I would like to introduce you to the SRSP Project. The SRSP Project was designed around the core principles of Stability, Reliability, Silence, and Performance. To align with these core principles the hardware choices were based on substance and build quality over aesthetics and features. With that said though, there still needed to be some aesthetic cohesion. The SRSP Project is a build that has been in the works for quite a while now. The last year as a matter of fact. Most if it involved planning and purchasing the items that wouldn’t be out of date by the time it was finished, i.e. case, fans, PSU, etc. Last week I finally finished installing the last of the components. This will be a 70% gaming and 30% productivity build. This write up will be longer than most on PCPartPicker as I’ve included a small review for the main components along with a tirade about the misconception for the need to have a water cooled PC.
Another driver for this little project was my desire to do something just a bit different. I've seen so many really nice high-end water cooled builds that I wanted to do a high end air cooled build.
Before I get more "you spent too much money on ....." comments, let me clarify some intensions. Yes I spent a lot of money on the case and fans. I did this because over the course of the last ten years I've spent a lot of money on cheaper cases, fans, etc and have been disappointed by the quality and performance of all of them. I place a high price on quality and I'm willing to pay that price. These parts are an investment for this build and future builds, not a one and done purchase.
Updated pricing to reflect actual price paid and not current price from PCPartpicker.
I wanted a CPU with very fast single/dual core performance for gaming and great quad core performance for activities that would utilizes more cores/threads. The I7-4790K was the obvious choice. Since it will only be 30% productivity, dropping the extra cash for an X99 platform wasn’t needed. So far I’ve got it 24/7 stable at 4.5GHz w/ 1.2 vcore. A modest OC from stock, but with the overclocking ceiling for these Devil’s Canyon chips seeming to average around 4.7-4.8 GHz I probably won’t OC much higher as the extra 200-300MHz won’t net me any meaningful performance gains.
The motherboard’s a tough choice for most builders. It’s what controls the whole system, what you interact with the most when overclocking and will dictate what future upgrades you can add. It’s also the biggest PITA if you want to change it out. You have to reinstall the OS, possibly change wiring layouts, and etc.
The motherboard was one component I didn’t mind putting the extra cash into, but at the same time I didn’t want to pay for a bunch of “features” that I either don’t use or only work well half of the time. I wanted a board that did a few things, but did them very well and was heavily focus on build quality. The ASUS TUF series fit the bill very well with its five year warranty and extra quality and assurance and server grade testing. So far the board has been great. The build quality is very solid with the thermal armor and backplate. Although the dust covers aren’t needed in my environment, I can imagine situations where it would be. The cameo and tire tracks on the rear I/O cover and the PCH heatsink are a little juvenile looking for my taste, but the color scheme of tans and browns go well with my cooling setup.
The BIOS is laid out in a fairly logical manor. The “easy” setup page is very simple with all the required inputs and option, but the “advanced” setup options offers so many options and choices it can get overwhelming quickly. It would be nice to see a board manufacturer produce a BIOS user manual that tells you what all the options mean and what they actually do instead of just telling you what changes you can make and the amount you can increment or decrement each option.
The AI Suite 3 is so-so in my opinion. I’ve never been a fan of the software included with most motherboards. Other than programs that adjust fan speeds most software doesn’t last longer than the cursory “let’s see what it does” look through for me. Others may find more of a use for it than I.
I wanted the fastest single GPU solution from the same manufacturer as the motherboard. Yes, technically the Matrix version is faster, but an extra $100 dollars for out of the box overclocking thatI could just as easily do myself, it’s not worth it. Some will say the GTX 980 is overkill for a 1080p monitor, I disagree. It depends more on the games you play than the resolution you play at. If you mostly play games with a Counter Strike level of intensity then yes the 980 is overkill, but for games that have a Crysis 3 level of intensity then no it’s not. With that said, the Strix is a good card. It worked straight away and runs a solid 1400MHz OC. The build quality very solid with the metal shroud and included backplate. The included ASUS GPU Tweak is not that great though. It offers only the basic options and no OSD/overlay function to monitor temperatures, usage, and etc. while in-game.
I’m sure someone out there with say “you spent $550 on a case? You could have gotten [insert name and quantity of some component here] for that much.” I have a very good reason for spending that much. Quality quality quality. I have owned my fair share of cases throughout the years and have never been fully satisfied with a single one. They were all stamped out in some factory in Taiwan, made from thin steel, crappy rivets, had a bunch of features/extra that I either didn’t use, or didn’t work as advertised, etc. For someone who is constantly opening and closing the case, for cleaning, tinkering, or what have you, build quality is important. The focus of this build was quality and reliability and CaseLabs delivered in every way. Worth every penny. Some of the best features of the case are that it is made in America by Americans from high quality thick aluminum and fully modular, allowing the user to purchase a replacement for absolutely any section of the chassis.
This section is my little rant about the misconception that water cooling is God’s gift to the PC. This is an opinion piece and not meant to be taken as gospel. In the PC community there seems to be an overwhelming school of thought that liquid cooling is the end-all-be-all for cooling the PC. To anyone who may be thinking about getting into it, whether it be a CLC or custom loop, don’t believe all of the hype, just some of it. Don’t get me wrong, liquid cooling is not without its merits. CLCs work very well in small HTPC/ITX builds where there isn’t room for a large air cooler and a custom loop, if done right, can turn into a work of art. Air coolers are not without their shortcomings either. They can be big, clunky and not as efficient. In the end it comes down to personal choice, but I want to discuss some misconception I’ve seen. I’m not speaking from inexperience either. I’ve owned my fair share of CLCs and have built more than a few custom loops over the years for myself and others.
In the custom PC community there seem to be the implication that CPU temperature and CPU speed are inversely related. I’ve gotten the impression people generally believe a given CPU clocked at 4GHz running at 50 deg C will be faster than the same CPU clocked at 4 GHz running at 80 deg C. It’s not until the CPU begins to approach the TJ. Max that thermal throttling and thermal shut down come into play. Until those two actions to begin to take effect, your CPU temperature is just a number with no impact on performance.
In regards to overclocking, with most modern CPU’s manufacturers bring the TDP of their chips down to the double digits and the stock speed getting closer to the overclocking ceiling, liquid cooling just isn’t the necessity it was in years past. Each chip will only overclock so far no matter how cool it is. As an example, my last chip, an I5-3570K, would only ever overclock to 4.8 24/7 stable with 1.4 vcore. With this set up I had a 280mm and a 420mm radiator cooling just the CPU and nothing else. I was getting into the low 70’s to the mid 80’s at 100% load across the CPU, FPU and Cache (Aida64 Extreme.) This same chip on a Bequite! Dark Rocks Pro 2 air cooler could get 4.6GHz at 1.325 vcore and would get to the mid to high 80’s. So in the end I paid almost $600 for and extra 200MHz in performance and a 10-15deg temperature drop. An amount that is so small it makes absolutely no difference in real world use. Even in all my benchmarks the results of the 100MHz fell within the 2% margin of error.
While there is some conjecture as to the impact on life span of a warmer CPU, without finding any recent solid data on the one can only make estimates. If a stock CPU last >10 years and the same chip running 10-15 deg c warmer with an few extra millivolts has a 30-40% reduced life span, that’s still a life span of 6-7 years. Long past when overclockers replace their chips anyway.
In keeping with the design intentions of the overall build I wanted a high quality CPU air cooler and case fans with great performance. Obviously Noctua was the choice for this. The NH-D15 was the 1st choice as its tops the air cooling charts and even beats/equals most CLC’s. I picked up a third set of fan clips for a third Noctua NF-A15. Granted I’ve not found that it decreases temperatures at all, which coincides with reviewers findings, but since I could fit one nicely I figured why not? As for the case fans, I wanted to stick with Noctua. The 10 Noctua NF-S12A PWM fans are performing very well. They are quiet and move nice volume of air. Although there’re other fans out there that can certainly move more air, with both the CPU cooler and VGA card each having 4 of the fans blowing directly on them, I would not gain any benefit of more volume or static pressure.
Over all it has been another fun build that should last at least the next few years. To those of you who have actually read all the way through, thanks for listening. Later…..