Dream Machine 2012: Best PC Ever

In an age of overly synthesized catchphrases ginned up by some suit to commercialize new soda pop or body spray, the term “pure PC power” was never intended to be marketing hype.
Instead, it was conceived to describe our obsession with performance computers and it has withstood the test of time. Who would have known that 16 Dream Machines later, the pursuit of all-out computing power could still be viable?
But that’s just what this year’s Dream Machine again proves: Despite pundits predicting the PC’s death many times over—speed still matters. For this year’s Dream Machine, we decided to build a rig that balances top-notch performance with the style and elegance of an exotic sports car. The overall package is well-behaved and even fairly modest at power consumption, considering the amount of performance it packs.
As always, it’s not just about the PC proper, though. For our Dream Machine, we tracked down the best hardware available, such as NEC’s freaking-awesome PA301W panels and the wireless Cyborg R.A.T. 9 mouse, to make a lust-worthy setup that any of us would kill to have grace our desktop. So join us as we celebrate another year of the PC’s supremacy.
Under the Hood
  1. Corsair Hydro Series H100
    Even the most risk-averse person can admit that coolers such as Corsair’s super H100 pose very little chance of leaking. And the fact that it’s easy to install and requires zero maintenance makes it a win for even those of us who aren’t plumbers.
  2. Gigabyte GA-Z68X-UD7-B3
    To run SLI, we needed a motherboard that features Nvidia’s nForce 200 chip. The GA-Z68X-UD7-B3 has that and is also chock-full of cool features such as the ability to charge your phone via USB while your PC is off.
  3. Intel Core i7-2600K
    We’ve read figures that 50 percent of all 3.4GHz 2600Ks will overclock up to 1GHz past stock—and those are the “bad” ones. The rest will run well past 4.5GHz. Our D2-core chip is older, but even so, runs quite stable at 4.8GHz.
  4. EVGA GeForce GTX 580 Superclocked—Times Three
    After much soul searching, we decided that EVGA’s Superclocked GTX 580 cards in tri-SLI were the right option because they offer better scaling than four GPUs for most games, and hell, the next version of Unreal Engine 3 was demoed using three GTX 580s.
  5. OCZ Vertex 3
    Intel’s native SATA 6Gb/s implementation is simply awesome, and with the right drives, you’re in storage nirvana. With two Vertex 3s in RAID 0 on the Intel PCH’s SATA 6Gb/s ports, we hit in excess of 1,000MB/s read speeds. Need we say more?
CPUIntel 3.4GHz Core i7-2600K www.intel.com$317
MotherboardGigabyte GA-Z68X-UD7-B3 www.gigabyte.com$350 
GPU3x EVGA GeForce GTX 580 Superclocked www.evga.com$1,557 ($519 each) 
CaseCooler Master Cosmos II Prototype www.coolermaster-usa.com$350
RAMCorsair 16GB Vengeance www.corsair.com$180
PSUSilverstone Strider ST1500 www.silverstonetek.com$380
CoolerCorsair Hydro Series H100 www.corsair.com$120
SSD2x 240GB OCZ Vertex 3 www.ocztechnology.com$1080 ($540 each)
HDD 3x 3TB Seagate Barracuda XTwww.seagate.com$600 ($200 each)
ODDPlextor B940SA www.plextor.com$169
SpeakersCorsair SP2500 www.corsair.com$250
MouseCyborg R.A.T. 9 www.cyborggaming.com$130
Keyboard Razer BlackWidow Ultimatewww.razerzone.com$80
Monitor3x NEC PA301W www.necdisplay.com$6900 ($2300 each)
OSMicrosoft Windows 7 Professional www.microsoft.com$125
Total Cost  $12,588 

You Have to Build it or Get Off the Pot

The classic dilemma in technology hasn’t changed in the 16 years we’ve been building our annual Dream Machine: Build now or wait for the next big thing?
In our case, it’s never been so glaringly apparent as this year. That’s because the worst-kept secret in the industry is Intel’s Sandy Bridge E chip that’s coming out in about two months. Sandy Bridge E (for either Enthusiast or Extreme) is a rebadged Xeon chip and is screened to hit high clock speeds. The accompanying X79 chipset will feature no fewer than 12 SATA ports—six of them at 6Gb/s speeds—PCIe 3.0, and quad-channel RAM support, on the new LGA2011 socket.
Yeah, your mouth is probably watering already, so why not “wait” for this new CPU and chipset combo? And at the same time, we should probably also wait for the next-generation GeForce or Radeon card. Oh yeah, and while we’re at it, let’s see what the next round of SSDs, coolers, motherboards, cases, speakers, and mice brings us, too.
You see where this gets you? Pretty soon you’re waiting for the “next big thing” while driving a Pentium 4 box in the slow lane while your fellow gamers scream at you to get the hell off the server and quit dragging down the pings.
In the end, you have to go with the components you have, not the components you wish you had. In the here and now, Dream Machine 2011 is the best PC you can build, and it even has a logical upgrade path as Intel’s upcoming 22nm Ivy Bridge chips will drop right into this beauty.