I came across an article at TomsHardware where they did an over-clocking review of the Intel Pentium D 805 where they took a 2.66 GHz $130 budget CPU and turn it in to a 4.1 GHz monster. At 4.1 GHz, the Pentium D 805 could beat some of the best AMD and Intel Extreme Edition CPUs (when left at stock speeds) that cost more than $1000. Of course in reality people who buy those Extreme Edition processors from AMD and Intel Who needs an XBox360 or a Sony PS3 when you can experience the full richness of a computer? will clock their CPUs even higher but the fact that a budget CPU can reach Extreme Edition stock speeds is truly amazing. Any time a CPU can be over-clocked by a factor of 50% over stock speeds, it reminds me of the legendary king of over-clocking Intel Celeron 300 MHz CPU that people were routinely clocking to 450 MHz. Most hardware geeks like me will probably remember those days seven years ago.
This got me interested in seeing how cheap I could build a super fast water-cooled extreme gaming computer so I decided to put a detailed list together here.
Of course you can substitute your own parts depending on your personal preferences and I'm just offering a general guideline. The trick was to find the right motherboard that would support this latest over-clocking freak of a CPU from Intel and the right liquid cooling system that would allow for stable and non-throttled performance at 4 GHz. Here is what I came up with and an explanation of why I selected the part:
Motherboard: Even though Tom's article showed motherboards from ASUS and Giga-byte, I wasn't satisfied with the options. One of the Giga-byte motherboards was quite inexpensive at less than $60 but it didn't have a PCI-Express slot and didn't have support for DDR2 memory so it was ruled out as an option. The ASUS motherboards were a bit expensive for my taste and so were the higher end Giga-byte solutions. Since I've personally had good experiences with ECS (Elitegroup Computer Systems) of Taiwan, I thought I would see what they had something cheap that would run the newest Intel Pentium D 805 with all the features I wanted. As a result of my search, I found the ECS C19-A SLI which was not only relatively cheap, but it had everything I wanted such as:
DDR2 667 memory support for FSB 1066
4 Serial-ATA2 ports
4 Parallel ATA-133 ports
Simple nTune over-clocking tool
In addition to all that, the board includes SLI (dual video card support) capability for even more extreme gaming. While I'm not 100% convinced about SLI based solutions yet, I'll have to leave the SLI system for another day.
Water cooler: I found a pretty neat and compact water-cooler from Cooler Master. The unit comes with an 80 or 120 mm silent fan and the entire unit will fit on the back of the case where you would normally place an ordinary fan. While the Pentium D 805 can get to 4.0 GHz with a good air cooler, water cooling is highly recommended if you want it to operate at those speeds smoothly without the CPU throttling down to keep from over heating. I can remember the old days when people had to rig their own messy water cooling systems but those days are gone.
Video adapter: While I've always personally preferred NVIDIA video adapters and their superb drivers, ATI has been producing some very good products at reasonable prices. Since certain games that I personally like such as Counter Strike Source do better on ATI cards than NVIDIA adapters (some games do better on NVIDIA) and I'm trying to keep the over all system low, I decided to go with the old ATI X800GTO2 video adapter from Sapphire. This particular card is unlocked to the equivalent of a much more expensive ATI X850 XT and can be pushed much faster than its clock speeds. In most games, it can even give the more expensive and newer ATI X1800GTO a run for its money.
Computer chassis: The computer chassis is a highly personal choice, but I've selected something that has extremely solid construction and isn't very expensive. I personally like the clean and simple aesthetics though you may not agree and can choose something different. However, you need to make sure that the case you select has a 120 mm fan hole in the back for the water cooler. While there is an 80 mm version of that cooler, larger fans don't need to rotate as fast and generate less noise. The fact that the cooler and chassis comes from the same company ensures a nice fit.
Since we're trying to support a very power hungry CPU when it's running at 4.0 GHz or more, we have to have a good power supply. There is a tendency for PC enthusiasts to over do the power supply which ends up wasting a lot of power in the form of heat and noise. I personally run a fully loaded Pentium 4 3.45 GHz PC with dual hard drives, dual DVD burner, and an X800GTO2 video adapter on a SeaSonic 330 watt power supply and it has been rock solid for me. For this project, I chose the 430 watt SeaSonic S12-430 because the extra power is needed for the 4 GHz dual-core CPU. I like the SeaSonic power supplies because the model S12 is super silent and extremely energy efficient. The energy saved in two year can easily pay for the cost of the power supply but the silence is what I value most. The first time I installed on of these power supplies I thought it was dead on arrival because I thought the fan wasn't moving. When I finally held my ear up to it, I realized it was working but almost completely silent.
Hard drive: I chose the Seagate hard drive because it was a cheap 300 GB SATA hard drive. Thought there is a single drive in this system to keep the price down, I personally prefer to have two hard drives because I use the second for a backup drive for critical data and it comes in handy for performing image backups. I also never use RAID because the combined individual performance of two hard drives is much better than RAID can ever hope for and you lose the backup capability. Whenever you're copying large files such as DVD movie backups, copying from one physical drive to another is 4 or more times faster than copying from partition to partition. I also find that it's often faster to move fragmented files from one drive to another rather than trying to defrag it in place. If you choose to add a second drive, it would simply add $100 to the cost of the system.
DVD recorder: This is fairly straight forward. This DVD burner let's you burn DVDs very rapidly and it only costs $40. Items like these are where the name brand PC makers will often milk you on.
System memory: While DDR2 memory isn't the biggest factor in the performance, why not go for it when it doesn't cost a whole lot more? 1 GB is the sweet spot for a gaming PC, any less will result in less performance and any more won't really yield higher performance. It also comes in handy running Windows Vista or multiple virtual operating systems with VMware or some other virtualization technology.
Where to buy: You may have noticed that I included links to NewEgg in my table of components, but this was just for pricing convenience so you don't have to search all over the Internet for the parts I listed. Let me make a disclaimer that this is not an official endorsement from me nor do I make any commissions or have any relationship with them. There are plenty of resellers that will do the exact same thing and carry the exact same parts and they're easy to find on the web. All I can tell you is that I've personally purchased from NewEgg before and they didn't give me any problems. You can probably get them or any other vendor to build the system for you for a small fee if you're not in the mood to assemble it yourself. You will need to pay some shipping but buying everything from the one vendor will save you some shipping costs since they can put everything in to one big box, especially if they build it for you. Just don't ask them to over-clock it since that's easy for you to do yourself. Sales taxes would depend on the state you live.
Display: Ok I didn't include a display in the $825 price, but you have many options. You can the display you have now. You can buy a 20.1" or 24" wide screen LCD. I've seen ViewSonic and Dell monitors going for around $350 when they're on sale (I personally use a Dell 20.1" LCD). I've seen the 24" LCD displays go for less than $800 when they're on sale. The only issue with the 24" display is that the resolution is 1920x1280 which might be a little hard to get good frame rates on some games so you might actually have to go with an SLI or higher end graphics solution if you are a serious gamer. The 20.1" is a more manageable 1680x1050. One other option is that you can hook it up to your HDTV if you have one that supports DVI or HDMI. HDTVs have native resolutions ranging from 1280x720 to 1920x1080. This way you can play all your games and all your backed up DVD movies and video files on the big screen TV in the living room!
Bottom line: The bottom line is that you have one of the more powerful dual-core 4.0 GHz gaming computers in the world for less than $900! Who needs an XBox360 or a Sony PS3 when you can experience the full richness of a computer? You can run anything you want on this system from 32 or 64 bit Linux, BSD, or Windows so let the good times roll!