PostHeaderIcon Build It: What Gloriousness Really Looks Like



This article was published in the December 2015 issue of Maximum PC. For more trusted reviews and feature stories, subscribe here.

A build based on a poll published by reddit.com/r/PCMasterRace

Length of Time 1 1/2 Hours | Level of Difficulty: Easy

The Mission

There are plenty of places on the web where PC enthusiasts congregate. Countless forums, social media accounts, and blogs abound with folks showing off their PC builds and talking about hardware. You’d better believe www.reddit.com/r/PCMasterRace is one such place.

Even though the words “Master Race” may make some uneasy (and for very good reason), you can rest assured the vast majority of the subreddit’s members are just PC enthusiasts who love to build and use PCs. The subreddit derives the name from the belief that PCs are inherently superior to consoles. In many ways, we can get behind that idea. The forum is full of stories about console users ascending to join the ranks of PC users.

The thing is, the title “Master Race” may suggest that all the members of such a forum have high-end PCs that would warp space-time or have conveyor belts that make bacon grilled cheese sandwiches all day. As it turns out, this isn’t always the case—though if someone has a PC that has a grilled cheese maker built into it, we want to see it yesterday.

We found an infographic posted on the subreddit that was based on a poll of the members of PCMR. The infographic showed the percentage of users who used different kinds of parts, e.g., air versus water cooling, and a host of other specs. We thought it would be interesting to find out what the “master race” rig actually looked like, so we set out to build one based on the most common features, as described by the infographic.

MPC118.rd buildit.beauty

A Master Case for the Master Race

One thing we noticed when we set out to build our PCMR machine was that the common specs are strikingly similar to the recommended specs for Oculus Rift. As a result, we were able to reuse some of the parts Jarred used for his Oculus Rift build in our September issue. We plucked the short Asus GTX 970 and ASRock Z97 mobo out of that build and put together a rig using parts from around our lab.

One of the new impressive pieces of gear that went into the build was Cooler Master’s conveniently named Master Case 5. This midtower case is fully modular, and most elements come off with an easy-to-reach tab or thumb screw. We also have a box full of “extras” for the case, but we decided to stick with the “stock” version. The parts we chose all fit well within the midtower chassis, without overdue effort from us.

For the brains of this build, we went with the Core i5-4590, which is also the recommended CPU for Oculus Rift. For memory, we pulled the two Patriot Viper 3 DDR3 modules from last month’s upgrade build and pressed them back into service.

Ingredients

Part Street Price
CPU Intel Core i5-4590 $200
Motherboard ASRock Z97 $170
GPU Asus GTX 970 DCMOC $355
Memory Patriot Viper 3 8GB DDR3 1600 $50
PSU EVGA Nex750G 80 Plus Gold $105
Case Cooler Master Master Case 5 Midtower $109
HDD WD Black 1TB $71
SSD Samsung 850 EVO M.2 250GB $109
Fan 3x Corsair AF140 White $51
Total $1,220
1. Plus Five Intelligence

When it comes to CPUs, PCMR is pretty damned clear about what the preferred chips are. Eighty percent of PCMR builds use Intel processors. The survey also broke down what the preferred processor lines were. The subreddit chose the Core i5, with 41.1 percent of the vote, over the Core i7 (32.4 percent) and AMD FX (13.1 percent). Only 36.3 percent of ascended members overclocked.

MPC118.rd buildit.1

We chose the Core i5-4590 as our CPU. While it’s not unlocked, this quad-core has plenty of power for most applications. The CPU is also fairly inexpensive, and coupled with a Z97 board, allows for future upgrades.

A quick look at Intel ARK reveals that the 4590 is made with conflict-free materials. That little added bonus means that this CPU, while less beefy than its bigger cousins, can give you the warm fuzzies while you blast your foes to bits with a rocket launcher.

2. Heart of a Warrior

When the PCMR flexes its muscles, it prefers green to red by a wide margin. Nvidia claimed 67.7 percent of the vote while AMD only clutched 28.9 percent. Intel’s integrated graphics made a small showing with 3.4 percent of the vote.

MPC118.rd buildit.2

Most respondents also preferred a “high-end” videocard (one that costs between $300 and $500). The short version of the GTX 970 by Asus that we chose falls squarely in that price range at $355. We left the GPU at stock clocks too, as only 38 percent of the ascended said they overclocked their GPU. Even if we had overclocked the GPU, this little card had plenty of room to breathe in this case. Nvidia’s next step up, the GTX 980, falls into the survey’s “flagship” category at $550.

3. Never Forget

When we looked at what PCMR members used for storage solutions, we found that 55 percent do the same thing we do in most of our builds: use an SSD for the OS and apps and regulate media files and other storage to spinning hard drives.

MPC118.rd buildit.3

For our SSD, we went with an M.2 version of the Samsung 850 EVO. The read and write performance of the M.2 model is about the same as the SATA version, as is the price at a little over $100. This particular motherboard had two M.2 slots to fill, so we figured: hey, why not? For the spinning drive, the 1TB WD Black gives us enough archive space to start out with at a decent price ($71). The flexibility of the Master Case lets us put the drive almost anywhere forward of the motherboard, but we opted to keep it at the bottom of the mounting rail to optimize airflow to the CPU and GPU.

4. Advanced Mental Capacity

Memory is one of those things that can differ greatly depending on the application of the machine. Games tend to not need a whole lot of RAM, but big data-heavy design applications do. When it comes to the ranks of the PCMR, about half (51.3 percent) of users only need 8GB of RAM. Meanwhile, 33.7 percent made the jump to 16GB.

MPC118.rd buildit.4

The overwhelming majority use DDR3. The RAM data gave us another interesting insight: Since only a small minority of respondents (9 percent) are using DDR4, we can derive that not a whole lot of people are sporting X99 Haswell-E systems. We love our Haswell-E systems here in our lab, but in the wild, they’re clearly not as widespread.

5. The Source of Power

To keep things cool, a case needs air flow. With the Master Case, the included single 140mm front case fan just didn’t cut it with us. We replaced the single fan with a trio of Corsair’s AF140 white LED fans.

MPC118.rd buildit.5

We tend to go with closed-loop water cooling to chill out our CPUs for overclocking, but it turns out only 36.3 percent of PCMR overclock their CPUs, and nearly 70 percent use air cooling. That let us justify keeping Intel’s stock CPU fan, while also pushing a bunch of air through the case. The ASRock Z97 Extreme has four PWM case fan pinouts. We stacked the three fans up front to push a wall of air toward the GPU, CPU, memory, and mobo. The stock side panel of the Master Case lacks a window, which means that the three fans won’t create too-big glowy light leaks.

6. Cable Nightmare

Immediately obvious with this case was the utter lack of cable management. In terms of PC cabling, this is the stuff of nightmares. What seems like an obvious route for cables—over the horizontal rail and behind the drive bays—is made impossible by a side panel that has an inward (inward!) bevel. When we tried to keep cabling tucked behind the mobo tray, we felt like the case was making fun of us. “Oh, that’s cute,” it would say. “I bet you’d just love an extra centimeter. Tough luck.”

MPC118.rd buildit.6

Coupled with the woefully insufficient zip ties that came with the PSU, this cable job could have you waking up in cold sweats. We had to stuff the cables behind the drive cage, doing our best to keep them out of the way of the front fan’s air flow. The wiring still looks like a mess.

Gut

  1. Using a Z97 board is a bit overkill for the locked i5-4590 we chose for our CPU. However, using a Z97 board opens the door for future upgrades to K-model CPUs.
  2. The Master Case 5 only has USB 3.0 ports on the front panel, so there was no need to snake USB 2.0 connections to other parts of the board.
  3. Since the Master Case 5’s drive bays are fully modular, we removed the front-facing 5.25-inch cage to improve air flow.
  4. Having cable passthroughs with rubber grommets on the case’s horizontal partition helps keep unsightly cross-motherboard cable reaches to a minimum.

Ascension

When it comes right down to it, gaming PCs come in all calibers. To members and readers of /r/PCMasterRace, the most important thing is to prefer gaming on the PC to gaming on a console. As we found out, that PC doesn’t need to be a Dream Machine.

Even though the average PCMR specs are modest compared to the stuff we usually build and review, the i5-4590 is still a good CPU. While we often use the GTX 980 as the yardstick by which to judge other GPUs, the GTX 970 is still plenty powerful, and offers great performance for the price.

When it comes to the time, single-threaded benchmark tests, the Core i5-4590 wasn’t far behind the Core i7-5960X. Considering that the i5-4590 is only a fifth of the price of the 5960X, its performance is actually quite impressive.

Once we ran our multithreaded x264 benchmark, the octa-core 5960X left the little quad-core 4590 in the dust. While you can cut, slice, and encode video, we’d definitely go for a hexa-core CPU if you have the budget for it. Even if you can’t go that high, the clocks of an i7-4790K Devil’s Canyon will get things done much quicker than the i5 can.

Since we transplanted the GTX 970 from last month’s upgrade build, our video benchmarks remained about the same. A single GTX 970 versus three 980s in SLI isn’t really a fair fight in any sense of the term, but that doesn’t mean that the 970 is a weakling. The GTX 970 performs well at 1440p, and is the recommended GPU for Oculus Rift.

Audiophiles make up a minority of the PCMR, since only about 21 percent of respondents used a sound card (10.7 percent), digital-to-analog converter (8.5 percent), or a digital audio workstation-grade setup (1.8 percent). About 79 percent settled for onboard audio, so we did, too. This time.

Building a PC can be intimidating. Helping others with their first rig is a chance to help spread the joy of building PCs. After all, we’ve all had our moments of peasantry where we break down and play a game or two in the living room, too, console controller in hand. But for PC enthusiasts, a mouse, keyboard, and a wicked-fast and sharp gaming experience will always reign supreme.

Benchmarks

Zero-Point
Stitch.Efx 2.0 (sec) 806 871 (-8%)
ProShow Producer 5.0 (sec) 1,472 1,554 (-5.6%)
x264 HD 5.0 (fps) 33.8 13.52 (-60%)
Batman: Arkham City 1440p (fps) 204 72 (-64.7%)
Tomb Raider 2160p (fps) 87.5 28.3 (-67.7%)
Shadow of Mordor 2160p (fps) 70.1 30.6 (-56.3%)
3DMark FireStrike Ultra 8,016 2,479 (-69.1%)

Our desktop zero-point PC uses a 5960X CPU, three GTX 980s, and 16GB of RAM. Arkham City tested at 2560×1440 max settings with PhysX off; Tomb Raider tested at Ultimate settings; Shadow of Mordor at Max settings.

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