The Making of a Boutique Gaming PC

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December 13th, 2011

By James Wang

If the sole purpose of an automobile was to get from point A to point B, then there would be no need for Ferraris. But Ferraris exist, and people, whether they own one or not, love them. Their utility is secondary, the idea is primary. And the idea is performance, craftsmanship, and perfection. It is for these very same reasons that boutique gaming PCs exist.

Short of playing games, which is scarcely work for these finely tuned beasts of silicon and metal, these systems express the idea that there is something exhilarating about building a machine that surpasses what is ordinarily considered the maximum performance within a certain generation of hardware. By exploiting the additive power of graphics cards in SLI and through ingenious CPU cooling solutions, these systems effectively "timeshift" their owners into the future, a future where GPUs are four times as powerful and CPUs march to a beat of 5GHz.

Despite perennial warnings that the PC platform is dying, PC vendors are not just surviving, they are thriving. Last month, Intel launched its new flagship Sandy Bridge E and X79 platform. Despite its substantial cost, system builders of all stripes and colors flocked to it. Today, almost all their top end gaming systems are powered by X79 with SLI graphics.

To get more insight into how these systems are built, and how you might build one yourself, we interviewed six of North America's most well known gaming PC vendors. Along the way we uncovered some pretty interesting things. We learned that over 90% of those who build a multi-GPU system chose SLI. We learned that the most enduring PC model short of the Apple Macintosh may very well by Falcon Northwest's Mach V system, a gaming PC they've offered since 1993. And we learned that Digital Storm ships their top-end PCs with a unique cooling solution that doesn't just keep the components cool, it keeps them at below freezing temperature.

If there's a prevailing theme, it's the ubiquity of SLI in serious gaming PCs. While one might quibble over the virtues of having additional CPU cores, no one debates the benefit that results from having additional graphics horsepower. And gamers continue to choose SLI for the same reasons: the quality of the drivers, game compatibility, performance, and the ability to use a secondary card for PhysX.

The six part interview:

First Up: Digital Storm >>