As complete as our Double-Stuff Workstation is, we still have some alternative ideas for how to fill it out.
|Processor||Intel Core i7-970 3.2GHz||$589.99|
|Memory||Corsair Vengeance 12GB (3 x 4GB) DDR3-1600||$129.99|
|Graphics||EVGA GeForce GTX 570 1280MB||$339.99|
|EVGA GeForce GTX 570 1280MB||$339.99|
|MSI Radeon HD 6970 2GB||$339.99|
|MSI Radeon HD 6970 2GB||$339.99|
|Storage||WD Caviar Green 2TB||$79.99|
|WD Caviar Green 2TB||$79.99|
|Audio||Asus Xonar Xense||$299.99|
||Hauppauge WinTV-HVR 2250||$109.99|
|AVS Gear MCE remote||$21.20|
Gulftown sees Sandy Bridge's four cores and raises her two. Throw in Hyper-Threading, and the Core i7-970 will juggle an even dozen threads in parallel. Sandy's going to be faster in games and applications that aren't highly multithreaded, but Gulftown will speed ahead in more heavily parallelized apps. Gulftown's third memory channel can help, too.
There's another thing. Gulftown's X58 Express chipset has enough PCIe bandwidth to supply a pair of graphics cards with 16 lanes each, and it can also handle exotic three- and four-way setups with the right motherboard.
We don't actually need a motherboard with four-way SLI support, but we'll take one that'll do a three-way. Asus' P6X58D-E has a trio of PCI Express x16 slots that can be configured as x16/x16/x1 or x16/x8/x8. The board also features all the ports and connectivity options we covet most, including USB 3.0 and 6Gbps SATA.
There are a number of relatively affordable X58 boards on the market, but we've gone with an Asus because they tend to offer better BIOS-level fan speed controls than the competition. We don't need the Double-Stuff to be unnecessarily loud, and it's frustrating that some mobo makers give users so little control over something as vital as the behavior of their system's CPU fan.
Why didn't we go with Asus' Sabertooth X58, which has the same 5-year warranty as its P67 cousin and costs $30 less than the P6X58D-E? Gigabit Ethernet. Specifically, the Sabertooth X58 board's reliance on a slow PCI-based networking chip that caps throughput at around 700Mbps—more than 200Mbps shy of what you get with PCI Express GigE chips. Adding a PCIe x1 networking card to the Sabertooth would alleviate the issue, but we have other plans for the Double-Stuff's expansion slots.
At least three DIMMs are required to fully tap Gulftown's triple-channel memory controller. Corsair has a 12GB Vengeance kit that fits the bill and still leaves half of the motherboard's memory slots available for future upgrades.
Although the Radeon HD 6950 2GB is a pretty good deal, there's a good case to be made for stepping up to a couple of more expensive cards like the GeForce GTX 570 or Radeon HD 6970. As with the 6950 from our primary recs, MSI has the least expensive options of all the big-name manufacturers.
So, which do you choose? Gamers are probably better off with a couple of 6970s, whose additional graphics memory will surely come in handy with future games and at extremely high resolutions. However, if you're the sort of workstation user who likes to dabble in programming and might be interested in playing around with GPU-accelerated computing, the GeForce cards are backed by a much more robust CUDA API.
Want to scale the Double-Stuff's storage payload back a bit? You can save a good couple hundred dollars by dropping the secondary storage array down to a pair of 2TB Caviar Greens. You do lose a couple of terabytes and some performance, but a 2TB array ought to be enough for a lot of folks.
We've called the Xense a sort of greatest hits package for the Xonar lineup. The card has everything: replaceable OPAMPs, excellent analog playback quality, real-time multichannel encoding capabilities, and chunky 1/4" headphone and microphone jacks. Heck, it even comes with a PC-350 gaming headset from Sennheiser. The $300 asking price might seem steep, but it's actually quite reasonable for a high-end sound card and headset.
Why would you hook an HD tuner card and remote up to a workstation? Why not? The duo doesn't add much to the system's total cost, and thanks to Windows 7's built-in PVR functionality, you'll never have to miss an episode of Jersey Shore.
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