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Mean and green: How to build a gaming PC that's fast, quiet, and efficient

Marco Chiappetta | April 16, 2014
With all of the CPU advances, it's now possible to configure a relatively fast system that's also whisper quiet and surprisingly power efficient.

After a bit of searching, we chose a Xigmatek Prime SD1484. This tower-type cooler included a large cooling fan (that we didn't use) and was available for a relatively low $39.99. Other, similarly-sized coolers were roughly double the price, even though Xigmatek's offering had some more desirable features, like wider cooling fins and thick copper heat-pipes that made direct contact with the CPU.

The motherboard and RAM
We also wanted a quality motherboard with passive cooling—again, to keep noise down. The Z87 chipset-based Gigabyte Z87X-UD3 fit the bill for $160, including large heatsinks. A cheaper H81-based board would also have worked, but the motherboards available usually included much smaller heatsinks.

Next we selected the lowest-voltage, dual-channel, DDR3-1600 8GB memory kit we could find, as 1600MHz is the highest officially-supported memory frequency for Haswell processors and 8GB is plenty of memory for most folks. Lower-voltage memory equates to lower power consumption and lower heat output. We found an $85 8GB kit from G.SKILL that required only 1.25V, instead of the more typical 1.5V of higher-performance memory kits. Better still, the kit ran with tight timings (CAS 9), which would help performance.

Silent, speedy storage
Choosing an SSD for this build's storage was a no-brainer, even though the one we chose, a 1TB Crucial M550, was the most expensive single component in the build at $530. Hard drives' fast-spinning motors and rapidly moving parts emit whines and clicks that can sometimes be heard across a room. Solid state drives have no moving parts. They make less noise and consume less power, plus they're fast. A 1TB drive skirts the usual SSD storage constraints. At about 50 cents a gigabyte, it was actually a heck of a deal—lower-capacity SSDs in the same class as the M550 typically sell for about $0.62 to $0.75 per gigabyte.

The graphics card
Choosing the graphics card for this build was also a piece of cake: Nvidia's Maxwell microarchitecture currently has no equal in power efficiency, and Maxwell is only available in the recently released GeForce GTX 750 Ti.

core
The Nvidia GTX 750 Ti (shown here on the motherboard) isn't a high-end graphics card, but it's quiet, barely sips power, and is capable of 1080p gaming

Some variants of the GeForce GTX 750 Ti don't even require a supplemental power connection, drawing all of the power they need from their PCI Express slot.

With such low power requirements, 750 Ti cards can also be cooled by relatively tiny heatsinks. We wanted a 750 Ti with a little more oomph than stock cards, however, and ultimately opted for the $175 EVGA GeForce GTX 750 Ti FTW with ACX cooling. EVGA's ACX cooler is large by GTX 750 Ti standards and features two oversized, but quiet fans. The card is also overclocked to goose performance a bit.

 

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