Be warned -- This is going to be a looong blurb! This is my dream build, so I can't help but to gush, and I've got a lot to talk about!
I suppose I should give some background to start off.
I built a PC for the very first time in May of 2013, the details of which you can find here: https://pcpartpicker.com/b/w3jXsY
The build, which I dubbed "Vercingetorix", was excellent. It suited all of my needs, but I still had the urge to continue building and upgrading. The bug bit me, badly. After some research, I decided to try and upgrade for 1440p. So I upgraded Vercingetorix periodically over the past year, adding a Corsair h100i cooler, a bigger Corsair power supply, a second 7970, and a QNIX 1440p monitor, which I overclocked to 120hz. But... It just wasn't enough. I was a regular on /r/cablemanagement and /r/battlestations over on Reddit, and I found myself wanting an absolute peak gaming rig that was also beautiful to look at.
So, after brainstorming a bit, I had two key areas of focus in my mind as I planned out the build. One, obviously, was pure gaming horsepower, as I'm a huge gamer and have been for quite a while. Number two was to go with a clean black-and-white look inside the case with super tight cable management. I also decided to follow the naming convention of my previous rig, which was named after a figure in classical history. I decided to call the new rig "Aurelian", after the Illyrian general who later became Roman emperor, reconquered the fractured empire, and helped to end the crises of the 3rd century. He was popularly called Restitutor Orbis by the Roman people, which translates to "restorer of the world".
Oops... As a former classical history major, I'm very prone to digression. Sorry about that.
Anyway, back on topic -- The Sabertooth motherboard fit really well into the visual scheme that I had in my mind when I began visualizing this build. I had seen some photos of it used in the past and knew that I wanted to go for it. I also decided to utilize some white, sleeved cables. The color scheme was going to be black and dark gray, with some white flair here and there in the form of the CLC LED, the cables, my mouse LED, and the case power and HDD lights on the front. I new Corsair had black RAM, so I figured on that as well, and my cooler already fit the color scheme, as did the PSU.
So, all I had to figure out was which CPU, socket/chipset, and GPUs to go with. I'm no technical genius, so I immediately consulted Reddit's awesome community over at /r/buildapc.
The first time I posted a build thread on Reddit, people were suggesting that I use 16gb RAM and an i7. So I began to do some research into it. Is there any tangible benefit over an 8gb RAM and i5? I ended up deciding that the 16gb RAM and i7 CPU simply were not necessary when considering my goals with the build. The performance benefits with a gaming rig would be minimal at best, and I would have had to spend a good deal more money in order to do it. I feel like most people were recommending it simply because it looks kind of weird seeing a build with an i5 and 8gb RAM paired with two beastly, top-of-the-line GPUs. And that didn't matter to me. The goal with this build was always to have a rig that destroys every game at 1440p, and looks absolutely beautiful through the case window. An overclocked 4690k and 8gb RAM gets me 100+ fps consistently in 1440p with maxed settings, and that was the goal all along.
(Since I'm sure someone will ask this regarding the unlocked CPU: The overclock will happen in the near future. Right now I'm too busy enjoying the fruits of my labor.)
Another big point of contention in the comments of my initial build thread over on Reddit was going Z97 over X79. Some people were vehement about going X79 over Z97 for the benefits that it provides when using SLI with such high-level GPUs. Similar to the CPU and RAM issue, I did my research and found that X79 was simply too expensive to seriously consider. The performance improvements are there, obviously, but again it was a situation of the performance benefit being minimal in comparison to the added cost of X79. The CPUs are wickedly expensive and it's wasn't as big of a jump up, so I settled on the Z97 / LGA1150.
A case with a window was obviously a must, and I originally had decided on a white Corsair 600t as my case since it fit my aesthetic goal pretty well. I thought it looked fantastic, but I began to see more and more rigs constructed with the 750D, and I fell in love with the clean, minimalist look of the 750D versus the more flashy 600t. I love the brushed aluminum, and I love the low profile front panel of the case. The build quality is absolutely superb, the cable management options are fantastic, and it's nice and roomy compared to the NZXT Phantom 410 I built my last rig in.
The biggest decision that I had to make with this build was with the GPUs. I knew I wanted to run two top-of-the-line cards with this build, so the only question became whether or not to go AMD with 290x Crossfire, or Nvidia with 780ti SLI. It was an extremely close decision. I changed my mind probably a dozen times.
What ended up sealing the deal was the added power draw and heat generation you have to deal with with the 290x. With a couple of those in my build I'd be sitting right at about 800w, and I've got an 860w PSU. Probably not a big deal, but I went with the 780tis instead since they kept me under 700w.
As far as 1440p, both cards perform similarly, but the 780tis always have a bit of an edge overall on the 290xs in most benchmarks I've seen. Which I suppose is to be expected considering they're the more costly option.
Now I'm certainly no expert, but the way I ended up looking at it after doing my homework was that you pay extra money for more efficiency with 780tis. It does more with less. You get 1gb of extra vram with the 290x, but it sucks a lot more power and generates a lot more heat and ends up being outperformed by the 780ti.
As a bonus, EVGA sells a black aftermarket back plate for the 780ti, which covers up the exposed circuit board, and perfectly matches my motherboard and the visual scheme of the build. That's a more minor bonus, since the XFX 290x fits the build visually as well, but it was a nice option to have, and I took it.
As all of this thinking and discussing was happening, I had (of course) been fooling around with potential builds on PCPartPicker for some time. One day at work I saw that the Samsung 1TB SSD I had my sights set on was on sale for $400. That's a crazy $70 discount, and almost as low as the $370 I spent on my 500GB SSD for my last build. The sale was one day only, and I couldn't pass up that price so I jumped on it, then immediately realized that by doing so I was committed to doing this new build while I still had a perfectly good $1,500 gaming PC hooked up with nowhere to put it but in the closet. ****...
So I began to run with the idea of selling it to a friend. One of my friends, an ex-PC gamer who had been out of the game for quite a while, expressed interest in buying Vercingetorix. I tore out one of the 7970s and sold it, then sold my old rig to him after removing the upgraded PSU and cooler and replacing the original parts. I'm happy that it ended up with a friend -- It helped with the burden of building such an expensive new PC, and now I have one more person to play games with online. Smiles all around.
So, committed to the build, I ordered all of the components. The parts began to arrive, and I began to build, doing a little bit each day after work.
The build went incredibly smoothly. I originally set the cooler up with the two rad fans intaking air through the top of the case, because that was the manual's recommendation. I also had the cooler tubing sitting right in front of the rear exhaust fan. You'll see in the photos that I later switched up the rad, with the tubing extending toward the front of the case rather than the back, and with the fans exhausting through the rad rather than intaking.
I did this because my top GPU was running pretty hot with the original configuration -- Around 84C under load. I know GPUs typically run hotter and can take higher temps than CPUs can, but 84C is still pretty high, and my 750D's case window was becoming really hot to the touch when I was in-game.
I included a photo of the temperature readings with the fans intaking air from the top of the case through the rad, and the cooler tubing blocking the back fan. I wanted to try and get some air moving more quickly through the case, with the hopes of lowering the top GPUs temps a bit. I entered the bios and programmed the case fans to run a bit more aggressively. They're still absolutely silent for normal internet browsing, but the case is a bit louder in-game. Which won't really bother me considering I game a lot with headphones on. I then downloaded MSI Afterburner and altered the GPU fans to a more aggressive profile. But even with the fans switched and tubing out of the way of the back exhaust fan, and even with the fan profiles altered on both the GPUs and the case, it still runs an average of around 77-78C, so I only ended up saving a few degrees. It's a relief that the case was far better ventilated, though. The window was so hot to the touch that it was nearly painful, and that thankfully no longer happens thanks to my tinkering.
Another thing I wanted to mention is just how much effort I put into cable management with this build. If you check out the pics of the back of the case, you can actually pinpoint the exact area in which I said "**** this SATA power cable", and just zip tied that ******* exactly where it lie. It's easily the sloppiest part of the build. After literally an hour of trying different ways to neaten this SATA cable and the cooler fan wires, I just ended up giving up and leaving them where they lie.
It looks clean enough through the case window, but the back looks pretty crappy. There's definitely some room for improvement, but after nearly two weeks of tinkering, I'm tired and I want to just enjoy the rig. So for now I can live with it.
As far as the view through the window, you can see a few wires hanging around if you really examine the top of the motherboard, which really bothers me. I suppose you can't be perfect at hiding all of these wires, but after this build, I'll probably stick to air coolers or custom loops just for the sake of neatness. I had such a difficult time managing all of the wires that go along with Corsair's closed loop cooler. I ended up wishing in the end that I had just gone with one of the black or brushed aluminum Be Quiet! air coolers. That certainly wouldn't have shown off the Sabertooth motherboard quite as much, but I would have had a far easier time dealing with less wires hanging around.
At the bottom of the motherboard, where all the case cables plug in, I was able to route all of the cables in a really neat fashion. I want to throw out a thanks to /u/Lavins of Reddit's /r/cablemanagement subreddit for the inspiration on that one. I was very happy with the way it came out, unlike the top of the motherboard with all the stray wires hanging around. You can't even notice that there are wires routed at the bottom unless you're really focusing on that area.
If you notice the bottom of the back of the case, there's one single damn molex power cable is sitting there because I decided to install an NZXT LED strip, which I'm really unhappy with. I almost never use the lights in the case, and all it does it created an extra power cable and an ugly thing sticking out at the bottom of the case. I'll actually probably end up tearing the whole thing out the next time I open up the case to clean out dust in a few months. Bad decision on my part.
I also purchased a mechanical keyboard with this build. I went with the Das Keyboard Model S Ultimate Silent. It's a beautiful solid black with cherry MX brown switches. I bought this keyboard already owning a CM Storm with cherry MX blues, which was kind of a stupid and splurgy move since my Storm is now sitting in a drawer, unused. But I'm glad I did it, because this board is now probably my single favorite peripheral I've ever owned. It types like an absolute dream.
I went with Windows 7 in my last build, but decided to go with Windows 8.1 in this one simply because it's the best, newest thing. I despised the whole "start screen" thing immediately when I began using it, and absolutely didn't want to deal with it, so I immediately installed Classic Shell with ninnite when I first started up the rig. Now I love it. Windows 8.1 is faster than 7, and it has a cleaner look overall. It's almost identical to 7, with key improvements here and there. I'm happy with my decision.
As I mentioned before, my monitor is overclocked, which I originally did with my last rig. I included a screenshot of the stability test at 120hz. I later notched this down to 110hz, as I was seeing the occasional shooting purple line across the screen during gameplay. It tested stable at 120hz, but I didn't want to push it too hard and break anything.
Lastly, I included a screenshot of the benchmark I ran, which puts Aurelian in the top 1% of people who have run the same benchmark. That's a number I'm pretty proud of, and the game has absolutely crushed everything I've played on it. I'm seeing between 80-100fps in Crysis 3 with all settings maxed, at 1440p. Just beastly performance.
Well, I think I've covered just about everything. Sorry for writing a book! I really wanted to make sure I chronicled the entire process here so that one day I can come back and get nostalgic over the process.
If you want to see some more photos detailing the build, you can check out an Imgur gallery with a lot more pics here: http://imgur.com/a/bDcIK?gallery
Thanks for checking out my build! Please feel free to leave any comments, constructive criticism, or whatever.
December 2019 EDIT — I'm finally retiring this PC after 5+ years of great usage due to the motherboard beginning to fail (it has issues booting up now; long story). Anyway, if you've stumbled on this build for whatever reason in 2020 and beyond, you can check out the improvements and further modifications I made to this rig on a separate Completed Build page I made for it in its final form. Hope this helps someone!