System Builder Marathon, March 2012: $1250 Enthusiast PC

Building And Tweaking Around A Radeon HD 7970

When cost is the primary concern, parts rarely seem to fit together ideally. So, we were really surprised at how easily ASRock's P67 Pro3 SE and PowerColor's Radeon HD 7970 fit inside the Apevia X-Trooper Junior case. It turns out that the small enclosure is extra wide and designed specifically to accommodate long graphics cards. A little bit of flexibility in hard drive mounting makes things even simpler. Also, the fact that ASRock's board is skinnier than more ATX platforms helped quite a bit. It’s been a while since I’ve worked with a case this small that didn’t cause some misery when it came time to pack parts inside.

The Apevia X-Trooper Junior isn’t without its flaws, though. Two of the motherboard standoff locations simply weren’t threaded properly, and I had to use brute force to jam them in. Moreover, a lack of cable management makes routing leads and then cleaning up more of a challenge. Those are the only two issues that keep me from recommending X-Trooper to friends and family.

More unfortunate is that our off-the-shelf ASRock P67 Pro3 SE doesn't work properly, refusing to run in dual-channel mode. The Mushkin Redline kit that we bought isn't on this platform's approved memory list; however, we tried modules from Corsair and OCZ as well. None of them got our board working the way it was supposed to. Increasing voltage didn’t help, and so we’re forced to run our tests in single-channel mode. This probably won’t affect the game benchmarks much, but it almost certainly will have a negative impact on memory-intensive application benchmarks.

Overclocking

The 3.1 GHz Core i5-2400 isn’t multiplier unlocked, but it does have to operate within the constraints of a 38x maximum Turbo Boost multiplier ceiling. This allows us to force all four cores up to 3.8 GHz.

That would have been a reasonable tradeoff, considering the Core i5-2400's relatively low price compared to Intel's Core i5-2500K. But because many vendors are now encouraging overclocking through Turbo Boost offsets, the technology remains on all of the time without an option to disable it. So, despite our 38x multiplier setting, our processor ended up running at 3.6 GHz in fully-threaded workloads and 3.7 GHz in less demanding tests. That's better than default, but not quite the 3.8 GHz we wanted.

The PowerColor Radeon HD 7970 was more than happy to hit the core and memory frequency ceilings imposed by AMD's Overdrive tool. Stock 925 MHz core and 1375 MHz memory clocks jumped up to 1125 and 1575 MHz, respectively. We also slid the power control setting to +20%, lowering the chances we'd see throttling under load. This specimen might have overclocked even higher, but we've been having some trouble unlocking higher clock rates in the latest version of MSI's Afterburner utility.

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    Top Comments
  • confish21
    I'm totally down for a cheap case but damn! There are better looking case's for 40 bucks.

    I like how the 2400 is used but would it be okay dropping the cooler?

    Read only optical drive? This makes no sense and is probably the worst skimp Ive ever seen. Spend the 5 bucks for a burner. Iso image anyone? This is an enthusiast level build... no mud flaps, no sale.
    20
  • ringzero
    "Whoa. The Radeon HD 6950s in CrossFire from last quarter's System Builder Marathon beat the Radeon HD 7970 at every combination of resolutions and settings, except 1280x1600 at Ultra details."

    I desperately want a monitor at that resolution.
    19
  • ojas
    typo in the table on the first page, a 6970 isn't for $560! :P
    11
  • Other Comments
  • zanny
    Sad thing is dollar for dollar the 7970 is maddeningly inefficient. It only says good things for this summer, when hopefully AMD drops the prices on their cards in response to Kepler kicking their collective butts in performance per dollar.
    2
  • ojas
    typo in the table on the first page, a 6970 isn't for $560! :P
    11
  • sempifi99
    A 64GB ssd seems very restrictive, can you even load all of the games in the test suite on it? I would think that for any real gamer you would want a SSD at least large enough to load 6 games and considering most modern games take ~10GB there is no room left for windows on it.

    For the price, the lack of a larger SSD seems like an oversight. I would think anyone really considering this build would have done better to get a larger SSD and a 7950 or 7870. Or perhaps a single large hybrid HD would be a better option.
    -11
  • stm1185
    7970 guess you wrote this before the GTX 680 review. No way you'd make that recommendation after.
    7
  • sempifi99
    134095 said:
    7970 guess you wrote this before the GTX 680 review. No way you'd make that recommendation after.


    When you compare their overclocking potentials, they have about the same performance. And then there is the availability of the GTX 680, which is not. So it makes since why the 7970 was chosen.

    The 7970 has better compute potential too. But I don't think that is relevant for a gaming box.
    5
  • killabanks
    i would say wait for the price to come down
    9
  • ksampanna
    stm11857970 guess you wrote this before the GTX 680 review. No way you'd make that recommendation after.


    My thoughts exactly. This story was probably done before Kepler, but now with the 680 launched, the editor sure must be feeling a bit shortchanged.
    Of course, the fact that the 680 has disappeared off the shelves is a different story entirely. In any case, within the next few weeks, we should see significant price cuts on the 7970, potentially making this build relevant once again.
    2
  • ringzero
    This article has so many typos and data errors that I can't make any sense of it.
    -12
  • pharoahhalfdead
    Mushkin, Mushkin, Mushkin... How about trying something along the lines of Corsair XMS3 or another brand? We've seen Mushkin so much, and you sometimes say you want to build different configs, but I never see Corsair in the builds.
    -14
  • ringzero
    "Whoa. The Radeon HD 6950s in CrossFire from last quarter's System Builder Marathon beat the Radeon HD 7970 at every combination of resolutions and settings, except 1280x1600 at Ultra details."

    I desperately want a monitor at that resolution.
    19
  • General M00n
    That is the ugliest case I've seen in a long time. No rotated hd bays or bottom mounted psu. Expansion slots at the back are snap off instead of reusable, and screw in on the outside. No CPU access at the back and only one 120mm space at the rear, none on the top. But you do get one tacky red fan that will be louder than your whole system combined.

    Seriously folks, the NZXT GAMMA Classic Case is the best ATX case for under $50.

    Also I agree, 64GB SSD is tiny for gamers. Its fine in an office enviroment, where you only have just the production programs that you use on a daily basis installed, with the actual data stored on a server/database. But for gamers whose Steam folder alone is in the 100s of GBs, its pointless.

    Also, why bother with an aftermarket heatsink if you don't plan to overclock? I can understand if your after a low/noiseless pc (like me), but considering your running a 7970 and noisy stock case fan, it's a waste of money.

    On a positive note, the $650 build was OK.
    8
  • Darkerson
    Yes, the 680 is nice, but if you cant find one in stock to buy, it really doesnt help that much, now does it?

    General M00n64GB SSD is tiny for gamers. Its fine in an office enviroment, where you only have just the production programs that you use on a daily basis installed, with the actual data stored on a server/database. But for gamers whose Steam folder alone is in the 100s of GBs, its pointless.


    Not all of us need to run our games off an SSD. I use a 64GB SSD to boot from, and use my 7200rpm HDD to run my games, and it works just fine. I think people are being a little too picky. Especially about a build that will eventually be given away for free.
    9
  • ojas
    Quote:
    Whoa. The Radeon HD 6950s in CrossFire from last quarter's System Builder Marathon beat the Radeon HD 7970 at every combination of resolutions and settings, except 1280x1600 at Ultra details.

    i think you meant 2560x1600!
    7
  • hmp_goose
    Feel free to laugh, but do you think you could have fallen back to that one Cooler Master PSU from the $400 build, or something else in the 450 watt range?
    0
  • esrever
    could get a 680 and 2500k instead for better performance.
    -6
  • Pezcore27
    It would definitely be interesting to see the results had the MB not had the memory issue. Overall I like the build, minus the case. That thing's hideous!

    Also interesting to note that the FX-6100 seemed to perform better in this comparison, then against the i5-2400 configuration used in the $600 December SBM which wiped the floor with it.
    8
  • superflykicks03
    I've never understood spending money on a SSD for a where the objective of the article generally seems to be maximizing FPS per dollar spent. There have been numerous articles on Tom's that show the gains in gaming with an SSD are minimal. Why not go with a standardized storage device, say, the best HDD money can buy @ $100 each time you do a mid range SBM? That way the results across builds are more comparable at the given price point. Same goes for the comparison between builds at the end of this SBM. The extra spent on SSD could artificially inflate the performance of the 650$ build relative to this one, because extra money was not spent on a non-game-enhancing part.

    I understand that SSD is a no-brainer for a well rounded system. Heck, I myself would never spend north of a grand on a pc and not throw in an SSD. But the FPS per dollar is hurt by adding such an expensive storage subsystem.
    5
  • Darkerson
    esrevercould get a 680 and 2500k instead for better performance.


    Im pretty sure they stated in the $650 build that they had this stuff picked out a couple months ago, so pretty much just as the AMD 7xxx series came out, long before the Nvidia 6xx series was released. They also stated they are sick and tired of using the 2500k in their builds. I like it when they experiment. Otherwise we wouldnt have seen how horribly bad the bulldozer build was last time.
    9
  • Crashman
    pharoahhalfdeadMushkin, Mushkin, Mushkin... How about trying something along the lines of Corsair XMS3 or another brand? We've seen Mushkin so much, and you sometimes say you want to build different configs, but I never see Corsair in the builds.
    Ahem:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/overclock-core-i7-sli-liquid-cooling,3096-2.html
    That was in the previous SBM so you really haven't been looking very long. I gave you a thumbs down just to cancel out some of those thumbs up you received
    10
  • confish21
    I'm totally down for a cheap case but damn! There are better looking case's for 40 bucks.

    I like how the 2400 is used but would it be okay dropping the cooler?

    Read only optical drive? This makes no sense and is probably the worst skimp Ive ever seen. Spend the 5 bucks for a burner. Iso image anyone? This is an enthusiast level build... no mud flaps, no sale.
    20