Performance System Building Guide
Author: Zahn Funk
Editor: Shawn Knight
Date: 08-10-2008
Performance System Building Guide

We get a lot of questions here at from users asking our opinion on what hardware they should buy. Many of these questions are fielded in our forum but every now and then someone will e-mail us. The staff here are always happy to answer any questions you may have, but things can get busy at times and it is more difficult to return e-mails than we would like.

For that very reason, we started writing these System Buying Guides a few years back. We have three categories of Buying Guides: Budget, Mainstream and Performance. Our Budget Guide has a spending limit of $600, the Mainstream limit is $1,200 and we allocate $2,400 for our Performance Guide. The systems that we piece together here are designed to give you the best overall experience under the given budget. Obviously, if you are a gamer, you would probably want to spend more money on a video card than other components. Our guides are designed with overclocking in mind, so we often select lower-end processors / memory / video cards to save money, because we know these can be overclocked to equal or outperform higher priced hardware. All of our guides exclude common components such as a mouse, keyboard, monitor, OS, etc., under the assumption that you already own these items.

With that said, let's continue forward with our August 2008 Performance Building Guide...

Processor: Intel Core 2 Quad Q9450 Yorkfield 2.66GHz LGA 775 Quad-Core

Just as in our Mainstream guide, we chose an Intel quad-core processor for the Performance build. Rather than the aged Kentsfield core however we've gone with the latest 45nm Yorkfield. The operating frequency on this one isn't a whole lot higher, however it uses a 1333 FSB, with 2x6MB L2 cache and a lower operating voltage. It would have been nice to throw a Core 2 Extreme CPU into this build but we'd have blown half the budget just on the processor, so the Q9450 will have to suffice.

Heatsink: Swiftech H20-220 Compact CPU Water Cooling Kit

In the past we've always spec'd a high-end air cooler for our Performance build, however we've seen a few really good yet inexpensive liquid cooling kits come out recently. Among these was the Swiftech H20-220 Compact that we reviewed several months ago. Coming from a brand like Swiftech you know it's going to be high quality and the performance is really good, even for a pre-assembled kit. If you don't have room for a double-sized radiator in your case, the Swiftech Compact series is also available in a single H20-120 model.

Motherboard: EVGA nVidia nForce 790i Ultra SLI DDR3

For the motherboard we opted to go all out and spring for the top-of-the-line nVidia nForce 790i Ultra. While paying more than $300 for a motherboard might seem a bit excessive, this ensures we have the best performance gaming platform available. With 3 x 16x PCIe Tri-SLI, 1333/1600Mhz FSB and support for up to 2000Mhz DDR3, if there's a bottleneck somewhere in the system we can rest assured it isn't the motherboard!

Video Card: BFG Technologies GeForce GTX 280 OC 1GB 512-bit GDDR3

To go with our nForce motherboard we've selected the latest GeForce GTX 280 video card from BFG. This is nVidia's current king of the hill, and BFG's OC Edition 280 runs at an increased 615Mhz core and 2214Mhz GDDR3. With 240 SP's and a 512bit interface for the 1Gb of memory, the GTX 280 smokes any other single core card on the market. And with the ongoing ATI/nVidia price wars, the GTX 280 is available now for far less than the initial cost of $650 at launch. Speaking of ATI, if you happen to prefer a Radeon over a GeForce card, the HD 4870x2 is due for release this month. With a target price close to the current GTX, the 4870x2 should be poised to give the 280 a run for its money.

Memory: OCZ Reaper HPC 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) Dual Channel Kit

DDR3 is the fastest format of desktop memory currently available, and PC3-10666 offers a good balance of speed and lower timings while keeping the price reasonable. We reviewed the OCZ Reaper PC3-10666 2Gb kit just a few months ago, and this 4Gb kit should offer every bit as much performance and overclockability as the lower capacity modules. With low 6-6-6-18 timings at the 1333Mhz speed, the OCZ Reaper HPC kit easily wins a spot in our Performance build.

Hard Drive: Western Digital VelociRaptor 300GB 10k RPM 16MB SATA 3.0Gb/s

We had a difficult time selecting the hard drive for this build, considering at this price point there are several options available. For instance, we might be inclined to go for two or more lower cost drives and stripe them in a RAID0 array for performance and high capacity. Or we could select a pricier, single drive solution that still offers great performance with the simplicity of having only one drive to worry about. In the end we opted to go with the latest Western Digital VelociRaptor drive. With 300Gb capacity there's plenty of room for games and other apps without requiring a second drive for storage, and when it comes to performance the 10k RPM VelociRaptor simply blows away every other traditional desktop hard drive on the market. The alternative we considered was an SSD drive like the OCZ Core Series, however with only 64Gb you'll likely need a second drive for additional storage. Both the VelociRaptor and the Core 64 are priced under $300, which makes choosing one over the other a tough decision.

Power Supply: SilverStone OP1000-Evolution 1000W

The choice for power supply was also a toss-up between the 1000W OCZ EliteXStream or the SilverStone OP1000-Evolution. If you read our Mainstream guide you'll know we went with the slightly smaller EliteXStream 800 for that build. Both OCZ and SilverStone power supplies offer huge 80A single +12v rails and both are equally impressive in specs. In the end we went with the SilverStone, mainly for the price, but also because it has a total of eight PCIe power cables, six 6-pin and two 8-pin. The OCZ EliteXStream 1000 only has four. In a system where dual or even tri-SLI is a definite possibility, the greater number of power connections offers a big advantage.

Optical Drive: LG Super Multi Blu-ray Burner - HD DVD-ROM - DVD/CD+/-RW SATA

For our Performance build we figured we needed to have a Blu-Ray burner, and just like the one we picked for our Mainstream build, this LG drive offers HD-DVD compatibility as well as DVD/CD burning too. We can't argue over the price either, it's one of the least expensive Blu-Ray burners in the bunch.

Case: Your Choice

This is the segment of the guide that we leave totally up to you, the reader. More often than not, the decision for a case comes down to looks alone. There are a ton of great cases out here with some really good features, but you may not like one case simply because it doesn't fit your style, which is totally fine.


Using our Price Grabber shopping engine to find the lowest prices on each of our components, we come up with a grand total of $2,182.43 (as of writing). With our budget of $2,400 this leaves us $217.57 to cover the cost of a case and shipping. With over $200 left in the budget we should have no problem finding a high-end, full tower case worthy of this caliber of hardware. The system put together here today offers one hell of a deal and should have all of your friends (except for that rich kid that nobody really likes) drooling with envy!

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