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System Builder Marathon, Sept. '09: $2,500 Performance PC

Following component installation and a full battery of benchmarks, it was time to find out just how far our hand-picked system could be pushed.

As with motherboard, DRAM, and drive selection, we used knowledge gained from previous articles to make our BIOS settings easier. Because of its same-model processor, we were able to use the settings from our Phenom II X4 955 Overclocking Guide as a baseline, moving up from there as the better cooling of our system permitted.

A slight bump in voltage compared to our previous overclock allowed us to reach 3.91 GHz, compared to the earlier article’s 3.86 GHz. A difference of around 0.05 GHz would hardly be worth the expense of liquid cooling, and we further had to put all the fans on high to get here.

Those wondering why we didn’t simply choose 19.5 x 200 MHz, rather than 19 x 206 MHz, to reach 3.9 GHz must be warned that this MSI motherboard doesn’t have an actual 200 MHz setting. Instead, the board sets 201 MHz when 200 MHz is selected, taking the overclock to 3.92 GHz, and those few extra megahertz were enough to destabilize the system under long-duration stress testing. We’d rather suggest that readers go back to our original overclocking guide’s 3.80 GHz and 1.45V core for this particular build, since it noticeably reduces energy, heat, and noise.

Our Crucial DDR3-1333 CAS 9 supported the same relatively-tight timings at DDR3-1648 on this AMD platform as it had at DDR3-1600 in its original Core i7-based test. Notions about AMD requiring different memory to yield similar results can rightly be dismissed.

Almost as impressive as the CPU and memory overclock are the GPU and graphics RAM speeds. The video card we chose was pre-packaged at an overclocked 880 MHz GPU and GDDR5-3996 (up from the reference spec 850 MHz/GDDR5-3800), and we pushed it to 930 MHz GPU and GDDR5-4600. As impressive as these numbers might sound, they’re not big percentage-wise and we’d be happy to see them return at a 10% performance improvement.

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