Core i7 Dream System

We're calling the Core i7 High-End system our "Dream" system - and for many in the current economic times, that's exactly what this is: a dream. Components were selected because they represent the highest end of the performance curve with some tilt toward value. That does not mean the components of the Core i7 Dream System are the best value or the best bang for the buck, as in most cases you pay a lot at the top for a fairly small increase in performance. However, in most cases the component selected is a top performer.

This is not no-holds-barred, as we could easily have chosen a RAID 5 storage setup with 1TB to 2TB enterprise drives and an SSD RAID boot array. We stopped short of choosing that option, but some will be interested in going that direction. As the dollars added up quickly the final decision was to limit the high-end to somewhere around $5000. More can be spent, and if you're looking at the deficiencies in this $5000 Core i7 system you certainly know where you would like to spend the extra dollars. In the end the i7 Dream is a heck of a system, as we hope you will agree.

Intel i7 Dream System
Hardware Component Price
Processor Intel Core i7 965 Socket 1366
(3.2GHz Quad-core, 4x256KB L2, 8MB L3 Cache)
Cooling Vigor Monsoon III LT for Socket 1366 $60
Video EVGA 017-P3-1291-AR GeForce GTX 295 2.0 x16 $505
Motherboard ASUS P6T6 WS Revolution X58 $370
Memory Mushkin 6GB (3x2GB) DDR3-1600 (PC3-12800) 7-8-7-20 Kit 998679 $205
SSD Intel X-25M SSDSA2MH160G1C5 160GB ($729)
Hard Drive Western Digital Caviar Black WD1001FALS 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s $120
Optical Drive LG 6X BD-R 2X BD-RE 16X DVD+R 6X Blu-ray SATA Blu-ray Burner GGW-H20LK $190
Optical Drive LG BD/HD DVD / 16x DVD+/- RW GGC-H20LK $110
Audio ASUS Xonar DX 7.1 $90
Case Silversone FT01-BW Aluminum ATX Mid-Tower Unibody $230
Power Supply CORSAIR CMPSU-1000HX 1000W SLI Ready CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified Modular $210
Display LG W3000H-Bn 30" 2560x1600 5ms S-IPS LCD $1100
Speakers Logitech Z-5500 505W 5.1 Speakers $303
Keyboard Logitech G15 $90
Mouse Logitech G5 7 Buttons/1 Wheel USB Laser Mouse $50
Operating System Microsoft Vista Ultimate OEM $180
Bottom Line   $4823

The i7 965 is the top of the Intel Core i7 line. It runs at the highest 3.2GHz available in a stock i7 and it is the only Core i7 with an unlocked multiplier. This makes the Core i7 965 an extremely flexible CPU for overclocking. In fairness, top-of-the-line processors rarely give the highest percentage overclocks. However, they perform the best at stock speeds and they are the easiest to overclock should you choose to do that. Components do not need to be pushed as far to reach the higher overclocks, which makes it less likely that peripheral limitations will hold back overall OC performance.

Some will ask why in the world we even think of recommending a $1000 CPU. Our answer would be that this is a dream system and price is not an overriding consideration. We also would be willing to bet that if you were offered a $295 i7 920 or an i7 965 at the same price you would choose the 3.2GHz unlocked 965. If the price is too rich you can always choose the lower priced 920 or 940 in the $295 to $595 price range.

The ASUS P6T6 WS Revolution X58 is a workstation board with a very flexible design. It features three x16 PCI-E slots that are truly x16 in operation. That makes the ASUS P6T6 Revolution capable of supporting the fastest triple-SLI setup possible if you are inclined to go in that direction. A dream system should support all the high-end possibilities imaginable and the P6T6 WS will not disappoint. Our motherboard editor, Gary Key, has said he would choose this motherboard for his own personal dream system.

The i7 Dream System needs at least 6GB of triple-channel memory, and there is nothing better on the market right now than the Mushkin 6GB (3x2GB) DDR3-1600 (PC3-12800) 7-8-7-20 kit. The attraction of this Mushkin 6GB package is the aggressive 7-8-7 timings it supports. This memory meets its specs, and it is blazingly fast in a Core i7 system.

Several well-known coolers offer optional adapters for socket 1366, but the cooler choice mated with the ASUS P6T7 WS Revolution is the Vigor Monsoon III LT. Naturally, the Monsoon III LT cools better than the Intel stock cooler and it is a good match to the capabilities of the i7 965 CPU. If you want even better cooling, you will need to go to a large radiator water system or phase-change cooling.

Since a dream system is about best performance, the choice for GPU is the new NVIDIA GTX 295. The hybrid design of the GTX 295 GPUs provides lots of shader horsepower with less RAM and pixel power than the GTX 280. This means the GTX 295 should perform better than two GTX 260 cards in SLI mode, but a bit less than two GTX 280s in SLI. In our game testing the GTX 295 beat the 4870X2 in some games and lost to it in others. Overall, it is certainly the equal of the 4870X2 in performance at about the same $500 price. NVIDIA drivers work very well on the i7 and the GTX 295 will be a fast and reliable performer in the i7 Dream System. A second GTX 295 would even provide quad-SLI if you are looking for bragging rights.

The Silverstone case was a top choice in the Holiday Case and Power Supply Guide. Silverstone's tower uses two large fans in a full aluminum case to create "positive air-pressure". The technique pumps more air inside of the case than fans are exhausting. The positive pressure then pushes the hot air out of every hole in the case. When we changed the direction of the fan from stock, we immediately saw higher temperatures and poorer cooling results, so you might consider a similar approach on your own system. The stock positive pressure design really did cool better in our testing. You can read our full review of the FT01 for more details. The overall quality of the Silverstone FT01 chassis is unmatched today, and those with enough money will not be disappointed. It is not cheap with a price of $210 to $250 without a power supply, but the FT01 remains an exceptional value in a high-end case. The FT01 is a mid-tower case as the best is not always the largest. If you want a larger case than the Silverstone FT01 the Silverstone Full Tower TJ07 series provides the same "positive pressure" design in a full tower case at around $370.

The Corsair 1000W power supply is our choice to power the Core i7 Dream System. The largest power supply that can be driven by a US plug is around 1200W, though EU readers could select even larger power supplies with the higher voltages in use in Europe. However, the Corsair CMPSU-1000HX should handle anything you can install in the Core i7 Dream System. The PSU is SLI Ready, CrossFire Ready, and 80 Plus Certified. This is also a modular design, so it is easy to update power connectors whenever the GPU industry or Intel introduce a new and unique power connector. Corsair has also been very good at keeping up with modular cords when new connectors are introduced.

The ASUS Xonar DX 7.1 is one of the top-performing audio cards on the market today. It is a great upgrade to the onboard sound if you want better sound quality. Game compatibility is excellent, but most game creators assume everyone has a Creative Labs sound card. If your main reason for having a powerful i7 computer is gaming, you may prefer the Creative 7.1 Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium at the same $90 price. In our opinion, the sound quality is better on the ASUS sound card, but compatibility will never be a question with a Creative Labs sound card.

In a dream system, one speaker option is a top-of-the-line powered speaker system. That is why speakers have been upgraded to the Logitech Z-5500 550W 5.1 surround sound speakers. At $303 this is certainly not a low-priced option, but it is actually quite cheap compared to option #2, which is regular audio components powering normal audio system speakers. Everyone who has purchased the Z-5500 seems very pleased with the performance, so this was an easy recommendation. That said, some AT Editors have patched their computers into their high-end audio systems, but audio components are a topic for another guide. The Z-5500 delivers great performance for the price and will not likely disappoint you in your dream Core i7 build.

You may need to reread our Holiday 2008 Display Guide to fully appreciate our monitor selection for the Core i7 Dream System. You definitely need a 30" monitor with 2560x1600 resolution to fully utilize the NVIDIA GTX 295 GPU. Fortunately 30" monitors have dropped in price and you can now buy a 30" display for around $1000. On the surface that seems like a good thing, but things are not always what they appear.

The bad thing about the price drop in 30" monitors is that most of the choices have been reworked and now use a TFT display panel. That is OK, but the IPS panel that used to be common in the 30" display is a much better panel. Color fidelity is better and IPS looks much better - especially for photo editing and graphics creation where color accuracy is most important.

Fortunately LG still makes an S-IPS 30" display for just a little more than the typical $1000 TFT 30" display, and the Core i7 Dream System features the 30" LG W3000H-Bn 30" 5ms with the S-IPS Panel at $1100. We don't have the LG IPS panel in house, but we have seen the difference an IPS panel makes in other monitor sizes. Those in the know also report the picture quality of the LG W3000H-Bn is truly stunning, and a fitting match to the Core i7 Dream System.

The dream system deserves an SSD as a boot/game drive but we are in the process of testing the more recent drives to see if the new SATA II SSDs finally correct the corruption and pause issues seen in past testing. In the meantime, if you need a reliable choice for an SSD today we can recommend the Intel X-25M SSDSA2MH160G1C5 160GB. It is very expensive compared to the most recent SSD introductions, but it does deliver performance as promised. As soon as testing of the current crop of SSD drives is complete we will revisit potential SSD recommendations.

The remaining components are similar to the i7 OC choices. The storage hard drive remains 1TB but the Western Digital was chosen for the dream system at a slightly higher price. For optical drives, two Blu-ray drives were chosen for more flexible backup and disc copying. One is the LG Blu-ray reader featured in the Core i7 Entry and the second is the LG Blu-ray writer that was used in the Core i7 OC system. With both a Blu-ray reader and a writer for the 25GB/50GB Blu-ray disks you have a very flexible system for handling Blu-ray, which makes sense in a Dream system.

We also upgraded to Windows Vista Ultimate. Frankly, it adds nothing we need in our dream system that could not be provided by Vista Home Premium, but a dream system deserves Vista Ultimate. Alternately, if you are the self-assured type, use Vista Home Premium and slam your friends who chose Ultimate. Ask them why and then explain why not.

The last area to discuss is input devices, where we went with gamer favorites in the Logitech G15 gaming keyboard and the G5 gaming laser mouse. Both are very well regarded devices that fit well with the capabilities and concept of the Core i7 Dream system. If you covet the dream system for graphics and photo editing but not gaming, you can easily drop the G15/G5 and select precision input devices that better fit your needs.

Core i7 Overclocking Final Words


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  • Tacoeater - Tuesday, March 03, 2009 - link

    I am thinking about building a system very similar to this. However, I want to break away from MS licensing and tax. If I install a Linux distribution, am I neutering the video card? In particular, I play 2 games: WOW and Civ4. I see that WINE will run these games in linux, but I suspect not at the quality I could play the games at in a Windows environment.

    Does it make sense to install a premium video card in this kind of systemd if I am going to be using Linux as my main OS?

    I am also considering virtualization or dual booting with a min install of WinXP just for these 3 applications. However, I am a noob to virtualization.

    And no, I do not want MS as the main OS while using something like Cygwin or virtualizing a unix environment in Windows. The point is to minimize my use of MS to hopefully get off it completely at some point and choose to use it based on its merits versus needing it for DirectX. For instance, Windows seems to make a media

    BTW, what is the advantage of Vista versus Linux anyways aside from DirectX? Is it driver support?
  • nycter - Tuesday, February 10, 2009 - link

    I built a very similar system last week and ended up returning that power supply unopened for the smaller one. (850W) The box on my GTX295 recommended a higher amps rating on the 12v rail than this 1000W ps provides according to its box. FYI correct me if I was wrong. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Tuesday, February 10, 2009 - link

    The GTX 295 has a recommended minimum 12V rating of 46 Amps, the 1000HX is a dual rail design with each rail providing 40 Amps or a total of 80 Amps. The Corsair 850W is a single rail design with a specified 12V rail of 70 Amps.

    The GTX 295 is a dual GPU card and I really doubt there would be any issue with the dual rail 1000HX which has a total 12V Rail capacity of 80 amps. You may want to check out our review of the Corsair 1000HX at">
  • MadBoris - Sunday, February 08, 2009 - link

    Thanks for the guide AT & Wesley!
    Glad to know what good components are around today and their prices.

    Core I7 is too prohibitive in price even on Entry for the performance gains I would get. The motherboard and CPU are generally just plain too expensive still.
    $200 - $300 for a mobo, got to still be kidding me.

    I really chose a great time to pull the trigger for my last upgrade, a couple years ago, got a great Gigabyte 965p DS3 mobo and C2D 1.8 w/ 4GB DDR2 for very little $. Updated to a Q6600 quad about a year ago at $200 and am at 3GHZ OC.

    Core I7 performance is not that attractive compared to when I was going from a P4 to C2D. Maybe when the next USB spec and next SATA spec comes out and next gen SSD's are attractive enough then upgrading to a new mobo will be worth considering. I will be tempted around Windows 7 release time, I hope the landscape changes significantly with an upgrade making more sense then.

    There's no reason for me to consider an upgrade until the next "sweet spot" to upgrade comes up. But these articles all help someone hone in on knowing when the next sweet spot with performance/price and longevity comes up.
  • Bolas - Saturday, February 07, 2009 - link

    Maybe it would look something like this. I'm thinking I would probably want a larger case and larger power supply, though.

    From Newegg:

    Qty. Image Product Description Unit Price Savings Total Price

    Update SILVERSTONE FT01-BW Black Aluminum ATX Mid Tower Uni-body Computer Case - Retail
    Model #:FT01-BW
    Item #:N82E16811163121
    Return Policy:Standard Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $239.99 -$10.00 Instant $229.99

    Update ASUS P6T6 WS Revolution LGA 1366 Intel X58 ATX Intel Motherboard - Retail
    Model #:P6T6 WS Revolution
    Item #:N82E16813131358
    Return Policy:Limited Non-Refundable 30-Day Return Policy
    Out Of Stock
    ETA: 2/9/2009 12:00:00 AM
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $369.99 $369.99

    Update EVGA 017-P3-1291-AR GeForce GTX 295 1792MB 896 (448 x 2)-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready SLI Supported Video Card - Retail
    Model #:017-P3-1291-AR
    Item #:N82E16814130449
    Return Policy:Limited Non-Refundable 30-Day Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $504.99 -$15.00 Save $979.98

    Update CORSAIR CMPSU-1000HX 1000W ATX12V 2.2 / EPS12V 2.91 SLI Ready CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS Certified Modular Active PFC Compatible with Core i7 Power Supply - Retail
    Model #:CMPSU-1000HX
    Item #:N82E16817139007
    Return Policy:Standard Return Policy
    In Stock
    Mail-in Rebate

    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $279.99 -$20.00 Instant $259.99

    Update Intel Core i7 Extreme Edition 965 Nehalem 3.2GHz LGA 1366 130W Quad-Core Processor Model BX80601965 - Retail
    Model #:BX80601965
    Item #:N82E16819115200
    Return Policy:Processors (CPUs) Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $1,009.99 $1,009.99

    Update Intel X25-M SSDSA2MH160G1C5 160GB SATA Internal Solid state disk (SSD) - Retail
    Model #:SSDSA2MH160G1C5
    Item #:N82E16820167015
    Return Policy:Limited Non-Refundable 30-Day Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $779.00 -$50.00 Instant $1,458.00

    Update mushkin 6GB (3 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Triple Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model 998679 - Retail
    Model #:998679
    Item #:N82E16820226030
    Return Policy:Limited Non-Refundable 30-Day Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $204.99 $409.98

    Update Western Digital WD20EADS 2TB SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive - OEM
    Model #:WD20EADS
    Item #:N82E16822136344
    Return Policy:Limited 30-Day Return Policy
    Out Of Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $299.99 $599.98

    Update Logitech G15 2-Tone USB Wired Standard Gaming Keyboard - Retail
    Model #:920-000379
    Item #:N82E16823126034
    Return Policy:Standard Return Policy
    In Stock
    Mail-in Rebate

    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $89.99 $89.99

    Update LG W3000H-Bn Black 30" 5ms Widescreen LCD Monitor - Retail
    Model #:W3000H-Bn
    Item #:N82E16824005115
    Return Policy:LCD Limited Non-Refundable 30-Day Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $1,249.99 -$150.00 Instant $1,099.99

    Update Logitech G5 2-Tone 7 Buttons 1 x Wheel USB Laser Mouse - Retail
    Model #:910-000093
    Item #:N82E16826104076
    Return Policy:Standard Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $49.99 $49.99

    Update LG Black LG Blu-ray/HD DVD-ROM & 16X DVD±R DVD Burner SATA Model GGC-H20LK - OEM
    Model #:GGC-H20LK
    Item #:N82E16827136154
    Return Policy:Limited 30-Day Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $124.99 -$15.00 Instant $109.99

    Update LG Black 6X Blu-ray Disc Burner & HD DVD-ROM Drive SATA Model GGW-H20LK - OEM
    Model #:GGW-H20LK
    Item #:N82E16827136155
    Return Policy:Limited Non-Refundable 30-Day Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $199.99 $199.99

    Update ASUS Xonar D2 7.1 Channels PCI Interface Ultra Fidelity Sound Card with Complete Dolby/DTS Sound Technologies - Retail
    Model #:90-YAA021-1UAN00+
    Item #:N82E16829132001
    Return Policy:Standard Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $179.99 $179.99

    Update Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 64-bit for System Builders - OEM
    Model #:66R-02034
    Item #:N82E16832116493
    Return Policy:Software Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $179.99 $179.99

    Update Vigor Monsoon III LT Dual 120mm Fan CPU Cooler Socket 1366 Ready - Retail
    Model #:CLT-M3LT
    Item #:N82E16835702007
    Return Policy:Standard Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $63.99 $63.99

    Update Logitech Z-5500 505 Watts 5.1 Speaker - Retail
    Model #:9701150403
    Item #:N82E16836121120
    Return Policy:Standard Return Policy
    In Stock
    Note (Add)

    Save Cancel $302.99 $302.99
    Subtotal: $7,594.81

  • Bolas - Saturday, February 07, 2009 - link

    Alternately, you could just about configure what you wanted from cyberpower, if you don't feel like building it yourself, I would think. Their high end system seems price competitive with what anandtech recommended for a dream system, if you aren't good at system builds yourself I would think this would be another way to go. No I don't work for newegg or cyberpowerpc, just web sites I like, that's all. :)">
  • JonnyDough - Friday, February 06, 2009 - link

    but you never listed the price of the LG Blu-Ray HD-DVD reader. Reply
  • Wesley Fink - Friday, February 06, 2009 - link

    The LG Blu-Ray Reader/16X DVD Writer varies between $99 to $115 depending on when it is on sale. It was $105 when the Guide went to press. The 6X LG Blu-Ray writer has been around $250, but recently settled in at $200. It was on sale for $190 as the guide was posted. Reply
  • JonnyDough - Friday, February 06, 2009 - link

    Alright, well it's in the chart...but not in the article. You mentioned raising the price to $200 by adding BR burning capability but failed to mention the drive price prior to that. Reply

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