Last Update: 8/18/16
Hi Everyone! I just wanted to share my experiences in case anyone is interested in going down the same road. I'll try to answer any questions and will continue to update my post with pictures in the near future. For now I just wanted to share my success story.
As many of you know the Area 51 R2 was release not too long ago with the Haswell-E platform. I kept questioning myself as to how long the i7 920 can hold up, especially with today's gaming standards. For the post part, upgrading the GPU every few years has done the trick but the CPU was starting to show it's age. With VR technology coming out soon, I felt it was time to upgrade.
I kept asking myself what do I do? Do I buy the R2 and scrap the R1? Do I upgrade the i7 920 to something more powerful like a 990x (since Xeon CPU's don't work with this MB)? Or lastly, do I take the chance like others upgrading the motherboard and risk loosing the soul of the system (referring to the MIO board that controls the show)? I do like the R2 triad design, but I can't get over how much I love the original R1 case. The design, manufacturing quality, and the space to work with is oozing with A-grade quality. As Cass and others have shared their successful upgrade stories I thought I would venture to do the same.
So now its time to upgrade but to what? i7 4 series, 5 series, or even the 6 series? Well, for starters, the 4-series has shown to be a successful story as noted below:
Even previous generation upgrades proved to be successful like X79 here:
Note: Both articles above are great guides if you decide to upgrade BTW. I read them thoroughly before making my decision.
Anyways, I had decided to upgrade to a newer generation so I was debating between Haswell-E and Skylake. Given that we're already running an enthusiast board with triple channel memory, I felt that upgrading to Skylake would have felt like a downgrade since it's aimed more at the general consumer market. Very powerful CPU, low power draw, better single threaded performance, and an onboard GPU but none of this persuaded me since I needed an enthusiast platform. Especially given where I'm located and the 5820k is actually cheaper than the 6700k. Why wouldn't anyone take the extra CPU cores and threads over the skylake? Granted gaming might not be able to utilize these now and DX12 will reduce CPU overhead but I felt like I need a future proof system that would last me another 5-6 years. I bit the bullet and went Haswell-E.
Note: Be aware that skylake CPU's are Windows 10 bound so installing Win 7 or 8 on those systems might be a little tricky but doable -- do some research first before pulling the trigger. Especially with a Area 51 R1 system since Win 10 OS isn't supported and you might need to revert back to Win 7/8 OS once in a while to "fix/reset" the MIO board.
Cooler: H100i GTX
MB: MSI X99A Sli Plus
RAM: 16GB (4x4gb) 2666Mhz Quad Channel
Power: Corsair HX1000i (didn't install this yet - using original Alienware PSU)
GPU: 2x Nvidia GTX 970 4gb (reference blower design)
The installation process was pretty straight forward. Since this was simply a motherboard swap project, I didn't have to do any rewiring or anything. Originally I was anticipating on swapping the PSU out with the corsair but since the original PSU was still operational I left it in place.
I've linked a great Area 51 teardown video below that will help you disassemble your unit.
So basically the steps are to first remove the GPU(s), disconnect the connections from the top IO board, unscrew the CPU liquid cooler, and then finally pull the slide lever to get out the top venting rack assembly. Now you just have your motherboard. Unplug all the connections, and unscrew the 8 or so screws holding the MB in place and your done! You can now remove the motherboard! (I left my CPU and Ram connected).
I've posed a picture below highlighting some of the key connectors
One of the key features of this board is that is has 3 USB 2.0 headers. USB1 is used for the connection to the MIO board (very important) and USB2 and USB3 are used for the front panel USB ports. Most motherboards these days only come with 2 USB 2.0 headers and have 1 or more USB 3.0 headers. This isn't really an issue unless you want all of them working in which case you'll have to get a little clever 🙂 Also it's hard to find new motherboards with e-Sata and IEEE 1394 connectors so there may be some workarounds necessary to get these working (I ended up leaving mine disconnected since I never really used them).
First and foremost, if you purchased a liquid cooling unit like mine that comes with a optional backplate, make sure to install this FIRST before putting in the motherboard in. I made the mistake and started going through the entire installation process before finding this out and was afraid I had to undo all my work.
Fortunately, I think many motherboard manufacturers already pre-install a backplate on these boards, probably because its an enthusiast platform but make sure to double check. Worst case scenario yes you can get by without one but it might be worthwhile to have one (read pros/cons in some different articles posted online).
The next part is easy, just put the motherboard and securely tighten it to the case. All of the connections here again are pretty straight forward. MSI board uses the same JFP1 pin layout as the original board. If you purchased a ASUS board, you may have a 10 pin layout similar to the picture below which will require some remapping. You can read more about this in Cass' 4770k success story at the top.
Make sure to pay close attention when installing the CPU. I wasn't sure about the orientation until I read about the matching triangles online. This was very poorly documented in both MSI and the CPU's instruction manuals. Also don't worry if you hear a little noise when locking the CPU in place. As long as the orientation is correct, and its correctly placed on the MB, you should be fine. The motherboard user guide was very helpful during the overall installation process so I recommend thoroughly reading though it in case you have any questions about which ram slots to use, which SATA ports use RAID, etc.
Summary/ Final Thoughts:
Area-51 1kw PSU
Nvidia GTX 970 SLI
Realtek HD onboard Audio