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Quiet, low power, three-monitor gaming rig

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June 13, 2011 5:03:35 PM

I'm going to be building a PC over the next 6 months, in order to play Skyrim (which I think will be the highest-requirement game I play), and to play the other games I enjoy. I'd like the PC to have as low a power footprint as possible, and thus, be pretty quiet.

Money is an object, as it is for most of us, hence my long build time. I'd like to spend less than $1000. I already have my 3 monitors, 3x HP 2207h's (http://reviews.cnet.com/lcd-monitors/hp-w2207)

I'll be acquiring the parts bit by bit along the way, with the board/processor/memory probably being the last purchase. I have yet to find a resource on the web that consistently maintains a list of the performance/watt stats on the latest CPU's, GPU's, etc...

Regarding the GPU and multiple monitors, it seems that a mid-low end SLI(or whatever other multi-card system)-capable card that I can double up for a reasonable cost might be the way to go?

I've done quite a bit of reading, and although http://www.silentpcreview.com and a few other sites have good individual reviews of components, Tom's seems to have the best articles/discussions on the larger lists/categories. Power consumption is an issue for most of us, since many play in the summer and more heat from the computer means more AC requirement, which is a double-wattage whammy. So, any ideas on where to start? Anyone maintaining or monitoring a listing of watt/performance data on new-ish components? Shall we start a Tom's shared google doc spreadsheet?
June 13, 2011 5:26:14 PM

Looking around at GPU's, these 4670 cards seem like a possible good option for inexpensive dual-card setups, but I wish they'd publish actual watt usage info in tech specs...

SAPPHIRE 100296HDMI Radeon HD 4670 1GB 128-bit DDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

HIS H467QR1GH Radeon HD 4670 1GB 128-bit DDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...


Are there low-power cards out there that are also crossfire/sli ready? Typically, if I see a card with passive cooling I know it's likely to be low-power...
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June 13, 2011 6:54:55 PM

Gaming on multiple monitors can get a bit strenuous. I'd recommend a solid 6000 series AMD card that has Eyefinity support, which will at the very least support 3 monitors.
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a b C Monitor
June 13, 2011 7:10:49 PM


A pretty big impact for your power footprint can be made by selecting a quality PSU. Sometime in the fall seasonic for example will be putting out 80+ platinum rated PSU's so you might want to look for those when they come out. They have like 92-95% efficiency so that will definately lower the footprint of the whole system. No idea about pricing yet. But generally i would say depending of the required graphics cards power needs they are in the 150-200$ range.

You are going to need quite a bit of horsepower to smoothly run skyrim at 5040x1050. Also to enable either Crossfire or SLI and multi monitor gaming you will need 5000 or 6000 series radeons or GTX 400/500 series gforce cards.

Strictly from a GPU and pricing perspective something like 2x 6950 2GB would be enough graphics to be able to run your resolution without getting bottle necked by graphics memory. ( One runs 1920x1200 with everything on, so 2 should be able to do 3x 1650x1050 ). But this does require quite a bit of power as the combination of the 2 cards can pull up 550 watts ( 275W each ) cost is also a bit hefty at about 440-480$ or so for the 2 using reference designs when on sale maybe slightly less. At your resolutions they also seem to be close to the top of the performace / watt.

The cheaper option would be 2x 6850 IF it can run at the 5040x1050 fast enough it would come cheaper at about 280-300$ also being near the top of the performance / watt ratios. The power draw should be less as well in the 235 W range per GPU.

The guys at techpowerup have done some calculations ( the blue is a stock 6950 to my knowledge ) Performance per Watt tables at techpowerup.

But then none of that really takes into account noise yet, so that is another matter entirely, and generally non reference solutions while better usually tend to both cost more and often also increase the power intake and as such make the card less perf / watt.
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June 13, 2011 9:58:24 PM

Great info so far. One note, which is that I was intending to orient the three monitors vertically, beside each other, so that the resolution footprint will actually by 1680x3150 (1050x1680 being native). I think the total number of pixels should be the same, though, so wouldn't affect any calculations.

I assume that given the advertized 2=3 efficiency of the dual-card setups, that any dual card setup is going to give the best performance/watt/dollar over a single card...?
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June 14, 2011 12:36:57 AM

The drivers are being written so effectively now that you essentially add another card to your performance (i.e. 2 cards = double; 3 cards = triple) on the same displays. You'll still need a decent amount of power to run those three screens, regardless of orientation (as you noted).

I agree with rvilkman's recommendation of 2x6950 2GBs. They're outstanding cards and one could probably run your triple monitor setup at nearly playable framerates (25-30 FPS), so two should definitely be seamless.
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June 14, 2011 2:37:50 PM

rvilkman said:
A pretty big impact for your power footprint can be made by selecting a quality PSU. Sometime in the fall seasonic for example will be putting out 80+ platinum rated PSU's so you might want to look for those when they come out.


Yeah I'd already picked a PSU out, but now am not sure 500w will cut it:
http://www.silentpcreview.com/article1203-page4.html

rvilkman said:

But then none of that really takes into account noise yet, so that is another matter entirely, and generally non reference solutions while better usually tend to both cost more and often also increase the power intake and as such make the card less perf / watt.


I'm not TOO worried about noise. My main consideration is power/heat. I know that the cards are likely to be the loudest/hottest aspect of the build, and I'll just have to pick a case with good dampening. I also don't necessarily require them to be able to run everything at High settings at 30fps, but I guess it's hard to shoot for the middle since it's sort of inexact. How important is GPU card memory do you think, compared to raw GP power? Regarding the power draw on the 6850's, 235w per GPU seems like a lot. Is that correct? Where did you find that data?

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a b C Monitor
June 14, 2011 3:05:48 PM

The source for the power numbers were from the loaded part here:
www.bit-tech.net

Obviously those are the number when there is a lot of load on the cards, but basically PCI-E + 2x 6 pin = 75W + 100W + 100W = 275W maximum power draw.
Now most likely it won't get quite this high, but it's still the maximum it CAN draw when there is enough for the card to do. Which your triple monitor setup will have.
But you are right i must have misquoted it, it actually lists 229W for 6850, still quite a bit.

As for video memory on the cards basically the higher the resolution the more memory you will need. HardOCP did a test on this recently (review) and they found out that until 1920x1200 1GB is enough, after that the extra memory will enable higher AA or otherwise better settings. So for your 5040x1050 or 3150x1680 resolution going 2GB would be the way to go.
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June 16, 2011 4:32:55 PM

Rvilkman, your information/advice is well taken. I appreciate it. But I'm not convinced that I need to burn over 260 watts at idle (two cards) and almost 460w at full bore to fill three monitors with DirectX 9 graphics (Skyrim's specs).

I also don't need to have my settings at full in every game I play, and/or don't need to play all of them with 3 monitors. I intend to build a Sandy bridge 5i core system, so I'm confident that the CPU will be pretty sturdy and capable. I'm starting to think seriously about getting a pair of these 2gb ddr3 cards since they use very little power compared to the 6-pin cards, and provide great memory and decent rendering per $/watt: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

I can always upgrade them later and not feel like I wasted a lot of $$ - since they'd be great for an HTPC build, which I intend to do in 2012 (by which time I'm figuring my xbox360 will finally crap out).

Any thoughts?
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a b C Monitor
June 16, 2011 4:40:23 PM

Too weak even for one monitor. If you're on a budget get now one good card and game on one monitor. Later you can add another card.
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a b C Monitor
June 16, 2011 7:42:39 PM

Unfortunately it looks like the 5850 Xtreme editions are no longer being sold... those would have been perfect. They're under $150 and only draw 151W each, and are around the performance of 6850s (my two 5850s tend to get better performance than a 5970 and very similar to a GTX 580). It would be great if you can find them.

Otherwise, I doubt even CF 6790s are really enough to push good framerates at that resolution. I'd say at the minimum CF 6850s or SLI 550Ti, with CF 6870s or SLI 560s being much more appropriate.

Unfortunately power = performance, and you want to do 3 monitors which means you need lots of performance. You might get away with a single 6950 2gb which should be lower wattage than any of these CF/SLI setups, but also not as much performance either.

If you really want to do the absolute minimum, CF 5770s or a single 6870 maybe... BTW that 5570 is a p.o.s. card meant to playback movies, not play video games and definitely not on 3 monitors.

Can I ask why power is so important to you? The difference in power on your monthly bill will be maybe a couple bucks. Having a gold rated PSU would probably save you back the money in efficiency.
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June 16, 2011 8:03:03 PM

rvilkman said:
The source for the power numbers were from the loaded part here:
www.bit-tech.net

Obviously those are the number when there is a lot of load on the cards, but basically PCI-E + 2x 6 pin = 75W + 100W + 100W = 275W maximum power draw.
Now most likely it won't get quite this high, but it's still the maximum it CAN draw when there is enough for the card to do. Which your triple monitor setup will have.
But you are right i must have misquoted it, it actually lists 229W for 6850, still quite a bit.

Those numbers are for the whole system AND they are measuring the power consumption at the wall. Computer power supplies are rated for what they deliver in DC wattage. So you can take 10-20% off those numbers to see what their systems were actually drawing from the power supply.

6pin PCIe connectors are only rated to provide 75W, so if a card has two 6pin connectors the theoretical maximum it can draw is (75x3) 225 watts.

6850s are rated for a TDP of 127W on load and 19W on idle.
6950s are a bit more complicated with user settable Power Tune limits.

Quote:
Yeah I'd already picked a PSU out, but now am not sure 500w will cut it:
http://www.silentpcreview.com/article1203-page4.html

Did you not read that that power supply is perfectly capable of being run as a 650W PSU? Which would certainly be enough for 6850 or 6870 crossfire, maybe even 6950 crossfire if you don't raise the Power Tune limit.
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June 16, 2011 8:32:29 PM

Awesome info in these replys. Thanks one an all. I'm going to do some more reading per Silvune and Wolfram's posts, and will post my tentative parts list when I come up with that.

Regarding power consumption being important - here's my philosophy on that:

1 - I like a quiet room. If the PC is loud, it's annoying and disruptive.
1a - in order to be quiet, fundamentally, a PC should use less juice cause this requires less fans which make less noise.
1b - if the PC runs hot enough, then I have to run the AC more, which makes MORE noise and uses more energy, all to dump away heat that's completely wasted energy.
2 - Heat and vibration (in this case, from cooling fans) are the causes of damage to just about every complex system built by man, including conventional petrol motors, electric motors, and even solid-state electronics. A lower power machine will produce less heat and thus less damage. It is very likely to last much longer. That means I have to replace it less often, and less resources have to be mined, shipped, processed, shipped, component'ized, shipped, built, shipped, and then used and recycled/landfilled.

I'm leaning towards one or two 6850's. Perhaps one to start, but most likely I'll just be acquiring parts for this box starting in Sept and hopefully ending mid Nov. I like the look of the MSI 6850's - they seem well-built and since I'm getting a case with really good cooling, I think the heat-dump type of coolers would work fine...

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?item=N82E168...

https://secure.newegg.com/WishList/MySavedWishDetail.as...
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a c 195 C Monitor
June 28, 2011 6:49:04 PM

For Eyefinity, the HD 5670 is a bit too weak. The HD 6850 is a much better choice. Remember you will be pushing a total resolution of 5040x1050 or 3150x1680. Due to the high resolution you need a video card with 2GB of VRAM. There is no such version of the HD 5670.

See following review which includes benchmarks of both HD 5670 and HD 6850. The highest resolution tested is 2560x1600 which is 30% smaller than your total resolution. I would reduce the benchmarks for that resolution but at least 33% to get an idea of possible performance using the games' highest graphics settings. Also, the benchmarks are based around an Intel Core i7 920 @ 3.8 GHz. Power consumption for the individual cards are towards the end of the review.

http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/AMD/HD_6790/

I would actually opt for a more powerful card at your resolution, but that also means greater power consumption. My recommendation is at least a 2GB HD 6970. Here's a review which includes it:

http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/MSI/HD_6970_Lightnin...



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a c 195 C Monitor
June 28, 2011 7:07:42 PM

Silvune said:

Did you not read that that power supply is perfectly capable of being run as a 650W PSU? Which would certainly be enough for 6850 or 6870 crossfire, maybe even 6950 crossfire if you don't raise the Power Tune limit.


Where did you read that? No where in the article did it say the Kingwin PSU acts like a 650w PSU.

If you are referring to the below, then you are wrong.



The Kingwin can individually provide up to 100w on the 3.3v and 5v rails, and 546w on the 12v rails, along with 6w on the -12v rail and 12.5w on the 5vsb rails. However, combined it can only provide up to 550w. If the PC is using 75w from the 3.3v and 5v rails, then only a max of 475w can be provided from the 12v rails.

Of course, maxing out a power supply decreases it's lifespan. It's always a good idea to not go over 85% of the PSU's rated power for a prolonged period of time. It also provides a decent buffer for power consumption spikes that can occur from time to time.

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June 29, 2011 12:17:39 PM

Well, aside from the fact that all high quality power supplies are overspecced; they can all provide more power than they are rated for - obviously efficiency decreases, voltage regulation weakens and ripple and noise levels rise, but they do deliver more power.

Super Flower are specifically selling that PSU as being able to be run as a 650W PSU at 80Plus Gold efficiency levels. Super Flower are the company who actually made that power supply and are selling it themselves - not in the US or UK tho.
I'm fairly certain that when I first read that review they skimmed over this fact, but I couldn't find it on second read.
However the reviews at Jonnyguru, HardOCP and Techpowerup surely do (still) mention this fact, so you can read their reviews if you want some proof.

For instance: http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/Kingwin/LZP-550/
Quote:
This unit is based on Super Flower's Golden King 550W and according to Kingwin up to 550W output it meets Platinum standards but if needed it can deliver 650W with Gold efficiency. A PSU that officially can be overclocked and still keep Gold efficiency.


@PDXOutdoors
Your best bet to find performance comparisons between a 6850 and a 5670:
http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/Powercolor/HD_6670/
http://www.techpowerup.com/reviews/Powercolor/HD_6850_S...
5770s, GTX 550 Tis are common to both reviews, so you should be able to compare 6850s to 5670s in terms of performance.
In the 6850 review I linked they actually directly compare power consumption.
You can probably do this with other video card review sites - find a review of a 6850 that includes another low end card which the site has also reviewed.
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June 29, 2011 9:33:31 PM

jaguarskx said:
The HD 6850 is a much better choice. Remember you will be pushing a total resolution of 5040x1050 or 3150x1680. Due to the high resolution you need a video card with 2GB of VRAM.


Thanks for the links. Just to confirm, are you saying that if I'm using two cards in SLI/Crossfire (which is the plan) that I'd still need 2GB memory per card?
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July 20, 2011 10:54:47 PM

Best answer selected by pdxoutdoors.
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September 29, 2011 8:25:49 PM

Okay, so I've decided on one card - one 2GB 6950 - but I am not sure which one to get. I will be doing 3 monitors.

Does the "Flex" card that Sapphire makes actually make it easier to set up a 3-screen setup? I will have to buy 1-2 adapters anyway cause my monitors have HDMI not DVI.

Help me choose between these cards (a GTX thrown in here for comparison)
http://goo.gl/FpgjE
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a b C Monitor
September 30, 2011 9:12:18 PM

They're all basically the same but the MSI one has a better cooler so you can keep it at lower speeds, and therefore lower noise.
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