouldn’t have any trouble piecing a system together, while our detailed guide on how to properly install a CPU cooler will help ensure you get that crucial process right the first time.

Testing the sound of sweet, strong silence

To find out how we did on this project, we ran a number of benchmarks to quantify the system’s performance and monitored power consumption and noise output throughout testing. To show how the system performed in a variety of workloads, we ran a number of tests, including PCMark 7, 3DMark, Cinebench R15 and a couple of games. Here’s how the system did:

benchmarks

As you can see, overall performance was quite good. The relatively fast CPU, discrete graphics card, and SSD pushed the system’s PCMark 7 score well over 7,200 points, which is nothing to sneeze at, easily trumping our recent Steam Box and upgrade test builds. (PCMark 7 measures overall system performance.)

The system’s scores in 3DMark's graphics test and Cinebench R15's CPU and GPU benchmarks were also good, particularly in Cinebench’s OpenGL test, where the rig put up over 122 frames per second (fps). The system also handled 1080p gaming well, with frame rates in excess of 50 fps in Lost Planet 2 and 72 fps in Batman: Arkham Origins, with all image quality options set to their high-quality modes, with anti-aliasing enabled. Opting for a more powerful graphics card would obviously result in higher frame rates, but would negatively impact power draw and very possibly the noise level.

front done

The fully assembled rig had plenty of room to spare for future upgrades, both in physical space and free power.

More importantly, the system remained nice and quiet regardless of the workload, and power consumption was relatively low, especially considering how quickly the system ran. From about one foot away from the rear of the system, it registered only 39.6 decibels on our digital sound level meter. That’s not silent by any means—it’s impossible to be totally silent when there are fans moving air around—but it is very, very quiet. The fans in the system produced an unobtrusive, low-pitched hum that was hardly noticeable during use. Ditching the extra fan up front would've made the rig even quieter, but since the rig was built to game, it felt prudent to include it.

As for power consumption, check this out:

power usage

The power consumption numbers are impressive in light of the system’s performance. To put things into perspective, this system probably consumed half as much power while idling than the light bulbs above your desk. Even under load, the system’s power consumption peaked at 144 watts. If you thought that a 430-watt PSU wasn’t enough for this kind of rig, think again.

In the end, we couldn’t be more pleased with this system. It wasn’t cheap, but it proved to be fast, quiet, and quite power-friendly. That puts a nice, green sheen on your need for speed.

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