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CPU, CPU Cooler, And RAM

System Builder Marathon: $2,500 Enthusiast PC
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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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Top Comments
  • 16 Hide
    gwellin , December 31, 2008 1:06 PM
    thomasxstewartfINAL lASLTY, yOU mENTION oCTOBERS 64 BIT TEST & recent PREVIOUS LOW COST & MID TESTS WHERE 32 BIT uLTIMATE, YET THIS TEST HAS NO MENTION OF O/S AT ALL. ITS XP RIGHT, TOM FOOLERY AGAIN, COMPARING ENTIRELY DIFFERNT SYSTEMS. BEST ULTIMATE WILL SCORE IS 13,000 VANTAGE HERE, YET ULTIMATE 64 HAS PRODUCED 38,000 3D VANTAGE BY REPUTABLE WEBSITE. SO GO FIGURE, BEFORE YOU WASTE $3,000.00SignedHYSICIAN THOMAS STEWART von DRASHEK M.D.


    Why do people type this crap. Do you not actually read what you type when you type it. "i tHINK tHIS iS rEALLY cOOL". WTF really. Do us a huge favor and don't type like a retard, infact just don't post anymore.
  • 14 Hide
    Anonymous , December 31, 2008 1:18 PM
    why not spend the extra $$$ on more RAM on 64 bit Vista?
  • 13 Hide
    inveriti , December 31, 2008 1:18 PM
    It seems like Tom's doesn't read their own reviews... In their own GPU chart, they never recommend a 3x SLi system, and not without reason. The last card only gives a third of its on-paper output. Also, why the hell get 3 TB of storage? Do you plan on pirating that many DVD's or burning that much money on them? And only 3 GB of RAM? No, sorry, you're dropping the ball on this one. NO "enthusiast" would sacrifice a solid 6 GB of good RAM in Vista for a uselss hard drive and ostentatious third video card.

    Follow your own recommendations, guys. Get an ATI 4870 x2, put the money into better RAM and cooling, then use what's left to get a pair of Raptor hard drives as workhorses and a 1 or 1.5 TB hard drive for media storage if you want to use all your $2500.
Other Comments
  • -1 Hide
    tipmen , December 31, 2008 9:08 AM
    First
    LG GGC-H20LK 6X Blu-Ray/HD DVD-ROM, 16X DVD±RW for $23??? you mean 223?
  • 0 Hide
    douglesso , December 31, 2008 9:10 AM
    Thanks for the fantastic information and detailed analysis. I just ordered the same motherboard and video card last week for my new build. Glad to see that holding out for the i7 was a worthwhile wait.
  • 0 Hide
    tipmen , December 31, 2008 9:12 AM
    Sorry couldn't read my comment but nice blbuild by the way nice to see this. Hlaf the price and more performance.
  • -3 Hide
    Anonymous , December 31, 2008 10:02 AM
    Total price is off. Should be something like 2,447 and not 2,247
  • 0 Hide
    kelfen , December 31, 2008 10:17 AM
    except the cpu is fine because of oc
  • -6 Hide
    kelfen , December 31, 2008 10:26 AM
    antec twelve hundred
  • 5 Hide
    dieseldre2k , December 31, 2008 11:12 AM
    appreciate the article but i would drop the third HD (keep the other 2 in RAID) and use the extra money to get 6 gigs of ram instead. i'd also be wary of the scaling on 3 video cards but i dont know enough about that, plus i'm sure u guys were trying to use up all $2,500.
  • 0 Hide
    jcknouse , December 31, 2008 12:14 PM
    I didn't see it right off. might have missed it.

    I saw where u said that you reached limits at 75F/23.9C room temps. However, what was the CPU temp after running full load with your air cooling solution?

    I am curious, because I think I put too much thermal paste on my AMD Phenom 9850 install cause it runs up around 60C when i go 100% load. I hate going anything over that, so i haven't OCed it.

    Would love to hear what you guys at Tom's consider "acceptable" full load max temp for the CPU, and how you base that temp level. Manufacturer specs? Personal experience? A little of both?

    Thanks in advance
  • -1 Hide
    Sparky4688 , December 31, 2008 12:22 PM
    Great review.

    The December $1250 system performs very close within 2-3 seconds for Audio/Video editing and Applications and in several cases performs better. For non-gamers the December $1250 is a better value.

    I built a $1250 system based on the November E8500 chip and now wished I had waited for the i7 as it performs 100-150% better for Audio/Video editing and Applications....
  • 2 Hide
    Sparky4688 , December 31, 2008 12:26 PM
    jcknouseI didn't see it right off. might have missed it.I saw where u said that you reached limits at 75F/23.9C room temps. However, what was the CPU temp after running full load with your air cooling solution?I am curious, because I think I put too much thermal paste on my AMD Phenom 9850 install cause it runs up around 60C when i go 100% load. I hate going anything over that, so i haven't OCed it.Would love to hear what you guys at Tom's consider "acceptable" full load max temp for the CPU, and how you base that temp level. Manufacturer specs? Personal experience? A little of both?Thanks in advance



    Guide for thermal paste is to to use a razor's edge at a nearly flat angle to very thinly, evenly, and smoothly cover the entire CPU heat sink. Too much paste can have an adverse effect as you noted.
  • 2 Hide
    MJRSnyder , December 31, 2008 12:37 PM
    Drop one of the hard drives and bluray drive and get 2 4870x2s and it would have destroyed
  • -1 Hide
    bourgeoisdude , December 31, 2008 12:55 PM
    TW2007 said: "Total price is off. Should be something like 2,447 and not 2,247"

    No, it's correct. They specifically mentioned that the price of the components went down nearly 10% since they purchased the system.

    Ph0X said: "There's 3SLI GTX260, 3 x 1TB, Bluray WRITER!, but it doesn't even have 6gb ram!!?"

    6GB of RAM is unusable in a 32-bit operating system, and it is not a Blu-Ray writer, it's a READER with DVD/CD writing capabilities. Your comment was probably voted down for these reasons.

    dieseldre2k wrote: "appreciate the article but i would drop the third HD (keep the other 2 in RAID) and use the extra money to get 6 gigs of ram instead."

    Again, 6 Gigs of RAM would have been a complete waste of money in a 32-bit build. I for one am glad they are finally benching a RAID 5 in here because I have been weighing getting a RAID 5 build for some time but have been dissuaded because of the lack of testing/interest by other gamers. I don't want to pay $2500 for a system that dies withen weeks because I just happened to be in that 3% that get a hard drive that fails withen the first year. Honestly, I'll bet that RAID 0 vs. RAID 5 performance isn't a big deal and would really like to see a RAID 0 in the next build to compare this one with.
  • 0 Hide
    cah027 , December 31, 2008 1:01 PM
    Oh Crap ! I just ordered the UD5 MB and one 260/216 with the intension of gradually adding additional 260's over time. Looks like I am limited to 2way SLI.. oh well.. Maybe I will just step up to a x2 card.... I mostly wanted the i7 for encoding and light gaming so I should be ok.. Glad to see the encoding benches look so good !
  • 16 Hide
    gwellin , December 31, 2008 1:06 PM
    thomasxstewartfINAL lASLTY, yOU mENTION oCTOBERS 64 BIT TEST & recent PREVIOUS LOW COST & MID TESTS WHERE 32 BIT uLTIMATE, YET THIS TEST HAS NO MENTION OF O/S AT ALL. ITS XP RIGHT, TOM FOOLERY AGAIN, COMPARING ENTIRELY DIFFERNT SYSTEMS. BEST ULTIMATE WILL SCORE IS 13,000 VANTAGE HERE, YET ULTIMATE 64 HAS PRODUCED 38,000 3D VANTAGE BY REPUTABLE WEBSITE. SO GO FIGURE, BEFORE YOU WASTE $3,000.00SignedHYSICIAN THOMAS STEWART von DRASHEK M.D.


    Why do people type this crap. Do you not actually read what you type when you type it. "i tHINK tHIS iS rEALLY cOOL". WTF really. Do us a huge favor and don't type like a retard, infact just don't post anymore.
  • 13 Hide
    inveriti , December 31, 2008 1:18 PM
    It seems like Tom's doesn't read their own reviews... In their own GPU chart, they never recommend a 3x SLi system, and not without reason. The last card only gives a third of its on-paper output. Also, why the hell get 3 TB of storage? Do you plan on pirating that many DVD's or burning that much money on them? And only 3 GB of RAM? No, sorry, you're dropping the ball on this one. NO "enthusiast" would sacrifice a solid 6 GB of good RAM in Vista for a uselss hard drive and ostentatious third video card.

    Follow your own recommendations, guys. Get an ATI 4870 x2, put the money into better RAM and cooling, then use what's left to get a pair of Raptor hard drives as workhorses and a 1 or 1.5 TB hard drive for media storage if you want to use all your $2500.
  • 14 Hide
    Anonymous , December 31, 2008 1:18 PM
    why not spend the extra $$$ on more RAM on 64 bit Vista?
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