I'll start out by saying that I've been building my own PCs for the last 15 years. The last one I built was an x58 i7-920 based system in 2009. It could have used a video card upgrade to keep up with the newest games (GTX 670), but otherwise still suited my needs fine. I just felt it was time for something new/different. I call it "Box." It started with my first desktop and I've expanded from that for my other tech (laptop is lid, phone is latch, tablet which is used as a head unit in my car is called wheels, etc.).
This computer is mainly used for gaming as well as residential design using AutoCAD. While there was not really a set budget for the build I did restrain myself to keep the build somewhat reasonable/practical. Aesthetics were a concern for me. I definitely paid a premium for a few of the parts where a cheaper, functionally similar part would have sufficed. As you can see, it's not your typical red/black build. I wanted to do something a little different.
PCPartPicker was a huge help for keeping track of everything and watching prices as well as seeing examples of each part used in a build. A number of YouTube channels were also instrumental in helping me catch up with hardware changes over the last seven years (LinusTechTips, Paul's Hardware, Awesomesauce Network, and HardwareCanucks). Overall I am very happy with the way this turned out.
Below I'll list out each part and my reason for choosing it.
CPU - i7-6700K. I initially struggled with choosing an x99 or Z170 based system. x99 seems to be the more powerful enthusiast platform. Z170 benefits from the lower power consumption and lower TDP. I have no plans to add a second, third, or fourth video card. The power/thermal benefits of the Z170 system were ultimately more important to me than the additional cores and PCI-E lanes.
CPU Cooler - Corsair H110i. This is the first time I have used any type of liquid cooling. Water inside of a computer just doesn't sit well with me. Sound was a big concern for me. This meant I either needed a large air cooler that could run at a low fan speed or some type of liquid cooler. The Dark Rock Pro 3 was at the top of my air cooler list. The fact that it blocked the RAM slots and potential for damaging the processor from the weight turned me away from it. I could not find an air cooler that met my criteria and looked nice.
The H110i (same as the H110i GT) was chosen over the H115i (same as the H110i GTX) because when mounted in this case the Corsair logo faces the correct way. With the H115i the logo is upside down. The cooler works well and is very quiet. Many reviews stated the included fans could be very loud. I replaced them right away with Noctua Industrial fans which run at a low speed. No complaints with the noise! The Corsair Link software is terrible. When the LEDs are set based on CPU temperature the LEDS do not hold their color for the set temperature. For some reason they will cycle between the assigned color and a lighter version of that color. I was able to set a static color very close to the white LED on the 980 Ti, but am disappointed that I could not use the settings based on CPU temperature. I hope this will be fixed with a future software/firmware update.
Motherboard - Asus Maximus VIII Formula. This is definitely a case of where I overpaid for something due to the appearance. I hate to say it, but the available Z170 boards are ugly. The EVGA Classified K board was high on my list, but it has no USB 2.0 and seems overpriced for what it is. The Asus Z170 Deluxe was my next pick. While it did have some blue accents I did not care for the white. With the I/O cover removed and stickers peeled off the heatsinks it would have been ok, but plain looking.
The Maximus VIII Formula was announced around the time I started researching for this build. As soon as i saw it I knew it was a no brainer. The monochrome look is perfect. I also like the fact that it doesn't have any LEDs that tie it to a certain color scheme. I will be honest and say the onboard RGB LEDs suck. The idea was good, but the actual illumination has numerous hot spots making it obvious where each LED is. Unless the color is a solid red, blue, or green the color itself is not even/consistent. I leave the LEDs off which thankfully is an option.
Functionally this motherboard works very well. I would have preferred a couple of USB 2.0 ports on the back of the motherboard for better compatibility with my wireless mouse and keyboard (they have issues when plugged into USB 3.0 ports). The board does have two USB 2.0 headers, so I was able to get everything to work. Asus does really well with their BIOS/UEFI and included software. This is my third ASUS board and I've never had an issue with one. Setup was a piece of cake. If you have the means, I would recommend this board.
One last note, the motherboard did come with a free Asus ROG Gladius mouse (Newegg Promotion). I am in the process of trying to sell it which will offset the higher price of this motherboard a bit.
Memory - Corsair Dominator Platinum 32GB, DDR4-2666. I don't have a lot to say about this. It's memory and it works. From an appearance standpoint it was the obvious choice. 32GB is definitely overkill at the moment. In hopes of this computer lasting another 5 years it was worth the small upgrade to do 32GB right away rather than 16GB now and swapping it out for a 32GB kit in the future if needed. Adding a second 16GB kit even with the same part number can cause compatibility issues if is from a different batch.
The 2666 speed seemed to be the sweet spot for price/performance among the available Dominator RAM. I chose a 4 x 8GB kit over a 2 x 16GB to fill the available slots on the motherboard. The top cover for the heat spreaders are reversible. I was able to remove and flip them so the text was in the same orientation as the "Maximus VIII" on the motherboard. If you haven't caught on yet, appearance was a major factor for me. I may add the light bar kit available from Corsair in the future. I haven't decided on that one yet.
Storage - Samsung 850 Evo 1TB SSD and Western Digital Black 6TB HDD. I'll cover both storage devices at once here. My old system had a 256GB SSD, 1.5TB HDD and a 12TB RAID 5 array. I had the OS installed on the SSD and my applications for work. This did not leave much room for games so they were all installed on the 1.5TB HDD along with other general storage. Because of this, I didn't get the performance benefit for gaming (load times).
My goal here was to have all games and applications installed on the boot drive. I was eagerly awaiting the release of the Samsung 950 Pro 1TB M.2 drive. I decided I was not willing to wait any longer for it. 512GB would have worked at the moment, but would have left very little room for growth. I settled on the 1TB SSD for now. I plan on upgrading to the 1TB M.2 drive at some point after its release and when the price drops to a reasonable level. I also considered the Intel PCI-E storage options. 800GB may have been enough and was expensive, but somewhat reasonable. The 1.2TB drive would have been ideal, but absurdly priced. The benefit of hiding an M.2 drive under the motherboard cover in the future was more appealing than an additional PCI-E card. The 1TB SSD will be repurposed as a general storage drive in the future.
I did not want to install the PCI-E raid card and additional 4 drives into this build. I was only using ~6TB of the available 9TB (3TB lost due to RAID 5/redundancy). For the immediate future, the 6TB HDD will replace the RAID array. I am saving the RAID card and drives so if the 6TB drive does fail, I still have the data. My next project will be purchasing a pre-built NAS or building my own in a mini ITX chassis. I am still evaluating my needs/researching. I can then use the 6TB drive to back up the most important 6TB of the NAS.
Video Card - EVGA GeForce GTX 980 Ti FTW. - I considered buying a 970 to use for a year or two while I waited for a reasonably priced single 4K capable card to be released. Realistically, it may be a bit longer before that becomes a reality. I opted for the 980 Ti now. It's overkill for 1080p. The Division averages well over 100 FPS on Ultra settings. I would like to upgrade to a 1440p main monitor in the near future which would be better matched to the capabilities of the 980 Ti. This will hold me over until the next build 5 years down the road. I'll upgrade to 4K then.
I chose the EVGA card because it looked better than the other 980 Ti options from other companies. There are no red accents, the cooler looks normal, the white LEDs are unobtrusive, and the backplate was an added bonus. I chose the FTW version of this card specifically because of the blue FTW logo and the dual 8-pin power connectors vs. the typical 8-pin and 6-pin (for the appearance of the sleeved cables). Waiting for a sale plus mail-in-rebate put this card right in line pricewise with the rest of their 980 Ti cards. This card did come with a free copy of The Division. I also received a free copy of the game with my keyboard, so I sold this copy for $45 to further offset the price.
Case - Phanteks Enthoo Evolv ATX (Anthracite). Choosing a case was without a doubt the most difficult part of this build. Too many cases look like they belong in a sci-fi movie. Once I got over the thought of losing the 5.25" drive bays the decision got a bit easier. My last case was a Lian Li PC-V1000. It was purchased in 2005 and was used for my last two builds. The unusual layout worked really well for me, but it was time for something new! My last two cases were silver with bare aluminum interiors. The anthracite exterior with the black interior is a welcome change.
I liked the clean lines and large window on this case. The thick aluminum exterior panels give the case a solid feeling. The "basement" for the PSU to hide cables and a generous amount of rubber grommets made cable management a breeze. I appreciate the ability to add up to five additional 3.5" drives on the front of this case. This would allow me to temporarily install my RAID array if I ever needed to.
I believe this is the best ATX case currently available, but it isn't perfect. The black finish on the interior scratches very easily. There were many scratches around rivets and screw holes that must have happened at the factory during assembly. I was careful during the build and did not notice any additional scratches after. The window isn't clear, but smoked. Combined with the black interior it is difficult to see the components inside the case without some sort of lighting (a black motherboard doesn't help either!). Since taking the pictures I have added the NZXT Hue+ to help with that. (For those wondering, I am aware that the motherboard does have an RGB header. I priced out compatible strips, connections, etc. and the Hue+ was almost exactly the same price. I appreciate the additional control available with the Hue+ as well.)
To move the front 140mm fans up (to allow for the sata cables to run across the front) the 3.5" hard drive cage must be removed from the basement to access the screws. I would have preferred threaded holes with longer screws that could me attached from the front similar to a radiator setup. If I ever change the bottom fan out the HDD cage will need to come out again. Hopefully I will no longer have a HDD in this system at that point.
Radiator mounting is very flexible with the option to mount the radiator on the top or on the front. Looking at many builds in this case I did not care for the fans hanging down from the radiator and blocking the view of the motherboard. There is a lot of wasted space above the radiator bracket, however there is a lip on both the bracket and the top structure of the case preventing a fan from fitting in the space. I used a Dremel to cut these lips off and drilled holes in the top to allow me to screw in the fans to the radiator. There is a guide for how this was done with pictures here: Phanteks Enthoo Evolv ATX Top Fan Cavity Mod
The Phanteks case badge was replaced with a custom machined badge with the computer's name engraved into it. I pulled the badge off and recreated the size in CAD. A friend was then able to cut it out of 1/8" aluminum plate and engrave the lettering. The letters were filled in with a mix of a couple different Testors enamel paint colors (to match the other blue accents) and protected with a clear coat.
The blue thumbscrews were purchased off eBay and shipped from China. They're nothing special, but really tied everything together. My options were light blue or dark blue. I ordered both because they were so cheap. Light blue was the better match for the HX logo on the power supply.
Power Supply - Corsair HX1000i. I know 1000W is more than I need for this build. I was looking at the 850i, however the 1000i went on sale first and with a mail-in rebate was cheaper. I didn't complain. The fan does not run at less than 50% loads which makes this silent. Even when gaming I have yet to hear the fan turn on. I use approximately 450 watts while gaming. This would not have been possible with the 850i. The blue accent fit in with the rest of the build nicely making this an easy choice. 80+ Platinum, fully modular, all black cables, and the ability to monitor power usage through Corsair Link all factored into the decision.
At idle this system consumes ~80 watts.
The sleeved cables came from Ensourced. They are custom paracord sleeved cables rather than extensions to reduce cable clutter. Each cable was made to the length that I specified to further reduce cable clutter. They were excellent to work with. Prior to ordering the cables I requested samples of a few different colors. For a minimal fee I was sent not only the colors that I asked for but a few others that were similar. I am grateful for this because the best matching blue was not one of the colors I originally asked for. For reference, the colors used were sky blue, smoke gray, black, and white. If I did this again I would likely skip the 8 pin CPU connector and the SATA cables as these are hardly visible. It took two weeks from the time that I ordered until the time that they arrived. This fell within the estimated timeframe that I was given. I will say that they were worth the wait!
Operating System - Windows 10 Pro OEM. - Not much to say here. My Windows 7 copy used on the old system was an OEM copy. With the drastically different hardware I could not activate Windows in the new system.
Monitors - Asus PG278Q and PB277Q, 27" 1440p. - Fall 2016 Update: I replaced my Asus VG248QE and VE248H, 24" 1080p monitors with 27" 1440p monitors from Asus. I still feel like we are a few years away from 4K gaming with a single video card. 1440p is a great compromise. At 27", 1440p is the ideal resolution for typical desk viewing distances. 4K would require Windows scaling to make text large enough to read. I have used a 14" laptop with a 4K display and can tell you firsthand that Windows scaling is atrocious. When the text is magnified it gets blurry. Older applications not optimized for scaling look blurry as well.
G-Sync is amazing on the PQ278Q for gaming. At 1440p, most games hover around 100 FPS on ultra settings with the 980 Ti. A 1080 would certainly max out the 144 Hz. Due to the price of the PG278Q, I purchased a PB277Q as my second monitor. Out of all of the 27" 1440p monitors from Asus, this was the best match. The most noticeable difference is the bezel is slightly larger. I was a little bummed since my 24" monitors had identical bezels. For the nearly $380 price difference, I can live with it.
Keyboard - Logitech G810 Orion Spectrum. - I've been looking for a standard looking RGB (or even just plain white LED) mechanical keyboard without the typical macro buttons that add to the footprint. The Corsair K70 was almost perfect except for the "floating" keycap look and light bleed beneath each key. Some people like that, but not me.
Logitech finally did it! I couldn't care less about the rainbow effects, but like that I can fine tune the color to match the rest of the system. The Roemer G keys feel like a hybrid between a Cherry MX Brown and a membrane keyboard. It took a few days to get used to (I had a G710+). I really enjoy it after using it a few days. The keys are nearly silent for a mechanical keyboard.
This included a free copy of The Division which I was planning on buying for $60 anyways. Because of that I deducted $60 from the price paid for this keyboard. At $160 this keyboard isn't a very good value. At $100 it's a bargain.
Mouse - Logitech G700. This also carried over from my previous build. The battery life is terrible, but I do like the wireless option. The four thumb buttons are perfect for FPS gaming (assigning 1-4 to these buttons makes for incredibly fast weapon switching). I am waiting for Logitech or someone else to release a normal looking gaming mouse with a similar thumb button arrangement (wired or wireless with a wired option).
Headset - Audio Technica ATH-AD700X with ModMoc. Fall 2016 Update: I was desperate to replace the Logitech G930 headset that carried over from my previous build. After a software update I had constant connection and static/garbling issues (update was required for the G810 keyboard). When they worked they were great.
The new headset consists of the Audio Technica ATH-AD700x paired with a ModMic. These sound much crisper and clearer than the Logitech. There is definitely less bass due to the open back design. Footsteps and surrounding noises are much easier to hear in games. I do miss being able to get up and grab a drink or run to the bathroom without leaving group chat. At the same time, I don't have any connection issues and don't need to worry about recharging the batteries. The trade off was worthwhile.
If you actually read through all of this, I'm impressed. I hope some of this is helpful for anyone else considering a similar build. If you have any questions feel free to ask!