Vincent Chang assembles a top-of-the-line PC for an Ultra HD gaming experience.
Intel Core i7-5930K and Asus X99-Deluxe
$1,353 (street price)
You could go all out and get Intel's most powerful consumer CPU, the Core i7-5960X. But the runner-up Core i7-5930K chip seems the more reasonable option. Yes, it has two fewer cores than the eight-core i7-5960X, but it also costs about $600 less.
Both of these enthusiast-class Haswell-E processors are unlocked. This means, with good cooling, you can tweak them to run faster than their default speeds.
More importantly for a 4K system, both come with 40 PCIe 3.0 lanes. This is necessary if you intend to run four graphics cards in the future.
Accompanying these new processors is Intel's X99 chipset, on which the Asus X99-Deluxe is based. This board is loaded with features, from built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi to a fan extension card that lets enthusiasts install even more cooling fans.
Connectivity is its forte. It has two Ethernet ports and 10 USB ports. It also supports the M.2 interface used by new and upcoming solid-state drives, or SSDs.
Seasonic X-Series 1050W
With two graphics cards and a high-end processor, a power supply unit with sufficient output, such as this 1,050W Seasonic, is a must. It has six power connectors to support multiple high-end graphics cards.
Its modular design keeps cable clutter to a minimum since you can just remove unused connectors. It runs almost silent and has an 80 Plus gold certification for power efficiency.
Samsung SSD 850 Pro 512GB
Samsung's mobile devices may grab the limelight, but if you ask me, its SSDs are the ones that are really pushing the tech envelope.
Take the company's new flagship consumer SSD, the 850 Pro. It is the first SSD to use 3-D vertical Nand flash memory. This is a new method of putting more flash memory cells on the silicon wafer by stacking them. The end result, together with other improvements, is a drive that boasts excellent performance.
The downside is that the 850 Pro commands a premium over its rivals. It is cheaper to buy the 256GB version ($329) and have a secondary hard drive for extra storage ($200 for 4TB). Or you could choose a different brand entirely, such as the Plextor M6 Pro ($450 for 512GB).
A pair of Asus Strix GTX 970 4GB GDDR5
$1,178 for two
You may wonder why I picked the Nvidia GeForce GTX 970, which is a notch below the flagship GTX 980 graphics card.
The reason is simple: The Asus GTX 970 provides superior value at $589 a card compared with $969 for a single Asus Strix GTX 980. These savings are doubled since our 4K setup requires two graphics cards.
Yes, the GTX 970 has a lower clock speed and comes with fewer processing cores than the GTX 980. But its performance is close enough. This gap is further narrowed as vendors usually set the GTX 970 cards at higher-than-usual speeds.
Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 (2800MHz) 16GB Kit
Given that DDR4 memory modules are only starting to enter the market, there are few choices. Fortunately, the Corsair Vengeance series that I chose for last year's DL Gaming PC is available in DDR4 format.
At 2,800MHz, the Vengeance is slightly faster than the stock 2,133MHz DDR4 speed.
It is also faster than its competitors, whose speeds range from 2,133MHz to 2,666MHz. This extra speed should ensure more headroom when you are trying to overclock the processor.
Cooler Master Storm Stryker
This case looks as if it was inspired by the imperial storm troopers of the Star Wars movies. It has a glossy white finish with a meshed design to ensure excellent ventilation. A top control panel lets you adjust the speed of the system fans and even toggle their LED lights.
As it is a full-tower case, there is plenty of space for multiple storage drives and large graphics cards.
A carrying handle at the top comes in handy when you need to lug the Cooler Master Storm Stryker around, but as it weighs 12kg when empty, it is probably not something you would do often.
Microsoft Windows 8.1
$219, retail version
Microsoft may have announced Windows 10 last week, but until the new operating system is released next year, your best option is Windows 8.1.
After all, most PC games are still developed for Windows.
Also, while far from perfect, Windows 8.1 is able to adjust the size of icons and text for the 3,840 x 2,160-pixel resolution so that they are legible.
You can also tweak the amount of scaling in the settings.
Next: Street prices
When it comes to shopping for PC parts, Sim Lim Square is the place to go. Bring plenty of cash if you intend to splurge as you will incur extra charges on top of the listed price if you insist on using a credit card.
On the other hand, buying an entire system from a single store, or having the gift of the gab, usually gets you some form of discount.
The following prices are from three major Sim Lim Square retailers (as of Oct 1).
|Intel Core i7-5930K and Asus X99-Deluxe||1,353||1,335||1,326|
|Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 2800MHz 16GB Kit||480||545||not available|
|Asus Strix GTX 970 4GB GDDR5 x 2||1,118||1,170||1,178|
|Samsung SSD 850 Pro 512GB||629||635||638|
|Seasonic X-Series 1050W||280||310||282|
|Cooler Master Hyper 212X||56||65||55|
|Cooler Master Storm Stryker||260||275||262|
|Microsoft Windows 8.1 (64-bit, OEM)||125||120||133|
Note that PC component prices often vary and you should check directly with the retailers for the latest prices.
What 4K gaming feels like
Once I picked my jaw up off the ground, the first thing I had to say about 4K gaming was how incredibly detailed and smooth the games looked.
I would even go so far as to say that anti-aliasing, or AA - to smooth out jagged edges - becomes almost unnecessary at such a high resolution.
As for the actual performance numbers, the Digital Life 4K gaming rig was able to produce around 83 frames per second (fps) in Bioshock Infinite at maximum settings. This game is not that new, which explains why I could play it using a single Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 card instead of two. Doing so brings the frame rates down to around 49fps, which is still playable.
For a newer game such as last year's Metro: Last Light, two graphics cards are required. With both GTX 970 cards running, the system churned out around 47fps in this game at maximum settings.
In Crysis 3, which is even more graphically demanding, the 4K system managed only an average of 36fps at maximum settings.
While this sounds decent, the occasional lag plagued the experience. It is probably better to turn off some graphical effects in order to achieve smooth gameplay.
This article was first published on Oct 8, 2014.
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