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CPU, CPU Cooler, And RAM

System Builder Marathon: $2,500 Enthusiast PC

CPU: Intel Core i7 920

A modern processor is a necessity for any high-end system, but that doesn’t mean we had to pick the most-expensive model. With overclocking a key component of our value focus, an upgrade to the more-expensive but similarly capable model 940 simply wasn’t convincing. By the same logic, an Extreme Edition processor would have probably overtaxed our cooling system before we could tap into its extra overclocking potential.

Read Customer Reviews of Intel’s Core i7 920

The retail Core i7 920 is a completely different beast than the preview samples we received from Intel in that its memory ratios have been unlocked. This has a big effect on memory selection and overclocking capability and renders previews of the technology somewhat irrelevant. Since we have previously received OEM Core 2 processors with the same Intel Confidential stampings as true Engineering Samples, we wouldn't be surprised if future OEM versions of Core i7 processors were to have the same memory ratio limitations as the early engineering samples we've previously tested.

CPU Cooling: Vigor Gaming Monsoon III LT

The Monsoon III LT from Vigor Gaming was the only high-performance cooler available at Newegg for the Core i7 (LGA-1366) when we placed our order at the beginning of December. Nothing, thus, could have persuaded us from using it, even if we had doubts about its capability.

Read Customer Reviews of Vigor's Monsoon III LT

We fortunately couldn’t find any major flaws in the Monsoon III LT's design or execution, as under its custom black-anodized facade it’s nothing other than the vaunted Cooler Master Hyper 212. The Hyper 212 earned its reputation for providing excellent cooling at a low price, especially when a second fan was added, and the extra $20 Vigor Gaming charges gets buyers a $12 fan and a new look that’s…priceless.

Newegg does carry the less-expensive Hyper 212, but as of this writing, its stock is not yet current enough to include the LGA-1366 mounting kit recently added by Cooler Master to this older product.

RAM: Super Talent 3.0 GB DDR3-1333 CAS 8 Triple-Channel Kit

Because the Core i7 platform moved its memory controller to the processor, memory speed restrictions are based on it rather than on the motherboard chipset. According to Intel’s launch documents, we would have needed an Extreme processor to support DDR3-1333 on LGA-1366. Indeed, a quick check with our Core i7 920 engineering sample confirmed that the highest supported speed was DDR3-1066. But knowing that all memory types support operation at lower speed, we chose modules that we thought would be an exceptional value for overclocking.

Read Customer Reviews of Super Talent's 3 GB DDR3-1333 Triple-Channel Kit

Super Talent’s part number WA133UX3G8 triple-channel kit is specified for operation at a 1,333 MHz data rate and 8-8-8-24 latencies using the motherboard-standard 1.50 V, which is well below the 1.65 V safety threshold that Intel has specified for its Core i7 memory interface.

Imagine our surprise when our retail Core i7 920 arrived with a completely unlocked set of memory ratios from 800 to 2,133 MHz data rate (6x to 16x base clock), based on memory clock speeds of 400 to 1,066 MHz (3x to 8x base clock). We were able to test our system using this memory’s rated speed at timings as a baseline prior to our overclocking assessment.

RAM selection was a single instance where our personal choice for daily use differed from our test configuration.  While we'd normally have chosen a 6GB triple-channel kit for any high-end Core i7 system, a few of our benchmarks did not support 64-bit Windows Vista.

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