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The 5 GHz, Six-Core Project: Core i7-980X Gets Chilly

The 5 GHz, Six-Core Project: Core i7-980X Gets Chilly
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Tom’s Hardware has been ringing the 5 GHz bell for years, yet those efforts have never yielded a practical daily-use solution. Today we take a look at how far off-the-shelf parts can take us with an ambitious 5 GHz, six-core overclocking project.

Our history with sub-ambient cooling goes back to the early days of this site, with our discussion of Kryotech’s first phase-change cooler in 1997 and our test of the improved version in 1999. Our 618 MHz Celeron quickly gave way to 800 MHz and 900 MHz Athlons, and even more cooling revisions pushed us past the GHz barrier less than a month later.

And then the competition showed up. Before Asetek became the purveyor of low-cost liquid cooling, its VapoChill phase-change system streamlined case and cooling components to a single box that supported processors from both AMD and Intel. By the time Prometeia threw its hat into the ring Kryotech had vanished and we had blown past 3 GHz. A few more improvements got us to 4.1 GHz, but reaching the next level would require a major improvement in either CPU technology or cooling capacity.

Liquid nitrogen cooling on the CPU and a phase-change cooler on the chipset finally allowed us to go beyond 5 GHz six years ago, an effort that inspired competitive overclockers the world over. Of course it wasn’t practical, because there were no practical 5 GHz solutions at that time. It wasn’t until Intel released CPUs on its 32 nm production process that “permanent” cooling solutions began to look viable for achieving these speeds. In fact, Chris Angelini was able to boot at 4.93 GHz using his Core i5-655K on air.

The technology was now in place to forgo temperamental liquid nitrogen cooling in our 5 GHz efforts, yet reaching this speed on a low-cost CPU that was already capable of running stably at 4.6 GHz with air cooling would have appeared trivial. The performance of a 5 GHz dual-core in a world of quad-cores would have been likewise laughable. We needed a properly high-profile, high-tech CPU to make this article worthwhile.

We knew we had a the perfect start for our project when Intel finally released its six-core, twelve-thread Core i7-980X Extreme Edition in March. A cooler with adequate capacity would still be required, and FrozenCPU.com matched us up with the hardware

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  • 16 Hide
    Crashman , June 23, 2010 6:42 AM
    tacoslavei thought it would perform much better in games
    Check this out:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/core-i3-gaming,2588.html
    For the CPU to become the choking point, you need the GPU to be extremely powerful. Tom's Hardware formerly used unrealistic tests like Half Life 2 at 640x480 just to prove the CPU performance difference in games, but the fact that nobody used those settings eventually lead to the discontinuation of that testing method.
  • 15 Hide
    dark bishop , June 23, 2010 8:04 AM
    id like to see them try it on the phenom II x6
  • 13 Hide
    zorky9 , June 23, 2010 6:12 AM
    Cooler Master’s reputable CMPSU-850HX

    Did you mean Corsair?
Other Comments
  • 10 Hide
    Poisoner , June 23, 2010 6:10 AM
    Pretty impressive. I wish Athlon II would over clock to 4ghz on air. :( 
  • 13 Hide
    zorky9 , June 23, 2010 6:12 AM
    Cooler Master’s reputable CMPSU-850HX

    Did you mean Corsair?
  • -6 Hide
    tacoslave , June 23, 2010 6:25 AM
    i thought it would perform much better in games
  • 16 Hide
    Crashman , June 23, 2010 6:42 AM
    tacoslavei thought it would perform much better in games
    Check this out:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/core-i3-gaming,2588.html
    For the CPU to become the choking point, you need the GPU to be extremely powerful. Tom's Hardware formerly used unrealistic tests like Half Life 2 at 640x480 just to prove the CPU performance difference in games, but the fact that nobody used those settings eventually lead to the discontinuation of that testing method.
  • 7 Hide
    noob2222 , June 23, 2010 6:59 AM
    tacoslavei thought it would perform much better in games

    There was a thread several months ago comparing the Intel Vs AMD platforms regarding the graphic card bottleneck. Suprising enough Intel cpus capped at a certain overclock where as AMD did not, eventually becoming faster FPS but required a much higher clock speed. It was determined that Intel has a limit on pcie bandwidth. Good luck finidng it, its probably over 6 months old.

    back to the arcitle, very interesting, and extremely expensive to even consider doing something like this.
    Quote:
    Finally there’s the expense. Our $900 cooler requires around 480W of power in addition to that consumed by the rest of the PC

    Add in the cost and time required to set this type of thing up as well as coating the MB ... lol, I don't even want to think about actually trying to go this extreme.

    Water is good for me, and if I want extreme, I will wait till winter and throw my radiator out the window while its freezing outside and pump antifreeze through it lol.
  • -4 Hide
    liquidsnake718 , June 23, 2010 7:02 AM
    zorky9Cooler Master’s reputable CMPSU-850HXDid you mean Corsair?

    Nope coolmaster has a whole line of PSU's... they are decent and perhaps compareable to Corsair for albeit a slightly lower price point. But Oc'ing to 5.ghz and above is really crazy stuff here. I am actually happy with 3.0 and above already stock but damn, I dont think i would like to tax my system to 5.0 and above, regardless of cooling! It would cost more, but I do see the sport of it and commend those that take time to reach 5.0 and above figures with regular water cooled systems.
  • 5 Hide
    vinehoyle , June 23, 2010 7:08 AM
    Amusing article. However some correcting is needed. The next to last paragraph states the cooler consumed 480W and the cpu consumes according to ur graphic 220w? My math says 700w JUST for the cooler and cpu. This calls in to question ur power bill figures. It's clearly much greater. I won't even talk about once u add things, though it would have been a good idea to calculate that figure too. Simply to show the madness of this project to ur power bill lol!
  • 3 Hide
    Crashman , June 23, 2010 7:26 AM
    vinehoyleAmusing article. However some correcting is needed. The next to last paragraph states the cooler consumed 480W and the cpu consumes according to ur graphic 220w? My math says 700w JUST for the cooler and cpu. This calls in to question ur power bill figures. It's clearly much greater. I won't even talk about once u add things, though it would have been a good idea to calculate that figure too. Simply to show the madness of this project to ur power bill lol!

    The article specifically states that the "added expense" figures are based on the 480W it takes to run the cooler. It assumes you're already planning to use the rest of the system at whatever speed you can get WITHOUT the cooler, and tells you how much MORE it costs to use the cooler. I think its fairly well explained, but feel free to point out any specific spot I missed, thanks!
    liquidsnake718Nope coolmaster has a whole line of PSU's...
    He's right, CMPSU-850HX is a Cosair model. Cooler Master does have some decent 850W power supplies though, I have one sitting in my liquid cooling bench station.
  • 15 Hide
    dark bishop , June 23, 2010 8:04 AM
    id like to see them try it on the phenom II x6
  • 7 Hide
    Moshu78 , June 23, 2010 8:41 AM
    I'm sorry but once again, Tom's is testing CPU's while bottlenecking the Video. Can't you guys just use a simple rule like: When you test the CPU, use highest available video power (like Xfire of 5970), and when testing the GPU, use highest available CPU (980X). It's THAT simple. The 3D benchmarks are meaningless, waste of time AND money AND information. I predicted those graphs in the moment I saw you used a 5850 for the tests.
  • 13 Hide
    Crashman , June 23, 2010 8:45 AM
    Moshu78I'm sorry but once again, Tom's is testing CPU's while bottlenecking the Video. Can't you guys just use a simple rule like: When you test the CPU, use highest available video power (like Xfire of 5970)
    Yes, this is completely possible and highly desirable, please send two HD 5970 graphics cards immediately to the two remaining U.S. test labs that don't have them. And thanks for helping out!
  • 2 Hide
    siman , June 23, 2010 9:00 AM
    PoisonerPretty impressive. I wish Athlon II would over clock to 4ghz on air.


    Phenoms can reach that, why would you overclock an Athlon II anyway? This is a little pointless toms had to disable hyper-threading. Effectively killing off I'd say 45% of the CPUs juice. Im already running my Phenom II X6 @ 4.5GHz on water cooling. It runs everything vary well and with the money I saved on the CPU, I got 5850s in crossfire. All in a Micro ATX case...
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , June 23, 2010 9:27 AM
    simanPhenoms can reach that, why would you overclock an Athlon II anyway? This is a little pointless toms had to disable hyper-threading. Effectively killing off I'd say 45% of the CPUs juice. Im already running my Phenom II X6 @ 4.5GHz on water cooling. It runs everything vary well and with the money I saved on the CPU, I got 5850s in crossfire. All in a Micro ATX case...
    Juice? It obviously saves enough power to drop the CPU temperature, but doesn't have a huge effect on average performance. Check out the benchmark difference between 4.7 GHz at 12-threads and 5.0 GHz with 6.
  • 10 Hide
    Moshu78 , June 23, 2010 9:48 AM
    CrashmanYes, this is completely possible and highly desirable, please send two HD 5970 graphics cards immediately to the two remaining U.S. test labs that don't have them. And thanks for helping out!

    I'm sure Tom's have 2 x 5970 at their disposal and if they don't, just don't start to work if you don't have the proper tools. Cause the quality (results) will disapoint. Come on... I know there are Tom's fanboys on this website, which is understandable, but bottlenecking a stock 980X with a 5850 and then making graphs with how FPS don't change if you increase the frequence is just... sad.
  • 2 Hide
    anamaniac , June 23, 2010 9:59 AM
    I still run my i7 920 at stock just because I feel there's no reason for me to juice it up some.

    There's a nice German fellow working on a 5 stage cascade at xtremesystems, too bad its taken him over a year and a half without completion. Tom's should go ninja it from him when he finishes and bench a i7-980x and a Atom N270. :) 

    Too many of hese 32nm melting below 1.4V (Highest I tried on air for my i7-920 was 1.55V).
  • 7 Hide
    Crashman , June 23, 2010 10:04 AM
    Moshu78I'm sure Tom's have 2 x 5970 at their disposal.
    I'm pretty certain they have a total of 3 to share between 4 labs, that Chris has two, Don has one, and Paul and Thomas have zero. I'm also pretty certain that Chris uses his two often enough that he hasn't been able to lend them to Thomas, and that Don actually lives in Canada :) 
  • 4 Hide
    haplo602 , June 23, 2010 10:25 AM
    simply cool :-)

    however the price/performance/convenience factor completely obliterates the result ... as was expected ...
  • 1 Hide
    Tamz_msc , June 23, 2010 10:35 AM
    So, the positive aspect of this article is that disabling HT reduced temps by 20 degrees.That's a HUGE decrease.Good job!:-)
  • 1 Hide
    Reynod , June 23, 2010 10:47 AM
    crashman always gets the best toys to play with.

    :) 
  • -6 Hide
    doomtomb , June 23, 2010 10:51 AM
    Overclocking is OVERRATED and this article proves it.
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