The Double-Stuff Workstation
Because more is very often better
Our Double-Stuff workstation is jam-packed with some of the fastest hardware on the market. We've attempted to balance performance and cost to some degree, even here.
|Processor||Intel Core i7-4930K||$579.99|
|Memory||Mushkin 16GB (4 x 4GB) DDR3-2133||$169.99|
|Graphics||Radeon R9 290||$399.99|
|Storage||Samsung 840 EVO 1TB||$599.00|
|Seagate Barracuda 7,200-RPM 3TB||$119.99|
|Seagate Barracuda 7,200-RPM 3TB||$119.99|
|LG WH14NS40 Blu-ray burner||$49.99|
|Audio||Asus Xonar DX||$79.99|
|Power supply||Corsair AX860W||$169.99|
|Enclosure||Corsair Obsidian Series 750D||$159.99|
Our chosen processor for the Double-Stuff isn't based on Haswell; rather, it's an Ivy Brige-E chip. That means it's based on an older architecture, yet it also packs more cores, more cache, more memory channels, and support for higher memory speeds than any Haswell CPU on the market today. Considering Haswell's modest increase in instructions per clock over Ivy Bridge, Ivy Bridge-E is a worthwhile choice for a high-end rig like this one.
This particular Ivy-E model, the Core i7-4930K, features six 3.4GHz cores, 12MB of L3 cache, and quad memory channels each capable of accommodating DDR3-1866 RAM. It has an unlocked upper multiplier, too. Besides the price, the only serious downside is the 130W thermal envelope, which calls for relatively beefy cooling (hence the liquid CPU cooler in our primary recs).
We need an X79 chipset to accommodate the Core i7-4930K. Among the X79 mobos available out there, the Asus X79-Deluxe is our new favorite. It was released alongside Ivy Bridge-E, and it's packed to the gills with features: eight DIMM slots, three PCI Express 3.0 x16 slots (sharing 32 lanes of traffic), 14 Serial ATA ports (of which 10 are 6Gbps), eight USB 3.0 ports, 802.11ac, and Bluetooth. The Deluxe is pricey, yes, but there's hardly a better board out there for the Double-Stuff.
Just a heads up, though: the X79-Deluxe, like many of its X79-toting peers, lacks FireWire connectivity. If you need FireWire for whatever reason, check out our alternatives below, where we recommend a discrete adapter.
We're also splurging for DDR3-2133 memory here—and since this is our highest-end build, we're getting 16GB of it.
Mushkin, a U.S.-based vendor, has a 16GB DDR3-2133 kit that doesn't cost much more than the G.Skill one and has a lower voltage rating. That sounds pretty good to us. We're getting four 4GB modules instead of two 8GB ones in order to feed our processor's quad memory channels.
If you've read our review of the R9 290, then you'll know why we're recommending this card: it offers hands down the best performance per dollar in this price range. The R9 290 is about as fast as the GeForce GTX 780, which costs $100 more, and the GTX Titan, which retails for a thousand bucks. The R9 290 is pretty darned close to the $550 R9 290X, too, at least when the latter runs with its default, "quiet," fan profile.
The R290's main downsides are its high power consumption, high noise levels under load, and lack of a game bundle. There's no guaranteed base clock, either, which means some cards may perform slower than others out of the box. The GeForce GTX 780 is better on all of these fronts, which is why we've put it in our alternatives below.
Currently, the R9 290 suffers from the same availability problems as the R9 280X. That means you'll want to look around for a model that's in stock and not marked up over the $400 MSRP. (If you're lucky, you might even nab one that comes bundled with Battlefield 4.) Finding a card may mean waiting a few days or more, depending on how long it takes for AMD to catch up with demand. If you need something right now, scroll down to our alternatives section for a more widely available option from the Nvidia camp.
Today's mid-range SSDs are more than fast enough for most uses. Additional capacity matters much more than slight performance gains. With that in mind, we've selected Samsung's 840 EVO 1TB, which packs a full terabyte of solid-state storage for just under $600.
The Crucial M500 960GB provides a comparable capacity at a slightly lower price, but the EVO is faster overall (look for a head-to-head comparison soon). You can probably thank the EVO's fancy SLC write cache for that. We should also note that the EVO comes with excellent utility software and clearly defined SMART attributes—perks the M500 lacks. This is an easy choice.
For our mechanical sidekicks, we're selecting two of Seagate's 3TB Barracudas. These are quick, roomy, and inexpensive. Having two of them means you can set up a RAID 1 array, which will provide a measure of fault-tolerance. Finally, the LG Blu-ray burner from our Editor's Choice config serves as our optical drive.
Asus' Xonar DX would have been too indulgent for the Editor's Choice, but it's right at home here in the Double-Stuff. Paying a little extra for Dolby Headphone virtualization isn't such a crime when your total system rings in at close to three grand.
The Obsidian Series 750D is a fantastic case, and it's more than roomy enough for Double-Stuff build. For a bigger, flashier enclosure, scroll down to our alternatives section below.
The Double-Stuff ought to suck up a decent amount of power, so we want a PSU with plenty of headroom. Corsair's AX860W looks like an excellent match. This unit has 80 Plus Platinum certification, which implies efficiency of up to 92%, and it has a whopping seven-year warranty. The cabling is modular, too. We've been using similar AX units to power our own test rigs, and we're very happy with them.
Unlike the other processors we've recommended throughout the guide, the Core i7-4930K doesn't ship with a stock cooler in the box. That means we need to pick an aftermarket solution to make the Double-Stuff Workstation whole.
Cheap heatsinks and fans are a dime a dozen, but given this machine's high-end pedigree and the tight space around the CPU socket on X79 boards, we've decided on the Corsair H80i. This is a closed-loop liquid cooler with a large radiator that's designed to sit between a pair of 120-mm fans. Since the Core i7-4930K has a 130W TDP, we think a solution like this makes sense—even if it costs a little more than a regular heatsink and fan. The H80i also supports Corsair's Link feature, which lets you keep an eye on coolant temperatures and control fan speeds from Windows.
As with the rest of builds, there are other ways to configure the Double-Stuff.
|Graphics||Zotac GeForce GTX 780||$499.99|
|Storage||Western Digital Red 4TB||$196.99|
|Western Digital Red 4TB||$196.99|
|Western Digital Black 4TB||$266.99|
|Western Digital Black 4TB||$266.99|
|Samsung 840 Pro 512GB||$439.99|
|FireWire card||Rosewill RC-506E||$34.99|
|Enclosure||Cooler Master Cosmos II||$299.99|
Unlike the Radeon R9 290, the GeForce GTX 780 is widely available at its suggested price. That price may be $100 higher than the Radeon's, but the GTX 780 draws less power, runs much quieter under load, has a guaranteed base clock speed, and comes bundled with three games (Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Batman: Arkham Origins, and Splinter Cell Blacklist). Newegg gives you a $100 discount on the Shield if you buy it as a combo with the GTX 780, too. Here, we recommend Zotac's reference GTX 780, which features that nice Titan-style cooler we like.
Now, onto our storage alternatives!
As much as we like the Samsung 840 EVO 1TB, its three-bit TLC flash isn't ideal for write-heavy workloads. The M500 960GB's two-bit MLC NAND should have superior endurance, but the drive's obfuscated SMART attributes and lack of utility software make monitoring flash wear difficult. Instead of the larger M500, we're going with Samsung's 840 Pro 512GB. The Pro has robust MLC flash, and it's very fast overall. Oh, and it has a longer, five-year warranty, too.
For our mechanical alternatives, we've narrowed it down to two options. Western Digital's 4TB Reds are low-power models similar to Seagate's HDD.15 from the previous page—except they have error recovery tuned for RAID setups and an extra year of warranty coverage. If you prefer 7,200-RPM mechanical storage, consider a pair of WD Black 4TB drives. The Blacks should be even quicker than the 3TB 'cudas from our primary recommendations, and they have five-year warranties.
Oh, before we forget, our LGA2011 motherboard lacks FireWire connectivity. If you must have FireWire, then we recommend slipping Rosewill's RC-506E into one of your free PCI Express slots. This card is inexpensive, compact enough not to obstruct airflow, and compatible with both A and B FireWire ports.
Finally, for those who want a humongous case to show off—or to fill with expansion cards and hard drives—then it doesn't get much better than Cooler Master's Cosmos II.
Yes, this enclosure is huge, and yes, it costs more than twice as much as the Obsidian Series 750D. However, the Cosmos II is unarguably impressive, with much roomier innards, gull-wing doors, and sliding metal covers. We even gave it our Editor's Choice award.