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Overclocking

System Builder Marathon, Dec. 2009: $2,500 Performance PC
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Completely opposite of the $2,500 machine’s ease of assembly was the difficulty of its overclock, calling into question our choice of a Core i7-860 processor and a mid-priced motherboard.

The problem was heat. We did a great amount of testing on this particular Core i7-860 processor and found that it could actually exceed the overclocking capability of the Core i7-870 used in our P55-UD4P motherboard review.  However, the i7-860 also converted 10% more power into heat (330W compared to 300W) at 1.45V core and full load. We thus needed more cooling.

Unfortunately, we also found that the Xigmatek HDT-S1284 cooler produced similar temperatures at 270W as our reference cooler produced at 300W. Further inspection of the HDT-S1284 revealed several potential design problems, including a low-speed fan that couldn’t be increased regardless of its PWM-control capabilities, a sink that leaked most of that fan’s air from the side, leaving the center of its fins almost unused, and an add-on installation kit that provided little contact pressure. We tried resetting the fan several times but got our best results (a drop of nearly two degrees Celsius) by simply pressing down against the sink’s top.

Given a 10% higher thermal load and 10% less cooling capability, we weren’t going to get anywhere close to the processor’s limit at our chosen voltage. Our new limit would be 1.35V, with 4.0 GHz and a full CPU load of eight Prime95 threads pushing the CPU to 90 degrees Celsius.

We then encountered a second heat issue: at full GPU load, the graphics cards would pump too much heat into the case. This would have made it impossible to load both the CPU and GPU simultaneously, a condition we certainly lament.

Using a BIOS setting of 1.30625V with load-line calibration enabled, our CPU would climb to 1.312V but only clock to 3.65 GHz stably, with both the CPU and GPU cores at full load.

Knowing that the system could potentially support even higher clock speeds when only one or two threads were enabled, we also tried getting to this point using Intel Turbo Boost. A base clock of 162 MHz got us to 3.56 GHz with for cores loaded, 4.05 GHz with two cores active, and 4.2 GHz with a single core active, while the slightly lower four-core results yielded to better average performance thanks to how many of our benchmarks are single- or dual-threaded. An added benefit was lower idle power, since Intel’s power-savings features must be activated in order to reach the highest Turbo Boost ratios. Yet this turned out not to be the perfect solution we’d hoped for, as core voltage occasionally didn’t increase fast enough at program launch to keep the system stable. Our demands for perfect system stability forced us to revert to old-fashioned low-efficiency overclocking methods.

Our RAM was capable of reaching the same DDR3-1600 CAS 8-7-7-18 timings as the previous set, but only when a fan was over it. That could be partly due to P55-UD4P BIOS increments of 0.02V, which forced us to set 1.66V rather than 1.65V, but it’s also true that this month’s $2,500 machine lacks the accessory fan used in September. To keep things cool, we decreased DRAM voltage to 1.64V, a drop that along with the slight increase in clock speed, forced us to use looser 8-8-8-18 timings.

Our graphics card BIOS limits GPU overclocking to 900 MHz. DRAM restrictions were more adequate, allowing us to reach the memory’s stable 1,270 MHz limit. We know that these cards could go much faster using unlocked BIOS and another manufacturer’s Afterburner Utility, but we didn’t want to void the graphics warranty of this future giveaway system by flashing non-native card BIOS.

Tuners interested in copying these efforts (or using them as a baseline) can view BIOS screenshots by clicking on the above thumbnail images.

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Top Comments
  • 11 Hide
    Crashman , December 22, 2009 7:49 AM
    wserhldsjghHow can you possibly justify not getting 2 x 1TB Caviar Blacks for $200 total and then getting an SSD?
    Because 2x 1TB Caviar Blacks and 1x 160GB X25-M would have cost $200 more? They hit the budget limit in this build and STOPPED.

    wserhldsjgh2 X 5870 for $860 over 5970 for $650?
    Read much? The parts were ordered before the 5970 hit the shelves, and even today you cannot buy that 5970. This is of course covered in the article.

    wserhldsjghHow much of a performance difference can you possibly expect with Crucial CAS 9-9-9-28 over CORSAIR XMS3 9-9-9-24 which costs $90 for 4GB?
    Read much? There's a link to the memory comparison AND plenty of overclocking data in the article. The Crucial memory is better, it overclocks better, it supports tighter timings, and it cost less. Who would be stupid enough to pay more for worse parts?
    wserhldsjghNo water cooling on a system that costs $2500?This is the worst build I've ever seen at this price point.


    Wait, you want Tom's Hardware to add $200 in hard drives, buy more expensive RAM, and add a $200 water cooler, and still keep the system under $2500? Your math needs work.
  • 11 Hide
    Crashman , December 22, 2009 7:39 AM
    Gigahertz20Horrible build, $2,500 and no SSD drive? That is inexcusable, a SSD drive is one of the best parts you can add to a high end computer, the noticeable performance improvement going from a regular hard drive is like night and day.


    Programs start faster but with the exception of Crysis at super-high resolutions and PCMark, the SBM benchmark set doesn't show noticeable performance gains.

    Gigahertz20This system should have went with one 2TB WD Caviar Black hard drive for storage and then a 160GB SSD hard drive as the main drive.


    First of all, there WASN'T ENOUGH MONEY to do that. The options were, $600 to buy 160GB worth of X25-M SSD's, OR two 2TB Caviar Blacks OR a single 80GB X25-M and a single Caviar Black. 80GB isn't enough to hold all the programs, 160GB isn't enough for long term storage, so two 2.0 TB drives were picked to at least add the redundancy option.

    Next time try being honest about prices. A cheaper-but-adequate option would have been two 1.0 TB drives where the left over money could have been put towards something else.

    Gigahertz20For a video card, one Radeon 5870 is more then enough, the money saved by not buying a second 5870 should have gone to buying a good full tower case and better CPU cooler.


    At least you were honest here, but to hell with full towers. Mid-towers are beter. OH, but maybe I jumped the gun on calling you honest, as the article specifically stated that there were no other large coolers available at the time the purchase was made.
Other Comments
  • 9 Hide
    noob2222 , December 22, 2009 5:13 AM
    If you went with the 5970, this build would have been fine, but with using 2 5870s, I would have opted a little different, x58 isn't that much more.

    Cpus are almost identical in price, wich leaves only the MB.

    UD4P - 170
    UD3R - 188

    I think in my book it would have been worth the $18.

    The other thing thats a bit overpriced is the HDD as mentioned. At $300 for 2TB, thats $150/TB. 1.5TB drives cost that much, put in 3 drives and save $150 and have .5TB more space.

    Aside from that, good build.
  • -8 Hide
    ColMirage , December 22, 2009 5:33 AM
    Wait, why is the contest limited to the USA now?

    Tom's.
    I am disappoint.


    Aside from that, the build is nice, and I can't wait to see the other ones.
  • 0 Hide
    scook9 , December 22, 2009 5:33 AM
    This article has me second guessing me selling my desktop!
  • -5 Hide
    Onyx2291 , December 22, 2009 5:47 AM
    Very powerful, but if I were to have it. I think I'd steer clear of overclocking myself haha.
  • -8 Hide
    Gigahertz20 , December 22, 2009 5:55 AM
    Horrible build, $2,500 and no SSD drive? That is inexcusable, a SSD drive is one of the best parts you can add to a high end computer, the noticeable performance improvement going from a regular hard drive is like night and day.

    The $860 dollars spent on video cards and $600 for hard drives is a waste. This system should have went with one 2TB WD Caviar Black hard drive for storage and then a 160GB SSD hard drive as the main drive. For a video card, one Radeon 5870 is more then enough, the money saved by not buying a second 5870 should have gone to buying a good full tower case and better CPU cooler.
  • 2 Hide
    enzo matrix , December 22, 2009 6:13 AM
    Good all round build.
  • 7 Hide
    rambo117 , December 22, 2009 6:16 AM
    Great read, as always. Gosh, if you guys are calling last SBM performance PC "outdated", id hate to know what my rig is... =/
  • 1 Hide
    liquidsnake718 , December 22, 2009 6:17 AM
    enzo matrixGood all round build.



    Yes I was thinking just that.... an SSD for the master, and a 1tb or a 2tb for backup slave drive.... then a 5970. That would have been ideal as this is considered high end.....
  • 3 Hide
    tacoslave , December 22, 2009 6:33 AM
    ColMirageWait, why is the contest limited to the USA now?Tom's.I am disappoint.Aside from that, the build is nice, and I can't wait to see the other ones.


    Yes we know you're a disappointment. Geez you're worse than kevin parrish.
  • -6 Hide
    Anonymous , December 22, 2009 6:35 AM
    wft, you put crossfire on a P55 chipset? You do know that there are only 16 PCIX lanes to the CPU right?

    $300 for a 2TB drive? Are you insane? How can you possibly justify not getting 2 x 1TB Caviar Blacks for $200 total and then getting an SSD?

    2 X 5870 for $860 over 5970 for $650? How much of a performance difference can you possibly expect with Crucial CAS 9-9-9-28 over CORSAIR XMS3 9-9-9-24 which costs $90 for 4GB?

    No water cooling on a system that costs $2500?

    This is the worst build I've ever seen at this price point.
  • 3 Hide
    noob2222 , December 22, 2009 7:03 AM
    wserhldsjghim a parrot

    did you even read the final page?
  • 11 Hide
    Crashman , December 22, 2009 7:39 AM
    Gigahertz20Horrible build, $2,500 and no SSD drive? That is inexcusable, a SSD drive is one of the best parts you can add to a high end computer, the noticeable performance improvement going from a regular hard drive is like night and day.


    Programs start faster but with the exception of Crysis at super-high resolutions and PCMark, the SBM benchmark set doesn't show noticeable performance gains.

    Gigahertz20This system should have went with one 2TB WD Caviar Black hard drive for storage and then a 160GB SSD hard drive as the main drive.


    First of all, there WASN'T ENOUGH MONEY to do that. The options were, $600 to buy 160GB worth of X25-M SSD's, OR two 2TB Caviar Blacks OR a single 80GB X25-M and a single Caviar Black. 80GB isn't enough to hold all the programs, 160GB isn't enough for long term storage, so two 2.0 TB drives were picked to at least add the redundancy option.

    Next time try being honest about prices. A cheaper-but-adequate option would have been two 1.0 TB drives where the left over money could have been put towards something else.

    Gigahertz20For a video card, one Radeon 5870 is more then enough, the money saved by not buying a second 5870 should have gone to buying a good full tower case and better CPU cooler.


    At least you were honest here, but to hell with full towers. Mid-towers are beter. OH, but maybe I jumped the gun on calling you honest, as the article specifically stated that there were no other large coolers available at the time the purchase was made.
  • 11 Hide
    Crashman , December 22, 2009 7:49 AM
    wserhldsjghHow can you possibly justify not getting 2 x 1TB Caviar Blacks for $200 total and then getting an SSD?
    Because 2x 1TB Caviar Blacks and 1x 160GB X25-M would have cost $200 more? They hit the budget limit in this build and STOPPED.

    wserhldsjgh2 X 5870 for $860 over 5970 for $650?
    Read much? The parts were ordered before the 5970 hit the shelves, and even today you cannot buy that 5970. This is of course covered in the article.

    wserhldsjghHow much of a performance difference can you possibly expect with Crucial CAS 9-9-9-28 over CORSAIR XMS3 9-9-9-24 which costs $90 for 4GB?
    Read much? There's a link to the memory comparison AND plenty of overclocking data in the article. The Crucial memory is better, it overclocks better, it supports tighter timings, and it cost less. Who would be stupid enough to pay more for worse parts?
    wserhldsjghNo water cooling on a system that costs $2500?This is the worst build I've ever seen at this price point.


    Wait, you want Tom's Hardware to add $200 in hard drives, buy more expensive RAM, and add a $200 water cooler, and still keep the system under $2500? Your math needs work.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 22, 2009 7:52 AM
    I'm curious how much of the difference between 2008 and 2009 is due to windows 7 vs. windows Vista. As tomshardware has already show there is a significant performance difference.
  • 0 Hide
    photonboy , December 22, 2009 7:53 AM
    Interesting article.

    How about building a $4000 or $5000 COMPLETE SYSTEM which includes the monitor(s), speakers, keyboard, mouse and other accessories?

    More:
    Most of the parts are the same as a system I was considering (I decided to wait on NVidia). The main difference was a single WD 2TB, a second 1TB green WD and an Auzentech sound card. I do appreciate the reasons for your build as a "Power" system as well as price constrainsts to keep it in your $2500 build goal.

    As for a future build for yourselves (and myself) the big question concerns NVidia's new DX11 cards. And for that, we'll just have to wait and see.

    If the Gulftown CPU was $600 or lower (yeah, right) I'd probably end up with something like this:
    - Intel Gulftown CPU (6C/12T, 32nm)
    - NVidia 2xSLI of their new flagship single-GPU DX11 graphics card
    - 6GB DDR3
    - 2TB WD hard drive etc

    I know I'll likely go with the i7-920. I did want the 860, however the graphics bandwidth prevents much more than 2xHD5870's; it's my understanding that two of these cards are very close to maxing out 16xPCIe 2.0 (I wish PCIe bandwidth was on the video card box). On the other hand this system is so powerful by the time I upgrade a new system would likely be in order. It's also very possible that this is my last PC. I think the future is Gaming Consoles. I'll buy my first one in 2012. I also think this generation of Console will mark the slow death of PC gaming especially if they really support switching between an HDTV setup and a monitor setup (including keyboard and mouse). This is another story but it is a factor in how much upgradeability I want in my next PC.

    SSD's are about two years away from being the quality, size and price I want.

    Other considerations:
    - LucidLogix Hydra technology (more motherboards and testing needed but it looks promising on MSI's Big Bang)
    - Pros and Cons of NVidia vs ATI (Idle power consumption, PhysX, Price, game optimizations, CUDA etc)
    - audio
    - NVidia, bring back Hybridpower for 0W idle!

    (It's interesting to note how many people didn't read the article fully before commenting which is evident due to the nature of complaints about the parts chosen.)
  • 4 Hide
    Crashman , December 22, 2009 7:57 AM
    noob2222If you went with the 5970, this build would have been fine, but with using 2 5870s, I would have opted a little different, x58 isn't that much more.Cpus are almost identical in price, wich leaves only the MB.UD4P - 170UD3R - 188I think in my book it would have been worth the $18.The other thing thats a bit overpriced is the HDD as mentioned. At $300 for 2TB, thats $150/TB. 1.5TB drives cost that much, put in 3 drives and save $150 and have .5TB more space.Aside from that, good build.


    Thanks for the comments. There were a few problems with the build and a few comprimises over the lack of available parts at order time, but much of what was learned had to be learned by experience. Thanks also for noticing the list of alternative choices in the conclusion.
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , December 22, 2009 8:00 AM
    slvr04r1I'm curious how much of the difference between 2008 and 2009 is due to windows 7 vs. windows Vista. As tomshardware has already show there is a significant performance difference.


    Sorry about the confusion concerning the recent Vista vs Win7 article, but that one focused mostly on launch times. While launch times are important to daily use, the only place it shows up in the SBM benchmark set is in PCMark. PCMark scores aren't even used in the final performance tally, so the difference between Vista and Win7 is basically zilch. See:

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/windows-7-performance,2442.html?xtmc=benchmarking_windows_7&xtcr=1
  • -1 Hide
    2shea , December 22, 2009 8:28 AM
    Why would you want 2x 2Tb for high speeds nowadays? its friggin storage so what if it is not THE fastest stuff around. Just put in 3 or 4 x 1tb and save a lot money. Put in 2x 5850 and save a lot of money.
    Put in 2x ssd and get a lot of performance. Its that simple, you see in the graphs that you don't need more to get enough frames on even 2560 x1600. Also the 8gb seems to do very little and imho still pretty useless except for some very special tasks no ordinary person uses. But getting stuff started faster and snappier is a lot better then 10 frames extra on a framerate of 60+.
    Also try and get some games that use dx10/11 for the comparisons, that would make it a lot more interesting. Using windows 7 is very good I like you people made that switch fast! kudos!
    As for the rest of the build, my choice exactly, the midrange limit cpu and mobo provide the stuff we need.
  • 3 Hide
    Crashman , December 22, 2009 9:10 AM
    backin5on the "Hardware Installation" page:"...the case has cable stowage..."I guess Elmer Fudd typed that.I'd actually keep it though


    To stow means to hide. The case has a place to hide (stow) cables :) 
  • -1 Hide
    vaskodogama , December 22, 2009 9:19 AM
    a powerful build, but not interested in its specifications.
    I hope the next will be better with ssd, better graphic and for god's sake a better looking case!
    by the way, good job toms
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