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USA System Configuration And Overclocking

Tom's Intl. $750 Cheap Computing Challenge

USA System Configuration

Once the system was up and running, we benchmarked performance without enabling energy-saving features. With some data gathered, it was time to start testing just how we could lower power consumption while maintaining performance. And last, we would explore our ultimate intentions for this system: overclocking with as little increases to voltages as possible.

At stock speeds, we enabled EIST (Enhanced Intel SpeedStep Technology) and CPU Enhanced Halt (C1E) in the BIOS. We next installed Gigabytes Dynamic Energy Saver Advanced utility and found complete stability running the CPU voltage switch at level three, providing the greatest drop in idle VCore. The last attempt to lower consumption within DES failed as we lost stability when turning on the utility's CPU throttling control.

We next turned to Windows Vista’s Power Options explored in this review, and found the balanced setting to be the best option for our system, lowering the watts consumed with barely any loss of performance. Lastly, the Antec Three Hundred’s two case fans were overkill even on low speed so we disconnected the 140 mm fan to shave 1.2 Watts of consumption. After stability testing and running our complete test suite, it was time to move onto overclocking.


The E0-stepping Wolfdale processor did not disappoint, remaining stable at 3.95 GHz with VCore manually set to VID (1.25V), and the CPU fan on auto control. Sticking to this voltage was crucial, as any attempt to lower or raise VCore also disabled SpeedStep’s throttling of CPU voltage. We had no luck utilizing the DES Utility while overclocking, and thus had a bit higher idle VCore versus stock speeds. But fortunately, the system was totally stable without the need to increase any other voltages. It came as a pleasant surprise the G.Skill memory even ran fine at 4-4-4-12 timings at 1.8V, as we figured either  timings would need to be relaxed or DIMM voltage bumped up.  

Lastly we turned toward getting more performance from the Radeon HD 4850. We didn’t push the Sapphire card to its limits, but instead used AMD's Catalyst Control Center to overclock, so 2D clock speeds would cycle lower. We maxed out the core at 700 MHz, but left the memory down a bit so there was no need to manually increase the GPU fan speed to cool these bare memory chips. Again, using Vista’s Balanced power option setting, we stability tested the system further and then proceeded to run the test suite.

Stay tuned. Once the other three countries participating in this challenge finish introducing their respective $750 systems, we'll publish the benchmark results and winning configuration.

 USA System Test Configuration
ComponentBase SettingsOverclock Setting
CPUIntel Core 2 Duo E8500 3.16 GHz, FSB-1333, 6MB Cache 3.95 GHz (9.5x 416 MHz), FSB-1664, 1.250V Core (VID)
CPU CoolerArctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro Unchanged
MotherboardGigabyte GA-EP45-DS3L, Intel P45, BIOS F10 (11/10/2008) Unchanged
RAM4.0 GB G.SKILL PI Black PC2 6400, 2x 2048MB, DDR2-800, CL 4-4-4-12 at 1.8V DDR2-832 4-4-4-12 1.8V
GraphicsSapphire 100245L Radeon HD 4850 512MB, 625MHz GPU, 1986 MHz Memory Data Rate 700 MHz GPU, 2340 MHz Memory
Hard DrivesWestern Digital Caviar Green WD10EADS, 1TB, 32MB Cache Unchanged
SoundIntegrated 8-Channel HD Audio Unchanged
NetworkIntegrated Gigabit Networking Unchanged
PowerAntec EarthWatts EA380 380W Unchanged
OpticalLITE-ON 20X DVD±R SATA Model iHAS120-04 Unchanged
 Software and Drivers
Operating SystemWindows Vista Ultimate 32-bit, SP1 Unchanged
Graphics Driver AMD Catalyst 8.12 Unchanged
Onboard Device Drivers Intel Unchanged
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