System Builder Marathon, May '09: $1,300 Enthusiast PC

Overclocking

Overclocking the $1,300 Micro-ATX system was a lesson in thermal management. Given the less-than-ideal case airflow that we described above, we’re starting with high graphics card temperatures out of the gate. In any case, we began by overclocking the CPU.

The good news is that our Core i7-920 CPU and our DFI X58-T3H6 motherboard were more than happy to go ever higher. With a small voltage bump and a base clock increase to 200 MHz from the stock 133 MHz, the system booted fine at 4 GHz.

A quick Prime95 run shut the system down quickly. I say shut the system down because it didn’t lock up or crash. It simply shut down softly. The screen even pleasantly faded out, leading us to conclude it was shutting itself down due to thermal protection.

Playing out the same exercise while running Real Temp to monitor temperatures verified our hypothesis. Once Prime95 was launched, the CPU core temperature went to 100 degrees Celsius almost immediately. While idle temperatures were an acceptable 45 degrees Celsius, putting the machine under load would send them skyrocketing.

From here on in, it was a battle to see if we could keep the temperatures and voltages down low enough while seeing how high we could push the clock speed.

Everything went pretty smoothly, although the DFI LANParty Jr. X58-T3H6 demonstrated an interesting quirk: the CPU voltage as reported by CPU-Z was higher under load than the voltages set within the motherboard’s BIOS. For instance, when voltage was set to 1.21 V in the BIOS, CPU-Z reported a voltage of 1.26 V. Under load, it jumped to almost 1.3 V. One tenth of a volt might not sound like much, but it makes a huge difference to the CPU and was enough to create a lot more heat than we wanted. Fellow SBM writer Thomas Soderstrom also experienced the issue with the X58-T3H6, so it’s probably not a problem limited to this particular sample.

Adjusting for the BIOS anomaly, we found the system was completely stable at 3.5 GHz at a low 1.264 V on the core as reported by CPU-Z, running Prime95 overnight with no hiccups. Unfortunately, the CPU temperatures were in the high 90 degree Celsius range. While real-world apps won’t stress the CPU as much as a Prime95 run will, we wanted a bit more margin of error.

In the end, we settled for 3.44 GHz with a 173 MHz base clock and the CPU voltage set to 1.2125 V (1.264 V on the CPU under load as reported by CPU-Z), which bought long-term Prime95 run CPU temperatures down to a more acceptable low 90 degree Celsius range.

Here are the Genie BIOS settings we used for the DFI Lanparty Jr. X58-T3H6:

  • PPM Disabled;
  • Turbo mode disabled;
  • QPI frequency set to 4.8 GT/s (BCLK*18*2);
  • CPU base clock set to 172 MHz;
  • DRAM frequency set to BCLK*08 (1,376 MHz);
  • Uncore frequency set to BCLK*18 (3,096 MHz).

In the CPU-settings sub-menu, CPU thermal management, EIST, CxE, and virtualization were disabled:

In the voltage-settings sub-menu, CPU VID control was switched from AUTO to 1.2125 V and the OCP setting was increased to 180 A.

With the CPU clock speed maxed out, we turned to the graphics cards. Of course, with the GPU fans at 100% at stock speeds, we didn’t have a lot of headroom with which to play. Our stable GPU overclock was 600 MHz GPU (a 10 MHz over-clock), 1,030 MHz memory (a 31 MHz overclock), and 1,300 MHZ shaders (a 4 MHz overclock).

While these results weren't impressive, we expected the CPU frequency increase of almost 800 MHz over the stock speed to lead to a real jump in performance, as long as the application depended mostly on CPU power.

Create a new thread in the US Reviews comments forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
110 comments
    Your comment
    Top Comments
  • ohim
    This article would be great if you could do : what you can buy for 1300 Intel parts and what you can by for 1300 AMD parts ... and put the 2 PCs to compeat to eachother :P it would be a more interesting article than just buy a pc and ... show what ?
    17
  • Other Comments
  • jtnstnt
    It looks like you guys have a fetish for silverstone sff cases, and small motherboards. You guys probably like other small things...
    0
  • one-shot
    Was the peak power draw measured from the wall? If so, do you know the efficiency of the PSU to determine the approximate power draw from the components at a given level of output? Overall, great article. I hope my 650Watt PSU with 3 X 19A 12V rails can handle another GTX 260 Core 216.
    1
  • serifus
    if you wanted to go SFF it would be nice to see one done in an LIAN-LI PC-A05NB. at least you still get the full atx boards in those.
    -3
  • SpadeM
    Quote:
    This system is no slouch and cuts through our new gaming benchmarks like a hot knife through butter.

    I wonder how exactly does the selection of components go. I mean it seems that there's some attention given to the forums to be politically correct, but that's kind of it. For $1300 a Phenom 2 + micro AM3 board + 2x4890 in crossfire is a much better solution so .. why not choose the better option?
    http://img32.imageshack.us/my.php?image=systemg.jpg
    4
  • capttylor34
    That system looks quite crowded on the inside, and that Dark Knight is big for a regular sized system, I'm actually kind of impressed you managed to fit it in a Micro ATX at all. I suppose as long as it runs stable, theres really no problem. Still think the articles should be titled "Micro System Build-off" just to let people know off the bat what they're about to read.
    2
  • IzzyCraft
    No space at all between those 2 cards. poor cards have no choice but to overheat.
    3
  • IzzyCraft
    SpadeMI wonder how exactly does the selection of components go. I mean it seems that there's some attention given to the forums to be politically correct, but that's kind of it. For $1300 a Phenom 2 + micro AM3 board + 2x4890 in crossfire is a much better solution so .. why not choose the better option?

    That's not a better solution it's just an AMD ATI themed solution

    Although i guess it would be stronger in the fps in games it wouldn't be nearly as rounded system i rather have i7 because i do cpu heavy tasks just my view;)

    I mean if they just wanted max fps they could have gone LGA775 with E8500 and shove 2 4890's in there i'm sure that would produce the highest fps.
    1
  • armistitiu
    I'm tired of seeing I7 920 in every damn "recommended" PC. I'm not saying go AMD but please just try to vary them a bit it's getting stupid. Also try building your own benchmarks or at least change them once in a while.
    Btw i\m getting tired of people picking up I7 and saying "because i do heavy CPU tasks" (not necessarily IzzyCraft ) and in fact all they need is a browser,OpenOffice and WoW minimized in the taskbar.
    The article is well done no doubts but try using other brands also. It\s starting to sound biased.
    -6
  • ohim
    This article would be great if you could do : what you can buy for 1300 Intel parts and what you can by for 1300 AMD parts ... and put the 2 PCs to compeat to eachother :P it would be a more interesting article than just buy a pc and ... show what ?
    17
  • nerrawg
    Nice slick system this - looks like 2 x 260's is pretty good value at 1920 x 1200 for those that want to max out the settings in the most demanding games. Was wondering however if there is a good technical explanation for the power consumption results because they seem pretty strange?
    2
  • scrumworks
    Unsuprisingly Intel/nvidia line continues. I went AMD/ATI so take that Tom!
    5
  • ohim
    About nvidia still surprised that they didn`t removed the 185.85 forceware drivers since that`s a total failure of drivers and it`s still being posted as the latest drivers even on windows update. Guess once you get the crown you get to piss on your customers as well.
    -7
  • BaC-80
    I can not believe how much we get screwed on computer bits here in the UK
    I priced up the parts in this system and it comes out at £1098.00 on 26th May 2009 that means it comes out at $1740 a big difference
    Motherboard
    DFI LANParty Jr X58-T3H6 Micro-ATX
    Intel X58/ICH10R, LGA1366
    $220 uk £189.99

    Processor
    Intel Core i7-920
    Four Cores, 2.66 GHz, 8 MB Cache
    $289 UK £225

    Memory
    G.Skill 10666CL7T 6GBPK
    Triple-channel memory kit 3 x 2 GB
    $90 UK £80.73

    Graphics
    2 x BFG GeForce GTX 260 OC in SLI
    896 MB GDDR3-1998 Per Card
    590 MHz GPU, 1,296 MHz Shader
    $340 UK £343

    Hard Drive
    Western Digital Caviar Black
    640GD, 640 GB, 32 MB cache
    $75 UK £51.60

    Optical
    Lite-On iHAS422 DVD±R
    DVD Burner SATA
    $28 UK £22

    Case
    SilverStone TJ08-B Micro-ATX Mini-Tower
    $99 UK £59

    Power
    PC Power and Cooling Silencer 750 Quad S75QB, ATX12V 2.2, 80-Plus Certified
    $120 UK £88

    CPU Cooler
    Xigmatek Dark Knight S1283
    $40 UK £38
    1
  • SpadeM
    IzzyCraftThat's not a better solution it's just an AMD ATI themed solutionAlthough i guess it would be stronger in the fps in games it wouldn't be nearly as rounded system i rather have i7 because i do cpu heavy tasks just my viewI mean if they just wanted max fps they could have gone LGA775 with E8500 and shove 2 4890's in there i'm sure that would produce the highest fps.


    The system builder marathon was always, in my mind at least, a competition between value and performance and they tended to pick the latest technologies. Sure even now for $1300 or even $2500 you can go with a Q600 or a q9650 .. it would be cheaper and the performance is similar to that of a i7 but without the bragging rights. And so paying $500+ just for a motherboard that doesn't do much since it's not used to overclock in a extreme fashion, and a processor that's 10% maybe 20% faster then it's previous Quad generations isn't going to cut it for me. That's why i was expecting a different quad core of another flavour, just to spice things up. And of course to top things off some new 4890. All in all it would have been a more balanced system that caters to the wishes of the enthusiast.

    With all that said i can hardly wait for tomorrows $600 system, i wonder what GPU, RAM, PSU and HDD got picked to go with the ... i7+X58 combo
    0
  • ifko_pifko
    I just don't understand why the $2500 PC is equiped with intel stock cooler and this one with much better xigmatek...
    Also higher overclock of this system vs $2500 PC seems silly if you actually intend to compare them and calculate price/performance ratio.
    5
  • skora
    While I agree that a small water system would do wonders for the cooling solution, isn't a rear mounted radiator the first ingredient for a disastrous PORTABLE system? The last thing I want if I'm lugging my case in and out of a trunk is exposed parts that can leak.
    2
  • NaNoSoLdIeR
    wouldn't Scythe Ninja 2 be a better cooler for this system? I think it's the same price as the one used... And judging by my own experience with it it would have made the airflow from front to back possible.
    If u had cut holes in the bottom near the fan for the graphics cards wouldn't it help?
    I would have cut a hole big enough to fit a fan put a net over the fan, that would seriously cut those temperatures (I think)...
    0
  • Proximon
    This one is a bit of a nightmare. I can say that, I hope, because I contributed to the parts selection thread and feel partly responsible. The case is too cramped for the system. Who could have guessed on the cooler though?
    Maybe one of the top-down Scythes would have been better.
    The 650W draw was a bit of a surprise. Good thing it's a PC P&C.
    0
  • JeanLuc
    The noise table - If I was casually looking at the graphs I might be inclined to think that the default GPU fan ran at a fraction of the noise of the fan at full speed but when you look at the numbers it's more like a 20% increase. A bit misleading.

    Good choice of CPU cooler although I might have gone with a the Titan Fenrir instead. However as ifko_pifko points out why did the more expensive $2500 system use a stock cooler yet you had the budget in the cheaper system for 3rd party cooling, very odd.
    0
  • enterco
    Quote:
    Now, we can get to the heart of things: game benchmarks. This is what a portable LAN-party-sized system is made for in the first place, and is unfortunately where the CPU overclock will likely deliver diminishing gains as the resolution is raised and the graphics cards become the bottleneck.

    If it were 'portable lan-party-sized', it wouldn't contain two dual-slot graphics cards on a micro-atx case, because of improper cooling. The choice of CPU heatsink it's also bad, and it may pose problems when the system is moved if handled improperly.
    0