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Affirmation before celebration, ya?

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June 22, 2012 7:40:37 AM

Hey everyone! First post here on the forums but I'm certainly not new to them - I've been lurking and learning for a good few months now in anticipation of this build. I'll cut to the chase: everything works now but I have a few questions about optimisation and would appreciate confirmation that I've done a few things right.

First things first, the specs:

  • NZXT Phantom 410
  • ASRock Z77 Extreme6
  • Samsung 830 256GB (boot/applications)
  • 2x 2TB WD Caviar Green - RAID 0 (storage)
  • i5-3750k @ 4.4GHz
  • Noctua NH-D14 (tight squeeze!)
  • Mushkin Blackline Enhanced 2133 (2x4GB)
  • Sapphire HD7970 OC Edition
  • Windows 7 Home Premium

    Phew! I could do with some of that Mushkin memory for myself - recalling all of that was harder than I expected. Now for the fun part: the questions. First and foremost, I would say the gap in my knowledge is SATA. I've browsed the forums quite a bit and reckon I've got it worked out but it couldn't hurt to double check. For those not aware, the Extreme6 has eight SATA ports.

  • A1-A2: ASMedia SATA3
  • 0-1: Intel SATA3
  • 2-5: Intel SATA2

    Originally my SSD was occupying A1 and my HDDs were 0-1, but I had an issue with 20-30 second hangs at the Windows logo on boot and was informed that having the HDDs in SATA3 is unnecessary as they come nowhere close to the transfer speed cap. I currently have my SSD in port 0 (which thankfully fixed the boot issue), my HDDs in ports 2-3 and my optical drive in port 4. Is this the most efficient setup? And additionally, if in future I upgrade with another two HDDs for nested RAID, I have no idea what to do with the ports. Just put one of the HDDs in the spare Intel SATA3 port regardless of the redundancy (excuse the pun) of the extra speed?

    Secondly, a question about RAID. Disregarding the aforementioned additional HDDs, am I better to run with RAID 1 or RAID 0 in the meantime? My knowledge of RAID is basically that RAID 0 uses both drives for storage and increases performance, while RAID 1 mirrors the drives for data security in the case of a disk failure.

    And lastly, if I overclock my graphics card by even 1MHz it runs perfectly smooth in Furmark but crashes a second or two after the splash screens finish in any (and I mean ANY) game - regardless of how much I crank up the power draw. I've tried both BIOS profiles on the card and the same happens with both. It's not a major issue, but I would certainly like to get the most out of my system.

    Oh, and of course if you know of any possible simple mistakes with setting up the hardware I've got then please do point it out - I won't be offended. I speak as someone who spent hours making sure all the hardware was set up fine only to find that my graphics card couldn't reach the PCI slot as I hadn't installed the case standoffs. :sweat: 

    Thanks a lot in advance guys - and thanks for all the help in the past! You all help people like me without ever directly interacting with us. Here's hoping that the knowledge I gained from the new build will empower me to become a sensei within the community.
    a b B Homebuilt system
    June 22, 2012 8:44:15 AM

    Question 1: The ASMedia controller is alright but isn't recommended for SSDs. Put your SSDs in your Intel SATA-III ports and your platter drives in your Intel SATA-II ports as they will behave better in there than in the ASMedia SATA-III ports. If you add more drives later on, just move the optical disk to the ASMedia controller. The ASMedia ports can be used for whatever other junk is left over.

    Question 2: Caviar Greens are trash drives as far as speed goes. Putting them in RAID will only make them twice as trashy. They're decent for storing videos and other stuff that won't affect real time performance but that's it. The intellispeed or whatever it is makes RAID performance less predictable. If you want speed out of platter drives you should go with Caviar Blacks. Your knowledge of RAID 0/1 is correct though.

    Question 3: The AMD Overdrive utility is garbage for overclocking. It doesn't let you handle any of the nice stuff. MSI Afterburner is perhaps the best tool out there and works very nicely with the 7970s. You may also want to see if Sapphire has released a VGA firmware update, and if ASRock has released a motherboard firmware update. Asus had to release a couple of firmware updates to improve 7970 support on their motherboards.

    Also, what power supply did you get?
    June 22, 2012 9:15:35 AM

    How exactly does the RAID make them worse? I'm aware that sounded like a polite "screw you, don't insult my setup" but I ask purely for the purpose of learning. After all, that's half of the fun of home building for me! I mean, I'm aware that they're slow power saving drives and, as you said, I wasn't expecting brute performance out of them. I got the SSD for that, and the HDDs to replace my external hard drive for the likes of video, audio, images, etc. Would RAID 1 be an option by any chance, or does the same theory apply?

    I see there's a couple of updates for the motherboard so I'll grab them right after this reply. As for the Sapphire VGA firmware, I've had a look around the site and I genuinely don't see any downloads other than drivers and CCC-related software. Am I being dumb?

    Seasonic X-760 is the PSU and it's doing wonders for my sanity. Although no amount of modulation can atone for the fact that there are no 1:1 SATA power cables. Seems like I'm going to be cursed with loose cables in the case no matter what I do. :( 

    Thanks very much for your input.
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    a b B Homebuilt system
    June 22, 2012 9:38:18 AM

    Sorry I should have been more clear when explaining about the RAID. RAID-0 generally doesn't decrease performance but other forms of RAID such as RAID-5 can. RAID-0 can add a little bit of read latency depending on the size of the target data but it's marginal in comparison to the increase in throughput.

    The Caviar Green hard drives have special hard drive controllers that are designed to reduce power consumption and dynamically control the spindle's RPM. They're targeted at energy efficiency rather than performance. When put in RAID-0 the onboard controller can actually work against the RAID setup because the RAID controller now has to deal with two hard drives each trying to conserve their own power and control their spindle speed on their own. In short, the RAID controller isn't aware that its dealing with drives that exhibit dynamic behaviour and this can result in errors. At best the RAID won't have problems, but at worst it can degrade performance or even cause timeout based data errors.

    If you want to lump your Caviar Green drives together I highly recommend using a software JBOD; your processor is more than fast enough to handle it and it wont muck with the drive controllers.

    Moving on...

    VGA Firmware updates are pretty rare. Most video cards will never have a firmware update issued because if it isn't broken there's no need to fix it. The whole purpose of BIOS ROMs is to get the system into a state where the drivers can take over. If you don't see one, there probably isn't one, I only mentioned it because there was a firmware update issued for my Gigabyte 7970s.

    I have a SeaSonic X-1250, very good choice on the X series.
    June 22, 2012 11:21:49 AM

    I see. I'll just drop the RAID then - I was effectively just implementing it because I figured there was no reason not to. I feel enlightened now. I'll perhaps look into software solutions in the near future. JBOD being a spanned volume over the two disks?

    As for the 7970 situation, your suggestion of MSI Afterburner was exactly what I needed. I've managed to hit 1050 MHz and it runs extremely stable. I did have a scare though as it turns out my monitor (or possibly the VGA cable/connector) is on its death bed. There are horizontal lines that run down the monitor (think television interference) in the extremely dark areas of Skyrim and every so often I have to auto adjust the monitor to stop the display from shimmering. I thought I'd killed the card despite not touching the vcore. Hooked up my old television with an HDMI cable and none of the above issues occur. My heart won't last much longer at this rate. :sweat: 

    Haha, yeah. The "Go for gold!" on the power cable bag made it worth every penny.

    As an interesting footnote, overclocking the HD 7970 actually lessens the coil whine. Seems like the more power it draws, the less noisy the coil whine is - not that it was particularly bad in the first place. Inaudible over the case fans regardless.
    a b B Homebuilt system
    June 22, 2012 7:13:16 PM

    Correct, JBOD is a colloquial term for spanning (Just a Bunch Of Disks)

    1050-1100 seems to be the sweetspot for most 7970s without touching the vcore. Around 1050 it starts to beat out the 680 in most 1080p benchmarks. VGA tends to be problematic with colour reproduction. If your monitor is old and giving you trouble you should replace it with a nice flatpanel. I recommend 27 inch Samsung LED displays, or Dell's Ultrasharp lineup of IPS panels if you've got the cash.

    Are you sure that it was the coil whine? My tower is so big that I couldn't hear it if I tried so I can't comment. MSI offers some very nice fan control, far better than the stock AMD driver controls.
    June 22, 2012 8:09:21 PM

    I've got my spanned volume up and running now but I noticed there was also an option for a software striped volume. Out of interest, is my idea of the nested RAID possible through simple software?

    I believe I actually couldn't get past 1000 on this card without having to up the vcore. It seems as though I could push it further than 1050 but I know so little about GPU overclocking that I'd rather quit while I'm ahead and not kill my card. With regards to the monitors, I've been running this 22" for four or five years now and I don't think my eyes/brain could cope with the transition to anything drastically bigger. Perhaps the 23 inch Samsung is something to look into, though with only one HDMI-out on the graphics card I think I'd have to resort to a DVI-HDMI converter. I'm calling upon archaic knowledge gained from dreary 9am lectures here but I believe DVI and HDMI carry the same video signal (obviously HDMI carries the sound too, but that is irrelevant for my purposes) so there should be no visible difference in a dual monitor set up.

    Just for the record, my system is running even better than before and there are zero issues to report other than the monitor. I've said it before but I'll say it again: thank you for taking the time to help out. It's much appreciated.
    a b B Homebuilt system
    June 22, 2012 9:43:45 PM

    I wouldn't recommend doing a software striping RAID on the Caviar Greens. It probably won't have the same problems as a hardware RAID controller would but it might. I've never done it so I can't confirm or deny. Nested RAID / Matrix RAID should be possible at the software level but I'm not sure if Windows supports it.

    Your GPU should have one or more mini DisplayPort outputs in addition to one DVI and one HDMI. DVI and DisplayPort both have more bandwidth than HDMI and are required to run resolutions above 1920x1200 but HDMI can be stretched over a much greater distance before signal integrity degrades which makes it very useful for a home theater. You're right though, it's possible to fan a DVI-I/DVI-D out to an HDMI (video only), DVI-I/DVI-D to DisplayPort, HDMI to DVI-D, DisplayPort to DVI-D, and HDMI to DisplayPort.
    June 22, 2012 11:31:12 PM

    I just read up a little bit on the inbuilt Windows drive mirroring tools and it seems like the best option for that RAID 1 I was wanting. I'll err on the side of caution and stick to the spanned volume rather than risking decreased performance/lifespan. Thanks for the clear explanations - I understand a whole lot better now and see where I was going wrong. Wanting to RAID 0 devices that I bought for the sole purpose of being slow, power friendly storage drives was actually pretty stupid in hindsight. The mirroring, however, is probably still a good idea - better than losing 4TB of data in a heartbeat at least.

    Aha. So I can effectively convert any of the outputs to any other type of output (within reason, of course). That'll probably make me feel a lot more comfortable when the time comes to purchase the new monitors. Sadly, the budget of a student who only works part time doesn't allow for impulse purchases that don't contain caffeine. :( 

    Just before this thread wraps up, I must ask if there's any way to give credit to you for the consistent support. Any kind of kudos or the likes? If not, just be aware that you've got a +1 in my heart.
    a b B Homebuilt system
    June 22, 2012 11:49:06 PM

    DevenneyEU said:
    I just read up a little bit on the inbuilt Windows drive mirroring tools and it seems like the best option for that RAID 1 I was wanting. I'll err on the side of caution and stick to the spanned volume rather than risking decreased performance/lifespan. Thanks for the clear explanations - I understand a whole lot better now and see where I was going wrong. Wanting to RAID 0 devices that I bought for the sole purpose of being slow, power friendly storage drives was actually pretty stupid in hindsight. The mirroring, however, is probably still a good idea - better than losing 4TB of data in a heartbeat at least.

    Aha. So I can effectively convert any of the outputs to any other type of output (within reason, of course). That'll probably make me feel a lot more comfortable when the time comes to purchase the new monitors. Sadly, the budget of a student who only works part time doesn't allow for impulse purchases that don't contain caffeine. :( 

    Just before this thread wraps up, I must ask if there's any way to give credit to you for the consistent support. Any kind of kudos or the likes? If not, just be aware that you've got a +1 in my heart.


    Since this thread was opened as a discussion rather than as a question there's no way to mark it as solved as far as I know. Don't worry about it, just glad to help :) 
    !