Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo E8500
Our first order of business was deciding which processor would offer the performance we desired without consuming excess power. The Intel Core 2 Duo 45nm Wolfdale chips looked to be attractive options, especially if we could get one with Intel's E0 stepping. The E8600 was a bit expensive for this budget, but fortunately it’s now common to find both an E8500 and E8400 with the stepping we wanted.
Clocked at 3.16 GHz with 6MB of L2 cache, the E8500 is no slouch at stock speeds. But our thinking was that these clock speeds could be pushed quite a bit higher without raising voltages--something we haven’t had much success doing with cheaper E7300 or E5200 Wolfdale CPUs.
CPU Cooler: Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro
Without raising the processor voltage, we probably could have just used the retail Intel cooler, but priced at $19, the Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro was easily within budget and has performed well in our recent budget systems. It has copper heatpipes, directs air out towards the rear case exhaust fan, and has a PWM variable speed 92 mm fan, which could save a bit of power consumption versus a fixed-speed fan.
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3L
In choosing the E8500, it was pretty much a given that we would use an affordable Intel P45 chipset motherboard. Offering stability, performance, and excellent overclocking abilities at an affordable price is reason alone to choose such a platform, but power consumption is also a key concern in this challenge. Unlike the P35, X38, and X48 chipsets, which are etched at 90 nm, the P45 is a 65 nm product, landing it at the top of our list.
We didn’t need a motherboard loaded with expensive energy-consuming features, so the affordable Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3L, which has proven itself in the past couple System Builder Marathons, was chosen for this challenge as well. It uses Gigabyte’s Ultra Durable solid capacitor design, and comes packaged splashed with stickers promoting power efficiency features such as Dynamic 4-Gear power switching, a VRD 11.1 Design, and Dynamic Energy Saver Advanced technology.