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Double-Stuff alternatives
As complete as our Double-Stuff Workstation is, we still have some alternative ideas for how to fill it out.

Component Item Price
Processor Intel Core i7-980 3.33GHz $549.99
Motherboard Asus P6X58-E $214.99
Memory Corsair Vengeance 12GB (3 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 $74.99
Graphics EVGA GeForce GTX 570 $339.99
EVGA GeForce GTX 570 $339.99
XFX Radeon HD 6970 2GB $379.99
XFX Radeon HD 6970 2GB $379.99
Storage Crucial m4 256GB $380.99
Samsung EcoGreen F4 2TB $109.99
Samsung EcoGreen F4 2TB $109.99
Audio Asus Xonar Xense $296.46

Gulftown sees Sandy Bridge's four cores and raises her two. Throw in Hyper-Threading, and the Core i7-980 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 one more 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 GPU 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' P6X58-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. It even has built-in Bluetooth.

There are a number of relatively affordable X58 boards on the market, but we've gone with an Asus model because the company's boards tend to offer better 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? 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.

As we said earlier, multi-GPU configurations have certain downsides, but they're still worth considering if you'd like to play games across multiple displays, enjoy stereosopic 3D graphics, or both.

On the Nvidia side, you might as well grab a second GeForce GTX 570. For AMD fans, a pair of Radeon HD 6970s like this XFX card ought to do the trick. Our testing shows that dual 6970s slightly outpace a pair of GTX 570s. The XFXs card we've singled out also have nice coolers with blowers that direct hot air out of the system, and they feature double-lifetime warranty coverage, which gives them added resale value.

Again, if you'd rather not deal with potential stability hassles (even ones that are supposed to be fixed) and don't mind reduced write performance, Crucial m4 SSDs like this 256GB offering are fine alternatives to OCZ's Vertex 3 drives.

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 Samsung EcoGreen F4s. You will lose a a terabyte of redundant storage 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 a headset.