Need a fancy processor cooler or a sound card? You've come to the right place. This is where we talk about components that, while not always strictly necessary, can improve a build in very real ways.
Aftermarket CPU coolers
With the exception of the Core i7-4930K, all of the CPUs we've recommended come with stock coolers from Intel. Those stock coolers do a decent enough job, and they're generally small enough to fit happily inside cramped enclosures. However, stock Intel coolers don't have much metal with which to dissipate thermal energy, and their fans are relatively small. That means they can get noisy under load, and they may be unable to handle the extra heat from an overclocked processor.
The coolers list below are all more powerful and quieter than the stock Intel solutions. The more affordable ones are conventional, tower-style designs with large fans, while the higher-priced Corsair H-series units are closed-loop liquid coolers that can be mounted against a case's exhaust vents.
|Thermaltake NiC F3||$29.99|
|Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO||$34.99|
|Thermaltake NiC C5||$54.99|
Thermaltake's NiC coolers are designed specifically to accommodate tall memory heat spreaders. They use relatively slim fin arrays to achieve this feat. Despite that fact, they're capable of cooling very power-hungry processors. The NiC F3 can dissipate as much as 160W of heat, while the NiC C5 can do 230W, according to Thermaltake. That's way beyond the needs of stock-clocked Haswell. Those top out at 84W.
Cooler Master's Hyper 212 EVO has a similar design to the NiC F3, but with a wider fin array. The extra metal may allow for somewhat quieter cooling, but it may interfere with tall memory modules. This cooler is a very popular option, though, with over 6,000 five-star reviews at Newegg. (Cooler Master makes another, similar cooler called the Hyper T4, but the 212 EVO is supposed to have better performance and a better mounting bracket.)
Corsair's H60 and H80i liquid coolers are entirely self-contained and require no special setup. You simply mount them against a case's exhaust vent with the fan blowing through the radiator fins, and the closed-loop liquid cooling system takes care of everything. The H80i has a larger fin array than the H60 and supports Corsair's Link feature, which lets you monitor coolant temperatures and control fan speeds via Windows software. Both of these coolers take next to no space around the CPU socket, since their radiators are mounted to the case wall. For that reason, they're ideal for something like an Ivy Bridge-E system packed with tall memory modules. In fact, we very much recommend water cooling for any Ivy-E build, given how crowded the area around the socket tends to be.
We'll throw in an honorable mention of Noctua's NH-U12P, which has a beefy tower-style fin array and dual 120-mm fans. This behemoth costs $80 and is probably the finest air cooler we've tested. It performed even better than an older closed-loop liquid cooler from CoolIT in our air vs. water showdown several years back. However, its fin array may be too large to accommodate tall memory modules.
A lot of folks are perfectly content with their motherboard's integrated audio these days. However, each time we conduct blind listening tests, even low-end discrete sound cards wind up sounding noticeably better than integrated audio. And that's with a pair of lowly Sennheiser HD 555 headphones, not some kind of insane audiophile setup.
In other words, if you're using half-way decent analog headphones or speakers, a sound card is a worthwhile purchase.
It's fine to stick with motherboard audio if you use digital speakers or USB headphones, since those handle the analog-to-digital conversion themselves. That said, even with digital speakers, the sound cards we recommend below will do things that onboard audio cannot, such as surround sound virtualization and real-time Dolby multi-channel encoding.
|Asus Xonar DSX||$59.99|
|Asus Xonar DX||$79.99|
The Xonar DSX and Xonar DX can both drive analog headphones or 7.1-channel speaker setups (either analog or digital). In our blind listening tests performed with analog headphones, these two cards sounded very close. The DSX is the more affordable of the two, but the DX gets you Dolby Headphone virtualization in exchange for a $25 premium. Folks who game with analog headphones may feel inclined to splurge, but the DSX is arguably the better bargain.
There are other options out there, of course, including Creative's Sound Blaster Z series. You can try your luck with those. Personally, we can't recommend them—not because we don't like them, but because we just haven't had a chance to review them and subject them to blind listening tests. Analog audio quality is an awfully difficult thing to infer from a spec sheet on the Internet.
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