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3x 6950 vs 2x 6950 + Nvidia PhysX vs SSD/HDD upgrade?

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June 15, 2011 11:20:54 AM

Hi all,

I am in the process of ordering parts for a new build (maximum settings gaming rig), which will be assembled when I get home from overseas in a few weeks. I have decided on a pair of Power Color 6950's for the graphics cards, but I have found some extra money on the side. Briefly I'll show you what the build will look like:

Cooler Master HAF-X
Cooler Master 1000 W PSU
Asus Crosshair IV Formula AM3
2x Power Color 6950 PCS+ Vortex 2
AMD Phenom II X4 955 (will overclock - Noctua NH-D14 heat sink)
G.Skill Sniper 8GB RAM (2x4GB)
2x WD VelociRaptor 600GB (Raid 0)
2TB WD Caviar Black

I am trying to decide what I want to do with the extra change. I have read Tom's recent 3 way Xfire vs SLI article, and I'm not convinced that a third card is the best way to go now. I was excited before lol. So here are my current options:

3 way Xfire 6950's
Obviously I just need to purchase a third card for this, I already have a 1KW power supply.

2 way Xfire 6950 + Nvidia PhysX
I have read some older articles around the web that say it is possible to play some driver games and get an Nvidia card to run PhysX while using Xfire for your primary graphics. It seems like this could be sort of complicated, and isn't guaranteed to work. Plus I know that the majority of games don't utilize PhysX, so I don't know if there is really a benefit to this... Anybody familiar with this, and is it worth while, or just a hassle?

2 way Xfire 6950 + 120GB SSD, or 3 way Raid 0 600gb WD Raptor
I am already going to be getting a pair of 600GB WD Raptor's to run in Raid 0 (backed up to a 2TB WD Caviar Black) but I could further improve drive performance. I could get a 120GB SSD (probably an OCZ or G Skill) and use that primarily for Windows 7 and frequently used programs, such as web browser and media players. Or for the same price I could get a third Raptor and increase my Raid 0. Granted I won't get the same performance as an SSD, but I know Raptor's are still pretty good, and I've been happy with 2 way Raid 0 Raptor's in the past. I'm not entirely sold on the whole SSD band wagon, so I'm not sure if that's something that I want to get involved in. I can see benefits, because I will still have the Raid 0, and my Page File and what not will be on that array...just still not sure if overall performance is worthwhile.

So what are your opinions? I am open to suggestions. Parts of the overall build have already been purchased, so a lot of my build is already locked in, but these expansion ideas are all open for debate. Please let me know what you think is worth while. [EDIT] I'll note that I haven't bought CPU, RAM, or Mobo yet, because I'm sure somebody will try and convince me to go Intel. If there's a valid reason to do so at a similar price point, I may be convinced. I am however, of the mind that you don't need a super CPU for gaming...
June 15, 2011 12:15:54 PM

For the CPU, get a Z68 chipset board (perhaps the Asus P8Z68-V Pro; $210) with an Intel 2500k; youll be happier with the purchase in the end.

As for the graphics cards, as a personal opinion, I would recommend going with a better brand. XFX, Asus or Sapphire are probably your best options for that card. This is purely from an opinion based quality standpoint, but do as you wish.

If you stick with this setup, I recommend going with the SSD instead of 3-way. Youll see a far better overall system performance increase compared to the third card.

I hope I could help.
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June 15, 2011 12:21:18 PM

So I've been sitting here doing some pricing while I've had some time, and I've come up with this alternative:

Asus Maximus IV Extreme (rev 3.0)
Intel Core I5-2500k

Everything else would remain the same from the above list.

That would effectively eat up my extra money, mostly, but if I would see a noticeable improvement in gaming based on having that processor over the cheaper AMD, then I guess it makes sense. From surfing more Tom's articles, it seems to me that I might hit a bottleneck with the AMD processor, even with only 2 6950's? If that's the case, then I guess this move makes the most sense, and all of my above speculation is a moot point at this time. ;) 

For a little background, it's been about 4 years since I've built a computer. My current home machine is an old Core 2, with my only upgrade being a 9800, lol. So this is a significant upgrade here, and I'm just trying to maximize bang for buck.
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Related resources
June 15, 2011 12:24:07 PM

MightEMatt said:
For the CPU, get a Z68 chipset board (perhaps the Asus P8Z68-V Pro; $210) with an Intel 2500k; youll be happier with the purchase in the end.

As for the graphics cards, as a personal opinion, I would recommend going with a better brand. XFX, Asus or Sapphire are probably your best options for that card. This is purely from an opinion based quality standpoint, but do as you wish.

If you stick with this setup, I recommend going with the SSD instead of 3-way. Youll see a far better overall system performance increase compared to the third card.

I hope I could help.



How is the Z68 different from the P67? Everything I read is about the P67, I don't really know anything about the Z68. Is something like the Maximus overkill in this case basically?

And as far as the SSD, is having Windows on that drive and still having games and what not installed on the raid array really going to give me a noticeable overall system improvement? Really curious about SSD's as I said, I have no experience with them.
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June 15, 2011 12:29:36 PM

Just as some input when it comes to upgrading the platform from Core 2 to i7, Ive just done the same thing. I had a Q6700 with a 9800GT and I was quite satisfied with the performance to say the least. I decided to splurge and bumped up to a 2600k and left the 9800GT as is.

My framerates in WoW have doubled for the most part, Crysis framerates increased by around 50% at max (no AA) and most other games Ive came to be able to max out, giving Im only getting around 30 FPS average.

My next purchase is planned to be a GTX 580 which is just around the corner so Im excited to see the jump in performance. But my point being, processor power does have quite an effect on overall gaming performance.
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June 15, 2011 12:34:07 PM

Well currently Im planning on using Smart Response Technology on an SSD for the Z68 chipset when I can get the spare cash. Z68 is merely a combination of the P67 and the H67 chipsets, with a few tweaks. It isnt necessary that you get it of course, and getting a P67 will suffice as a gamer.

SRT uses the SSD as a caching drive which stores the most commonly used programs and files directly on the SSD; allowing much faster access. Look into the charts if you want, comparing SSD vs SRT vs HDD. There is a large jump in performance.
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June 15, 2011 12:43:18 PM

All right, well as I said, I could possibly be sold on an Intel again, and I think I have been. I have always been an Intel fanboy over the years, and this just seems to make sense here. As far as mobo goes, I'm not as big of a fan of Gigabyte as I am of Asus, but what about something like the following:

GIGABYTE GA-Z68X-UD7-B3

It's a bit bigger than the Asus that you mentioned, and seems to offer more room for future upgrades (most notably there are more USB 3.0 ports stock). It's a bit more expensive, but I'm a fan of having room for future upgrades and not restricting myself, what do you think?

Also on the SSD note, I'm thinking 120GB should be more than sufficient right? As previously stated I will still have my Raptor array for all of my primary games and what not (I tend to have a lot of games installed at once, I'm an avid Steam user...), so I don't see myself running out of room with a 120GB drive. I have read various things, but it seems that most of the smaller drives (less than 100GB) seem to offer inferior performance, is this true?

And lastly, I have looked into the OCZ Vertex 3 drives, if I do purchase one. They seem like a good balance between price, size, and performance from what I've read. Is there really any reason to invest in a more expensive SSD, such as an Intel, or something else?

Thanks a lot for your help and comments so far, I appreciate it!
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June 15, 2011 12:53:45 PM

As for the motherboard, I have the little sister of that motherboard; the UD5. I have had no issues with it aside from USB Legacy mode giving me headaches. It works great after you get all the drivers and updates and whatnot. Im not a fan of any of the software that Gibabyte provides, and TouchBIOS is a joke in my opinion. Overall I dont think youll be disappointed in that motherboard.

120GB in an SSD should be more than enough. If you plan on trying SRT you can only use 64GB anyways, so youd have some room left over anyways. Unless you plan on putting your entire computer on your SSD youll have more than enough space.

I dont know much about the quality of various brands of SSD vendors but Ive seen ups and downs about them all. Youll have to use your own judgement (or another TomsHardware user besides myself) for the different brands.

As a side note, you seem to have increased your budget, no?
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June 15, 2011 12:59:16 PM

Yeah I have slightly increased it, lol. When your sitting over here in the desert mulling over what you want to buy, it's not too hard to justify a few extra dollars for the new toy when you get home, ya know. I want it to be a fun and fast toy to play with.

What you have to say about Gigabyte is about what I think of them already, but the board does look good. I think I might give it a shot. Have you overclocked the UD5? That is the one place where Asus usually wins out big, is the Bios and overclocking.

As far as the SSD goes, I think I might just plunge in here and give it a shot. I'll wait a few days and see what other Tom's users have to say before I purchase anything though. The Vertex 3 I've looked at is around $220 for 120GB. That's not terrible I don't think, but I'm not going to make the final call on that with my knowledge.

I have to run, but thanks for all your help! Bouncing ideas off of other people and getting real world advice on new technology definitely helps when making decisions. I hate that it's been so long since I've built a new rig and that I'm so far out of the loop on technology. It's almost like learning new all over again, hehe.
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June 15, 2011 1:09:16 PM

With the UD5 Ive brought the 2600k up to 4.4Ghz without issues and without changing any voltage settings from automatic. This luck is different for everybody, with some getting higher and some getting lower.

I havent had the time to tweak it much but im sure with a bit of voltage tweaking it could surpass 5.0Ghz without trouble.

On another note, I have yet to see the processor break 30 degrees at stock. Idling at 18 degrees, Im pretty impressed. Im currently using the Thermaltake FrioOCK as my cooling solution and Im very impressed coming from my 60 idling Q6700. Hopefully you have just as much luck with your cooling solution.
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a b B Homebuilt system
June 15, 2011 1:58:57 PM

If you're desperate for an upgrade now, a 2500K with any decent board with OC happy and give you the performance you want.

But since you have such a high budget, I think you would rather wait for BD or SB-E. A problem is with 1155, only the UD7 and WS Supercomputer can run Tri-fire.

BD is the easier route for you ATM, get a Crosshair V and drop in a 955, while you wait for the BDs, use and abuse the 955 and push it as high as you can.

SB-E is interesting too, apparently X79 is going to bring some "revolutionizing" SSD tech. SRT in my opinion is useless for you, if you have the money to get a real SSD, well get a real SSD. Besides, SRT only caches up to 64GB, so your 120GB drive would be a waste.

On the SSD selection, Vertex-3 and Intel 510 are the "it" choices, their performance is pretty much on par and class leading (eg. you wont find anything better that uses SATA for now). Intel has the "reliability" advantage while the Vertex ends up being a bit cheaper/GB the last time I checked.
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June 15, 2011 3:06:46 PM

MightEMatt, those are definitely some good overclocks with some amazing temps. I could see having some fun playing with that for sure. But now there are more options to consider, lol.

Timop, you have presented me with something new to look at that I hadn't really considered up until now. I don't normally build new systems with the intent of replacing parts within a few months, but after doing a little research, it seems that now is a good time to do just that. I have found the 990FX boards you mentioned, and they really aren't that expensive, even being cheaper than the UD7 I was looking at earlier. I could justify the cheap cost of a 955 for a few months of usage with the intent of getting a hold of a BD here in the near future.

I guess my question is that I have always been more of an Intel fan than an AMD buff. I don't know that much about BD, other than the fact that it will come in 4, 6, and 8 core flavors. I have read all of the hype, but is the design really so much different that it is going to provide a huge improvement? I mean it'll be a big enough upgrade that it should outperform a current 2500?

I am wary of making a decision like this based on architecture I know so little about, just like my concerns for an SSD, which I've still not entirely sold myself on. I just don't know that I'm willing to spend that much money on a disk just for Windows...

Again I appreciate the input, I still have a few weeks to mull this stuff over and figure out exactly what I'm going to buy, so it's good to have you guys helping me figure out what is best for me.
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a b B Homebuilt system
June 15, 2011 3:28:40 PM

If your comfortable with Intel, then feel free to go 2500K or wait-out SB-E.

BD is *VERY* new, which means there is the risk of it underperforming, yet it is equally possible that it will be like Core for AMD. BD should already be shipping now, so current outlook are pretty much on the positive side.

Summing it up, the 2500K/SB-E is definitely a safe choice especially since yore more comfortable with Intel; however, BD has a fairly high chance of bringing much higher performance/price and a slimmer chance of higher absolute performance overall.

SSDs are definitely worth it over raptors and RAID0 in my opinion. Its is relatively mature after ~3 generations and the performance advantage is noticeable. 120GB is a nice size that fits pretty much everything and is relatively cheap. You could go 80 if you are not completely sold though. Even a older Vertex 2 is better than dual Raptor IMO.
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June 15, 2011 3:42:22 PM

Well I'm not against trying out an AMD, I have built them before. The last one I ran was about eight years ago though, so it's just been a long time. The potential for a true 6 or 8 core with good performance is interesting, and I am definitely liking the cheaper side of the house. It still gives me an Asus board if I go 990FX right now, which I would like to stick with. Brand loyalty and all. This leans more towards what my original build was, and gives me the room to upgrade to BD which will be an easy drop in upgrade. Heck, even if the initial wave of BD isn't stellar, I could wait until holidays/spring of next year to get in on the second wave of BD and it will still be a drop in upgrade. I'm doing some googling and looking into this, but it is looking like a good plan to me. Either way, I had already sold myself on the 955 and planned on overclocking it before I came on the forums, so I knew what I was getting into there. This is one of those rare moments where I'm willing to assume some risk vs potential reward I think...

As far as the SSD's go, I see what your saying to an extent. My issue is that I want a lot of space with good performance. I have run dual Raptor's for years now, pretty much since they first came out on the market. Every new iteration has improved performance noticeably, and I have no reason to think that this newest iteration (the 600gb models) won't do the same thing yet again. I am going to run that array regardless of what else I decide to do with the rig overall. Again my brand loyalty and past experiences force me to stick with what I know works.

I can't afford or justify anything larger than a 120GB SSD, so my large amount of space is lost there. I will look into the 80's and the Vertex 2's and possibly go with one of those for my primary C drive. That lets me keep my Raptors for my primary installs (again lots of games, and they only get bigger every year, over 10GB for some now a days!), and then I can run Windows and web browser and other common apps off of the SSD. I suppose that there is no reason not to have faster load times during every day business, lol.

I have to note that I have learned quite a few things and am thinking about stuff a lot differently than I was before I posted here. I'm glad that I started this thread.
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June 15, 2011 4:05:11 PM

Well so far I had previously purchased the following parts:

2x Powercolor 6950 PCS+ Vortex 2
2TB WD Caviar Black

And I have now made the following purchases as well:

Asus Crosshair V 990FX AM3+
AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition
G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 1866

So that just leaves me with the case / PSU bundle, and the VelociRaptors to complete my original build. I'm still debating the SSD idea, but I am leaning towards it. Deciding on Vertex 2 vs Vertex 3 is the hard part. It's about double the price for a 3, but it of course has SATA 3 and the appropriate doubling of speed to match... Hmmm...
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a b B Homebuilt system
June 15, 2011 4:22:30 PM

Did you buy the Crosshair already? I just saw that the egg had the Sabertooth for $25 less and a longer warranty, but you seems to be loyal to ROG boards lol.

Well for SSDs, heres some moderately priced, nicely performing "starter" SSDs:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
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June 15, 2011 4:22:44 PM

I think that HDDs are the bottleneck nowadays. Everything else is advancing but HDD tech has stayed, other than size, more or less the same for the last 5 years or more. The least you should do is a hybrid system with SSD for your OS and games you play often, or that have a lot of data to load, and HDD for your pictures, music, or. . . other files.
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June 15, 2011 4:29:36 PM

Yes I am definitely loyal to the ROG boards, been using them for a long time and have always loved them, lol. The Sabertooth just looked too meek to me, heh. I did look at newegg myself.

For whatever reason, this system that I'm on here won't let me click through those links to check out those drives. We are filtered over here, and sometimes the web blocker is stupid and won't let you click through perfectly legitimate links. If you can just name them off I can find them and take a look.

I will note that I upgraded the ram to the 1866, after reading BD specs, heh. I've never had great luck overclocking ram, far less reliable than cpu's for me.

I am certainly leaning towards a hybrid build, as you said internetlad. It seems that is the general consensus, and by saving some money now on the cheaper mobo / processor combo, I can afford to get an SSD now and upgrade my CPU down the road.

Talking about SSD's, what is all this rumor I hear about them "wearing out"? They supposedly have a shorter life expectancy and they slowly stop working over time based on heavy usage? I've seen a lot of things recommended by random people about minimizing writing to the SSD? Is this all myth or is there something to be worried about? Any drive that lasts me five years is more than sufficient as far as I'm concerned...
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June 15, 2011 4:37:32 PM

Flir said:
Talking about SSD's, what is all this rumor I hear about them "wearing out"?



They have a limited number of read/writes that they can do before they, theoretically, reach their life expectancy, much like a mechanical hard drive where the motor wears out, but it's actually sort of like the sectors themselves wearing out, IIRC.

You can disable certain things like caching or indexing, or the page file, that would, theoretically, minimize the number of writes and extend the life of your SSD, however it's certainly not neccessary. The technology for large solid state hardware is still very much in it's infancy, and I would expect that by the time an SSD with a "regular" life craps out, you'll be able to buy a much larger SSD for $1 per Gb or cheaper. Heck, they might even have some new tech everybody is drooling over by then.

Of course, the life of the drive is specifically as rated by manufacturer but i believe it's standard is something like 2 million R/Ws. I'll have to check that though. I remember seeing an article that said something like the average life would *theoretically* be something like 50 years of you went by ONLY the number of read/writes on a standard drive. Of course nobody expects the SSD they buy to be around in 2061 but it's a comforting thought when you're dealing with sensitive data, and that's purely a "mathmaticians" number based on putting the stats into a calculator.
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a b B Homebuilt system
June 15, 2011 4:40:09 PM

Like HDDs, SSDs "fail" too. (though good thing is you can still read the data on a "failed" ssd)

Flash memory degrade after you repeatedly write/erase/rewrite, however with TRIM and wear leveling the effects are very minimal, especially with SF-based drives. You can expect ~10+ years out of an SSD without its performance degrading noticeably for most SF drives. So no need to worry.

The SSDs were the Kingston V+100 96GB ($175/$125AR) , Vertex 2 80GB ($169), Intel 320 80GB ($155), Adata S599 64GB ($120).
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June 15, 2011 4:49:58 PM

All right, so between the two of you, that definitely busts that myth for me. I guess I have nothing to worry about, I figured that it was probably all blown up hype like most things on the internet are. I guess what it will come down to is how much I feel like spending when I get around to making my next batch of parts purchases, which will probably be in about two weeks. Plenty of time for me to muse over SSD's and look at all the crazy numbers for endless amounts of time, lol.

Once again I have to thank you guys for your help and support here. This has been a fun day (one of the rare periods of down time I've had over here) of talking and debating and learning...and spending money of course, hehe. I will continue to visit these forums in the future now that I've gotten myself on here. I will certainly keep you all up to date on what I decide, and ask questions if I come up with any more crazy ideas before I'm done. And then of course some time in the next month once I get home and finally get this beast assembled there will be pictures and bench marks and what not to talk about. Thanks guys, I am out of here for the night.
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June 15, 2011 5:10:08 PM

Flir said:
Plenty of time for me to muse over SSD's and look at all the crazy numbers for endless amounts of time, lol.



Watch for deals on certain drives, and check out the reputation of drives before you buy as well. Intel drives seem to be the most reliable, but at a (slight) cost of speed, as they're geared towards the mainstream. Certain OCZ drives have been having issues and OCZ seems to have been ignoring it (boo). A certain line of Corsair drives were having issues as well but Corsair owned up to it (props) so check on those first, sorry i can't remember the exact drives

I saw on the cracked deals or whatever they're called on NewEgg, there was a 64 Gb Intel SSD for damn near $1 per Gb (i think it was 85 bucks) so keep an eye peeled for something along those lines. I would have picked one up even though i don't need it but it was sold out.
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June 16, 2011 3:15:30 AM

Awesome, thanks internedlad. I'll definitely keep my eyes open during my browsing and see what I can find. I appreciate it.
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June 16, 2011 4:23:12 AM

no problem. If I see anything that reminds me of this I'll send it your way.

Newegg has daily deals in the US, TigerDirect's usually seem underwhelming but you might catch something there too.

If you're in Canada (or don't mind paying shipping) check out NCIX as well, Love that vendor.

EDIT: Speaking of NCIX. . . http://www.ncix.com/products/?sku=56783&vpn=SV100S2%2F6...

If you're in canada that's a solid deal. If not that drive is available on amazon for 100 or newegg for 119 (75 after rebate, yuck. Good price if you wanna send it in. Very near a buck a gig and not bad reviews either.)


It's a 2.5 inch drive (laptop) which shouldn't matter since its not a hard drive, but you might have to get mounting brackets to put it in a case. on the upside you can get a bracket with a fan if you're paranoid about cooling.

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

Kingston has lifetime warranty on RAM, not sure about SSD.

It seems like the 64Gb version has the same read speed (250 MBPS) but a slower write speed (163/250 MBPS) than the 128 and 256 versions. if you're using it as a boot drive or just loading games this shouldn't be a big deal past the inital install and should still be faster than an average HDD (western digital Black which is considered "better than mainstream" runs at about 128 MBps.)

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