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Dream Machine 2012: The Future Is Now

Intel 3.1GHz Xeon E5-2687W

Eight is enough

Not to be disrespectful, but in some ways Sandy Bridge-E is a eunuch. After all, the Core i7-3960X is an eight-core CPU with two of the cores permanently switched off. The Xeon E5-2687W is full processor. All of the eight cores it was born with are ready and willing to work those threads for you.

Such multicorism isn’t new to this year’s Dream Machine—we’ve had DMs with eight cores and even 12 cores before, but never have we done it with a single-socket machine. Still, our choice of processor wasn’t without controversy. Intel has reversed policy by locking down overclocking features on its Xeon CPUs, so our E5 can’t hit the clocks we would have hoped for. That gave us pause and made us consider running a Core i7-3960X instead, even if two of its cores are walled off. But our desire to see all eight cores run free won out—with the E5 we no longer have to wonder what the original Sandy Bridge-E would be like if Intel had left well enough alone.

Asus P9X79 WS

Workstation CPU, workstation motherboard

Obviously, our decision to go with LGA2011 and a workstation-class processor dictated the choice of dance partner. For that, we turned to Asus’s P9X79 WS—a professional-class motherboard. It’s not built for overclocking the way its Republic of Gamer siblings are, but that doesn’t mean it can’t hang. In fact, the P9X79 WS should do just fine with any unlocked i7 processor. The board features Intel LAN chips and for those who believe in GPU compute, the ability to run multiple cards. How many? The board is one of the few around that will support four-way SLI and CrossFireX in a standard ATX form factor.

Other professional touches include an internal USB port so you can plug in a USB dongle and a no-nonsense fit and finish. As with any performance-focused X79 board, it features eight DIMM slots capable of taking ECC and non-ECC RAM. One true test of a board design is how well it handles a full load of RAM with every DIMM slot loaded—the P9X79 WS says, “Bring it.”

64GB of DDR3/2133 Corsair Dominator Platinum

Half for a RAM disk, half for Win7

With eight slots and quad-channel RAM support at our disposal, we decided to go for broke this year by maxing out the system RAM with 64GB of Corsair Dominator Platinum DDR3/2133. We did this not only because these modules looks pretty as hell, but also because we wanted to take advantage of lower RAM prices to run a large RAM disk. Not everyone needs a RAM disk, of course, but it’s hard to argue with 32GB of storage that reads at 5,000MB/s.

2x 512GB OCZ Vertex 4

1TB of SSD storage, at last

SSDs have come a long way since 2009, when we used our first SSD in a Dream Machine build. That SATA 3Gb/s 256GB unit cost $700. Today, we can get a 512GB OCZ Vertex 4 for roughly $600. Not bad.

For DM2012 we wanted 1TB of storage, so we tapped two Vertex 4 drives in RAID 0. With the X79 PCH set to RAID 0 and a stripe size of 128KB, we saw about 800MB/s reads and 1,000MB/s writes. That’s Dreamy.

Jimmy Thang
Jimmy Thang has been Maximum PC's Online Managing Editor since 2012, and has been covering PC hardware and games for nearly a decade. His particular interests currently include VR and SFF computers.