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New System - Reviews Inside - QX9650 - XFX 790i Ultra - 9800GTX SLI

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May 1, 2008 5:24:28 AM

After 5+ Years of building computers for other people and rather than for myself, I finally decided to bite the bullet and purchase a new system.

I will be doing a mini-review for a good majority of the components.

If anyone has specific questions or benchmarks that they would like to see just post and I will get them up here.

With PC technology on the move as quickly as it has been, I decided to
wait until April to build a new system.

Budget:

Originally I wanted to spend $3500 as a maximum for a PC with all peripherals (Monitor Keyboard etc).

After reading many reviews on products and specs I finally settled on the parts, however, now the project was ~$5000.

Budget Justification:

My last system was a socket 478 2.8HT. Below is a final cost breakdown over the last 5 years.

~$1000 - Original System Initial Cost (~2003)
~$300 - CRT Monitor
~$300 - LCD Monitor Upgrade / CRT Replacement
~$600 - Hard Drive Upgrades / Replacements
~$300 - Mods (Fans, Controllers, Thermal Monitors, Heat Spreaders)
~$300 - Video Card Upgrade #1 (GeForce 4 Ti4600)
~$300 - Vidoe Card Upgrade #2 (ATI X850XT)
~$300 - Upgrade to 2GB of RAM
~$200 - Optical Drive Replacements / Upgrades
~$200 - Power Supply Upgrade
~$50 - PCI S-ATA Controller
---------------------------------
= ~$3850 + Time and agony upgrading

Knowing that I have spent that much in the last 5 years, I decided that I would be better off just buying something high-end now.

With technology moving further towards multi-threading applications that will utilize 4+ cores, it made sense to me to spend the money now that I would end up spending later in upgrades. Sure I would end up upgrading to a better system than what money can buy now, but the temptation was to great. I could have settled for a Q6600 or E8400 but it took too long for my parts to come in, so I ended up upgrading my order while waiting.

Build Specifications:

Antec 900 Case
SilverStone Commander 01 ESA System Monitor
Thermaltake Toughpower 1200W Power Supply
XFX 790i Ultra Motherboard
Intel QX9650 Processor @ 3.00 GHz
Scythe Ninja Rev.B CPU Cooler
Artic Silver Thermal Compound
OCZ Platinum 10666 DDR3 - 4x1GB
Asus 20x DVD+-RW Drive w/ lightscribe
4x Seagate Baracuda 7200.11 500GB 32MB Cache Hard Drive Raid 0+1
Creative X-FI Fidelity Xtreme Gamer Audio Card
Logitech Z-5300e THX® Certified 5.1 Speaker System
2x XFX Geforce 9800GTX - SLI Mode
Samsung SyncMaster 2253BW 22in Widescreen LCD 1680x1050
Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard+Mouse Combo


Reviews:

Antec 900 Case



Over the last year I have built several systems using this case, I consider it to be one of the easiest cases to work with for installation, cable management, and heat dissapation.

That being said, I had some degree of difficulty with this particular installation due to the size of the 9800GTX Graphics Cards.

In order to get everything to fit properly I had to move the Hard Drive Trays Forward to the point where they are sticking out about 3/16" from the sides of the case.



Aesthetically, it is still pleasing for the most part, although the slot filler brackets cannot move forward which makes the other bays out of alignment with the hard
drive bays. If the case wasn't black this might have looked pretty out of place.

One of the biggest flaws with this case from my perspective is the inclusion of switches for the fans instead of a controller or even the usual 3-Pin fan connectors. I currently have the fans set to high and the sound is definitly not unbearable, but it would have been nice to been able to include some form of fan control without having to remove either of the side panels.

The cooling of the case is fantastic. Ambient Case Temperatures are about 3-5 degrees overall warmer than room temperature (sensors placed in areas with minimal air-flow to match "trapped" ambient air).

I do have some concerns with the power supply getting enough air circulation though since there is maybe a 1/2" Gap between the second 9800GTX and the Power supply. The power supply internal ambient temperature sits at approximately 10-15 Degrees over Room Temperature.

If looking at an SLI configuration I would recommend waiting for the Antec 1200 Case as it will provide a lot more room for wiring and hand movement. That being said, the Antec 900 definitly provides an excellent platform for installation if you don't mind making a few compromises and if you have some degree of patience.

There is plenty of room along the backside edge of the case to tuck cords behind when running them from bottom to top. I did not have any trouble concealing a good majority of the cables for a very clean-looking installation. The cables from bottom to top were also easily held in place using the little zip-ties that the case came with.

Pros: Great Cooling, easy to work with.

Cons: Cramped for newer, larger video cards. Fans are not compatible with 3-pin fan controllers for RPM monitoring.


SilverStone Commander 01 ESA System Monitor:



This little Gem provides Thermal Monitoring and Fan Control from within the Nvidia System Monitor or the Nvidia Control Panel.

Installation is simple, it connects to an internal USB connection on the motherboard and then you just plug in the thermal sensors, fans, and even lamps (4-pin Molex). I was very happy to see the 4-pin Molex connections. I plugged the 3 120mm Antec 900 Case fans into it and now I can turn them on and off using the Lamp controls in the Nvidia Control Panel. This is very convenient for when I am watching movies or using low-demand applications, although I am a bit of a cooling junkie so they will
probably always be on.

This controller is also well-organized, I didn't feel at all like the wiring was becoming cramped. If you intend on having this controller at the top of your case, or with a drive above it, the wiring would be complicated to do while it is mounted.



I would like to see this controller equipped with a light dimmer for the lamps so that they could alternatively be used as variable fan
speed controllers for any 4-pin molex fans.

Pros: Easy to use and set up.

Cons: No voltage/speed control for 4-pin molex accesories.



Thermaltake Toughpower 1200W Modular Power Supply:

Wow this thing is huge. This is my first over-sized power supply.

The fact that this is a modular power supply was an instant seller for me, that and its 87% efficiency rating.

The power supply was easy to install, with the exception of the silicon seal for the rear of the power supply...it would not fit or stay on the front for the life of me, so I threw it back into the box.

Cable management is great as to be expected. The cables are all protected with mesh and heat-shrink tubing to provide the most longevity possible. It also has a huge fan that is very quiet and keeps the temperatures down.

This power supply is great. I have seen very consistant power delivery to all components even at full-load scenarios.

I ran into some pretty substantial Core CPU Voltage drops (from 1.2V-1.08V) which I later attributed to motherboard settings.

Pros: Cable Management. Great Performance. Consistant Power Delivery.

Cons: Silicon seal is nearly impossible to keep secured while
installing.


XFX 790i Ultra Motherboard:



This is definitly the most I have ever paid for a motherboard, so I expect great things from it. I have no intentions of doing any overclocking for a long time, if at all, so I have been primarily looking at the stability and performance at stock component speeds.

The installation was typical with any other motherboard and fairly easy to accomplish. Mounting the heatsink was somewhat difficult due to the North Bridge cooler being so huge. It was a bit of a struggle to mount a fan to the cooler since one of the Scythe Clips needed to be forcefully squeezed passed the NB cooler.

Oversized coolers can expect to see a lot of installation difficulties with this board. This board is also not compatible with any current heatsinks that utilize a back-plate for installation, though I have heard of some people installing the 120 series (True/Ultra) Thermaltake coolers with no bad side effects. I wasn't willing to risk
shorting the board, or crushing transistors for an additional few degrees of cooling performance. That being said, water cooling would be a nice option for this board.
Installation of the other components was very easy on this board.

The quick-installation card made things very easy for where to plug things in.

The computer went through the POST process with no issue except that the processor was set to a multiplier of 8x instead of 9x, so I quickly adjusted that in the BIOS.
I realized later that the Voltage for the processor was dropping to 1.07-1.08V from 1.20V while on AUTO (Measured with CPU-Z). I manually set the processor voltage to the stock 1.25V (1.20 w/Vdrop). This corrected a good majority of voltage fluctuations under load. I usually see at least 1.19 Vcore.

I recommend manually setting the voltage for the processors with this board. Auto was definitly sufficient, but I did notice some serious benchmark losses from the
CPU when the voltage was dipping (17000@auto 19000@1.25 in 3dmark05). I have run into a similar problem while overclocking my old computer where it would still run but perform poorly without stepping up the voltage.

Voltages seem more reliable when manually set. Hopefully this can be addressed in a BIOS update.

I immediately proceeded to attempt to install Windows Vista 64-bit. The computer blue-screened.

The culprit - 1.5V memory voltage on the OCZ Platinum RAM that requires 1.8V to operate correctly. This change was made easy with the simple interface the BIOS has to offer. The BIOS for this computer is very well laid out and very easy to use. I also enabled RAID and disabled some legacy support options as well as the E-SATA controller and anything else that made the boot-up process somewhat slower. The Nvidia RAID setup was easy as well.

Mistake #1:

Remember the good old days when you would always always always go into DOS for your BIOS updates?

After installing windows, I used the Nvidia Control Panel to update the BIOS since it seemed like a quick and simple solution to me sifting through boxes to find my utility CDs.

The update failed and the computer would no longer post.

No amount of CMOS resets in any combination would bring the computer back to life.

This resulted in a replacement board. The store was very nice in accomidating my stupid move and provided me a replacement free of charge with my Instant Product Replacement Warranty.

Once I installed the replacment and adjusted the BIOS settings once more, the computer booted straight into Windows again. I downloaded the P03 Update ISO and updated the BIOS, I then used the Alt+F2 feature to update to P04 by burning the BIN to a disc and booted pressing ALT+F2. The award utility was decompressed and the flash was successful. (Though I had my fingers crossed, I didn't want to have to rebuild my computer a third time.)

Pros: Easy BIOS configuration, easy installation. Way more stability
over the 680i series.

Cons: NB Heatsink too big. Incompatible with most backplates.



Intel QX9650 Processor @ 3.00 GHz w/ Ninja Scythe Rev.B Cooler



This processor made me drool a bit just holding the box in my hands.

The stock CPU cooler feels a bit fragile, but it holds itself together.

I won't go into to much detail on the processor except to say that it definitly performs very nicely.

One of the temperature sensors for one of the cores is not very responsive and doesn't seem to work properly, but I won't be doing any kind of exchange or RMA for it since the processor itself functions flawlessly. This seems to be a fairly common problem.

The cooler keeps the CPU under 25-30 degrees over ambient per core at full-load with 4 instances of Prime95 running at one instance per core. I am impressed with the 45nm performance and the heat dissapation.



The cooler surface was very reflective and smooth when I received it. After seeing some reviews of other heatsinks that are very lacklustre, this cooler impressed me.



Yes that is the reflection of my camera almost 2-3 feet above the heatsink.

The cooler was also silent and very easy to install, however, with the heatpipes and coolers on the motherboard, it would be very difficult to remove and re-seat while the motherboard is installed in the case. (I did not have a long reaching Flat-head screwdriver...that would have made the entire job easier.)

The computer overall raises the ambient room temperature by at least 4-5 degrees after 30 minutes of operating at 100% with the windows in the room closed.

Pros: Processor is Awesome...Cooler keeps things at acceptable levels.

Cons: Expensive...and from what I have read all around, the temperature sensors for individual cores seem to have a high rate of being DOA.


OCZ Platinum 10666 DDR3 - 4x1GB

As Toms Hardware has shown, RAM only accounts for maybe 1%-3% performance difference...so I won't go much into detail on these except to say that they are reliable, fast, and work great.

I chose these for tight timings as well as to match the 1333 speeds of the processor. I do not intend on doing any overclocking.

I don't really see a lot of pros or cons for this product. DDR3 is definitly still expensive compared to DDR2...but for those wanting the latest and greatest I would definitlly recommend these DIMMS as the price is not to horendous.

The BIOS automatically set all of the correct timings for the RAM with the exception of the Voltage which had to be adjusted manually.


Seagate Baracuda 7200.11 500GB 32MB Cache:

There are many reviews for this hard drive, and Toms Hardware charts show that it performs well. That was the sole purpose for this choice.

Performance definitly lives up to the reviews and the price is more than acceptable.

I chose to run in RAID 0+1 in order to protect my data and still gain performance. RAID5 was an option, but I ultimately decided against it after looking at several RAID benchmarks.



Creative X-FI Fidelity Xtreme Gamer Audio Card:

The debate was, onboard, or a card...

I decided to go with a card. I am a long time SB Live! user and was impressed by the audigy series.

I have heard mixed reviews on Creative products lately, but I am pleased with the results. The sound performance is great. No fuzz or stuttering, and the creative
utilities are a big selling feature for me.

I just hope that EAX continues to be widely supported.


Logitech Z-5300e THX® Certified 5.1 Speaker System:

For the price this is an excellent performer in the 5.1 sect.

I am very impressed by the sound quality.

I chose this over other 5.1 systems due to a little more power in the subwoofer. I have used other 5.1 systems in other setups with 30-40W subwoofers and they just don't have the same sound...they seem to struggle with detail and the sound is somewhat hollow.

The installation and setup is extremely easy and the rear speaker cords are plenty long to accomodate your average computer room.

I can safely say that this is a great system that I would recommend for anyone looking for a low to mid-priced sound solution for their PC.


2x XFX Geforce 9800GTX - SLI Mode:

I will let the benchmarks do most of the talking here.

I was some what unimpressed by the fact that the triangle calculations got beat out by an 8800GTS 320MB card in 3dMark05 by almost double. That being said, it is a newer card and is better suited to newer benchmarks.

3dmark05


3dmark06


Vantage





For 3dMark06 The benchmarks are on-par with the 8800GTX-SLI results from Toms Hardware. I was expecting maybe a slight performance gain with the faster memory on the 9800GTX, but having only 512MB is probably limiting its ability to totally trump the 8800GTX.

In-game performance is definitly more than acceptable. I can run Crysis(DX10) with no Anti-Aliasing at Very High Detail with little trouble, although I tend to run at High Detail for slightly better results...this is afterall Crysis. I run at 1680x1050 and acheive an average in-game FPS around 50FPS. I am definitly satisfied with the performance.

Crysis GPU - Average 31-32 FPS
Crysis CPU2 - 19-20 FPS

I tried running 8Q Anti-Aliasing at Very-High performance...yea...if you like playing at 6-7 FPS then its for you.

Stability Issues:

I did run into some stability issues with the SLI. I have to-date had 2 complete system lock-ups while running 3d applications (Crysis, 3dMark). I also had one Blue Screen error indicating a failure of the Nvidia Driver while benchmarking 3dMark05. I have run into stability issues with all configurations of SLI I have worked with to-date.

I seem to only get about 10-30 minutes out of Crysis before a complete system lockup requiring a reboot.

After running 4 hours straight of Prime95 with each core at 100%, I pretty much put my system in the "100% stable" as far as non-graphics hardware is concerned. I place all SLI stability issues and lockups at this point in the hands of Nvidia. They are going to have to write better SLI drivers to address some of these issues.

My primary concern with this, however, is that my experience with computers has tought me that software issues generally will not cause a "hard-lock". When the PC locked up the Num-lock key was not responding. This indicates to me that rather than a Driver being required to fix this issue, the problem is actually in the hardware
itself...I hope that isn't the case. With any luck it will just be a bad command to the hardware or some kind of a Divide by Zero problem...we can only be so lucky.

As far as temperatures go, even when running 100% full load on the graphics cards (8Q AA, Very-high, Crysis), I could not get the cards to push beyond ~40 degrees over ambient room temperatures. They also were failry quiet.

I am overall mildly unhappy with the performance results in SLI mode in the benchmarks. I expected more from the 9800GTX cards. Since my last card was an ATI X850XT, I won't complain too much though.

Pros: Solid performers. Lowered Power Consumption.

Cons: Same G92 architecture, could have been better. Totally Huge...barely fits in an average mid-tower with hard drives installed.


Samsung SyncMaster 2253BW 22in Widescreen LCD 1680x1050

Its bright, its vibrant, and it looks great in games and video.

Definitly a top recommendation for people looking at something that is still in the 1680x1050 resolution.

I chose the 22" over the 24" simply for the resolution. I did not want to be running future games at 1920x1200 as that would just be overworking the cards and more than likely tempt me into an upgrade in the near future. Getting a 24" and being forced to run at a lower resolution would take way to much away from the image quality.

That is about all I have for now. If you have any questions feel free to post and I will reply.
May 1, 2008 5:44:32 AM

Nice summary report. Thanks for taking the time to post it here.
Even nicer system!!
Will be interesting to see if future updated drivers will be able rescue the 9800GTX/SLI performance for you.
May 1, 2008 5:57:38 AM

Very nice review!

Check out this thread for Case mods of the Antec 900 (my favorite case to mod) and here is a pic of my mod. Paint is being re done... Know that I can do a better job than what I did before. http://www.xtremesystems.org/forums/showthread.php?t=12...


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I think it was a good move for the 9800GTXs. I would have done the same. I like the EVGA SSC though. I think that they gave them more watts/voltage for the 770 overclock. To me that means above 800mhz since I'm an avid o'cer.

Hope you plan on overclocking this rig. As that is what you paid for with the QX. I have to say... if you dont overclock you should have gone with Q9450. The whole point of QX is that unlocked multi. Oh how I wish I had one of those puppies.

Good choice on memory too.... actually good choice on everything... would have done a few things different but it's all personal preference.

I have had very many BSOD issues... I know it's due to SLI, Nvidia drivers, and partially Vista's fault. I wouldnt worry overall though. I think that Nvidia is a bit more reliable with driver updates in the future than ATI has proven us.

Anyhow. Great review... Well done! Now clean up that case and paint er!
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May 1, 2008 6:42:29 AM

While I have no intentions of Overclocking at this point in time, the warranty I purchased was 3-years so that once better cooling solutions come out and my warranty is expired, I will have the ability to scale up by overclocking thus providing me more time where I do not need to upgrade.

Awesome Case by the way, loving the Blue...my favorite color!

Yea, I really hope Nvidia gets these SLI issues figured out. It would be nice to fully unlock the potential of these cards for more than 30 minutes.
May 1, 2008 10:26:40 AM

CABLE MANAGEMENT!!!
!