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The core components — continued
Video cards: Gigabyte GeForce GTX 970 G1 Gaming — The selection of a GeForce GTX 970 for this system should be uncontroversial. The GTX 970 offers one of the best price-performance combinations of any graphics card on the market right now. The choice of this particular model shouldn't come as any surprise, either. I gave this card's GTX 980 sibling a TR Recommended award not long ago, and this is the same basic setup. Gigabyte's triple-fan cooler is whisper quiet and deadly effective, yet it's relatively compact. And Gigabyte's GM204 cards are distinctive in offering triple DisplayPort outputs, which is what you want for future-proofing.

The intrigue comes from the fact that I've chosen to install two of these things in the Damagebox at once, despite my usual warnings that multi-GPU systems aren't always a smart choice. Hear me out here.

Our usual advice is to resort to multi-GPU only once you've exhausted the single-card options for getting higher performance. I think that's generally a  sound approach, since multi-GPU performance scaling can present all sorts of problems. In this case, though, single GTX 970 cards like these are selling for around $350 with clock speeds high enough to put their performance close to a stock GTX 980. Yet doubling up on these things doesn't cost much more than a single GTX 980, and it's fully 300 bucks cheaper than a Titan X. I'd say the value proposition is there.

Beyond that, many of the multi-GPU issues we've encountered in recent times have been associated with AMD's CrossFire tech, not Nvidia's SLI. My sense is that Nvidia invests substantially in driver development to make sure SLI offers folks a good experience. I wanted to live with an SLI setup in my own rig for a while to see what it looks like.

I'm hopeful that the advent of new APIs like DirectX 12 and Vulkan will force the GPU makers to dispense with alternate-frame rendering and use a more honest approach to multi-GPU load-balancing, one that truly improves the user experience rather than inflating FPS averages like AFR does. I wouldn't recommend making a move to multi-GPU configs yet on that basis, but I do think better days may be ahead. Having two cards in my system will allow me to track any progress on this front.

Memory: G.Skill Trident X DDR3 2400 dual 8GB DIMMs — For the past year or so, G.Skill DIMMs have been a prominent part of our system guide recs because they've had some of the best prices on Newegg for memory modules from an established brand. I figured I might as well build my own system around the same products we recommend, and G.Skill was happy to oblige by sending a pair of Trident X modules.

Their red-and-black heatspreaders are a perfect match for the Z97X motherboard's color scheme. Going with a pair of 8GB DIMMs gives me the chance to upgrade to 32GB at some point in the future, if I want. 

These modules are rated for an operating speed of 2400 MT/s at 1.65V. I wouldn't pay a ton more for that extra frequency, since I don't think Haswell is typically constrained by memory bandwidth (unless you're using integrated graphics). But G.Skill doesn't charge a huge premium for its 2400 MT/s modules, so why not?

The storage subsystem
SSDs: Dual OCZ Vector 150 480GB 2.5" SATA drives — Of course you're gonna find an SSD doing service as the boot drive in pretty much any modern build, but this time out, I'm taking advantage of the constant price drops in flash-based storage by adding nearly a terabyte of SSD space, all told. 

I'm using one of the fastest SATA SSDs we've ever tested, OCZ's Vector 150. (For what it's worth, OCZ has since introduced the Vector 180, which has newer flash but very similar performance.) Going with a fast drive at a large capacity has a number of advantages, including a lower cost per gigabyte, oftentimes higher write performance, and potentially more longevity. 

I could be really hard-core and go for a PCIe SSD. Now that a few native PCIe drives for consumers have arrived, they do tend to light up the performance benchmarks. However, our tests have shown that they're not appreciably faster in desktop workloads than the best SATA drives. PC software may have to be rearchitected to take advantage of faster storage before we see the true benefits of a faster disk interface. For now, SATA storage of this class still looks like a safe bet.

My plan: to boot off one of the SSDs and store my OS and programs there. The other SSDs is dedicated to Steam games.

Just pause a moment to take in the glory of that.

Yes, 480GB of fast flash storage dedicated to games. I can run games quickly locally, and I can copy them across the GigE network to my test rigs at near-wire speeds. Spoiler alert: the rollout of Project Cars in Damage Labs was a wondrous thing to behold.

Hard drives: Dual WD Red 6TB drives — The storage subsystem in the old Damagebox was the one thing I spent the most time waiting on, by far, and it was also becoming disconcertingly overcrowded. My two WD Green 2TB drives in a RAID 1 mirror were getting kind of old and were full to the brim. I wanted to go for a higher-capacity setup this time out based on newer, faster drives, so naturally, I turned to WD again.

My plan was to grab a pair of WD Green 4TB drives to put into a RAID 1 mirror. The folks at WD were happy to oblige, but they massively exceeded expectations by sending out a couple of Red drives with a staggering 6TB of capacity.

Expletive deleted, man. That's all I can say about that.

WD recommends using its Red drives for NAS devices and RAID arrays, since the firmware in them has some special provisions to prevent array synchronization problems. WD is coy about the exact rotational speed of the platters in these drives, listing them only as "IntelliPower," but we're pretty sure they spin at about 5,400 RPM. That's fine for my purposes, since I mostly want to store data files on these drives, many of them videos and pictures.

I can tell you that these Red drives are clearly faster than my old Green 2TB drives, and from inside the Damagebox, they're completely inaudible, even with two of them doing the same things in concert as a mirrored volume.