Updated: The best high-end gaming PC you can build today

This machine will play everything on the market today at its highest detail level at your monitor’s highest resolution and with a frame rate that will have your friends offering you money to have a go.

Core System: $3349

CPU: Intel Sandy Bridge Core i7 2600K – $340


The 2600K is a well-known favourite in the gaming world with performance numbers unmatched by any AMD CPU on the market today. This little powerhouse also has the proven ability to reach a 5GHz real-world overclock. Until now this was pretty much unheard of. Now not all CPUs are going to reach these sort of speeds unfortunately but this system has had parts chosen to give you the best possible chance of getting there. A 4.5GHz OC would be recommended for everyday use.

NEW — Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z77X-D3H – $219

Intel’s newest s/1155 chipset and from all reports it’s a little faster and has slightly better power efficiency.  Wouldn’t go so far as to recommend you go out and replace your Z68 board with a Z77 board but if you had the choice between the two grab the new one. It also fully supports the new Ivy Bridge chip tipped for release very soon.

NEW — Video cards: 2x HIS HD7970 ($629 each) – $1258 total

That does seem like a lot of money but you’ll be running BF3 at 60fps running ultra settings at 5670 x 1080 over three screens! Simply awesome. Unlike the older Radeon cards the new 7xxx card scale as well in Xfire as Nvidia cards do in SLI. What does that mean? Well with SLI 2x Nvidia cards you will usually get almost a 100% increase in frame rate (so it nearly doubles). Until now running a card in Xfire would maybe give you a 75% gain and less again when you add a third. Benchmarks are showing that the gains in Xfire are now more linear and closer to 100% just like SLI.

Cooler: Custom water-cooling setup – $369

(See notes below for a complete list and breakdown of parts.) This is primarily a Koolance-based setup and basically a mirror of my own personal water-cooling setup. I can tell you with my 2500K 4.3GHz at 75% load (playing BF3) the CPU sits at about 5 degrees above the in-case ambient temp. For more detail please read below.

RAM: Corsair Dominator GT 8GB (2x 4GB) 1866MHz – $170

8GB is enough for any gaming system but there is room to add more if you feel so inclined. The Corsair set will handle this system’s intended overclock and will take a good dose of voltage as well as having tight timings. It is also one of the few sets of RAM available that’s had a water-cooling blow developed for it. The little red heatsinks detach and block bolts to the top. Tricky stuff.

HDD/SSD: 2x Corsair Force Series GT 120GB SSD ($220 each) – $440 total

Drives set up in RAID0 (stripe array) to maximise performance. The Corsair Force GT series have to be the fastest SSDs on the market at the moment running the fabled SandForce controller and having typical Corsair quality. I personally haven’t seen any stories revolving around these being unstable drives (some other SandForce drives will crash and glitch if left for a longer than a 48-hour period) so Corsair must have really worked on their firmware.

Optical drive: LG CH12LS28 12X BD-R Blu-ray DVD Combo Drive – $89

I know you don’t need one now but isn’t it only a matter of time before games start to ship on Blu-ray? I mean Star Wars the Old Republic is pushing the 40GB limit RAGE is supposed to be 25GB+ installed…  so isn’t this the next evolutionary step? Besides they are only $90. It’d cost you that much in labour to get the drive fitted if you can’t do it yourself at a later date.

PSU: Enermax Revolution 87+ 1000W 80Plus Gold – $319

Enermax have been around for a long time and if you haven’t heard the name you should look them up. Their PSUs are well known for their reliability and longevity (I have a 600w running a backup server somewhere and it’s pushing eight years old) and the Revolution 87+ line’s the most efficient on the market with 1000w listed running 87-93% efficiency at 20-100% load.

Case: Fractal Design ARC Midi case – $145

This has to be one of the best layouts for a “budget” case I have had the pleasure to work on. In fact I liked it so much I bought one myself. There’s a good 25mm between the motherboard tray and the side panel room enough to hide all the unused cables on a non-modular PSU (not an issue here) easy-to-clean foam filters 8x HDD slots (where each will cater for an SSD) but the best part of this case is the cooling. They ship with 3x 14cm fans and a fan controller but Fractal has made provision specifically for a 2x 12cm radiator on the top of the case. This is offset as well so unlike other cases motherboard clearance is not an issue even with a super deep rad. The only downside is it’s only got 2x 5.25in drive bays. Most won’t find this an issue but if you want to run an in-bay reservoir single bay reservoirs are a little hard to find (unless you don’t want to use an optical drive).

Core system cost – $3349

Water-cooling system – $369

There is nothing available “off the shelf” that would come close to cooling the above system properly. It’s an expensive setup and this “budget” custom water-cooling loop will keep it all nice and cool. Parts list follows:

CPU Waterblock: Koolance CPU-370 – $85

The CPU-370 is pretty much the best CPU water block on the market. It’s also possibly the best looking. It ships with a set of impingement plates to fine-tune the flow of water in the system meaning you can find the best trade-off of flow and pressure.

Pump/Reservoir: Koolance TNK400 (includes PMP-400 DDC pump) – $145

This all-in-one unit (pump custom pump top and res) simplifies your setup immensely. The DDC pump is a very small quiet unit and with the acrylic res you can see if the system needs a top-up or how much air is in the system during the bleeding process.

Radiators: XSPC EX240 2x120mm fan radiator – $50

An extremely well-priced and well-built unit the EX240 2x12cm radiator “designed and optimized for low speed fans so it can offer high performance cooling at very low noise levels”. So even though it’s a high-performance overclocked system running this rad with the below fans will mean a very quiet system.

Fans: 2x Enermax Twister Bearing Silence 120mm PWM Fan ($19 each) – $38

These Enermax fans move a lot of air and are also PWM so they can be run easily off the motherboard’s fan controller. They are also modular for easy cleaning.

Fittings Hoses and Mounting hardware:

6x Bard Fittings 3/8″ ID ($5 each) – $30
4x Primoflex Clear 3/8ID 5/8OD ($3.50 per 30cm) – $14
1x 25mm Radiator Mount kit – $6
Hand full of ZIP ties – $1

Unlike the more expensive compression fittings that have a cover that screws down and seals over the barb plain barb fittings are substantially cheaper and if used correctly shouldn’t leak. They don’t look as good but they are half the price. The Fan Mount kit screws posts into the radiator that the fans drop into and fastens to the case with a nut. This makes mounting a very easy process especially for the ARC case.