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Overclocking, Or Maybe Not

System Builder Marathon, Sept. 2011: $2000 Performance PC
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We recommend a continuous core limit of 1.38 V or less for Sandy Bridge-based processors, and a peak voltage of no more than 1.40 V on a regular basis. This recommendation is based on a vast number of processors we’ve seen live a long time or die rather quickly.

And yet, we test motherboards at 1.35 V CPU core due to problems we’ve experienced with certain voltage regulators taking out our precious CPUs when overstressed. Gigabyte’s board had no power issues in our review, so it should have been good for the increase from our award-winning press sample's 1.35 V to the 1.38 V asked of our retail purchase, right?

Unfortunately, we could not get the system to run reliably at 1.38 V. It behaved as though it was overheating, even though CPU temperatures remained well below the Sandy Bridge architecture’s high thermal threshold.

We can only guess that it was the voltage regulator that was overheating, and that makes sense because only half of its MOSFETs were covered with a heat sink.

We couldn’t even reach the 4.55 GHz frequency we achieved in our original review without slamming headlong into stability problems. Although we saw 4.7 GHz was seen, that clock rate couldn’t be maintained without blowing a high-pressure fan directly onto the motherboard.

Our memory encountered similar overclocking restrictions. Though we were able to shorten latency to CAS 8 at its rated DDR3-1866, increasing the base clock by 2% limited our timing optimizations to a change in tRAS.

The final overclock of 4.48 GHz is sure to hurt the value rating of our overclocked configuration, and we can only hope to achieve similar average performance to the previous build, even after the graphics card upgrade.

A memory data rate of DDR3-1901 is similarly disappointing for these DDR3-1866-rated modules.

Worse still, we were completely unable to overclock the graphics cards. Then again, with a stock GPU frequency of 772 MHz, we didn’t see the point of trying anything less than the 800 MHz we used when the system crashed repeatedly. More voltage might have helped, but the risk of using a higher voltage setting doesn't offset the minimal potential reward.

We even tried overclocking the graphics memory, and these cards crashed after only a 16 MHz increase. We speculated this might happen earlier in the piece, so we simply gave up trying to overclock EVGA's most entry-level GeForce GTX 580s.

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Top Comments
  • 15 Hide
    anonymous x , September 20, 2011 5:45 AM
    decembermousePoor case decision. Inadequate PSU (did you seriously expect good overclocking results?).

    No, this case cools better than many (most?) cases more expensive than it. 2x 120mm intake is more than adequate for SLI cards with room for air to flow between them. Did you even look at the power consumption numbers? The system when overclocked only consumed 697w at load from the wall (actual consumption is less), while the PSU is rated at 850w.
  • 12 Hide
    cangelini , September 20, 2011 7:20 AM
    iam2thecroweand also, there is no crysis 2 benchmark? why not? get some newer games to use for benching toms please.


    Check out Scott Wasson's excellent story about Crysis 2 on The Tech Report. Tons of artificial geometry to favor Nvidia's tessellation-emphasizing architecture. Not sure that's something we want to fold into our benchmark suite. We are looking at new games, but bear in mind that as soon as we ditch these, we kill the comparison points from the previous quarter. That's why you don't see the SBMs shift benchmark suites as often!
Other Comments
  • 4 Hide
    wrazor , September 20, 2011 4:55 AM
    Great article. I am wondering, if instead you had gone with the EVGA 3GB GTX 570 SLI, maybe OC would have been possible? 2000$ is quite a bit of money. I wonder how these babies would hold out for Nvidia's 3D experience? Personally I am not a big 3D fan in theatres(headache and stuff), but gaming has to have a chance. You had an article on projectors gaming experience? Do it with 3d performance\eyefinity with the system marathon builds? That would be really cool. :) 
  • -1 Hide
    Yargnit , September 20, 2011 5:01 AM
    I'm actually surprised that after the recent micro-stutter article you didn't opt for 3x 570's/6950's/6970's instead of 2x 580's. the First two should be cheaper than 2x 580's, while the third would cost very similarly.

    All three should have provided at least equal performance, and been better on intangible benefits to micro stuttering.
  • -1 Hide
    DjEaZy , September 20, 2011 5:17 AM
    ... a bit of stagnation in performance department... no big difference in Q2 and Q3 models... gonna wait til bulldozer...
  • 15 Hide
    anonymous x , September 20, 2011 5:45 AM
    decembermousePoor case decision. Inadequate PSU (did you seriously expect good overclocking results?).

    No, this case cools better than many (most?) cases more expensive than it. 2x 120mm intake is more than adequate for SLI cards with room for air to flow between them. Did you even look at the power consumption numbers? The system when overclocked only consumed 697w at load from the wall (actual consumption is less), while the PSU is rated at 850w.
  • -1 Hide
    Pawessum16 , September 20, 2011 6:10 AM
    Where the heck did they get that SSD for $170????? It's $205 on Newegg, and that's after a $35 price drop. What a steal....
  • 0 Hide
    Hupiscratch , September 20, 2011 6:14 AM
    These SBM keep becoming cheaper. At first was 5k, then 2.5k and now is 2k for the enthusiast one. The recession is beating hard.
  • 8 Hide
    karma831 , September 20, 2011 6:21 AM
    All I can say is...WOW you guys have bad luck with overclocking.
  • -1 Hide
    jestersage , September 20, 2011 6:29 AM
    maybe one of the 120mm fans should have been placed on the side panel? just wondering...
  • 9 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , September 20, 2011 6:44 AM
    all i have to say is, ditch the crappy Gigabyte motherboard and get sonething better, and for the price difference get the i5 2500k, its no real loss to the i7.
  • -4 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , September 20, 2011 6:47 AM
    and also, there is no crysis 2 benchmark? why not? get some newer games to use for benching toms please.
  • 2 Hide
    crisan_tiberiu , September 20, 2011 6:50 AM
    I have my i7 2600k @ 4,2 GHZ. But @ 4,4 my PC will shut down in Intel Burn test extreme setting. Try that aswell :) , without disabling the CPU protection in BIOS.
  • 4 Hide
    shoelessinsight , September 20, 2011 7:11 AM
    Personally, I would have gone with a 1.5 TB storage drive and used the extra cash on a motherboard with more overclocking potential. Still, it's good to see a GPU upgrade.

    Thanks for the builds!
  • 3 Hide
    cangelini , September 20, 2011 7:16 AM
    pawessum16Where the heck did they get that SSD for $170????? It's $205 on Newegg, and that's after a $35 price drop. What a steal....


    It was purchased on Newegg about a month ago in preparation for this series, actually =)
  • 6 Hide
    cangelini , September 20, 2011 7:18 AM
    YargnitI'm actually surprised that after the recent micro-stutter article you didn't opt for 3x 570's/6950's/6970's instead of 2x 580's. the First two should be cheaper than 2x 580's, while the third would cost very similarly.All three should have provided at least equal performance, and been better on intangible benefits to micro stuttering.


    As you saw in that piece, micro-stutter was most apparent on more mainstream cards. Something like the GTX 580 isn't going to demonstrate the issues seen there, whereas a GTX 560/HD 6850 might.
  • 12 Hide
    cangelini , September 20, 2011 7:20 AM
    iam2thecroweand also, there is no crysis 2 benchmark? why not? get some newer games to use for benching toms please.


    Check out Scott Wasson's excellent story about Crysis 2 on The Tech Report. Tons of artificial geometry to favor Nvidia's tessellation-emphasizing architecture. Not sure that's something we want to fold into our benchmark suite. We are looking at new games, but bear in mind that as soon as we ditch these, we kill the comparison points from the previous quarter. That's why you don't see the SBMs shift benchmark suites as often!
  • 0 Hide
    hmp_goose , September 20, 2011 7:34 AM
    Very educational. Thank you for the insight on what panned out and what didn't. (Tower CPU coolers like to feel ducted?)
  • 6 Hide
    Crashman , September 20, 2011 7:42 AM
    decembermouseNow I know we'll see the usual "well this is meant to be a learning experience, learn from our errors and improve for next time" comments, but these are not mistakes I expect to see Tom's writers making.
    No, because the only serious issue with the build was the motherboard VRM not outputting enough current to go to 1.38V. Everything else was great, which means everything else you commented on was wrong. You only need to look at the power and heat page to see how wrong. The big question is, what we should sacrifice to get the extra $100...in order to achieve an extra 5% O/C with another motherboard.
  • 1 Hide
    ScrewySqrl , September 20, 2011 7:43 AM
    A question I have is why none of the system builder marathon PCs at any price level spend $15-20 on additional fans? More airflow usually equals a cooler system.

  • -5 Hide
    qwertymac93 , September 20, 2011 7:58 AM
    TBH i would've traded the 580s for 570s(or 6970s) and got a better case. The 300 is a nice case on a budget, but this is a high end enthusiast PC, we can spare a few extra $ for better cable management, more airflow, better water cooling support, more expansion slots...

    Overall the build certainly wasn't bad, just not quite 10/10 for me :) 
    Oh, and do you think the overclocking would've been improved with a cooler that blows over the vrms, like the Cooler master GeminII S?
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