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Fractal Design Define R3

The Fractal Design Define R3 case, recommended for Tier 3 and 4 of the Mainstream Workstations. With a great subtle professional look and sound-proofing, it's a great Workstation case in my opinion. Of course, if you don't agree with me, there are many alternatives cases that you can choose from instead.

These are the Mainstream Workstations.

The Entry-Level Workstations cover the ~$600-~$850 price range.

The High-End Workstations will be updated in March 2012.

Click on a section to jump to it:

1. Two Tiers to choose from
2. Which Tier and upgrades do you need?
3. Recommended parts summary
4. Computer Builds FAQs
5. Recommended parts in details

Why choose a Workstation Build?

Workstations are for you if you’re looking for a reliable machine, capable of:

– Running 24/7 as your workhorse for work
– Handling various demanding applications

All the Workstations offered on Hardware Revolution are designed with professional work in mind. Parts are hand-picked based on their reliability, performance and cost-effectiveness.

Tier System:

Instead of having several articles that each cover one specific build, there are Tiers, allowing you to pick one of several systems at broader price points.

There are two tiers in this article at two price points. TheTiers arecolor coded as such:

Choose from two Tiers:

 

Tier 3 (Identified by a Green color): $1169

Replaces the previous $1250 Workstation. Equipped with an Intel Core i7-3820, 16GB of RAM in quad-channel and two hard drives in RAID 1, it is a very capable for the price.

Tier 4 (Identified by a Red color): $1779

Takes performance up a few notches compared to Tier 3, with a six-core Intel Core i7-3930K, 32GB of RAM in quad-channel, two HDDs in RAID 1 and a 120GB reliable SSD.

Which Tier/upgrades do you need for your workload?

See this forum post to figure out which Tier/upgrades you need depending on your workload.

Recommended Parts Summary:

Main recommendations, upgrades and alternatives:

1. Recommended Components are in Bold, with one or more colors/symbols for the Tier(s).
2. Suggested Alternatives and Upgrades are in Italic. You can upgrade as many parts as you want to, including parts from higher Tiers.
3. All Parts are interchangeable/compatible with each other. The only exception is the ASUS P9X79 WS motherboard, which requires a case that can handle SSI CEB motherboards. Post on the forums if you want us to double-check your build.

Required components:

Mainstream Workstations Tiers
Tier 3 (In Green): Intel Core i7-3820, 16GB RAM, 2x HDD RAID 1
Tier 4 (In Red): Intel Core i7-3930K, 32GB RAM, 2x HDD RAID 1 + SSD
Click on a component’s name (e.g. CPU) to jump to its detailed section.
Price
$1169
$1779
CPU
Tier 3: Intel Core i7-3820 LGA2011 Quad-Core 10MB L3 3.6-3.9GHz
Tier 4: Intel Core i7-3930K LGA2011 Six-Core 3.2-3.8GHz Unlocked
Intel Core i7-3960X LGA2011 Six-Core 15MB L3 3.3-3.9GHz Unlocked

$350
$675
$1050
Motherboard
Tier 3-4: ASRock Extreme6 LGA2011 X79 SATA6Gb/s USB3.0 8xDIMM
ASUS P9X79 LGA2011 X79 SATAIII USB 3.0 8xDIMM
ASUS SABERTOOTH X79 LGA2011 USB 3.0 SATA III 8xDIMM
ASUS P9X79 WS LGA2011 X79 (case that supports SSI CEB required!)

$250
$253
$330
$380
RAM
Tier 3: Corsair 16GB (4 x 4GB) DDR3 1600MHz
Tier 4: G.SKILL 32GB (8 x 4GB) DDR3 1600MHz 1.5v
32GB (4 x 8GB) DDR3 1600MHz 1.5v
64GB (8 x 8GB) DDR3 1600MHz 1.5v

$95
$190
$210
$427
Video Card
Tier 3-4: EVGA Geforce GT 520 1GB DDR3 VGA/DVI/HDMI
Casual Gaming + Apps acceleration – consumer level video cards
PNY Geforce GT 440 96SPs @810MHz 1GB DDR5 VGA/DVI/HDMI
MSI Geforce GTX 550 TI 192SPs @950MHz 2xDVI/Mini-HDMI 1GB DDR5
EVGA Geforce GTX 560 336SPs @ 850MHz 1GB DDR5 2xDVI/Mini-HDMI
EVGA Geforce GTX 560 Ti 384SPs @ 900MHz 1GB DDR5 2xDVI/Mini-HDMI
EVGA GeForce GTX560 Ti 448SPs @ 797MHz 1280 MB DDR5 2xDVI/HDMI/DP
EVGA GeForce GTX570 480SPs @ 797MHz 1280MB DDR5 2xDVI/HDMI/DP
EVGA GeForce GTX580 512SPs @ 797MHz 1536MB DDR5 2xDVI/HDMI/DP
EVGA GeForce GTX580 512SPs @ 855MHz 3072MB DDR5 2xDVI/HDMI/DP
Professional level, Workstation type video cards
PNY Nvidia Quadro 600 96 CUDA Cores 1GB 128-bit DDR3 1xDVI 1xDP
PNY Nvidia Quadro 2000D 192 CUDA Cores 1GB 128-bit DDR5 2xDVI
PNY Nvidia Quadro 2000 192 CUDA Cores 1GB 128-bit DDR5 1xDVI 2xDP
PNY Nvidia Quadro 4000 256 CUDA Cores 2GB 256-bit DDR5 1xDVI 2xDP
PNY Nvidia Quadro 5000 352 CUDA Cores 2.5GB 320-bit DDR5 1xDVI 2xDP
PNY Nvidia Quadro 6000 448 CUDA Cores 6GB 384-bit DDR5 1xDVI 2xDP
Video cards that support 3 to 6 monitors + casual gaming:
Sapphire Radeon HD 6770 1GB Flex Supports 3 DVI monitors out of box
Sapphire Radeon HD 6870 1GB Flex Supports 3 DVI monitors out of box
XFX Radeon HD 6770 1GB Single-slot 5x Mini Displayport
Sapphire Radeon HD 7950 1792 SPs @ 800MHz 3GB 1xDVI/HDMI/2x Mini-DP
Sapphire Radeon HD 7970 2048SPs @ 925MHz 3GB 1xDVI/HDMI/2x Mini-DP

$46

$90
$130
$190
$240
$290
$360
$480
$560

$161

$424
$424
$729
$1697
$3858

$130
$200
$120
$450
$560
Storage
Two Hard Drives for RAID 1:
Tier 3-4: Two Seagate Barracuda 7200rpm 500GB SATA III in RAID 1
Two Seagate Barracuda 1TB ST1000DM003 in RAID 1, Total Capacity 1TB
Two Seagate Barracuda 2TB ST2000DM001 in RAID 1, Total Capacity 2TB
Two Seagate Barracuda 3TB ST3000DM001 in RAID 1, Total Capacity 3TB
Four Hard Drives for RAID 10 (1+0):
Four Seagate Barracuda 500GB in RAID 10 (1+0), Total Capacity 1TB
Four Seagate Barracuda 1TB in RAID 10 (1+0), Total Capacity 2TB
Four Seagate Barracuda 2TB in RAID 10 (1+0), Total Capacity 4TB
Four Seagate Barracuda 3TB ST3000DM001 in RAID10 (1+0) Total Capacity 6TB
Plextor SSDs: Reliable + 5 years warranty. Not for RAID
Tier 4: Plextor M3 Series PX-128M3 128GB SATA III SSD 5 years warranty
Plextor M3 Series PX-256M3 256GB SATA III SSD 5 years warranty
Plextor M3 Series PX-512M3 512GB SATA III SSD 5 years warranty
Two SSDs for RAID 1:
Two Intel 520 120GB SSD in RAID 1: Total capacity: 120GB
Two Intel 520 180GB SSD in RAID 1: Total capacity: 180GB
Two Intel 520 240GB SSD in RAID 1: Total capacity: 240GB
Two Intel 520 480GB SSD in RAID 1: Total capacity: 480GB
Four SSDs for RAID 10 (1+0):
Four Intel 520 120GB SSD in RAID 10 (1+0): Total capacity: 240GB
Four Intel 520 180GB SSD in RAID 10 (1+0): Total capacity: 360GB
Four Intel 520 240GB SSD in RAID 10 (1+0): Total capacity: 480GB
Four Intel 520 480GB SSD in RAID 10 (1+0): Total capacity: 960GB
Diskless NAS (Network Attached Storage) – Buy HDDs separately:
Synology Disk Station DS110j Diskless System 1-bay NAS Server
Synology DiskStation DS212j 2-Bay (Diskless) Network Attached Storage (NAS)
Synology DS411 Diskless System 4-bay NAS Server
Synology DiskStation DS1511+ 5-Bay (Diskless) Scalable NAS
Synology 5-Bay (Diskless) DX510 Plug-n-Use Expansion Unit for DS1511+ NAS
Fireproof and Waterproof external hard drive + recovery service:
ioSafe 1 TB USB3 Fire/Waterproof External HDD 1 Year Data Recovery Service
ioSafe 1 TB USB3 Fire/Waterproof External HDD 5 Years Data Recovery Service
ioSafe 2 TB USB3 Fire/Waterproof External HDD 1 Year Data Recovery Service
ioSafe 2 TB USB3 Fire/Waterproof External HDD 5 Years Data Recovery Service
Large capacity external storage – HDDs included:
Buffalo Technology DriveStation Quad 12 TB (4 x 3 TB) USB 3.0/eSATA


$170
$200
$300
$400

$340
$400
$600
$800

$190
$310
$650

$440
$720
$1040
$2000

$880
$1440
$2080
$4000

$150
$200
$440
$770
$492

$250
$350
$381
$487

$1050
Optical Drive
Tier 3-4: ASUS SATA 24X DVD Burner
Sony Optiarc SATA 12X Blu-Ray Burner 3D playback

$19
$98
Power Supply
Tier 3-4: FSP AURUM GOLD 500W 80PLUS Gold
SILVERSTONE Strider Plus ST50F-P 500W 80 Plus Bronze Modular
Kingwin AP-550 550W 80 Plus Platinum
KINGWIN LZP-550 550W 80 Plus Platinum Modular
FSP AURUM GOLD 600W 80PLUS Gold
Seasonic M12II 620W 80PLUS Bronze Modular
Seasonic X-650 650W 80PLUS Gold Modular

$84
$80
$100
$160

$100
$90
$145
Case
Fractal Design Define R3 Silver
Tier 3-4: Fractal Design Define R3 2 x 120mm fans sound proofing
LIAN LI PC-8NW
LIAN LI PC-K9B
COOLER MASTER Storm Sniper 3x200mm + 1x120mm
Antec P280
Corsair Carbide 600T Black
Silverstone RV03B-WA Black/Gray
Silverstone RV03B-W Matte Black
Corsair Obsidian 650D Aluminum
Corsair Carbide 600T White
LIAN LI PC-A70F Aluminum 2x140mm 2x120mm
Cooler Master HAF X Blue 1x230mm 2x200mm 1x140mm
Cooler Master HAF X 1x230mm 2x200mm 1x140mm
Rosewill BLACKHAWK-ULTRA 3×230mm 5x140mm supports SSI CEB
SilverStone FT02S-W Aluminum 3x180mm 1x120mm
Thermaltake Level 10 GT
Thermaltake Level 10 GT Snow Edition
Corsair Obsidian 800D Aluminum
LIAN LI PC-P80 4x140mm 1x120mm
Cooler Master Cosmos II – supports SSI CEB
LIAN LI PC-P80NB 5x140mm 1x120mm
LIAN LI PC-V2120X

$100
$110
$110
$110
$130
$140
$143
$144
$144
$152
$160
$180
$180
$185
$200
$220
$240
$280
$280
$310
$350
$370
$470
Cooling
Tier 3-4: Arctic Cooling Freezer i30 CPU Cooler
PHANTEKS PH-TC14PE White CPU Cooler
PHANTEKS PH-TC14PE_RD Red CPU Cooler
PHANTEKS PH-TC14PE_BL Blue CPU Cooler
PHANTEKS PH-TC14PE_OR Orange CPU Cooler
Sunbeamtech Fan Controller, 6 Channels, Up to 30W each

$45
$90
$97
$100
$130
$26
Sound
Tier 3-4: 8 channels sound card: Integrated on the motherboard
ASUS Xonar DG PCI
Creative Labs Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium PCI-Express 1x
M-AUDIO Audiophile 2496 PCI 4-In-4-Out Professional Audio Card w/ MIDI
Creative Labs Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium HD PCI-Express 1x
M-AUDIO Delta 44 PCI Professional 4-In-4-Out Break Out Port Audio Card
M-AUDIO Audiophile 192 PCI 4-In-4-Out Audio Card w/ Digital I/O and MIDI
HT | OMEGA CLARO Plus+
M-AUDIO Delta 66 PCI Professional 6-In/6-Out Audio Card with Digital I/O
ASUS Xonar Essence STX PCI-Express x1
M-AUDIO Delta 1010LT PCI 10-In-10-Out PCI Virtual Studio
HT | OMEGA Claro Halo PCI with a built-in HI-FI Headphone Amplifier
HT | OMEGA Claro Halo XT PCI HI-FI Headphone Amplifier + Daughterboard

Free
$28
$70
$95
$125
$141
$162
$175
$175
$169
$188
$200
$250
Network
Tier 3-4: Integrated Ethernet RJ-45 10/100/1000 Mbps
Intel EXPI9301CTBLK Network Adapter 10/100/1000Mbps PCI-Express 1 x RJ45
Intel PWLA8391GT PRO/1000 GT Network Adp. 10/100/1000Mbps PCI 1xRJ45
Intel EXPI9402PTBLK Two Gigabit 10/100/1000Mbps PCI-Express 2xRJ45
Intel E1G44HTBLK I340-T4 10/100/1000Mbps PCI-Express 2.0 4xRJ45
Wireless adapters:
Rosewill 802.11b/g/n 300Mbps Wireless USB2.0 5dBi Antenna
TRENDnet TEW-684UB Dual Band 802.11b/g/n 450Mbps USB2.0
Wireless Routers:
TP-Link WL TL-WR841N 300Mbps
TP-LINK TL-WR1043ND 300Mbps USB
D-Link DIR-645 300Mbps USB
ASUS RT-N56U Dual-Band 600Mbps
Apple Airport Express 3×3:3

Free
$28
$31
$135
$249

$20
$57

$30

$50
$89
$129
$179

Building this System, Got a Question, Need Help?

Computer Builds FAQs:

I often get questions such as:
– Who are you to tell me which parts to choose?
– Can you suggest me a step by step guide to build a computer?
– Why should I build a PC instead of buying one in a store?
– And many more…

1. You will find the answers to all of these questions and more in this article: FAQ: How to Build Your Own Computer
2. Is this your first build? Here are 10 Quick Tips for 1st Time Builders to get you started.
3. Newly built computer won’t start? I invite you to read Help me: Why won’t my newly assembled PC start or boot?
4. Visit our forums here, where you can join our helpful community and ask questions.

Recommended step-by-step guides to build your PC:

1. Arstechnica Outstanding Guide for Hardware (Building the PC)
2. Arstechnica Outstanding Guide for Software (EFI/BIOS, Windows, etc.)

Free Assistance

If you have any question(s) about the build, simply head over to the forums and our community will be there to assist you.

No worries, there are no stupid questions here on Hardware Revolution. We all started from scratch and learned through our mistakes. We”ll just help you make sure to avoid those mistakes ;)

If you want to have your final build double-checked and get my opinion on it before ordering, or for anything else, don’t be shy, just post a thread on the forums.
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Mainstream Workstations Hardware parts recommendations, detailed version:

Motherboard:

Tier 3 and 4:

ASRock X79 Extreme6 LGA 2011 Intel X79 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard$250 – ASRock Extreme6 LGA2011 X79 SATA6Gb/s USB3.0 8xDIMM

Why did I pick this motherboard for the Mainstream Workstations:

Simply put, it is unmatched when you consider the features that it offers and its relatively low price for a fully loaded LGA2011 motherboard.

For $250, you get eight RAM slots, solid CPU power delivery, four USB 3.0 ports, E-SATA and FireWire on the back of the motherboard + two more USB 3.0 ports via the USB 3.0 header, a bundled 2x USB 3.0 ports panel that can be installed either in a 3.5″ bracket on the front of your case or via a PCI bracket on a PCI slot on your case.

The ASRock X79 Extreme 6 has two slots of space between the two main PCI-Express 16x slots, allowing you to easily use two video cards, with the top video cards to have enough room to “breathe” and run at safe temperatures.

All of these reasons are why I’m recommending it for the Mainstream Workstations. If you don’t like it for any reason or are interested in alternatives, I recommend three alternative motherboards below.

ASRock X79 Extreme 6 Features:

  1. Two slots worth of space between the two main PCI-Express 16x slots, which gives the top video card some space to “breath” in order to stay at a reasonable temperature.
  2. Nothing short of six fan connectors (Two 4 pins, four 3 pins)
  3. A USB 3.0 header to plug in the case’s front USB 3.0 ports.
  4. PS/2, FireWire, E-SATA and USB 3.0 ports, as well as a Clear CMOS button, are all located on the back of the motherboard. The Clear CMOS button alone is hugely useful when you overclock and need to clear the CMOS. No more need to move a jumper, which is a pain compared to using a simple button.
  5. Power and Reset buttons on the motherboard, allowing you to easily test your PC outside your case.
  6. Solid Power delivery components and solid cooling for them, ensuring that the motherboard won’t bottleneck your CPU overclocking.

ASRock X79 Extreme 6 ports, expansion slots, features, what’s included in the box, etc.

  • Ports on the back: 2x PS/2, 4x USB 2.0, 4x USB 3.0 (Two more on the front of the case with the USB 3.0 header), FireWire, E-SATA, 10/100/1000 Mbps RJ-45 LAN, 5 audi0 ports (for 7.1 sound), Coaxial + Optical S/PDIF Out and finally, a Clear CMOS button.
  • Expansion slots: Three PCI-Express 3.0 16x slots (16x, 16x, 8x), two PCI-Express 1x and two PCI slots.
  • Other connectors/features on the motherboard: Six fan connectors (Two 4 pins, four 3 pins), five SATA 6.0Gb/s, four SATA 3.0Gb/s, power and reset buttons, 4-pin Molex connector for additional power for the PCI-Express slots, USB 3.0 header (to be used with included bracket), two USB 2.0 headers (for up to four USB 2.0 ports coming from the headers in total), FireWire header, LED debug and SLI/Crossfire support.
  • Included in the box: Motherboard, four SATA cables, two-way and three-way SLI dongles, I/O backplate, manual and CD.

CPU Coolers compatibility: Only LGA2011 CPU Coolers are supported. Many LGA1155/1156/1366 CPU Coolers can be made compatible using an additional LGA2011 adapter.

Alternative

  • $253 – ASUS P9X79 LGA2011 X79 SATAIII USB 3.0 8xDIMM – This is a very good alternative to the ASRock Extreme 6, especially if you’re a fan of ASUS motherboards. The only reason that I don’t recommend it as my main recommendation is that it doesn’t have an USB 3.0 header, a shame considering its price.
  • $330 – ASUS SABERTOOTH X79 LGA2011 USB 3.0 SATA III 8xDIMM – The ASUS Sabertooth X79 features a ceramic-coating on its heatsinks, to provide better heat dissipation, “TUF” Capacitors, Chokes and MOSFETS, which are certified by military standard to ensure greater durability and best of all, a 5 years warranty.
  • $380 – ASUS P9X79 WS LGA 2011 X79 SSI CEBNote that this is NOT an ATX motherboard and that you’ll need a case that supports SSI CEB form factor motherboards to use it. With six PCI-Express 16x slots, including four of them that can run at PCI-Express 3.0 8x/8x/8x/8x, dual Intel LAN controllers and much more, the ASUS P9X79 WS is truly an high-end motherboard. Note that the recommended case for the Mainstream Workstations does not support it, so if you intend to use this motherboard, you’ll need a case that supports SSI CEB motherboards.

Click here to go back up to parts summary

CPU:

Tier 3:

Intel Core i7-3820 Processor 3.6 4 LGA 2011 BX80619I73820$350 – Intel Core i7-3820 LGA2011 Quad-Core 10MB L3 3.6-3.9GHz

Launched on February 14th 2012, the Core i7-3820 is the quad-core variant of the LGA2011 Sandy Bridge-E architecture. Equipped with Hyper-Threading, it can handle up to eight threads.

With a 3.6GHz stock frequency, it’s the fastest quad-core CPU that Intel currently offers and if you combine that with its 10MB L3 cache vs 8MB for the Core i7-2600/2700, it makes the Core i7-3820 a slightly faster CPU.

More importantly, by using the i7-3820, you get to use the LGA2011/X79 platform, which features quad-channel RAM, compared to dual-channel RAM. Also, with 1600MHz official support, you get over twice the RAM bandwidth compared to the LGA1155 platform. If you’re using programs that can use all the bandwidth that you can feed them, this will make a huge difference in performance.

You also get PCI-Express 3.0, which is backward compatible with PCI-Express 1.0 and 2.0/2.1 products and which provides even more bandwidth for video cards, RAID cards and other expansion cards.

Overclocking:

The Core i7-3820 is a partly unlocked CPU. What does this mean? Well, it means that its multiplier is limited to 43x, so overclocking the chip relies either on:
A- Turbo, in which case  the Core i7-3820, you can raise the frequency by 400MHz, or four Turbo bins. This means that the fastest your chip will run is 4.3GHz but with only one core active. If you have four cores active the fastest your chip can run is 4.0GHz.
B- Raising the bclk: Unlike Sandy Bridge LGA1155 CPUs, Sandy Bridge-E LGA2011 CPUs can be overclocked by raising the bclk without any problem.

If you want a fully unlocked LGA2011 CPU to make overclocking easier, via the multiplier, you’ll need to get either the K-series Core i7-3930K, recommended below for Tier 4, or the Extreme Edition Core i7-3960X.

No stock CPU Cooler included:
Do note that the Core i7-3820 does not include an Intel stock CPU Cooler, which doesn’t matter mind you, since I recommend an after-market CPU Cooler, to keep noise and temperatures in check.

Click here to go back up to parts summary

Tier 4:

Intel Core i7-3930K 3.2 1 LGA 2011 Processor - BX80619I73930K$675 – Intel Core i7-3930K LGA2011 Six-Core 3.2-3.8GHz Unlocked

Why am I recommending the Core i7-3930K over the Core i7-3820 for Tier 4?
Very simple: The Core i7-3930K is equipped with six cores and Hyper-Threading, enabling it to handle up to twelve threads.

It also has a larger 12MB L3 cache, compared to the 10MB L3 cache of the Core i7-3820, giving it a further advantage on the Core i7-3820.

No stock CPU Cooler included:
Do note that the Core i7-3930K does not include an Intel stock CPU Cooler, which doesn’t matter mind you, since I recommend an after-market CPU Cooler, to keep noise and temperatures in check.

Regarding the price and availability of the i7-3820 and i7-3930K:
Both of them have been hard to find in stock for some time now and while Amazon has some in stock, they are unfortunately priced above their MSRP. Newegg is “selling” them for lower prices, but nearly never has it in stock (when it does, it’s for 15 minutes…) and/or requires you to buy it with at least another part, as part of a “combo”, a move by Newegg that I despite. Hence why I’ve linked to Amazon, since they actually have it in stock and don’t require you to buy another part that you may not necessarily want.

Alternative

  • $1050 – Intel Core i7-3960X LGA2011 Six-Core 15MB L3 3.3-3.9GHz Unlocked – The best of the best. The Intel Core i7-3960X “Extreme Edition” is the fastest consumer CPU that money can get you. Compared to the Core i7-3930K, you get an additional 3MB of L3 cache and 100MHz more. You don’t buy this CPU because it offers a great bang for your buck, no. You buy it because you want THE fastest CPU available and/or as a bragging right. Not that I encourage it, but who am I to tell you how to spend your hard-earned money, right? 😉 Once again, do note that the Core i7-3960X does not include an Intel stock CPU Cooler.

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Video Card:

Tier 3 and 4:

EVGA GeForce GT 520 1024 MB DDR3 PCI Express 2.0 DVI/HDMI/VGA Graphics Card, 01G-P3-1521-KR$46 – EVGA Geforce GT 520 1GB DDR3 VGA/DVI/HDMI

Basic Dedicated Video Card
Powerful enough to accelerate Photoshop, Premiere Pro CS5, After Effects, Visual Studio, Rhino3D, CorelDRAW, Pinnacle Studio 12, Sony Vegas 9/Pro and many other applications.

The best bang for your buck if you want a sub-$50 dedicated video card.

Outputs wise, you get a VGA, HDMI 1.4a and a Dual-link DVI-I connections.
Click here to go back up to parts summary

Recommended upgrades:

Casual Gaming + Apps acceleration – consumer level video cards:

Just like a basic dedicated video card, these are powerful enough to accelerate Photoshop, Premiere Pro CS5, After Effects, Visual Studio, Rhino3D, CorelDRAW, Pinnacle Studio 12, Sony Vegas 9/Pro and many other applications.

Of course, these are more and more powerful as you scale up and go for higher-end models.

On top of that, these are ideal for casual gaming.

Here are my recommendations, in order of performance and price:

  1. $90 – PNY Geforce GT 440 96SPs @810MHz 1GB DDR5 VGA/DVI/HDMI – A great step-up over the GT 520, with twice the Shader Processors (SPs). Powerful enough to handle older games or newer games at a low resolution (1440 x 900 or lower) or with low graphic details.
  2. $130 – MSI Geforce GTX 550 TI 192SPs @950MHz 2xDVI/Mini-HDMI 1GB DDR5 – Twice the SPs of the GT 440, a great card to handle modern games at a moderate resolution (1440 x 900) with decent level of graphic details.
  3. $190 – EVGA Geforce GTX 560 336SPs @ 850MHz 1GB DDR5 2xDVI/Mini-HDMI – Yet another big step-up over the previous choice, with 336 SPs this time. Ideal for gaming at 1680 x 1050. Capable of handling 1920 x 1080 with reduced graphic settings too.
  4. $240 – EVGA Geforce GTX 560 Ti 384SPs @ 900MHz 1GB DDR5 2xDVI/Mini-HDMI – Good for gaming at 1920 x 1080, although you’ll have to reduce the graphic details in more demanding games.
  5. $290 – EVGA GeForce GTX560 Ti 448SPs @ 797MHz 1280 MB DDR5 2xDVI/HDMI/DP – Capable of handling the most demanding games with high/ultra details at 1920 x 1080. Nearly as powerful as the GTX 570, but at a much better price.
  6. $360 – EVGA GeForce GTX570 480SPs @ 797MHz 1280MB DDR5 2xDVI/HDMI/DP
  7. $480 – EVGA GeForce GTX580 512SPs @ 797MHz 1536MB DDR5 2xDVI/HDMI/DP
  8. $560 – EVGA Classified GeForce GTX580 512SPs @ 855MHz 3072MB DDR5 2xDVI/HDMI/DP

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Professional level, Workstation type video cards:

What applications benefit from or truly need AMD Firepro or Nvidia Quadro Cards and what’s the difference between consumer cards (Radeon/Geforce) and professional cards (FirePro/Quadro)?

Accuracy & reliability:

Professional cards are about exact pinpoint accuracy rendering for things such as vehicles, buildings, contraptions, etc. designs. Think about many moving parts working together for an engine prototype….things where a millimeter off could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars lost or worse death. They are tools for professionals, and if you really need one you’ll know it.

Consumer cards are built for speed at the cost of accuracy, seeing as gaming rendering need to be fast, not perfectly accurate. Workstation cards are the opposite, they need to be perfectly accurate at all times, performance matters yes but not over accuracy.

Professional cards differ from consumer cards with their lower power consumption, ECC memory (expensive, but prevents errors from the memory) as well as very robust and detailed driver support.

The drivers are really where the bulk of the expense comes from, seeing as they have to work and have to work well. I mean, we gripe and moan about bugs in video games…Imagine when the drivers are holding you back from completing work and earning your livelihood!

It cost money to offer that level of support and it costs money to make money and/or move things forward to a large degree, great designs aren’t doodled out on a napkin in a country diner anymore.

Similar to other class of products on the market, i.e consumer vs pro cameras:

There are many products out that scale the same way, look at cameras, if you compare a $200 point and shoot for the family trip to disney world or the $5000+ DSLR used to shoot what we see in magazines and such, the latter has higher quality components, can take more abuse, offers higher quality pictures and it delivers them when it matters.

Back to the video cards: A lot of professional level applications will work to a degree on consumer cards (with some hacking and tweaking), but thats more like an artists sketch pad: good for practice and education, or proof of concept work but nothing mission critical. For most professional applications, key features are disabled and there is no formal support unless a proper card is being used. Also, performance in some cases can be severely limited. Not to mention the lack of accuracy.

“Workstation card core chips are mostly identical to the consumer grade stuff (except for the memory controller), but everything around it is usually made of much higher quality components. The heatsinks, fans, power delivery components, PCB, etc. are made of higher grade materials, the list goes on.

Thanks to our reader EBOBO and the folks on the forums of DesktopReview.com for that great explanation.

Other than that, Quadros and Firepros have optimizations in their drivers for various specific applications as well for the usual workload that a Workstation will be used for. These optimizations are only activated when a Quadro or Firepro is detected.
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FirePro vs Quadro:
Performance wise, the latest Quadro line-up (Quadro 600, 2000, 4000, 5000 and 6000, avoid the older FX series) has the edge over the FirePro series. Drivers wise, this is also the case, with Nvidia drivers being more stable, Quadro cards supported by more applications and finally, their drivers are more optimized for greater performance in some applications.

While the AMD FirePro line-up of cards can be an interesting alternative thanks to their relatively low cost, they are just not supported by as many applications as the Nvidia Quadro line-up cards are.

Needless to say, I’m sure that you’ll want to get top-notch performance all over the place in all apps, including Adobe apps and top-notch drivers, hence why I only recommend Nvidia Quadro cards in this build, when it comes down to professional cards.

Why am I recommending Nvidia cards only for app acceleration?
Simply put, many applications are accelerated via CUDA, a Nvidia exclusive. Also, overall, Nvidia tend to offer better drivers/support for professional applications.

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Professional level, Workstation type video cards recommendations

The following list is in order of price and performance, from the least expensive/least powerful to the most expensive/most powerful:

  1. $161 – PNY Nvidia Quadro 600 96 CUDA Cores 1GB 128-bit DDR3 1xDVI 1xDP – The Quadro 600 is the lowest cost option that you should get, as it offers quite a bit more processing power than the Quadro 400, while not costing much more. Mind you, it’s still limited by having only 96SPs, so don’t expect out of this world performance. Consider the Quadro 2000 1GB as my minimum recommendation, if you can afford it. In my opinion, for the handle typical workloads, especially in the long-run, you’re better off with the Quadro 2000 1GB.
  2. $424- PNY Nvidia Quadro 2000D 192 CUDA Cores 1GB 128-bit DDR5 2xDVI – The Quadro 2000 is my minimum recommendation that you should get, as it offers twice the processing power of the Quadro 600. If you can afford it, in my opinion, for the handle typical workloads, especially in the long-run, you’re better off with the Quadro 2000 1GB than the Quadro 600.
  3. $424- PNY Nvidia Quadro 2000 192 CUDA Cores 1GB 128-bit DDR5 1xDVI 2xDP – This card offers identical performance as the same Quadro 2000D above, the only difference being the output ports: The 2000D (above) offers two DVI outputs, while the 2000 offers one DVI and two DisplayPorts outputs.
  4. $729 – PNY Nvidia Quadro 4000 256 CUDA Cores 2GB 256-bit DDR5 1xDVI 2xDP – Moving up from the 2000 to the 4000 will bring in about 30% more processing power and twice the RAM.
  5. $1697 – PNY Nvidia Quadro 5000 352 CUDA Cores 2.5GB 320-bit DDR5 1xDVI 2xDP – Here you get an additional ~20% in processing power and 512MB more VRAM.
  6. $3858 – PNY Nvidia Quadro 6000 448 CUDA Cores 6GB 384-bit DDR5 1xDVI 2xDP – This is the fastest Quadro card available, offering an additional ~30% processing power over the Quadro 5000 and a LOT of VRAM, at 6GB.

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To run three to six monitors :

The vast majority of video cards on the market support two monitors. If you need support for three to six monitors, see my recommendations below.

If you need support for more than 6 monitors, simply buy as many video cards as needed. For example, if you need support for 18 monitors, get three PowerColor Radeon HD 6870 Eyefinity 6 cards, with each of them featuring 6x Mini Displayport ports.

With the two following cards, use the two DVI ports on the card as well the included HDMI-to-DVI adapter and you’ll have three DVI outputs, capable of handling three monitors with a resolution up to 1920 x 1200.

  1. The $130 – SAPPHIRE Flex Radeon HD 6770 1GB supports 3 DVI monitors out of the box and a 4th one with an active Displayport to DVI (or VGA) active adapter.
  2. The $200 – Sapphire Radeon HD 6870 1GB Flex Supports 3 monitors out of box supports 3 DVI monitors out of the box and can support a 4th and a 5th one using active Mini Displayport to DVI active adapters.

The following two cards feature Mini Displayport ports. Make sure to buy the necessary adapters to support your monitors setup.

  1. The $120 – XFX Radeon HD 6770 1GB 5x Mini Displayport features five Mini Displayport ports. Note that it doesn’t include any adapter, so you’ll have to buy any adapter that you’ll need.

Do note that it’s crucial to use active adapters. Passive adapters only works when using a single or dual monitors setup.

I’ve linked to such adapters right below:

Now, note that each Sapphire Flex card only has a single dual-link DVI port, for monitors using a 2560 x 1600 resolution. If you have more than one monitor that uses such a high resolution, you’ll need to use this $96 – Mini DisplayPort to DVI Dual-Link Adapter for each additional 2560 x 1600 monitor.

Of course, if you have monitors with Displayport connections, you can simply connect it directly if your video card has a Displayport port, or you can use mini Displayport to Displayport adapters if the video card comes with mini Displayport ports.

Looking for powerful Radeon cards for GPUPU or gaming on multiple monitors?
The new Radeon HD 7xxx series offers powerful calculating processing power, if you’re into Bitcoin mining, GPUPU or simply want to play video cards at a high resolution or on multiple monitors.

Here are my recommendations. Note that they both support up to four monitors, as long as you use Mini-DP active adapters, such as the ones that I linked to above:

Confused about what you need to run your multiple monitor setup?
Don’t worry, I understand that all of this can be rather confusing.

Just leave a comment at the end of the article, clearly describing the multiple monitor setup that you want to run and I’ll tell you what you need.

Make sure to tell me at least how many monitors you have and their brand/model. Preferably, also mention their resolution and which inputs (VGA/DVI/HDMI/Displayport) they accept.
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RAM

Tier 3:

Corsair 16 GB Vengeance Low Profile 1600mhz PC3-12800 240-pin Dual Channel DDR3 Memory Kit 16 Dual Channel Kit - CML16GX3M4A1600C9$95 – Corsair 16GB (4 x 4GB) DDR3 1600MHz

16GB of RAM will easily let you handle the latest programs, especially when you have many files open at once or when you work with high resolution images or videos for example.

Not to mention Windows and background background such as your anti-virus, web browser, music/video player, etc. all use a considerable amount of RAM.

I went with these Corsair sticks for their high reliability, compatibility with the majority of motherboards, low-profile heatsinks and great price.

Note that all recommended kits, as well as alternatives, run at 1600MHz, seeing as LGA2011 CPUs officially support that frequency and that it will give you more bandwidth to take advantage of.

 

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Tier 4:

G.SKILL Ripjaws Z Series 32GB (8 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model F3-12800CL9Q2-32GBZL$190 – G.SKILL 32GB (8 x 4GB) DDR3 1600MHz 1.5v

For Tier 4, I recommend 32GB of RAM.

32GB of RAM will allow your PC to handle even more applications at once without slowing down, as well as handle many more larger files/projects without any problem.

It will also make your PC more future-proof, seeing as programs always use more RAM as time goes by.
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Same quantity of RAM, but in four sticks instead of eight, allowing to upgrade later:

  1. $210 – 32GB (4 x 8GB) DDR3 1600MHz 1.5v – This kit gives you the same quantity of RAM (32GB) as the Tier 4 kit, but instead of having it over eight sticks, you get over four sticks. The advantage of this? You still have four free slots of RAM, leaving you the possibility of upgrading to 64GB of RAM down the road by adding another 32GB (4x8GB).

Need more than 32GB of RAM?
$427 – 64GB (8 x 8GB) DDR3 1600MHz 1.5v – Here’s a 64GB kit of RAM. If that’s not enough, you’ll have to wait for the High-End Workstations update, scheduled for March 2012, which will feature the Intel Xeon E5 CPUs and a dual-CPU platform.
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Storage:

Tier 3 and 4:

Seagate Barracuda 7200 500 GB SATA 6.0 Gb-s 16 MB Cache 3.5-Inch Internal Bare Drive ST500DM002$170 – Two Seagate Barracuda 7200rpm 500GB SATA III ST500DM002 in RAID 1

Two Hard Drives for RAID 1:

Best for: An inexpensive way of protecting your data, where the performance of a standard hard drive is enough.

Using two drives, the second drive is a live backup of the first one, being an exact copy of it.

You lose a bit of write speed compared to a single drive (due to the overhead of copying the same data in real-time to two different drives), do gain read performance (Since the OS can read from both drives) and you only get the capacity of one of the two drives (Two 500GB drives in RAID 1 = 500GB total capacity).

The main pro is that you get an higher level of redundancy/reliability compared to a single drive.

If one drive fails, you do not lose data, you are still able to use the PC, but you will need to replace the drive and rebuild the RAID array before regaining redundancy and data loss protection from RAID 1.

Recommendations for RAID 1 with hard drives:

  1. Tier 3 and 4: $170- Two Seagate Barracuda 500GB ST500DM002 in RAID 1, Total Capacity 500GB
  2. $200- Two Seagate Barracuda 1TB ST1000DM003 in RAID 1, Total Capacity 1TB
  3. $300 -Two Seagate Barracuda 2TB ST2000DM001 in RAID 1, Total Capacity 2TB
  4. $400 – Two Seagate Barracuda 3TB ST3000DM001 in RAID 1, Total Capacity 3TB

Recommended upgrades:

An example of RAID 10

Four Drives in RAID 10 or 0+1

Best for: When performance and data protection are both crucial.
RAID 0+1 or 10 basically is a combination of RAID 0 and 1.

Using four hard drives, you get:
– The capacity of two drives.
– Redundancy, so if a drive in any cluster, or two drives (one from each cluster) fails, you do not lose data, you are still able to use the PC but just like RAID 1, you will need to replace the drive and rebuild the RAID array before regaining redundancy and data loss protection.
– Top-notch performance, since the data is spread across two clusters of two drives (Each cluster being basically a RAID 1 array), basically combining the read and write performance of two logical drives (each RAID 1 cluster) into one ultra-fast array.

Recommendations for RAID 10 with hard drives:

  1. $340 – Four Seagate Barracuda 500GB in RAID 10 (1+0), Total Capacity 1TB
  2. $400- Four Seagate Barracuda 1TB in RAID 10 (1+0), Total Capacity 2TB
  3. $600 – Four Seagate Barracuda 2TB in RAID 10 (1+0), Total Capacity 4TB
  4. $800 – Four Seagate Barracuda 3TB ST3000DM001 in RAID 10 (1+0), Total Capacity 6TB

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Plextor SSDs, ideal for a single SSD:

Plextor PX-128M3S 128 GB M3S SATA 6 GB/s 2.5-Inch Solid State Drive$190 – Plextor M3 Series PX-128M3 128GB SATA III SSD 5 years warranty

Plextor SSDs use a Marvell controller, similar to the one featured in the Crucial M4 SSDs, known for their outstanding reliability.

Compared to the M4, the Plextor M3 offers slightly lower read performance, but higher write performance.

Just as importantly, they offer a 5 years warranty and their SSDs are competitively priced, making them ideal for a Workstation.

I recommended the 128GB model for Tier 4, but you can also use it for Tier 3 or you can go with the 256GB or 512GB models below.

Do note that I do not recommend these Plextor SSDs for usage in RAID (SSDs in RAID, you can use a single SSD with hard drives in RAID, that’s fine), do to the garbage collection not being good enough when used in RAID, due to the lack of TRIM when SSDs are used in RAID. For SSDs for usage in SSDs RAID, I recommended the Intel SSDs below.

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Intel SSDs – Ideal for RAID:

While they cost more than most SSDs, Intel SSDs offer top-notch reliability, support, 5-years warranty and are ideal for RAID arrays, thanks to their great garbage collection, which does pretty much the same thing as TRIM, all automatically.

Here are my recommendations for RAID 1 and RAID 10 (1+0) respectively:

Two SSDs for RAID 1:

  1. $440 – Two Intel 520 120GB SSD in RAID 1: Total capacity: 120GB
  2. $720 – Two Intel 520 180GB SSD in RAID 1: Total capacity: 180GB
  3. $1040 – Two Intel 520 240GB SSD in RAID 1: Total capacity: 240GB
  4. $2000 – Two Intel 520 480GB SSD in RAID 1: Total capacity: 480GB

Four SSDs for RAID 10 (1+0):

  1. $880 – Four Intel 520 120GB SSD in RAID 10 (1+0): Total capacity: 240GB
  2. $1440 – Four Intel 520 180GB SSD in RAID 10 (1+0): Total capacity: 360GB
  3. $2080 – Four Intel 520 240GB SSD in RAID 10 (1+0): Total capacity: 480GB
  4. $4000 – Four Intel 520 480GB SSD in RAID 10 (1+0): Total capacity: 960GB

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Diskless NAS (Network Attached Storage) – Buy HDDs separately:

Network Attached Storage means that you can attach the unit to your network or straight to your PC via LAN, allowing for access through the network and high transfer rates.

I recommend Synology NAS products as they offer the best reliability, great customer support and are considered as the some of the best NAS in the industry. They aren’t cheap, but this is a case of you get what you pay for. Besides, how much is your precious data? 😉

Note that these do not include hard drives, you’ll have to buy them yourself. You can either go with the Seagate 3.5″ hard drives recommended above or pick other hard drives, as you wish. I invite you to read the Best SSDs and HDDs For Your Money article to figure out which hard drives to pick.

  1. $150 – Synology Disk Station DS110j Diskless System 1-bay NAS Server – Supports one hard drive.
  2. $200 – Synology DiskStation DS212j 2-Bay (Diskless) Network Attached Storage (NAS) – Supports two hard drives.
  3. $440 – Synology DS411 Diskless System 4-bay NAS Server – Supports four hard drives.
  4. $770 – Synology DiskStation DS1511+ 5-Bay (Diskless) Scalable NAS – Supports five hard drives. Can be extended with the DX510 unit below
  5. $492 – Synology 5-Bay (Diskless) DX510 Plug-n-Use Expansion Unit for DS1511+ NAS – To be used as an extension to the DS1511 unit above.

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Fireproof and Waterproof external hard drive + recovery service:

ioSafe external drives are encased in a case that’s fire and water proof. You also get one or five years of data recovery service that’s included depending on the model that you pick. All of them support USB 3.0 for high transfer rates.

  1. $250 – ioSafe 1 TB USB3 Fire/Waterproof External HDD 1 Year Data Recovery Service
  2. $350 – ioSafe 1 TB USB3 Fire/Waterproof External HDD 5 Years Data Recovery Service
  3. $381 – ioSafe 2 TB USB3 Fire/Waterproof External HDD 1 Year Data Recovery Service
  4. $487 – ioSafe 2 TB USB3 Fire/Waterproof External HDD 5 Years Data Recovery Service

Large capacity external storage – HDDs included:

If you need a large capacity external solution, the $1050- Buffalo Technology DriveStation Quad 12 TB (4 x 3 TB) USB 3.0/eSATA – offers 12TB over four drives and can be accessed via USB 3.0 or E-SATA.
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Backups: Because all hard drives and SSDs are prone to failure!

Remember: No matter are reliable they can be, all hard drives and all SSDs are prone to failure, which is why you should consult the following article, for more backup solutions, including software: Have a Backup System that you can rely on!
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Optical Drive:

Tier 3 and 4:

Asus 24xDVD±RW Drive DVD-RAM/±R/±RW 24x8x16x(DVD) 48x32x48x(CD) Serial ATA Internal OEM DRW-24B1ST (Black)$19 – ASUS SATA 24X DVD Burner

This drive is able to read and burn CDs and DVDs. Silent (Except when it spins up to full speed obviously), compatible with all major formats including DVD-RAM.

The motherboard includes two SATA cables (One will be used for the hard drive and one for this DVD Burner), so no need to worry about cables.

Also, seeing as DVD Burners are often go out of stock lately, here are a two alternatives that you can use to replace it. All are SATA based.

  1. LITE-ON Black 24X SATA Black CD/DVD Writer
  2. HP Black 24X SATA 24X CD/DVD Writer – Retail

Upgrades:

If you’d like to watch BluRay movies or TV shows, or burn CDs, DVDs or Blu-Ray disks, this $98 – Sony Optiarc SATA 12X Blu-Ray Burner 3D playback will do the job.

Regarding Blu-Ray playback:

As far as I know, you still require a specific software to playback Blu-Ray disks on a PC.

Based on various reviews and feedback on various forums, PowerDVD 12 3D Ultra is the software that I recommend to you.

Note that you’ll need at least the Pro version for Blu-Ray playback.

It is fully compatible with Windows 7 and shouldn’t give you any problems.
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Case:

Tier 3 and 4:

Fractal Design Define R3 Titanium Grey w/ USB 3.0 ATX Mid Tower Silent PC Computer Case$110 – Fractal Design Define R3 2 x 120mm fans sound proofing

For $110, the Fractal Design Refine R3 is a great choice for a low-noise Workstation.

Cooling wise, this case includes two low-noise 1350rpm 120mm fans, which are controlled by a fan controller that supports up to three fans. You can also add up to four additional 120mm and or 140mm case fans, to improve cooling if you decide to upgrade wish to.

The best part of it and the reason that I recommend it for a low-noise Workstation, is that it features soundproof foam and other noise reducing techniques, reducing vibration and noise coming from the case.

On the top of the case, you have one USB 3.0 port, two USB 2.0 port and an audio output and an audio output 3.5mm jacks.

It has eight internal hard drive bays, with support for 2.5″ drives such as SSDs, allowing you to have plenty of drives for plenty of storage.

It also supports video cards up to a length of 290mm, supports a 2.5″ drive (e.g. SSD or hybrid hard drive) and has dust filters.
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Recommended upgrades:

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Power Supply:

Tier 3 and 4:

FSP Group AURUM GOLD 500W (AU-500) ATX12V /EPS 12V 80PLUS GOLD Certified Compatible with Core i7 Power Supply$84 – FSP AURUM GOLD 500W 80PLUS Gold

This power supply has a maximum power output of 500W, not that should rely only on this information only as I often point in posts such as Warning: 6 Surefire Ways of Blowing Up Your Computer Due to an Inadequate Power Supply.

More importantly, it can output a maximum of 36A on the 12V line, one of the most important factors when it comes to choosing a power supply.

Best of all, it is 80 PLUS Gold certified, meaning that it’s always at least 87% efficient, resulting in less heat, more silence and a lower electricity bill for you, compared to a less efficient power supply.
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This Build Power Requirements:

Note that unlike Gaming PCs, the figures here are based on power requirements, not on power consumption, because I wanted to allow for more overhead with Workstation Builds, as they have to be more reliable and are often on 24/7. This also allows for greater efficiency, since most power supplies are more efficient at a 50% load compared to say, a 80% load.

According to the eXtreme Power Supply Calculator, information from Tom’s Hardware, AnandTech and Hardware.fr as well as my own experience, it is estimated that this system will require (not consume) at load (peak usage) a power supply capable of delivering:

  • 375W for Tier 3: 500W is fine here.
  • 400W for Tier 4: 500W is fine here. Upgrade to 550W if you intend to run 24/7 for years.
  • 475W for Tier 4, with the CPU overclocked to 4.3GHz/1.35v. 600-650W recommended.

For Workstations, I recommend an overhead of 100 to 200W for the power supply, to ensure reliable operation over the years, as the power supply components age and lose output capacity.

The recommended power supply will have no problem handling basic upgrades, such as CPU, RAM and additional drives upgrades.

If you decide to get a dedicated powerful video card (Geforce GTX 560, Radeon HD 6xxx or Quadro 600/2000/4000/5000/6000, I would recommend looking into a quality 550-650W power supply, such as the ones that I recommend below.

80 PLUS?
80 PLUS refers to a certification from an independant group that a PSU meets their requirements for the specified level of efficiency. Here’s a chart that shows the different required levels of efficiency depending on the specific 80 PLUS certification:

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/80_PLUS

Modular power supply?
A modular power supply is one that allows you to only plug in and only use the power cables that you actually need, instead of being stuck with a bunch of unused power cables that you need to hide somewhere in your case, that are resulting in less of a cable mess.
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Recommended upgrades:

UPS/Surge Protector:

I highly recommend getting a UPS, especially if you’re in an area with a lot of thunderstorms or in a house with older electric wiring. If you lose power, the UPS will keep your PC running for a few minutes, enough for you to save your work and to properly shutdown your PC.

The recommended UPS below also protects against electrical surges, protecting your PC and other equipment plugged into the UPS, from dangerous power surges, which are one of the main causes of defective computers.

PC components are extremely fragile and the last thing that you want is to plug all that expensive equipped straight in a power outlet. You want it plugged in a surge protector (featured in the UPS units below), which will protect your expensive equipment.

My recommendations:

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Cooling

Tier 3 and 4:

Arctic Cooling Freezer i30 for Intel CPU UCACO-FI30001-GB$45 – Arctic Cooling Freezer i30 CPU Cooler

To keep your CPU temperatures lower, which improves the reliability of your PC and the longevity of your CPU and to keep noise at a minimum, something that the stock cooler can struggle to do at times, especially during prolonged work sessions, or in a warm room, I recommend the Arctic Cooling Freezer i30 CPU Cooler.

With its PWM fan, which adjusts its speed depending on your CPU load/temperature, it only runs as fast as it needs to, keeping noise levels optimal.

Note that since the Mainstream Workstations use CPUs based on the LGA2011, you need a LGA2011 compatible CPU Cooler if you decide to go with something different from my recommendations.
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Alternatives:
If you intend to overclock, the Arctic Cooling Freezer i30 recommended above will be able to handle some extra thermal load but will become more noisy and will most likely bottleneck your CPU overclocking potential.

I recommend upgrading to the Phantek PH-TC14PE CPU Cooler, which offers performance comparable to the Thermalright Silver Arrow and Noctua NH-D14, while being available in four colors!

Get a free PWM external adaptor:
Phanteks are giving away PWM external adaptors for their PH-TC14PE CPU cooler. The PWM external adaptor will convert the PH-F140 fan into a PWM controlled fan. This will allow you to achieve the best balance between silence and cooling performance automatically.

The new PWM external adaptor can be requested free of charge here, for all current Phanteks owners. Only a proof of purchase is required. Future shipments of PH-TC14PE series will include the PWM adapter.

Thermal Compound:
The recommended CPU Coolers already include high-performance thermal compound, so no need to buy any.

Fan controller:
If you go with a different case that has no integrated fan controller, or desire to control more fans than the integrated fan controller can, I recommend the $26 – Sunbeamtech Fan Controller, 6 Channels, Up to 30W each, which will allow you to control up to six fans by default or even more if you use y-splitters and the like.

This fan controller is capable of handling six channels (with several fans by channel if you daisy-chain them), with 30W (2.5A at 12V) available per channel.

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Sound

Tier 3 and 4:

Sound Card: 8 channels sound card: Integrated on the motherboard

Integrated with the motherboard, this sound card will handle many different sound setups, including headphones, a microphone and more. While integrated audio on a PC used to be absolutely horrible, it has gotten much better in the last few years, thus why I have no trouble recommending it.

However, if you enjoy high-quality audio, are an audiophile or do professional work with audio and that an integrated sound card won’t jut cut it, here are some recommendations, in order of price:

Seeing as there are a variety of audio setups, with a variety of jacks and the like, I invite you to simply pick the best card, according to your needs. Make sure to double-check the specifications and pictures, to see the Inputs/Outputs as well as included accessories.

Do note that some cards uses the PCI interface, while some uses the PCI-Express 1x interface. Either one will do, just make sure that you have a free slot on your motherboard for your sound card.

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Network

Tier 3 and 4:

Ethernet RJ-45 10/100/1000 Mbps LAN: Integrated on the motherboard

Integrated on the motherboard, this network adapter will allow you to access your local network and Internet.

Need more than one LAN adapter? No problem, simply add one of these Intel add-on cards, depending on your needs:

However, if a LAN network is not an option or if a wireless network is preferable for you, I recommend the following wireless adapters:

Wireless Routers:
Need a wireless router too? No problem. Here are my recommendations, in an ascending order of performance and price:

  1. $30 – TP-Link WL TL-WR841N 300Mbps – A great basic no-frill fairly reliable 300Mbps router.
  2. $50 – TP-LINK TL-WR1043ND 300Mbps USB – Similar to the one above, but with an extra antenna and a USB port, to share a printer, storage, etc.
  3. $89 – D-Link DIR-645 300Mbps USB – Higher performance than the TP-LINK TL-WR1043ND, hangs out with more expensive routers, but at a lower price.
  4. $129 – ASUS RT-N56U Dual-Band 600Mbps – High-performance dual-band router, with great looks too!
  5. $179 – Apple Airport Express 3×3:3 – One of the few routers that offers 3×3:3 for maximum throughput and range. Also one of the most user-friendly and one of the most reliable.

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Recommended operating systems:

The operating system cost, if there’s one, is not included in the total cost. The two reason for this are:

  1. The budget only considers hardware.
  2. You may be able re-use a previous license, go with an open-source OS such as Linux or, if you’re so inclined and are aware of what you’re doing, use torrents.

If you decide that you need an OS, here are some recommendations:

Windows 7

Despite Linux gaining more and more support, Windows still is the platform of choice for compatibility at the moment. Considering that you’ll have 8GB of RAM or more, you’ll need a 64-bit version, as 32-bit is limited to 4GB of memory for the entire system, which is not enough now, nor in the future if you decide to upgrade.

Windows 7 is by far better than Windows Vista, looks better, more functional, less annoying, consumes less resources and brings DirectX 11 to the table.

Three Available Versions:

  1. Windows 7 Home Premium: The basic edition, with all the looks, most of the functionality and DirectX 11. Do note that it’s limited to a maximum of 16GB of RAM. For more than 16GB of RAM, you want the Professional or Ultimate edition,
  2. Windows 7 Professional – Required for Tier 4 to support 32GB of RAM or more: If you want the virtual XP mode, you’ll need at least the Professional edition. Also required if you want to backup to a network, using the built-in backup mode in Windows. Also good to know: You’ll need at least the pro version to take advantage of Remote Desktop Connection.
  3. Windows 7 Ultimate: To help protect data on your PC and portable storage devices against loss or theft with BitLocker and to work and switch between 35 languages.

OEM vs Retail:

The OEM version allows you to only install it once on a computer. You cannot transfer the license to another computer in the future and you do not receive support from Microsoft. It’s the same type of license you get when you get Windows on a desktop or laptop that you buy from Dell, HP and such. It’s less expensive, but gives less flexibility. Ideal if you intend on keeping your computer for many years.

The Retail version is the full version, which allows you to transfer the license to another computer in the future and you can call Microsoft if you need any form of support. Ideal if you intend on upgrading/changing your computer down the road.

Other than that, you get the same features on both, only the license differs. The price between the two differs obviously.

OEM Versions:

  1. Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit OEM SP1 – $99
  2. Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit OEM SP1 – $140
  3. Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit OEM SP1 – $189

Retail Versions:

  1. Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium Retail – $180
  2. Microsoft Windows 7 Professional Retail – $250
  3. Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate Retail – $240

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Linux

A lot of people these days boot more than one OS. Linux is a wonderful choice: powerful, cool, and cheap. Take your pick of distribution and have fun! For Fedora, Ubuntu, Debian, Slackware, and Mandriva, try Distrowatch.com, Cheapbytes.com, LinuxQuestions.org or one of the many others.

While Linux does not offer the wide compatibility of Windows with video games, gaming on Linux is still possible, through projects such as Wine, Cedega and Crossover. For more on the topic of Linux Gaming, I invite you to read this excellent article from AnandTech: Linux Gaming: Are we there yet?

What about Word processing, Excel and other Windows-based programs that you need? Linux, being an open platform, has many free alternatives for you. For Word/Excel and such, try LibreOffice.
Cost: Free

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Conclusion

I took my sweet time for this latest version of the Mainstream Workstations, for I wanted to offer you the absolute best builds that I could deliver. I wanted it to offer a great level of reliability and performance, while being relatively quiet and easy to upgrade to.

Don’t agree with my choices? Have a suggestion to improve this build?

However, I do realize that even if I took a year to write this guide, it wouldn’t be perfect and it wouldn’t cover every possible software/scenario.

This is why if you don’t agree with one or several of my choices, think that you can come up with a way to improve this build, have requests, comments, etc. by all means, please let me know by leaving a comment below.

You might just be right and upon further research, if I agree with you, I’ll update the build as necessary.

Would you like to see an additional feature? Let me know.

One or several parts are out of stock?

Drop by our forums and let us know. An helpful forum member, or myself, will recommend to you an equivalent alternative and I do my best to quickly update the build.

What do you think?

What’s your opinion on this build?
Did you find a typo or error in this article?
Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

Building this PC?

I often get questions such as:
– Who are you to tell me which parts to choose?
– Can you suggest me a step by step guide to build a computer?
– Why should I build a PC instead of buying one in a store?
– And many more…

1. You will find the answers to all of these questions and more in this article: FAQ: How to Build Your Own Computer
2. Is this your first build? Here are 10 Quick Tips for 1st Time Builders to get you started.
3. Newly built computer won’t start? I invite you to read Help me: Why won’t my newly assembled PC start or boot?
4. Visit our forums here, where you can join our helpful community and ask questions.

Recommended step-by-step guides to build your PC:

1. Arstechnica Outstanding Guide for Hardware (Building the PC)
2. Arstechnica Outstanding Guide for Software (EFI/BIOS, Windows, etc.)

Free Assistance

If you have any question(s) about the build, simply head over to the forums and our community will be there to assist you.

No worries, there are no stupid questions here on Hardware Revolution. We all started from scratch and learned through our mistakes. We”ll just help you make sure to avoid those mistakes ;)

If you want to have your final build double-checked and get my opinion on it before ordering, or for anything else, don’t be shy, just post a thread on the forums.

Build your Workstation today!

Why should you?
For the same price, you’ll get more performance out of your custom PC, or you’ll save money while getting the same performance compared to a retail PC. Not to mention that retail PCs come with tons of bloatware and limited warranties. Why settle for less?

Stop relying on HP, Dell and other companies:
Build your own custom PC today.
It’s easier than you think!

This Build includes all the parts/cables that you need and it was double-checked to ensure compatibility. Simply order your parts, set aside some time, grab a screwdriver and build your own personal PC. No worries, we’ll (the HR community) be there to assist you if you have questions or need help.

Then you’ll be able to say, “See that computer over there? Yeah, I built that.” Talk about being proud of a job well done.