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Limited Overclocking

System Builder Marathon, Q2 2013: The $400 Spirit Of Mini-ITX
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Antec’s TriCool fan is super-quiet at its lowest setting. Although the CPU and GPU load temperatures I measured were well within reason, though, I chose to test using the more audible medium setting, just to increase airflow over board components. The highest setting was far noisier, conflicting with one of this build’s goals, so I maintained the same middle setting for overclocking, too.

The platform I picked prevented me from increasing processing frequency, but that didn't mean I wasn't going to leave system performance alone. For starters, memory data rate is limited to 1333 MT/s on the Pentium G860, and our kit defaulted to 9-9-9-24 2N timings. The board did allow manual tuning though, and Crucial’s DDR3-1600 modules proved stable set to 7-7-7-24 1N at a stock 1.5 V.

We then shifted focus to graphics. The low-profile Sapphire Radeon HD 7750 ran cool and quiet out of the box with an 800 MHz GPU and memory operating at 4500 MT/s. Topping out in our Far Cry 3 burn test at 59 degrees Celsius at just 41% fan duty cycle, we knew the graphics processor was capable of more.

Using MSI Overdrive, I raised the power limit by 10%, and created a more aggressive fan profile that'd remain quiet during desktop use, but also assure GPU temperatures would remain in-check while overclocking. Cape Verde topped out just below its preset 950 MHz maximum, while the memory soared to 1250 MHz.

I ran a few tests and found that GDDR5 memory overclocking was very beneficial. 3DMark 11's Graphics suite went up over 80 points. More important, frame rates in each of our game benchmarks were up 1-2 FPS at important settings. But considering the small enclosure and my desire for controlled acoustics, no attempts were made to explore unofficial overclocking limits.

Rather, I dialed frequencies back a bit and tested with a 925 MHz core and 1225 MHz memory. At those settings, the customized fan profile ramped up as high as 60%, keeping the GPU from exceeding 60 degrees Celsius. This turned out to be far more pleasing than even our $650 PC's Tahiti-based Radeon HD 7870, as far as noise went.

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