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Processor: Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650

System Builder Marathon: High-Cost System

What can we say about Intel's Core 2 Extreme QX9650 that we haven't already? With two dual-core Penryn dice in a single package, the Wolfdale "core" features 12 MB of total L2 cache and a 45 nm manufacturing process, that when paired with Intel's latest "High-K" gate oxide technology, has allowed these units to run up to 4 GHz on air cooling.

Of course, that "Air-Cooled 4.0 GHz" can only be accomplished under ideal conditions. Loading up a system in a case increases air temperature around the cooler, with the resulting increase in core temperatures acting as a barrier to high overclocks. But while high speed case fans could resolve that issue, we chose a more elaborate liquid cooler to allow even higher clock speeds without offensive noise levels.

A high price had made the QX9650 the only 45 nm processor with good availability, as 45 nm dual-core processors are continuously sold-out. Yet if $1,060 for the Core 2 Extreme QX9650 makes buyers a little light-headed, prices for the few QX9770 units we've found would cause them to faint.

Motherboard: Asus Striker II Formula

It probably wouldn't shock most readers to learn that Tom's Hardware doesn't pay for most of its parts, but instead must request samples from various marketing departments. The deadline for selecting today's components passed around a month ago, and a firm launch date for anticipated 790i SLI models had not yet been established. We needed a "Wolfdale" supporting SLI motherboard to replace our former Striker Extreme, and we found it in the Asus Striker II Formula.

While we might have missed an early chance to look at an upcoming 790i SLI model, we have no regrets about our 780i SLI based Striker II Formula, since this is a stable and full-featured part. Its features include PCI Express 2.0 for two of the three PCIe x16 slots, full x16 pathways to all three slots, dual Gigabit networking, and a shielded "SupremeFX-II" audio riser card for enhanced sound quality.

The Striker II Formula includes a full cable kit, dual cooling fans to assist the VRM sinks in a liquid-cooled system, SLI and 3-Way SLI bridges, an externally-accessible system status display panel, a full cable kit and the game Company of Heroes.

To keep our system portable, we did not install the system status display panel, which would have otherwise dangled by its cable.

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