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The Double-Stuff Workstation
Because more is very often better

The Sweeter Spot is a nice step up from the Utility Player—but it's a small step, all things considered. The Double-Stuff is more of a leap in both hardware and budget.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i7-2600K 3.4GHz $314.99
Motherboard Asus P8Z68-V Pro $209.99
Memory Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $84.99
Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $84.99
Graphics MSI Radeon HD 6950 2GB $279.99
MSI Radeon HD 6950 2GB $279.99
Storage OCZ Vertex 3 240GB $464.99
Hitachi Deskstar 7K3000 3TB $179.99
Hitachi Deskstar 7K3000 3TB $179.99
LG WH12LS30 Blu-ray burner $94.99
Audio Asus Xonar DX $89.99
Power supply Corsair AX850W $189.99
Enclosure Corsair Obsidian Series 800D $269.99
Total   $2,724.87

Oh my, what have we done? Yes, this summer, Gulftown is out and Sandy Bridge is in. We won't pretend that Gulftown isn't still capable of outrunning even the fastest Sandy Bridge CPUs, because it is. Miss Sandy, however, offers a more compelling value proposition with a state-of-the-art platform to go with it. Just look at our latest performance-per-dollar scatter plot, in which the Core i7-2600K trails the Core i7-970 by a relatively small margin despite its much lower asking price. "Extreme" editions of Gulftown aren't a whole lot faster than the i7-970, yet they cost over $400 more.

Miss Sandy also happens to sip wattage where Mr. Gulftown chugs it, as evidenced by our latest batch of power numbers. Part of that has to do with the platform, but the i7-2600K does have a thermal envelope of just 95W, compared to 130W for the hexa-core Core i7-970. While the Double-Stuff will be a fairly power-hungry system anyway, the i7-2600K should be more amenable to quiet cooling than something like the i7-970.

It was the arrival of Intel's Z68 Express chipset that really tipped the odds in Sandy's favor this time. The Z68 may not match the sheer number of PCI Express lanes served up by the X58, but it supports dual x8 PCI Express 2.0 links, which suffices for screaming-fast dual-GPU configurations. Don't forget the Z68's built-in support for newer technologies like Serial ATA 6Gbps, GPU virtualization, and an SSD caching scheme dubbed Smart Response Technology.

The Z68's GPU virtualization capability enables support for QuickSync, the video transcoding acceleration scheme built into Sandy Bridge processors. When we tested it on a slower Core i5-2500K processor, QuickSync cut encoding times almost in half compared to a regular software encode. Smart Response, meanwhile, pays dividends if you're planning to pair solid-state and mechanical storage in the same system, as we are.

Our vessel for bringing the Z68 into the Double-Stuff is the fully loaded Asus P8Z68-V Pro motherboard—the very same model that earned an Editor's Choice award when we reviewed it last month. This board has it all: a great EFI implementation, fast onboard peripherals, ports and slots up the wazoo, and even Bluetooth. No doubt about it, the Pro is a mobo worthy of the Double-Stuff.

Just because we've technically downgraded our processor doesn't mean we need to settle for less on the memory front. Instead, we're outfitting the Double Stuff with two of those Corsair Vengeance kits we featured in our earlier builds. $85 for an extra 8GB is a drop in the bucket when you're building a high-powered workstation worth close to three grand.

We envision the Double-Stuff attached to at least one 30" monitor, if not a wall of large displays packing some serious megapixels. To keep gaming frame rates smooth, we're gonna need at least two GPUs. Squeezing them onto a single card like the Radeon HD 6990 is fraught with problems, including high noise levels and a hefty price premium. Instead, we're going to kick it old-school with a traditional CrossFire config using a pair of Radeon HD 6950 2GB cards. These MSI models have beefy dual-fan coolers, and their 2GB of onboard memory is perfect for ultra-high-res gaming.

Now that OCZ's Vertex 3 drives are in stock, we can outfit the Double-Stuff with the 240GB Vertex 3 variant. This drive doesn't have the five-year warranty coverage of Intel's 320 Series SSDs, but it should be blazing-fast—and 240GB ought to be roomy enough to store most, if not all, of your critical apps and games.

On the mechanical storage front, we're sticking with a duo of Hitachi Deskstar 7K3000 drives, which squeeze 3TB of storage capacity onto platters that spin at 7,200-RPM. With these bad boys, you get plentiful mass storage and solid performance.

Our LG Blu-ray burner almost feels a little too pedestrian for a system as exotic as the Double-Stuff... but good luck finding a more exciting alternative in the world of optical storage.

The Xonar DX offers the best of both worlds: excellent analog signal quality combined with the ability to encode multi-channel digital bitstreams on the fly. Audiophiles with fancy headphones might want to consider indulging in our alternative sound card, though.

Our second-favorite workstation enclosure, the Cooler Master Cosmos, has gone out of stock at Newegg. That leaves no question that Corsair's Obsidian Series 800D is the best case for the Double-Stuff. This beastly tower has something for everyone, including hot-swap drive bays, an upside-down internal layout, loads of cable routing cut-outs, and that all-important access panel to the socket backplate area. With three 140-mm fans, the 800D should have plenty of airflow to keep this loaded rig cool, and you can add more fans or liquid cooling if you'd like.

More than anything else, we love how easy it is to build a system inside the 800D. The case's cavernous internals were made to accommodate multiple graphics cards, hard drives, and the mess of cabling that goes along with them.

Power supply
Most of that cabling comes from the power supply, and we're gonna need a beefy one to handle everything that's been packed into the Double-Stuff. Corsair's new flagship 850W unit looks like just the ticket. The AX850W delivers 80 Plus Gold certification, modular cabling, a whopping seven years of warranty coverage, and certification for both AMD's and Nvidia's multi-GPU schemes. It doesn't get much better than that.