Viewing page 1 of 8 pages. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 NextSPCR's Holiday ATX Gaming Build Guide
November 19, 2014 by Lawrence Lee with Mike Chin
November marks the onset of winter and the holidays for much of the northern hemisphere, but it's a special time for PC enthusiasts as well. With Black Friday fast approaching it's the perfect time to shop for components, whether for an upgrade or a complete system. PC gamers in particular have it the best of all because Autumn is also traditionally the season for major game releases. So far we've seen the launch of the heavily anticipated Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Far Cry 4, and Dragon Age: Inquisition, among many others. To play these titles smoothly and with all the eye candy enabled, you'll need some serious hardware, especially if you plan on using a >1080p display, like a QHD or 4K model.
To help you do just that, we walk you go through the process of planning and
building a mid/high-end gaming PC. You can find build guides on countless review
sites, but being SPCR, we approach it with a heavy emphasis on noise-reduction.
We explain in detail why we selected components (and suggest alternatives),
then actually assemble the system (which most sites rarely do,
creating just a shopping list instead) and conduct a full battery of thermal
and acoustic tests. And if there are any tweaks or tricks to make the experience
quieter, we share those, too. We have several different builds in the works,
but we start off with the most common, popular one, the mid-ATX tower.
The graphics card is the heart and soul of any gaming PC but it's also the
biggest challenge from an acoustic perspective. The dies of modern high-end
GPUs are larger, denser, and more complex than their CPU counterparts, which
translates into substantially higher power consumption. Making things worse,
video cards are usually oriented horizontally with the cooler underneath blowing
upwards so the card's PCB itself gets in the way of natural convection. Some
models use a blower style fan to push the hot air out, which is great for keeping
system temperatures lower but it's often a noisier method that is not as efficient
for cooling the GPU itself. It would be great if you could mount a giant tower
heatsink like one for a CPU, but the VGA card isn't designed to take that much
weight and such a solution would block off all the expansion slots underneath.
Having an inherently energy efficient card would be a huge advantage for a quiet
Cue NVIDIA with their new Maxwell 2 GPU architecture, which happens to be miraculously
energy efficient compared to the previous generations. The GeForce GTX 970 has
a TDP of just 145W, half that of its AMD equivalent, the Radeon R9 290X. The
higher-tier GTX 980, arguably the fastest single GPU video card on the market
today, uses only 20W more. The GTX 980 is a rather expensive card, starting
at US$550 while only offering a 10~20% performance advantage over the much cheaper
GTX 970. Clearly, the GTX 970 offers better value, but if you're driving a UHD/4K
display it might be worthwhile to go with the 980. To duplicate or improve on
the 980's performance you'd need a pair of cards in SLI/CrossFire which would
create substantially more heat and noise. We also prefer the challenge of the
ASUS Strix GeForce GTX 980.
For this system we chose the well-regarded ASUS Strix GTX 980. At a glance,
the stock cooler doesn't seem that formidable (some GTX 980 models have three
fans) but it's a DirectCU heatsink with five nickel-plated copper heatpipes
of varied thickness (the largest being 10 mm) that contact the GPU directly
rather than utilizing a baseplate to act as a go-between. According to ASUS,
the fans don't even spin unless the GPU is heavily taxed and even some lighter
games can be played with zero noise emitted. Furthermore, the card employs a
10 phase power delivery system, making it overclocking-friendly.
The ASUS Strix GTX 980 is long enough to extend further than the width of a
typical ATX motherboard. The Strix version's PCB measures 26.7 cm across, with
the cooler hanging over a bit for a total length 28.8 cm or 11.3 inches. Most
enthusiast cases are designed to accommodate cards this long but tighter fitting
towers with non-removable hard drive bays may be incompatible. A ventilated
metal backplate covers the entire back side of the card, lending it some much
needed rigidity. Heavy coolers tend to cause the graphics card PCB to bow.
The back panel is stocked with three DisplayPort, one HDMI, and one DVI-I connectors, and can drive up to four displays simultaneously. The GTX 980 supports HDMI 2.0 as well, which supports 4K resolution at 60 Hz. There's only a small ventilation port at the back and as the cooler employs top-down blowing fans most of the heat produced by the card will remain in the case. You can also see from this angle that the card is wider than normal, extending past the edge of the expansion slot by 3.4 cm; This will interfere with some narrower cases.
Core i5-4670K Quad-Core 3.4 GHZ 6 MB Cache
Currently AMD's strength is based on the number of cores they pack into lower
priced processors. The best example of this is the six-core AMD
FX-6300 Black Edition
which can be had for a mere US$100. Many applications, especially games,
can't take advantage of that many threads, however; Single-threaded performance
is more important, an area where Intel holds a notable advantage. That being
said, CPU bottlenecking shouldn't be an issue with a single GTX 980 for any
mid-range or higher processor. The real back-breaker in the Intel-AMD debate
however is the superior energy efficiency of Intel's lineup. This makes their
chips much easier to cool, a key advantage when attempting to silence a PC.
Intel Core i7-4770K.
An ideal choice is the Core i5-4670K, a quad core chip running at 3.4 GHz (up
to 3.8 GHz with Turbo Boost) with an unlocked multiplier for easy overclocking
to improve overall performance further. Honestly, any of the 4xxx series would
perform similarly in terms of gaming, so which particular model isn't overly
Unfortunately we didn't have an i5-4670K on hand so an i7-4770K
became our stand-in. With a TDP of 84W, it should have similar thermal properties
which is all that's needed from a CPU for the type of testing we'll be conducting.
The i7-4770K is a standout performer but it's actually not a great buy currently
as it has been superseded by the higher-clocked i7-4790K which occupies a similar
price-point. Rather than lowering the price on older models, for whatever reason,
Intel tends to just let them wither on the vine.
CPU Cooler: Scythe
Haswell processors don't run particularly hot but the Intel stock cooler is
woefully insufficient for a silent PC. We're going with one of our current favorite
value cooling solutions, the Scythe
Kotetsu, which delivers excellent performance at a low price. This modest
tower cooler is equipped with a single 120 mm fan with an overall pleasant/smooth
Many gamers regard an AIO water cooling unit as a defacto choice for a high-end
build but we have to disagree as they are neither cost or noise efficient. They
also usually ship with acoustically poor fans, and the squealing and gurgling
sounds from the pump raises the noise floor, making it difficult to get the
noise level down when the system is idle.
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