Description

(Sorry in advance for the poor quality photos! My Xperia Z2 isn't the best point and shoot with the light in my office) I will first start out with the background on this build, what it's used for. I built this computer back in late April, but I was waiting to write the review to be sure that nothing was going to end up defective. So here I am.

The main purpose for this build is work and gaming. I work a lot using ArcGIS by ESRI, but I'm also a gamer and I like to play all the latest titles. I used to be very fervently into PC gaming, always having amazing rigs. After being burned by thousands of dollars in defective video cards (Geforce 5500, 7700 GT, 9800 GTX+ SLI, GTX 280) in the past decade, I switched to console gaming for almost 7 years, only having a Home Theater PC with an Intel Core i3-530 and 4GB of RAM with a puny EVGA Geforce GT440 1024 MB for work. The Core i3 and GPU both exceeded 92 C commonly.

This build is something I've been saving up for quite a while. The three main things I built this PC for was: overclocking, booting from SSD, and great looks. My final score for this PC as a whole is 9 out of 10.

Future plans with Vulcan III:

-Asus RoG Front Base: (DON'T BUY THIS PRODUCT) A very cool dual 5.25 inch fan controller that uses the ROG_EXT port on RoG motherboards... it would be very cool if it worked. The drivers currently do not work on Windows 7 with the M7F motherboard, so only half of the features work. This fan controller was the blight of my build. I spent far too long trying to get it working. Everything is cool in theory. Easily "Level-Up" your CPU and overclock it by pressing a simple button, be able to see the fan RPM of every fan plugged into your motherboard, change the RPM of every fan connected to the motherboard, view CPU clock speed, temperature, and motherboard VRM temperature... too bad the only thing that works without full working drivers are the clock, the chassis fan RPM indicators, and CPU and motherboard temp. 1/5 stars. Don't EOL Windows 7 in secret, Asus. At least be transparent about it... smh.

Part Reviews

CPU

Great CPU, the overclocking ceiling for this CPU for me was about 4.76 GHz at 1.35 volts. I end up running it commonly at 4.2 GHz, or 300 MHz higher than a sustained boost. Right now it's summer here in Arizona, and my PC is on the second floor of our house that faces the sun (smart, I know) so the H100i GTX kicks out a lot of heat because it's very efficient, so my room can heat up quite well. As for performance, the CPU does everything I want it to, overclocking offers tangible performance benefits in GTA V when my R9 290x Lightning is at max clocks.

CPU Cooler

This cooler doesn't have the muscle to beat out higher end 280mm offerings when it comes to stuff like the 4790k, FX-9590 or Ivy Bridge-E or Haswell-E. At the low end though, with stuff like the the i5-4690k, and FX-8350, it actually beats out coolers like the NZXT Kraken x61 and H110 for idle and load temperatures on those CPUs by a couple of celsius. The included fans are basically SP 120s (SP120Ls), but without the colored rings and also with a much higher average and max RPM. They move tons of air and have a higher static pressure compared to the SP120s... but here's the catch... they are the loudest things on Earth if you have your fans set to anything other than "Silent mode" in Corsair Link. It was so bad, I actually went out and purchased a two pack of SP120 PWM Performance Edition fans from my local Fry's. They are half the noise, but 3/4 of the static pressure, a worthy compromise. One other little complaint I have is how difficult it is to install this cooler in a pull setup. You have to hold the fans in place on top of the radiator then use the long screws through the top of your case. The fans are free to slide around as you hold the radiator in place, so I actually ended up having to tape them in place, and peel off the tape once they were installed.

Similar to the H100i, though the GTX is more sexy with the sleeved tubes and silver and black waterblock, you can use Corsair Link to change fan speed, pump speed, and LED block color (full RGB this time around). The software is still kind of glitchy, and if you boot from an SSD the program opens too fast and the block goes back to the default white until you re-open the program.

Final verdict is a 4.5 out of 5, ditch the SP120Ls and opt for some more expensive Noctua Industrial PPCs for extra static pressure at the same noise level, or some SP120 PWM Perf editions for half the noise, but almost as much static pressure. Corsair Link still needs some work. Radiator is too thick to do push/pull in anything but the roomiest of cases (in which case, you should be using a custom loop, or a 280mm AIO)

Motherboard

Best motherboard I've ever owned. Hands down. I've been building PCs for almost a decade and a half and the Maximus VII Formula is the pinnacle of features and design, but at a high price. The original reason I bought this motherboard was to support the massive weight of the MSI R9 290x Lightning, because this motherboard actually has a metal backplate. It was a toss up between this and the VII Hero for the motherboard and I'm so glad I opted for the Formula. For further information, boy does this thing ever support the MSI 290x Lightning... I've seen this GPU actually tear the PCI E slots off of some motherboards, or sag almost 20 degrees. With this motherboard, the graphics card has no lateral sag, no vertical sag, and I can't even wiggle the graphics card... it literally feels like it's cemented in place. Consider this motherboard if you are considering anything like Gigabyte Windforce cards, the new MSI R9 390/390x, or the new Sapphire Fury Tri-X. Five out of five stars for sure.

Memory

Great RAM, looks sexy. Not much else to say. Overclocks up to 2400 MHz before I would think of aftermarket cooling. Five out of five stars

Storage

Best 120GB SSD on the market for the price. Accept no substitutes. Nearly twice as fast as the only 10 dollars cheaper SSDNow V300 from Kingston. Boots so fast with fast boot enabled, I actually needed to add in a timer so my BIOS splash screen would show up long enough to press F2 to enter BIOS. Five out of five.

Storage

I use these drives on all of my budget builds for friends and colleagues. I've never had a single problem. They work, they work, they work. Does the Black series use higher quality materials and have some added features for power users? Sure. It still didn't justify the extra 20 dollars, at least not in this built. Five out of five.

Video Card

As somebody who has been burned by EVERY SINGLE Nvidia graphics card I have ever owned... all of them being by EVGA... I decided to take a chance with ATI (AMD) this time around... Boy, am I impressed... First, I have to congratulate MSI at converting a new follower (me) for their graphics cards. A lot of times when you have companies that make cards for both Nvidia and AMD, the company will choose a preference for one GPU over the other and either AMD or Nvidia versions will suffer based on which one they choose. This can be seen in Asus slapping their GTX 780 Matrix Platinum cooler onto their R9 290x Matrix Platinum, creating the most expensive, hottest running, poorest overclocking 290x on the market, and then selling it as an "overclockers card"

This card is designed from the ground up for overclocking... Jesus this thing is big... First of all, it comes in a black jewelry grade box, with a satin strap that holds the lid from folding over upon opening. The "Lightning" logo is engraved into the bottom corner of the box in gold leaf. The bottom of the box features a drawer with a Certificate of Quality and Stability, a custom steel plate with adhesive thermal pads for if you are going to use liquid nitrogen, and some molex to 8 pin adapters. That last item should be thrown away and never included unless you want to set your house on fire. This card requires two 8-pin PCI E connectors to power it, with an optional 6-pin for extreme overclocking. With two 8-pins in, the card's Lightning logo changes color based on load: blue for idle, green for medium, and red for heavy. With the optional 6-pin in, it just stays red. There is also blue LEDs for the power phases, similar to that seen on Sapphire's R9 290 Vapor-X and 290x Vapor-X.

This card is an overclocking MONSTER. It is voltage locked out of the box unless you apply for an ABK Pro Overclocker certificate from MSI... however there are ways around that.... the voltage lock only seems to be present in MSI Afterburner... if you download Trixx from Sapphire, the VDDC Offset is now unlocked (sorry, MSI, I had to, locking the voltage on this card is an abomination)... My max overclock is 1220 MHz Core (up from the 1080 MHz stock) and 1350 VRAM (up from the 1250 MHz stock). I can also get the great quality Samsung GDDR5 all the way up to 1560 MHz, or 6240 MHz effective, but to do this, I have to lower the core clock down to 1180 MHz. The 1220 MHz core results in better FPS in games, whereas the 1180 MHz core and 1560 VRAM results in a better 3dMark Firestrike score. The card never exceeds 82 C in my hot room even at max OC, though the card does get quite loud. EK has a waterblock for it, so... yeah... it's a beast. If I could give this thing 6 out of 5 stars, I would. 5/5.

Case

Awesome case. Comes with a plastic tacklebox with all the screws you will need, a stealth cover for the PSU area, removable drive cages, a great design for watercooling, awesome PCI E slot quality, great side panels, tons of cable management grommets and space, and a custom bracket for either a reservoir or pump/res combo. I will be keeping this case for whenever I upgrade to a custom loop, and for many years down the line. I can't sing enough praise about this case. It is so modular, yet so simple. So water cooling ready, but also so air cooling friendly. Only gripe is that you have to remove the top drive cage to change the 200mm fan.

It has 8 PCI E slots making it a full tower, versus 7 which would be a mid-tower. It is about the dimensions of a medium/large midtower. 5 out 5 stars, you've won a new "phan" Phanteks. (hurr puns)

Power Supply

Great powersupply, as it should be with the way it's priced. Comes with a nice canvas carrying bag for extra cables and all the cables you'll need. Has a switch for two modes, the first mode keeps the fan off until it's at 30% load (similar to the RM series, or Eco mode on the EVGA G series), the second mode keeps the fan on all the time. The fan is completely inaudible, so I just leave it always on. All of the cables are very easy to bend and move, a far cry from the flat cables found in the CX series which makes it feel like you're arm wrestling a bear. All of them are completely black, sleeved in black rubber, leaving no colors showing. 5/5 Great job.

Operating System

It's Windows 7, the dying OS that's better than Vista, worse than XP, and my favorite of all the Windows OS'es... soon I will have to upgrade to Windows 10 as my company is discontinuing support for their software on 7.

Case Fan

Does not fit properly into the Phanteks Enthoo Pro case due to the triple corner mount design. Very noisy. I just bought it to add red bling to the front. I should have opted for the Aerocool Silent Master 200mm red option, or two AF140s or AF120s from Corsair.

By noisy, I mean two things, first of all, at max RPM it shrieks like a banshee, and at low RPM it rattles. Terrible 2/5. I only am rating it that high because it spins and lights up the correct color.

Case Fan

Purchased to replace the noisy SP120Ls that come with the H100i GTX. I ended up replacing the blue ring that was pre-applied on mine with the red ring that came in the box. They are simple snap in designs. Each fan comes with rings for blue, white, or red, with one of them pre-applied. 5/5

Very quiet, with some slight vibrations at higher RPMs. Temps are about 1 degree higher with these installed versus the SP120Ls, a very logical compromise.

Case Fan

Move plenty of air, though not as much as the AF non-LED performance editions. LED is bright, and they get the job done. I will soon be upgrading these to the non-LED versions, and just using a remote control LED light strip by Satechi. 5/5.

Case Fan

Move plenty of air, though not as much as the AF non-LED performance editions. LED is bright, and they get the job done. I will soon be upgrading these to the non-LED versions, and just using a remote control LED light strip by Satechi. 5/5.

Keyboard

You ever been working late at night in the next room and are trying to be quiet so the wife can sleep? This is the keyboard for you! (sarcasm!!!) I've used MX Blues before and know how loud the click is. If you still like the tactile feel, but don't want the click, opt for browns. The red LED has three brightness levels (four, if you count off), though I usually keep mine on the lowest setting. There is a Windows key lock, and an FPS lighting profile button that just illuminates the arrow keys, number keys from 1-6, and WASD (though I believe you can change what keys are illuminated). The media keys are awesome. There is a large mute button, next to a steel or aluminum textured volume roller (definite extra points for this), there is also a (stop, previous song, play/pause, next song) button row right above the numpad. Dedicated media keys are always a plus, especially if they feel good and work right, as these do both. The included wrist rest is nice, and it is the same length all the way across, so perfect for typing. There are both front and rear pop-out feet that are rubberized when closed and opened.

It also comes with 10 replacement keys. These keys are textured red, and angled intelligently. It comes with 1-6 in red with rough bumpy texture, with number 1 being angled to the right, and number 6 being angled to the left. It also comes with WASD in red, bumpy texture. The A is angled to the right, and the D is angled to the left. S is flat, and W is angled towards you. Clearly these replacements are for FPS. The key puller tool that it comes with is the cheap black plastic ring claw one, the claw teeth aren't long enough, so you have to press down a couple of times to get it to grab. A nicer wire one would have been appreciated.

Time for my only gripes with this keyboard: 1. There is only one USB pass-through and it is barely even adequate to charge a smart phone. 2. The sleeved cable which goes back about 3 feet before splitting into two USB cables is much too thick, it is so thick it knocks stuff around on my desk if I have to slide my keyboard forward 3. The Corsair Gaming logo is tacky... it does honestly look like a tramp stamp, and since this is my professional keyboard, with the Logitech G910 Orion Spark being my gaming keyboard, it is definitely out of place. A classic Corsair Sails logo would be appreciated (which I've heard they've gone back to)

5/5 regardless, the keyboard is immaculate, and the design and included extras outweigh the little gripes here and there.

Mouse

Newegg was running a promo when I purchased my motherboard, and this mouse was free. (epic w1n). It's worse than a Logitech G502 Proteus Core, but better than a Deathadder in my opinion. There is no weighting system, and no free floating mouse wheel like the Proteus Core.

The mouse software which you download from Asus (Asus Armory) is quite good at writing macros, rebinding mouse keys, changing LED behavior (no RGB, just really turning mouse wheel LED off, DPI dipswitch LED off, and if you want the RoG logo to do a slow breathing effect, solid, or off). You can do tons of macros, but rapid fire ones tend to lag. The mouse wheel has very concise steps and is perfect for FPS. The mouse is clearly designed for right handed people.

It comes with extra Omron switches that you can swap yourself (though to do this you have to remove the teflon feet, which ruins them), replacement teflon feet (so really you can only swap the switches once), and a nice carrying bag. The mouse comes with a long braided cable, and shorter non-braided cable. The cables lock in place in the mouse with the help of a locking lever (very sturdy). It's not the best mouse on the market, but a solid option if you are around the 50-60 dollar price range and you like the color scheme, or you have an Asus ROG build. 4 out of 5

Headphones

One of the best 5.1 surround sound headsets on the market. Has voice changing software with four settings (monster, man, woman, and duck) which can create a good chuckle in in-game chat or in a Skype call.

Very nice solid buttons on the desk based dongle, which is also an external sound card that you can plug surround sound speakers into.

With the Roccat Powergrid software on your phone, you can answer inbound phone calls on the headset by just pressing the phone button. The dongle has a solid volume wheel, and nice blue LEDs for all the buttons. You can change the volume of the surround speakers you have plugged into the dongle from the dongle. It gives volume options for "front", "center", "woofer", and "rear." The free changing design where you press the button on the dongle to change between the headset and speakers on the fly is actually messed up on my unit. When I change from headset to speakers, I end up losing audio on my rear speakers. This isn't that much of a gripe though, as my surround sound is plugged into my motherboard, which has a better sound card anyway.

For more info, I recommend watching JayzTwoCents review on YouTube.

Comments

  • 50 months ago
  • 2 points

Very thorough description. You've got quite the build there sir. Sorry to hear about your problems with NVIDIA cards. Since I run Linux, it's the opposite for me. AMD cards spell trouble for Linux.

But hey, I definitely respect your decision, such an experience would leave a bad taste in my mouth too. It'd probably make me switch to AMD too even though AMD has so many problems with Linux :P

  • 50 months ago
  • 1 point

I've heard. It's funny how Nvidia went from being the bane of Linux, to its best friend in the past five years or so. I have Nvidia in my HP Envy 15 that runs Mint Linux, runs great.

  • 50 months ago
  • 2 points

Deodorant and Mike and Ike's on the desktop... pure class my man.

Nice looking build!

  • 50 months ago
  • 1 point

Hahaha, multitasking like a boss! Thanks man.

  • 50 months ago
  • 1 point

Great details - thanks for that. As you approach a few months since your build, how has the work/gaming balance worked for you?

I am familiar with ArcGIS and its operating requirements so your general build is along the lines of what I want to do, but I am going for some solid gaming plus being able to load up 4-5 VMs at a time for work. Just want to know your overall feelings, anything you would change, etc. Thanks!

  • 50 months ago
  • 1 point

Really time management is the hardest thing. It's a challenge to work from home, and be productive on a machine that can play Crysis 3 maxed out. :)

For people looking to build a machine similar, I recommend going with a cheaper motherboard. The 130-170 dollar MSI Z97 offerings like the Gaming 5 are solid, as well as the Maximus VII Hero from Asus.

The only reason I recommend a lower end motherboard goes back to the purpose I purchased this motherboard, which was the ridiculous strength of it to support the massive R9 290x Lightning, however now that 290x Lightnings are nearly impossible to find, and are also priced incorrectly. I recommend something like an EVGA GTX 970 SSC or MSI GTX 970 Gaming. The R9 390s from MSI are also good, but very heavy like the 290x Lightning.

CPU+Cooler combo is unbeatable. If you are looking to just cool your i5-4690k and have it look sexy, or do some really serious overclocking, the H100i GTX is awesome. To access Corsair Link, you will end up losing front panel USB 2.0 though, as the Link cable plugs into the USB 2.0 port on the motherboard.

  • 50 months ago
  • 2 points

I absolutely get the work from home challenge - it's good to hear that is your biggest concern. :)

Honestly, I like this motherboard and a new side project that I just landed today will enable me to bump up the budget a bit, so I will play around.

Thanks for the feedback and the kick in the pants to get something underway!

[comment deleted by staff]
  • 50 months ago
  • 5 points

Description? I would say encyclopedia.

  • 50 months ago
  • 1 point

Apologies. I wasn't aware that you could leave text reviews on a per-part basis until after I had already written the review. I'll cut and paste each part review into the correct part in the build.

  • 50 months ago
  • 4 points

I wouldn't apologize for a long, detailed description. I might be contradicting myself here if I have though... Oh wells, I cannot recall on my end.

Everyone has a choice to read it up or they don't. The part review is an option if you want viewers to see your two cents about each part of your review. Basically if you prefer a viewer to see it when one is looking on a specific part or peripheral to add into their part-list, general idea on some info or to see where it is available from online stores. Of course, it's up to you on how you want your completed build to be displayed within this site.

  • 50 months ago
  • 1 point

Thanks, I understand that. I just realized though that it adds it in with stars in a more concise way if I just write the part reviews in the parts list section. It's fixed now, with a new section in the build description titled "Vulcan III Future Plans:" this will be being added to soon.

  • 50 months ago
  • 1 point

Don't be sorry! I prefer these kinds of great detailed descriptions :P