Decisions: mid-range, intel, gaming, low TDP


I am planning to build a system that will be used for gaming and some general use (modding, compiling, applications, browsing, etc), maybe a 80/20% split is descriptive of performance targets, gaming vs general purpose. Cost for me is not just euros, but also noise, watts, heat and time required to study/build/maintain.

That's why I'm asking - which components in my plan should I spend some time to research and (re)evaluate - can I easily reduce noise somewhere, or push the performance bottlenecks and save a few euros?

Video: This seems to be an easy choice - the newly introduced 6850 from ATI/AMD provides nearly the same performance as a 5850, but with 20W less consumed under load. The price is attractive.

An option would be NVidia 460 1GB, but the power consumption would jump some 35W. The main advantage would be supposedly gaining better 3D drivers for Linux - NVidia has built a strong reputation of performing in that area.

ATI 5770 would offer passive cooling options, and as such would be a rather interesting option. I take GPU cooling is the worst single noise source. The performance loss is significant, though, so I'm of two minds here.

CPU: I built my first system 12 years ago, and have mostly been an AMD junkie since - the combination of price & performance is quite nice. I haven't been following the h/w scene too closely, but in the recent years the balance of power seems to have shifted. Intel has had a slight reliability edge all along, and nowadays they come ahead in terms of computing power vs. watts required.

The i5-650 with 2 cores should be a sufficient CPU and the TDP (thermal design power) of 73W seems rather acceptable (my AMD CPU in 2001 had a TDP of 72W as I recall).

The i5-750 would provide 4 cores with TDP of 95W. Quadcore is nice and dandy, but most of the time the benefit for gaming is slight, even with quad core support in games, because the bottleneck is the GPU and not the CPU. I can also work around the limitations of a dual CPU, for example by multitasking with multiple computers :)

Since it's primarily a gaming system, a i3 could be an option as well. This would save a few dozen euros but would only give a slight advantage in terms of TDP.

Case: Is there a reason to look beyond a cookie cutter case like Antec Sonata III? I know you can get a more serious case by throwing an additional 100eur to the fray, or get a case with a 200mm case fan, but is that just overkill for my system - the overall TDP should be fairly low.

I take cooling and noise generally are not a difficult problem in today's mid range systems. Better case design has improved things quite a bit, for example the Sonata III has 2x120mm fans which should produce only low noise. Also GPU cooling receives more attention from the vendors nowadays, so just going with all stock fans could be a viable choice for a lazy man :)

I know there's a number of very good water cooling kits available. However so far I've always gone air cooled - water cooling would increase the cost of the system slightly and I would have to do additional research.

I could look into replacing the stock CPU&GPU fans and heatsinks, depending a bit on my final choices - should I be looking to replace both to get a quiet system?

PSU: This system should be fine with a 500W PSU, even with some expansion - 450W or 400W might cut it if I go with the low-power options? My systems tend to grow very little during their lifetime, maybe add some disk or RAM.

RAM: The Intel CPU supports only up to 1333MHz for DDR3. 1600MHz costs only marginally more, and bigger is better, even if it runs just at 1333MHz ;) - is there an advantage to going with 1600MHz? Should I start with 4GB or 8GB? I could always upgrade to 8GB later, too.

Mobo: Whatever is suitable for the CPU and has all the features I need/want. I understand there are differences between power consumption and power management, from one mobo to the other? It would be quite nice if the system can reduce power usage when not at full (gaming) load!

HDD: Been thinking of a SSD - would improve booting, loading maps etc and overall performance. At some 100-200eur, might be a bit of an overkill considering the box is some 1000eur total. But getting a 120GB SSD would allow me to get along with just the SSD and my existing storage (one old 80GB HDD would probably go to this system) - I use disk space rather sparingly.

PSU: Clear choices here - Win7 for gaming and general purpose use, as it's already won over the hearts of the community; Debian GNU/Linux for a toy around system, administration, workstation use and possibly the primary desktop (been using this for some 11-12 years on and off).
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  1. First up, your requirements lead me to think that power consumption is very important. You need to get a very efficient PSU then.

    Seasonic has a very efficient PSU that's a bit large, but priced right if available in Europe...
    That will be very quiet. The fan won't even spin at idle. There is nothing wrong with having a slightly stronger PSU... it does not impact your power bill.

    The Sonata is a good choice for a quiet system. Replacing fans for quieter ones is actually quite easy so keep it in mind as an option if you need to.

    Good water cooling is very expensive. Cheap water cooling has NO advantages at all. Quiet CPU coolers are easily found, if the stock cooling is too loud.

    Your choice on the SSD. I think a 120GB Sandforce would decrease power draw and noise even more, but you are paying for it.

    You should find some mature cooling solutions on GTX 460 cards now, that will be quieter. More fans are probably better, if they turn slower....
    This Gigabyte card has a rep for relative quietness

    On the RAM, latency is more important than frequency, but neither is worth too much. This Corsair kit seems like a good deal:
  2. Well, noise and performance are of course very important. Heat dissipation is a bit of a philosophical issue - I feel there's just something wrong when the rated wattage of components increases year after year in the quest for even greater performance. And I was thinking that powerful cooling = noise, but maybe things are looking a bit better with that - I'm probably a bit traumatized by the PC I built in 2001 :ange: It seems nowadays one can be quiet and powerful even with mainstream components - I saw a link to this review of the ECS GTX460 Black, where they measured it at 37dBA under full load - you'll hardly be able to hear it, most other cards in the same chart measured 43 dBA or less.

    Of course the power bill corresponds to watts, but in the end it might be a small consideration. There is also the effect of heating up the room, especially if there are multiple computers on. I do live in Finland so outdoor temps are under +10C most of the year, and usually the extra heating doesn't hurt - but this also means few apartments here have air conditioning, and when the neighbors are heating up their apartments or it's the warm summer months, the effect from a single performance PC can be quite noticeable.

    Thanks for the comments, I think at least a few things are clearing up now :)

    The Seasonic PSU you mention could have up to 7% advantage over the plain 80+ PSU that comes with the Sonata III - so if the system draws say 300W at peak, it would shave off some 20W from the power consumption, about the same ballpark as offered by processor choice or changing to a different GPU. But going with a separate PSU instead of the Sonata bundle would increase cost, and I don't think it would be worth it - unless I wanted a separate PSU + case for some other reason (like more power needed for higher performance parts). In any case it'd be a TDP saving that doesn't imply a performance hit.

    I think I can just take passive cooling and water cooling off the list. A quiet GPU and an aftermarket CPU heatsink+fan should give a rather nice and quiet combo. Would the standard tricool on the Sonata case become a noisy component compared to this system? I'm thinking putting a second tricool (the case has just 1 fan total as standard) on the front to ensure proper cooling and hopefully they can run at low RPM when the system is not at full load. What's the effect of the PSU fan on system noise?
  3. You can by the case without the PSU, at least in the US. If you are getting it with the EA500D, that's not too bad. It's actually Bronze rated. Delta unit though, not as quiet as Seasonics.
  4. How's it looking so far:

    Video: GTS450 has a TDP that is OK, but trades off 1/3 of performance. I think that is too much, so the best NVidia option is GTX460.

    Radeon 6850 roughly has the performance of GTX460 and the TDP of GTS450, so this is what I'm planning to get. The Gigabyte card with dual fans is the most quiet; the Asus card is nice but the noise level is a bit too high for my system. There are a few specimens of the Gigabyte card available on our market, and if those get sold out I will have to wait for other 6850 cards with mature cooling to become available. Also it's best to wait for experiences from the user community so we'll see if the Gigabyte card has any compatibility issues.

    I'll hook up a 17" LCD at first. But when the time is right, I'll be upgrading to something bigger, maybe 21" or 24", so at least 1900x1200 resolution and the card should have enough performance to run games at that reso several years down the road. As it is I'm yet to see a video card that was too fast! :p

    CPU: The core i5 650 offers a nice performance/price point. Dual core fits well with this system and there is still some extra power for workstation use or a graphics card upgrade in the future (unlikely, but still, it's nice).

    Zalman CNPS8000A for CPU cooling.

    Case and PSU: Primary option is the Sonata III bundle. Proximon is actually right, and one can buy the case without a PSU for a nice price. But quality power costs real money - just buying the EA500D separately would push price up 20 euros (the standard PSU in a local store is just 80+ certified - guess they have some old stock for Sonata III). Savings in the electricity bill with better PSUs are neglible and TDP for the system wouldn't go down enough to justify the extra price. A PSU upgrade would have to be motivated by lower fan noise - I think just having self-adjusting fan RPM is enough, I hear even the PSU that comes with Sonata III is not too noisy.

    For the case I'm looking at some other options but if I can't find a really good one it's just the Sonata III. A Sonata Elite case might be nice. Discussion:

    I've understood a case should have at least one fan pushing air in and one pulling it out, so I'd need one more fan if I go with Sonata III and have to do some research - Antec fans are reported not to be ideal for noise&durability. Having proper airflow through the case would put less strain on GPU cooling so total noise levels keep under control and system stability may improve.

    RAM: 4GB of 1333MHz RAM - faster has no advantage. Not sure if 8GB would be of any help for a gaming system, I take caching in today's OSes (esp. Windows 7) is not effective enough to give a benefit for gaming? I think my web browser will still fit in 4GB for a year or two more.

    Mobo: Apparently I'm looking for a H55/H57 mobo. What advantages does micro-ATX bring - lower power consumption, easier to install in a tight ATX/m-ATX case? I'd like to have USB3, fanless operation, some PCI slots (2 to 3) and readiness for a 10Gb NIC later down the road. Would prefer something more serious for the integrated NIC than Realtek (eg. Intel's chipset). Will need to study my mobo options and whether the brand makes any difference in power saving features.

    HDD/SSD: The main benefit of a SSD for gaming is faster loading of levels and the games themselves, which already seems to justify some extra spending. Also the benefit of faster loading of applications etc. and general system responsiveness. And it goes with the overall philosophy of this build, though the performance aspect is the most important. But I also admit I'm interested in a SSD also just because it's new, trendy and sexy technology :)

    A 60GB SSD I understand would be a bit nerfed for performance if split into 2 partitions, which I'm planning. So 80GB or 120GB could be the primary option. Currently SSD prices seem to be dropping like a stone, and as it probably takes me some 1-2 more weeks to reach all the decisions, prices may be a tad lower by then.

    The SSD will be accompanied by my old 80GB HDD. I'll probably switch this to a 1-2TB HDD some 6 months down the road.

    OS: I suppose Win 7 Home Premium is the version I'd be needing for a serious mainstream gaming system? For the Linux part I might go with ArchLinux just to try out a nice new distro.

    Other: I'll be using my old SB Audigy 2+ for sound. And I already have the G5 mouse, as well as 2 joysticks. And I'm delighted to find that contemporary mobos still support PS/2 for keyboard(?), I can just use my el cheapo Keytronic from a decade back, as the feel of that one is just great. I'd have an old SCSI card too, but I think it'd be pointless to plug it into this system...
  5. A good place to save on power is with a gold certified PSU. Something like the Seasonic 550w:
    It is modular, and currently less expensive than the 400w unit. Even if it is more expensive up front, you may save in the long run, particularly if electricity is expensive.

    The best quiet case I know of is the Antec SOLO and it's derivatives the sonata designer 500 and designer plus 550: Cooling should be adequate for any single gpu you can install. I have used this case in several builds and it is my all time favorite. You can optionally add two 92mm intake fans in front(which are filtered), but it does not seem necessary. Be aware that the maximum sized graphics card you can install is 10". It is easy to mod the hard drive cage with tin snips to accomodate something larger in the 10.5 to 11" range. For a review and good quiet computing info go to .

    I love the 32nm clarkdales. They are fast and cool. The 650 is a great choice for you. Once you get to a dual core @ 3.0 or better, gaming performance is determined by the graphics card. The graphics card will be the primary heat and noise producer in your case. I would have two non-performance related criteria:
    a. dual slot direct exhaust. Other coolers do a great job of getting heat off of the gpu die, but they just dump it back into the case where case cooling has to deal with it. Most benchmarks showing better cooling are done on a test bed, not in a case.
    b. 40nm manufacturing technology. This gives you the most efficient of today's cards.

    If your need is not urgent, you might want to wait for Jan 5 when the new "sandy bridge" processors launch. Read about them here:

    4gb of ram is OK, but snce the cost of ram is cheap, consider getting 8gb.
    Here is a Corsair article on the value of 8gb+:
    If you will multitask while gaming, then more than 4gb is good. Get a 2 x 4gb kit to preserve your option to add more later. I agree that fast ram is not worth it for the Intel cpu's.

    I do not think the CNPS8000A is the best cooler. SPCR ^ has some good info on quiet components. I like the tall tower type coolers with a large, slow turning fan that directs the hot air out the back of the case.

    I am a big SSD fan. It makes everything feel so much snappier. I would budget about $100 for one. 40gb would be about the minimum for a boot drive. Windows-7 will take about 13gb if you make no effort to trim it. Third generation SSD's using cheaper 25nm nand chips are close. Performance will be a bit better, but the cost per gb should come down a lot.

    I would start out using the onboard HD sound. It is very good these days. You can save an expansion slot, and perhaps recoup some expense by selling your audigy card.
  6. Hy guys.....well,
    I'm using the Core i3 530
    with Arctic Cooling X-treme
    MSI H55M - E33
    a Seagate 500g HDD
    2x2GB Kingston DDR3@1333MHz
    Arctic Cooling Fusion 550R (as tomshardware article says it's made by Seasonic)
    and a Cooltek K3 Evolution Case with 4x12cm Fans (one conected to the mb, the other 3 to the case fan control)

    I've set the cpu fan to maintain 55degrees Celsius and the gpu (Afterburner software) to go above 45%fan speed only after it reaches 55 degrees Celsius.... Any game I've tried until now kept the fans spinning at idle rpm and quite low temperature (cpu 850rpm, gpu 42%) it is almost silent (hdd is making most noise)

    About power consumption..... I'm using some thing that measures the power draw directly (DUWI 05370) so the system (only the "box" no monitor or speaker) browsing (no youtube) uses about 80W, youtube, movies 115W, hd content 160W, and heavy gaming doesn't exceeds I'm not sure if this is accurate because it seems a very low power draw, but to be honest it isn't killing my power bill so it seems to be the actual value.
  7. Current notes have:

    Antec Sonata III 500W
    <120mm case fan - quiet, adjustable, reputable brand>
    Corsair VX550W
    Gigabyte Windforce Radeon 6850
    Core i5 650
    ZALMAN CNPS8000A 92mm 2 Ball CPU Cooling Fan/Heatsink
    OCZ Gold Edition 4GB (2x2GB) PC3-10666 1333MHz Low Voltage Dual Channel CL 9-9-9-20
    [or Corsair Value Select 4GB (2x2) DDR3 1333MHz 9-9-9-24]
    Asus P7H55-V
    [or P7H55]
    Samsung SH-S223L 22X DVD+/-RW SATA Retail
    OCZ Vertex 2 - 120GB
    Win7 home premium + ArchLinux/Debian

    Might still change some components and have to do some research. Some items may have availability issues, the 6850 seems now to be sold out in my primary store. Was planning to place orders next week and build it over the weekend, to avoid the pre-christmas market.
  8. Another store seems to have Enermax Pro87+ 500W for 125e - very tempting for a 80+ Gold rated PSU that's reported to be very quiet, fan RPM is 330 to 900! For comparison the Gold rated Seasonic suggested has been 150e when I've seen it, and the Corsair I'm considering would be 70e. Total rig price was 1070e for the setup I listed above. Discussion ->

    ASUS DRW-24B1LT seems to be available, Asus homepage gives Asus DRW-24B3LT as the current model which has bundle of Nero, Lightscribe and E-Green... not bad.

    How low should the RAM latency be, CL8 enough? Not sure I get much real benefit, discussion ->

    Is there a point in going with a 3rd party fan for the CPU? I understand the Intel stock HSF is a pretty good solution already, would it still be the loudest component in the system? I suppose I'll task the CPU heavily time to time, since it's only dual core.

    SSD is quite costly, but saves time when using the system. Reading the threads on this forum, it is starting to look like a large SSD is much more useful than a small one, so at least a 80GB one is required for me.

    Some bigger calls I made with the plan so far:

    CPU - sacrifice performance for TDP (cost goes down too, about 25e with the dual-core + some more with H55 mobo)
    PSU - sacrifice TDP for cost (assuming Corsair instead of Gold rated)
    SSD - sacrifice cost for performance

    Coherent thinking, n'est pas? So far I'm enjoying the art of aiming for the perfect balance ;)

    I have never done overclocking, but I gather support for that has become much better over the years - you have automated stability checks, etc and it can be considered a mature mainstream practice nowadays. I probably won't do any tweaking for the first 6 months, but some underclocking could be interesting after that to bring down the TDP even a bit more, maybe followed by careful overclocking later on. I like stability and reliability in my computers, and performance can already be increased by throwing more money into hardware :) so it's not a major consideration in any case.
  9. As in your other thread (see here) we need know your current system, build a new system now when Sandy and Bulldozer are on the corner to be released could be not a good idea.
  10. Are there any issues with PSU measurements - ie. will all ATX PSUs always fit all ATX cases? Cable length should not be an issue for me - I'm going with a mid-tower case and not with any weird PSU brands so I should fall in the typical case as comes to cable length needs.

    How about making the CPU HSF fit, should about 160mm be the absolute maximum I can go for in a HSF with a case like the Sonata III? (160mm sounds huge though, about 6" - don't need that much for a suitable model I think.) Are there other issues when sizing the HSF that you can run into, besides HSF shape and placement of mobo RAM&condensators not being compatible?
  11. CPU should quite possibly be downgraded to 540 or 550 due to pricing issues and some availability concerns:
  12. Parts list - need to check a few things and fix some details, but I'm starting to click through the orders :)

    Antec Sonata III (no PSU)
    Noctua 120mm (nf-s12b something)
    Enermax Pro87+ 500W
    Gigabyte Windforce Radeon 6850
    Core i3 540
    ?CPU Cooling Fan/Heatsink?
    OCZ Gold Edition 4GB (2x2GB) PC3-10666 1333MHz Low Voltage Dual Channel CL 9-9-9-20
    Asus P7H55
    Samsung SH-S223L 22X DVD+/-RW SATA Retail
    Corsair F60
    Win7 home premium + ArchLinux

    CPU cooler is the biggest question mark. Tall models might have problems fitting in the case, many seem to be close to 160mm... have little idea how much trouble blocky or flat models would have with the mobo etc.

    The Sonata III has a nice price and classical style, but cooling is its weak part. The max configuration is 2x120mm fans, which I'm going to fit. Sensible CPU options WRT pricing and performance seem to be 540 and 760 - I'm going with 540 to avoid high fan RPMs with the Sonata III, and also it goes well with the price level (and little upgrading being planned).

    Availability of parts is a slight factor, these should all be max 2 weeks to get in local stores... this affects even Windows 7 (I want the non-localized, ie. UK version), and at the moment the Force 60 seems to be easier to get just because Vertex 2 has suddenly become rather popular :wahoo:

    I suppose I need silver paste for CPU HSF installation?
  13. Pricing is something like this:

    760... 180e
    (650... 175e)
    (560... 160e?)
    (550... 140e)
    540... 110e

    Parenthesis = not very good availability. With 650 being very close to 760, it doesn't seem too attractive going with that dual core CPU. And with Sandy Bridge just around the corner, shelling out real money for a CPU.
  14. Does the CNPS8000A even fit with the condensators (and other parts) just next to the CPU? It has longish parts protruding on 2 sides, which would need to go to the same general area as the condensators.
  15. Turns out Kingston HyperX with 7-7-7-20 timings, same 1.65V rating, costs the same as the OCZ kit, so switching to that as I suppose that's better value :D (Seems I always go with Kingston, it's the best available and cheapest brand in the shop I go to, somebody must really like it there...)

    For the HSF, Zalman 7*00 or 9*00 could be the way to go, too :??:
  16. Only the OCZ RAM is in the Asus mobo's Qualified Vendors List though, and there it's (incorrectly, I guess) listed as 7-7-7-20 timings. Might be a much safer option in my case ; Kingston is only listed for value RAM in the QVL, and under a different brand/part number there.


    Kingston is performance memory for gamers ; the OCZ one is part of their value category.
  17. OCZ is code 4GB (2x2048MB) D/C Kit PN -OCZ3G1333LV4GK
    Kingston KHX1333C7AD3K2/4G DDR3-1333, unbuffered DIMM

    (Kingston's configurator recommends their valueram for this mobo, KVR1333D3N9K2/4G)
  18. Ordered the big shuriken as the HSF - it's got good rep and I figured it leaves a precious few mm breathing space in several directions. Access to 2 of the RAM slots is going to be tricky though. RAM troubleshooting or even installing the 2 extra chips later might mean a bit of extra work.

    Kingston's HyperX is rated at 1.65V, and the mobo manual recommends running memory at lower than 1.65V for the purpose of protecting the CPU (QVL has some 1.8V sticks though). I suppose there wouldn't be anything that prevents HyperX from working - the QVL is pretty short, they must just quickly test the most common chips and KVR is one that probably gets installed in millions and millions of systems (used to use that myself a bit, too). I think you could try running it at 1.6V, but stability might suffer? Another option would be to tune down the latency to CL8 so it works better with the low voltage. Keeping CL9 + 1.65V would mean you're effectively overclocking from the PoV of the other gear.

    I suppose downgrading to the Kingston CL9 Valueram could make sense, just to avoid any kind of weird problems. There should be very little performance impact because it's likely other components are the bottleneck in this system, at least in gaming.
  19. Parts have been ordered and almost all are ready for delivery. Just waiting for the PSU and HSF... we'll see if they can deliver that shuriken in a reasonable time :sarcastic: The shop I'm getting most of them has a flexible system though where you can change stuff around, practically until it's all ready and delivered :)

    Antec Sonata III (no PSU, comes with their 120mm Tricool)
    Noctua NF-S12B FLX 120mm
    Enermax Pro87+ 500W
    Gigabyte Windforce Radeon 6850
    Core i3 540
    Scythe BIG Shuriken SCBSK-1000
    Kingston Valueram 4GB (2x2Gt) 1333MHz DDR3, CL9
    Asus P7H55
    Samsung SH-S223L/BEBE DVD-RW
    OCZ Vertex 2 - 60GB 2.5" SSD SATA II
    Arctic Cooling MX-3 Premium Thermal Compound
    Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium Edition UK Retail

    Total system cost comes to 1010eur

    Then it's just preparing for installation... been already drooling at some new games :D
  20. Seems the Big Shuriken was the best option some 1.5 years ago for HTPC, HSF technology seems to evolve quite rapidly too, though - but in any case it was beating the stock core duo fans by a huge margin:

    MX-3 is probably unnecessary because the shuriken apparently comes with its own silver paste. Wouldn't need any more of it unless I reinstall the HSF - with the Valueram, that probably won't be needed - which is good, because installation of the shuriken is not the easiest of all, and would require one to remove the mobo as well...
  21. Still waiting for the cooler, picked up the case today, some parts might arrive in mail for Friday.

    The Sonata III measures about 190mm from the brass mobo standoffs to the wall - my old AOpen tower case from 10 years back is just 155mm for the same measure, case was some 10mm slimmer though - but I suppose the extra space under the mobo tray could have been for some cable organization, mine is a mess in the old case.

    In any case, it seems the Sonata III case would fit a standard 160mm tower cooler nicely - 30mm of room for mobo, CPU socket and CPU should be enough? :) Would make spacing and installation easier, cooling would improve a bit, and, I could start building on Friday...

    Eg. Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus could be a nice one: (the fan is a 120mm one)
  22. Going with the 212 Plus...

    So, all parts selected and are on their way. Thanks for all the comments! :)

    It's building time so I started a new thread to see how it all pans out:
  23. has just posted an article on a mid-range gaming build:

    Somewhat higher performance and price point. Noise is lower but TDP is higher as well:

    This gaming rig can pull nearly 420W from the wall outlet (under extreme lab test conditions) and upwards of 300W or more in extreme game play.

    That's about double of what I have... Anyway, interesting to see they ended up with some of the same parts - and the Vertex 2 seems to have really good deals in the US now! :) And have to check if I have the same hideaway mounting option for the SSD, my current mounting isn't that solid since OCZ's 3.5" adapter didn't agree with the not-fully standard 3.5" trays from Antec.
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