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Graphics And RAM

System Builder Marathon: The $4,500 Super PC
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MSI R4870X2-T2D2G-OC

The top choices for gaming power are multi-GPU solutions from Nvidia and AMD. You either have three-way SLI configured GTX 280 graphics cards or CrossFireX solutions with two dual-processor Radeon HD 4870 X2 cards. We looked at many benchmarks before deciding that a pair of HD 4870 X2s would be the better choice for our particular games, and would like to suggest that other buyers consider their favorite titles before making a purchasing decision.

Many manufacturers offer AMD’s top Radeon HD 4870 X2 solution, but only a few provide overclocked versions. We don’t like paying for someone else to do our overclocking, but when we ordered the MSI R4870X2-T2D2G-OC it was priced similarly to other models running at stock speeds. Sure, we’ll take the extra frequency.

Since we ordered MSI’s overclocked cards, instant discounts on this model have vanished at the same time as prices have decreased on some non-overclocked brands. With a difference of $60 for a pair of cards, we still have little to regret. MSI overclocks its graphics processor to 780 MHz, compared to the stock speed of 750 MHz, and we haven’t found any other changes. A higher base speed means we can rest assured that the cards will clock up to at least to the speed that MSI has set.

OCZ Technology OCZ3P16004GK

With 4 GB of RAM quickly becoming the standard Vista configuration, we wanted to take our system a step forward with 8 GB. This certainly should have been easy, given DDR3’s support for up to 16 GB per module, yet manufacturers have yet to make DDR3 modules above 2 GB widely available. We were stuck buying four modules, in the form of two sets from OCZ.

OCZ’s PC3-12800 Platinum Edition wasn’t necessarily our first choice here. Kingston HyperX had received top honors for its tight timings at high clock speeds in our Mainstream DDR3-1600 Shootout and was even listed at a lower price from NewEgg. Unfortunately, by the time our order was processed the parts we wanted were out of stock.

The truly unfortunate problem was that, based on factory-overclocked slower-speed parts, the modules we received ran hot. In fact, running four of them at rated voltage resulted in unstable temperatures at any reasonable speed. We knew in advance that performance memory would run warm, but certainly not this warm— especially when we considered that our case has a 220 mm intake fan blowing in this direction.

We had to drop the voltage significantly to get heat under control, which forced us to run several hours of stability tests to find the best stable timings even before we attempted to overclock anything. Rated at 7-7-7-24 timings and 1.90 volts, these so-called DDR3-1600 parts could only achieve CAS 8 (8-8-8-24) timings at DDR3-1333 using 1.76 volts. While overclocking revealed speeds could go somewhat higher, we couldn’t get the latencies lower at this voltage, and any additional voltage again caused overheating. This problem is far from unique. Every manufacturer we considered in our High-End Gaming System Comparison had left its memory at default speed and voltages (usually DDR3-1333, CAS 9, 1.50 volts), rather than attempt to reach the manufacturer’s rated specifications, and we think heat is the reason.

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