System Builder Marathon: $1,250 Mid-Range PC

Assembly And Overclocking

This time around, with an established Core 2 Quad CPU and P45-based motherboard, we have very little to report about the hardware assembly and operating system installation.

All of the components fit inside the Rosewill Wind Ryder case without complaint, including the long Radeon HD 4870 X2.

Our only concern was that the massive Xigmatek HDT-S1283 cooler would pose a problem and prevent the case cover from fitting, but although it appeared to be close, it never touched a thing.

As we mentioned, the case surprised us with its good finish, build quality, and quiet fans, which are somewhat uncommon traits to discover in such a low-priced case.

Once everything was put together, the Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3L motherboard booted up without a hitch, using proper multipliers and frequencies without a BIOS upgrade. We didn't need to make a single tweak. The 32-bit Vista Ultimate operating system also installed without incident.

We happily continued by benchmarking the system without crashes or any other incidents of note. We then turned our attention to overclocking the happy little system.

Overclocking

As with our experience assembling the system, it wasn't much trouble at all to overclock this month's enthusiast system. Unfortunately, without a more expensive liquid-cooling setup, temperatures were once again our limiting factor.

We're not complaining about the job our Xigmatek HDT-S1283 did because it performed well for an air cooler in the situation in which it was placed, but there's no denying that a Q9550 can produce a lot of heat when pushed.

We tweaked some voltages and settings and were able to boot to a front side bus (FSB) speed of 400 MHz on the first try and a 3.4 GHz CPU speed. Encouraged, we tried to up the bus speed but encountered crashing.

We set the Vcore to 1.35 V and to 1.3 V for the CPU termination, MCH core, and ICH core. Memory was upped slightly to 1.9 V, and we limited the PCI Express (PCIe) bus to 100 MHz. We turned off virtualization and thermal throttling as well. With these settings we were able to set the FSB to 425 MHz, for a 3.61 GHz clock speed.

Without pushing further, we wanted to see how hot and stable the system was at this speed, so we performed some Prime95 testing. While the system was completely stable, the Speedfan monitoring application reported temperatures of 77 degrees Celsius at load. Since we accepted high temperatures in our Core i7 920 testing from our last SBM (and considering that the CPU would probably never be stressed that hard except in a synthetic benchmark like Prime95), we continued with the ~800 MHz overclock and called it a day. A clock speed of 3.62 GHz is an acceptable overclock for a Q9550 on air and we wanted to produce some results that a buyer might reasonably expect from similar components.

Sapphire's 4870 X2 card was the next overclocking focus. In our experience, dual-GPU cards like the 4870 X2 can be a little fussy when overclocking, but we were happy to see that the card would allow us to max out the Catalyst driver's Overdrive option without displaying any artifacts. Unfortunately, the driver maxed out at an overclock of 780 MHz on the core and 950 MHz on the memory, which was a mere 30 MHz core overclock and a 50 MHz memory overclock. While this won't break any overclocking records, it turned out to be almost identical to the overclock we got in our e8500/4870 X2 SBM build, which overclocked at 777 MHz core and 950 MHz memory.

Locked and loaded, we went forth into benchmarking territory...

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  • johnyeah
    I just checked, I was wondering if the HD 4850 x2 (2x1gb) was a better choice at only $240? That would cut the cost by an additional.
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  • xx12amanxx
    Phenom 2 940 is 40$ dollars cheaper overclock's to 3.7-3.9 on air runs cooler and performs the same. Not sure why you went with an equal performing lower overclocking higher power using and almost 40$ more expensive cpu.
    0
  • Tindytim
    You're $96 under budget, but you couldn't splurge on a better case?

    Unless you made a Typo on one of those prices, they all add up to the 1154 total. So why are you so under budget?
    4
  • Crashman
    xx12amanxxPhenom 2 940 is 40$ dollars cheaper overclock's to 3.7-3.9 on air runs cooler and performs the same. Not sure why you went with an equal performing lower overclocking higher power using and almost 40$ more expensive cpu.


    Can't use a processor that doesn't exist. They weren't on the market when the parts were ordered...what, you thought these articles were produced overnight?

    TindytimYou're $96 under budget, but you couldn't splurge on a better case?Unless you made a Typo on one of those prices, they all add up to the 1154 total. So why are you so under budget?


    Prices dropped after the parts were ordered: The same thing happens to EVERY builder, the system loses value almost as soon as you can click the "buy" icon.
    7
  • Tindytim
    CrashmanPrices dropped after the parts were ordered: The same thing happens to EVERY builder, the system loses value almost as soon as you can click the "buy" icon.

    Wait, wait, wait.

    You mention that in the $625 article, but those were the prices at purchase. Why the inconsistency?
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  • Crashman
    TindytimWait, wait, wait.You mention that in the $625 article, but those were the prices at purchase. Why the inconsistency?


    Ask the author of the other article? I only know that the more expensive a part is, the more money you loose when the price drops.
    1
  • maxwellsmart_80
    *SIGH* Yet ANOHTER "Intel System Build Marathon" machine...just kidding - I understand what you are saying about the Phenom II 940 not being available at the time of component purchase - It would be nice to see some AMD in next months articles though!

    P.S. - you were under budget, why not go w/ the Antec Three Hundred Case - it's 1000% nicer than the Rosewill Piece 'o Junk you picked, and would have cooled your Overclock a lot better IMHO...just a thought - it's a killer case for the money - have you ever used it in a system build?
    4
  • yellowfever
    This is my first time commenting on any article at Tom's after reading everyday for 6+ years, but seeing the UD3LR motherboard pick instead of the equally priced UD3R ($2 more after rebate) or UD3P($12 more after rebate) is ridiculous for a computer hardware website. Both boards would let you do 24/7 clocks of 4+ at decent voltages on air for an E0 stepping Q9550. Gigabyte isn't going to iron out bios wrinkles on their cheapest UD3, don't forget even the UD3R was easilly beaten in stability against the UD3P until two to three months ago when better bioses started popping up. Maybe it's late, but some strange hardware gets picked on this site to save $12.
    1
  • SlyNine
    I would have thought your OC would have been more limited by the 4pin CPU Power on the motherboard
    0
  • _horse
    Im diggin' the build here, regardless of newer hardware being available later, and prices dropping after purchase.

    Suggestion: Why not split these articles up into two forms? Why not submit an "initial/at time of order" article and have that listed first to let people argue, then do all the benchmarking and submit a followup article later, attached to the initial article?

    People can still bicker over price range and stuff before the benchmarks even come out, that way you know what/when the article is being based off of.

    I know, Im the new guy and Im probably spitting in to the wind here, but...

    :)

    -Horse
    2
  • yoda8232
    Tom's could of went i7 for that price. -_-
    -8
  • Hothr
    The colors of the bar graphs were so much easier to follow in this article than in previous months. Thanks for that.
    4
  • Known2Bone
    i wonder if the psu could have been part of the oc limit(in addition to the mobo)... if the temps in the case were high it could cause the psu to come up shorter than it would at lower temps..... it would be really nice for some am3 junk next month.... i think that being 90 bones under budget is ok because if i were building i would want the most bang for buck as possible
    1
  • heltoupee
    yellowfeverMaybe it's late, but some strange hardware gets picked on this site to save $12.


    Yes, it sure does. Just take a look at that case. Holy fugly crap, Batman! And that Rosewill POS they picked for the $625 build? They freely admitted that it held back their performance. They would have been better off shoving the parts together on a tabletop and holding it all together with duct tape.

    Seriously, guys. When you're building a machine, the case costs $50. It's called an Antec Three Hundred. Learn it, know it, love it. I can't fathom how you're justifying tossing $1200 worth of components into the cheapest damn case you can find. Listen, if you're ever 20 bucks over budget again and are thinking about skimping on the case, call me. I'll pony up the $20 so your SBM computers look like a professional designed them.
    2
  • dirtmountain
    Good article and shows good comparisons between the 3 Intel options that are out right now, core2 duo, core2 quad and i7. I'm glad to see other budget case options being used and would be glad to see other cooling solutions being compared (sunbeam core contact,Zalman etc.) Like all builders you have to order what's available and not wait the 2-4 weeks till prices come down on various parts. Good work.
    1
  • cleeve
    Some answers from the author:

    "Phenom 2 940 is 40$ dollars cheaper"

    Wasn't available at the time of testing. And if you'll read the last $1250 marathon comments, forum users asked for an E8500/i7/Q9550 comparison, which we supplied.


    "You're $96 under budget, but you couldn't splurge on a better case?"

    READ THE ARTICLE. We explain that when we purchased the Rosewill was the only case that kept us in the budget at the time of purchase, our budget dropped as prices took a massive hit over the course of the month.
    And you know what? It's a fine case. I try not to assume any hardware is crappy before trying it myself just because it's not a particular name brand. The Rosewill did the job.


    "but seeing the UD3LR motherboard pick instead of the equally priced UD3R ($2 more after rebate) or UD3P($12 more after rebate) is ridiculous for a computer hardware website."

    We don't use rebates, plan and simple. And we have to stick to our budgets. As well, I personally don't think the UD3R or UD3P would have made the massive diffrence you're assuming it would.

    But more importantly, you did read the article and notice that I limited the OC because of the CPU temp - not a mobo limitation - right?


    "Tom's could of went i7 for that price."

    *sigh*. Please read the article before commenting. We did an i7 last time, and went with the Q9550 to compare at the request of the forum readers. We've been over and over this, dude.
    0
  • cleeve
    heltoupeeWhen you're building a machine, the case costs $50. It's called an Antec Three Hundred. Learn it, know it, love it.


    Yeah, the thing is I'm just not one of those people who assumes that only name brands have exclusive rights to make anything worthwhile.

    I guess I'm not 'leet' enough for you, but you know what? I liked the Rosewill. Thought it was a damn fine case, and it didn't even have an 'Antec' sticker on it. Blasphemy!

    Just my opinion, but if it holds the components (the important part IMHO), cools them properly, has decent build quality, and does it for cheap, it's a good case.

    You know what? My watch isn't a Rolex, either. ***GASP***! ;)
    2
  • cleeve
    Known2Bonei wonder if the psu could have been part of the oc limit(in addition to the mobo)...


    PLEASE READ THE ARTICLE. I limited the overclock because of the load temps. Not the PSU, case, or anything else...
    2
  • enewmen
    Great article! Answered many quesions with different CPU/video card combinations. The Gigabyte GA-EP45, q9550 o/c, & 4870X2 were all good choices. This system "could" have gotten 8 gigs with a stretch. Not sure if that will help any in 2009, even with a 64bit OS.
    Thanks :)
    1
  • billiardicus
    Toms,
    Nice article I always read these. A few thoughts:
    - I don't think most readers care if you spend $1250 or $1275. I think the point is to build a bag/buck system within a certain range. In real life, no one is going to miss a grat component on a ~$1200 build because they can't find $12, etc.
    - I personally believe you should always buy the cheapest case that WORKS. I've been using the Centurion CAC5 ($50). Question: Does the Rosewell case work well? You said some good things about it...would you recommend the case? 'Cause if I can save $20 on a case I will.

    - Lastly, although I enjoyed the article, I didn't learn anything. I already knew the i7 is the best CPU for that price range (although I think an i7 build needs closer to a $1500 budget), and Techreport.com already has lots of testing showing CPU scaling across different video cards (and the i7 always wins; quads and duo's trade blows with the winner often being decided by the highest clock frequency).

    Anyway, I love the site. I hope my feedback is helpful.
    0