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The 2012 Dream Machine

Dream Machine 2013 pays homage to the PC’s early days while being uncompromisingly cutting-edge.

There’s an old saying that we stand on the shoulders of our predecessors, because without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Sure, sometimes you may want to throw the CPU out with the liquid-cooling water, and shrink everything into a proprietary PC shaped like a garbage can, but that pays absolutely no respect to our past.

Rather than pretend to be with the cool kids in some chic, brushed-aluminum chassis, or lie our asses off that a 2-watt CPU/GPU is something to crow about, this year’s Dream Machine is an audacious tribute to all that has gone before it.

So, here’s to manually jumpering IRQs and clipping single-sided floppies so you can use the other side. Here’s to ISA, VL-BUS, and PCI. Here’s to the glorious sound of a floppy head stepper motor, the shriek of a dot matrix printer, and the clunk of a buckling spring keyboard built with more metal than today’s laptops. And here’s to beige. Oh, wonderful IBM beige, Compaq beige, Dell beige, and hell, even Apple beige. No two parts ever matched but no one cared.

Today, we embrace the beige and all that it stands for while celebrating the very best parts that modern computing has to offer. Read on to learn how we built this year's über rig!

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COMPONENTS
INTEL CORE I7-3970X
INTEL CORE I7-3970X
CPU

Intel's new wunderchip Haswell is here with super-low power consumption and fancy 22nm transistors, which today's tablets might love, but sometimes there's simply no replacement for displacement.

That's what the top-dog hexa-core Core i7-3970X gives us with its 12 threads of computing might that chew through 3D modeling or video rendering in a way no quad-core could ever dream of doing. Last year's foray into Xeon territory also taught us that not having the option of overclocking hurt us against those pesky quad-core parts in some tasks.

With our massive liquid-cooling setup, we were able to easily push our 3.5GHz Core i7-3970X to 5GHz all day. Six cores buzzing along at 5GHz with Hyper-Threading gives us a great balance of core count and frequency.

Enough that Dream Machine has the gusto to compete with newer quad-core chips in workloads that can't exploit all 12 threads. The best part of going with LGA2011 is that we'll get a CPU upgrade in a few months when Intel finally releases Ivy Bridge-E.

ASUS RAMPAGE IV EXTREME
ASUS RAMPAGE IV EXTREME
Motherboard

Intel's new wunderchip Haswell is here with super-low power consumption and fancy 22nm transistors, which today's tablets might love, but sometimes there's simply no replacement for displacement. If all we cared about was color scheme, we'd have tapped the Rampage IV Extreme's little brother, the X79 Sabertooth, whose brown-and-black stylings would have nicely matched our beige case. But our needs demand more than the Sabertooth and most "regular" X79 motherboards can provide, so we reached for Asus's well-respected Rampage IV Extreme board. The board is aimed at the overclocking enthusiasts who like to crank their CPUs to low Earth orbit using liquid nitrogen or liquid helium, so for our OC, it was more than enough. Even better, the R4E is one of a handful of X79 boards rated to run four-way SLI.

The Extended ATX board is a bit larger than others, but in the cavernous 900D, it practically looks like a microATX board.

Since SNB-E parts and X79 don't officially support PCIe 3.0, we used Nvidia's utility to enable it. The difference? Not much that we could see on our 4K monitor, but it's nice to know we can run PCIe 3.0 on all four of our board's slots.

4X EVGA GEFORCE GTX TITAN HYDRO COPPER IN SLI
4X EVGA GEFORCE GTX TITAN HYDRO COPPER IN SLI
GPU

When evaluating the current crop of GPUs for possible deployment to the Dreamghanistan theater, the Titan was always a leading contender for obvious reasons. This $1,000 GPU is the fastest single GPU on the market by a huge margin, and though it's not as fast as a GTX 690, two Titans make a GTX 690 look like a quaint collection of silicon. And three Titans? Well, there's nothing else that can even begin to approach that level of performance. Which is why we have gone with the only choice possible given this magazine's pedigree—four GTX Titans, and not just regular Titans, but the water-cooled kind that cost more than most foreign-bred cat species.

Out of the box these tasty bits of gaming ordnance are overclocked 100MHz above stock speeds at 928MHz, with a boost clock of 980MHz.

ASUS PQ321
ASUS PQ321
Monitor

You know what's wrong? That a frakking 10-inch tablet (and no, it's not the iPad) packs as many pixels as those "high-res" 30-inch panels. To put all tablets to shame, we had to up the ante with Asus's newly minted PQ321 using an Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide panel. The PQ321 packs 3840x2160 pixels into a 32-inch panel. How does that translate comparatively? Take two 30-inch, 2560x1600 panels and put them side by side and the PQ321 still has more pixels. If you had three 1080p monitors lined up, the PQ321 would exceed their combined pixel count by 25 percent. It's Retinastic ™!

There are so many pixels that it's beyond the capability of even dual-link DVI. The only way to display images on the PQ321 is to use its DisplayPort 1.2–compliant port along with a video card that also supports Display-Port 1.2, or to daisy-chain across multiple HDMI ports. Fortunately for us, the Titan supports DisplayPort 1.2. We had to resort to beta drivers and we're using pre-production firmware on the PQ321, but it works, offering us glorious 4K Ultra HD quality. All we can say is that we're glad we've finally broken through the 2560x1600 barrier.

CORSAIR 900D
CORSAIR 900D
Case

The Corsair 900D is a thoroughly modern "super tower," with mounts for 16 fans, nine hard drives, 480mm radiators, and EATX motherboards. It's a giant mofo of an enclosure, with a shipping weight of more than 50 pounds. We ended up using nearly every available inch of space, and we could have used more. You need a lot of legroom to water-cool four video cards and a massively overclocked Intel Core-i7 3970X. The 900D is one of the few cases that can deliver.

The 900D cuts a fine figure in its stock matte-black trim, but for Dream Machine, we wanted more character. It's funny how such a low-key, otherwise forgettable shade of not-quite-white can trigger so many memories, from fond recollections of D&D Gold Box games to wrestling with IRQ conflicts into the wee hours of the morning.

All that nostalgia comes courtesy of our old friends at Smooth Creations. Yes, asking Smooth Creations to paint our Dream Machine case beige was a like asking SEAL Team 6 to work security at our 6-year-old's birthday party. But leave it to Smooth to make something as seemingly mundane as beige into a luscious, creamy paint job that's simply drop-dead sexy. (See if this doesn't become the look of the season.)

Smooth's work didn't stop at just the exterior; besides painting the outside vintage '97 Packard Bell Beige, the company also painstakingly turned the interior into a beautifully smooth silver that perfectly emulates the cheap pot-metal look of a case from the turn of the century. The real testament to Dream Machine's paint job is that the already handsome 900D, frankly, looks even better in beige.

64GB CORSAIR DOMINATOR PLATINUM
64GB CORSAIR DOMINATOR PLATINUM
RAM

It's hard to believe, but this year we're "settling" for 64GB of Corsair Dominator Platinum RAM. Our original plan was to scrounge up 128GB of RAM using 16GB DIMMs, but there are no DDR3 16GB modules that aren't registered ECC parts. Even worse, Intel has intentionally neutered the civilian Core i7 to "just" 64GB. To get to 128GB, we'd need a Xeon. Oh, phooey. We guess we'll just have to slum it.

PIONEER 15X BDR-208DBK BLU-RAY BURNER
PIONEER 15X BDR-208DBK BLU-RAY BURNER
BLU-RAY BURNER

Last year, we made the bold, ostensibly "forward-thinking" decision to jettison the optical drive from Dream Machine. We figured the ubiquity of downloadable software and streaming media rendered the ol' ODD obsolete. Boy, did we get an angry earful! While an optical drive can be easily sacrificed when building on a budget, Dream Machine has no constraints, so why not include one? This year, we tapped Pioneer's 15x BDR 208DBK Blu-ray burner to wave the flag. Write speeds of 15x for BD-R, 14x for BD-R dual-layer, and 16x for DVD, plus brisk ripping chops, have all our optical needs covered.

LEPA G1600-MA
LEPA G1600-MA
PSU

Given our need to feed the mouths of four-way SLI and an overclocked CPU, we reached for the burliest PSU we could find: LEPA's G1600- MA unit. Fully modular, the G1600-MA gives us a continuous 1,600W, and we need every bit of that because the Dream Machine sucks power in a way no meager 1,000W or 1,200W PSU could muster. In fact, we found that we could use even more power for this setup, but we just couldn't fit it in the case.

STEELSERIES SENSEI
STEELSERIES SENSEI
Mouse

Where other mice aim to impress with crazy, futuristic design and surplus buttons, the Sensei offers unparalleled performance in a classic and attractive form. Inside its metallic shell, the Sensei sports a 32-bit ARM processor, which enables you to customize nearly everything about how the mouse performs—from sensitivity to pointer acceleration to lift distance.

No other mouse matches this level of control, and the internal processor allows you to use your personal settings no matter what computer your Sensei is connected to.

2X SAMSUNG 840 PRO 512GB
2X SAMSUNG 840 PRO 512GB
SSDs

We considered a PCIe-based SSD setup this year, but all those damned Titan cards prevented us from using one, so we went with the next best thing: two of the fastest SSDs available, in the highest capacity available.

With only two SATA 6Gb/s ports on the Intel controller, we rocked dual Samsung 840 Pro 512GB SSDs for a single-terabyte partition for our OS, giving us 1Gb/s read and write speeds, and sub–15 second boot times. Hell, yeah.

2X CRUCIAL M500 960GB
2X CRUCIAL M500 960GB
MORE SSDs

The Crucial M500 is currently the highest capacity SSD drive available at 960GB, but we didn't choose it just because of its huge size (for an SSD). We chose it because it's also one of the fastest drives in its class, and it's semiaffordable, too, at $600 per drive (previous 1TB drives cost over $2,000). Even though we have a terabyte of fast SSD storage for our OS, we ran two of these M500s for an extra layer of SSD storage, just because we could.

3X WD CAVIAR BLACK 4TB
3X WD CAVIAR BLACK 4TB
HARD DRIVES

Not even the Dream Machine can get away with an entirely solid-state storage scheme, so we had to ask ourselves, "What is the fastest, highest capacity mechanical hard drive these days?" After we polled the staff and consulted the benchmark charts, the answer was clear: WD's 4TB 7,200rpm Caviar Black hard drive. This one's got it all—a fast spindle speed, a long five-year warranty, and a fat 64MB buffer. We only used three because, well, we ran out of SATA ports.

CUSTOM LOOP
Custom Loop
Water Cooling

Dream Machine boasts 840mm of AX-series XSPC copper radiators with aluminum enclosures that help dissipate heat. They're strapped with 1,850rpm Gentle Typhoons on either side. Typhoons deliver top-tier performance while generating a relatively low amount of noise, which is preferable when you have 17 total in your case. We replaced the case's front fans with 1,450rpm Gentle Typhoons, and a 14cm Arctic Cooling F14 PWM fan replaces the rear. Typhoons don't come in the 14cm size, but the F14 is a high-caliber alternative.

EK's Supremacy Elite CPU blocks are premium hardware, with a price to match. Our trusty Swiftech MCP655 pump is not a bank-breaker, but it's highly reliable and has five speed settings. All of our Tygon silver tubing is attached with chromed compression fittings with an ID (inner diameter) of 3/8 inches using the G1/4 thread standard. The juice we set loose is simply distilled water, the base ingredient for any liquid-cooling system.

We also want to give a shout-out to FrozenCPU.com for all the help with the DM's waterworks.

IBM MODEL M
IBM MODEL M
Keyboard

Few keyboards get the legendary reputation for sturdiness and typability that the IBM Model M has. With its buckling-spring design, typing on this bad boy makes you feel like you’re reliving the late 1980s and early 1990s all over again. In fact, our Model M has a manufacturing date almost as old as one of our interns. If you’re wondering how we got a 21-year-old keyboard to work, the Model Ms were manufactured in the United States for IBM’s ill-fated PS/2 lineup and, fortunately, our motherboard has a PS/2 port.

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Throughout the Years
1998
Dream Machine
This was our first Dream Machine ever built, and it featured a Pentium II processor OC’d to 450MHz, 128MB of PC100 SDRAM, a 16MB Matrox Mystique G200 video card, and 3dfx Voodoo2 video cards, along with a 9GB Seagate Cheetah hard drive. How far we’ve come.
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1999
Dream Machine
Dream Machine 1999 focused on building one’s own PC rather than spec’ing out a PC for ultimate performance; it featured a Pentium III processor clocked at 500MHz.
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2000
Dream Machine
Dream Machine 2000 was the first Dream Machine to feature dual CPUs and it was also the first Dream Machine to sport multiple hard drives.
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2001
Dream Machine
Dream Machine 2001 featured three machines, each designed for its own special task. The rigs were built expressly around three categories: Gaming, Entertainment, and Content Creation.
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2002
Dream Machine
This 2002 rig sported a BMW Polaris–inspired paint job along with a Pentium 4 overclocked to 2.53GHz and an ATI Radeon 9700 video card.
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2003
Dream Machine
Dream Machine 2003 had a Pentium 4C processor and featured a badass custom Maximum PC logo that was etched into the case’s side panel.
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2004
Dream Machine
Dream Machine 2004 was code-named “After-life” because it was supposed to be a forward-thinking and future-proof PC. The rig featured a Pentium 4 Extreme processor and a mind-boggling $5,000 LCD 720p display.
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2005
Dream Machine
Dream machine 2005 was the Dual-Everything Machine. Dual videocards, dual-core CPUs and two terabytes of storage.
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2006
Dream Machine
Dream Machine 2006: the Fastest PC EVER! This bleeding-edge machine had a custom paint job courtesy of Smooth Creations. We used an Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 CPU with an Nvidia nForce 590 motherboard.
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2007
Dream Machine
Dream Machine 2007: a supercharged stock car. We liquid-cooled the quad-core CPU with black coolant. Total cost for this benchmarking beast? $11,595.
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2008
Dream Machine
Dream Machine 2008 got caught in the Intel/Nvidia war. We nicknamed it the "Butt-Kicking Benchmark Buster.” It was also one of the priciest DM builds at $17, 2855.
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2009
Dream Machine
Why aren’t you driving your own Dream Machine? In 2009, we showed readers how to assemble their own $3,500 Stimulus Package rig!
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2010
Dream Machine
If the future of the desktop PC is a truck, it might as well be one hell of a fast and powerful truck! Dream Machine 2010 embraced the notion of raw, wanton power and the result was a rig capable of hauling a heavily threaded load uphill—in top gear!
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2011
Dream Machine
The term “pure PC power” was never intended to be a marketing hype, and 2011’s Dream Machine proved that speed still mattered! Featuring Cooler Master’s Cosmos II and a customer Smooth Creations paint job, Dream Machine 2011 had style and substance to spare.
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2012
Dream Machine
Dream Machine 2012 meant business! With eight cores of processing might, four GPUs tackling the most impressive graphics, 13TB of combined HDD and SSD storage, and liquid coolant running through its veins, DM2012 was the pinnacle of PC capability—and then some!
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BUILD YOUR OWN
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Good System
Perfect for working through your applications, office documents and programs with ease. Get started on building PCs without breaking your budget. This full solution AMD build can even give you a starting point for PC gaming.
The Specs
Ultra X-Blaster Mid-Tower V2 Case with 450W PSU with Case
GIGABYTE GA-78LMT-S2P AMD 760 AM3+ Motherboard
AMD FX-4100 3.60 GHz Quad Core AM3+ Unlocked CPU
Kingston HyperX Red 4GB Memory Module
LG 24X Internal DVD Burner
WD Blue 500GB Sata 3.5" Desktop Hard Drive
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Better System
Get into PC gaming with this step up system. Convenient mid-tower design houses an Intel I% CPU and an EVGA super clocked GTX 650 for optimal performance. This rig packs major bang for your buck.
The Specs
Thermaltake Chaser A31 Gaming ATX Mid-Tower Case
Thermaltake TR2 700W Cable Management Power Supply
ASUS P8Z77-V LX Intel Z77 Chipset LGA 1155 MB
Intel Core i5-3570K 3.40 GHz LGA1155 CPU
EVGA GeForce GTX 650 SUPERCLOCKED 2GB GDDR5
Kingston XMP 8GB 1600MHz DDR3 Non-ECC CL9 (2x4GB)
LG 24X SATA DVDRW Retail
Seagate 2TB Serial ATA HD 7200/64MB/SATA-6G
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Best System
Navigate through your PC game with ease and maximum speed. The latest 4th generation Intel i7 CPU powers this rig and is supported by two EVGA GTX660s; this enthusiast gaming package will meet or exceed all your gaming needs.
The Specs
Corsair Graphite Series 600T Mid-Tower Case White
Corsair AX1200i Digital (DSP) 1200W Power Supply
Asus Intel Z87, ATX Socket LGA 1150 Sabertooth
Intel Core i7-4770K Processor (8M Cache,3.50 GHz)
CORSAIR HYDRO SERIES H100I EXTREME CPU COOLER
EVGA GeForce GTX 660 SIGNATURE2 LE 2GB GDDR5 PCIe X 2
Intel Extreme Master Viper 3 DDR3 8GB 1866MHz Kit
Neutron GTX Series 240GB SATA III SSD  x 2
ASUS 12X Blu Ray Burner Retail
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