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The Truth Behind ASRock's X58 SuperComputer

Real World Test: We Bought One From Newegg

Given the previous two pages of overclocks, performance results, and BIOS settings, it'd be easy to assume that our previous results were a fluke. Adding the aforementioned observations to ASRock’s advantageous slot layout could make the X58 SuperComputer a winner in many minds.

But the preceding tests don't tell the whole story, nor do they entirely address the cause of our previous component failures. We needed to get to the bottom of the matter, if only to provide builders some peace of mind about what they can expect

If only to back up the findings from the boards provided by ASRock to test and re-test, we also purchased a retail board from Newegg to replicate earlier testing from our Sub-$300 X58 Motherboard Comparison. Intel even sent a replacement C0-stepping processor with the same batch number as the part we lost. Testing on other boards showed it has the same overclocking capabilities and voltage requirements of the unit it replaced.

Two minor changes were required to replicate real-world test conditions however. First, the PCB revision we received from Newegg was 1.03 (versus 1.04, which we used in the published motherboard comparison). High turnover keeps Newegg’s products ahead of most competitors, so this is probably the most recent version retail buyers will find for at least a week or two (we confirmed that Newegg has 43 boards in stock as of this writing). We also used the most recent BIOS version, since this is one of the first items on the checklist of many real-world overclockers.

Unfortunately, using our "review" setup (with the retail C0-stepping Core i7), we encountered the same issue, where keying in too-high of an input voltage, with the aim of achieving an ample output voltage under load, would result in overloading the VRM. And “Vcore Loadline Shallow_SLOPE” setting (not available on the rev. 1.03 board) does have something to do with it, as does our use of a C0, rather than D0, Core i7 processor.

Answering the "Why?"

Most C0 processors require more voltage to reach their overclock ceiling compared to later D0 parts. The added voltage puts more force against the circuit resistance, generating more heat, and consuming more electrical current (amperage). Among other things, an electrical formula known as Ohm's Law proves that if resistance is held constant, amperage increases in direct proportion to voltage. Our 1.45V target voltage would put a significantly higher load on the motherboard’s voltage regulator compared to the D0 core’s 1.416V goal, assuming that there weren’t any significant changes in material or design between core revisions.

Booting PCB Revision 1.03 at a 1.45V Vcore setting and a moderate 3.80 GHz overclock resulted in instability, with a 1.38V output reading at idle dropping to around 1.32V under load. With no automatic compensation for core voltage droop under load, we attempted to compensate manually by choosing a setting that would be closer to 1.45V output at idle. A BIOS setting of 1.50 volts provided an actual output voltage of 1.44 volts at idle, but this dropped to 1.36 volts under full CPU load. This 1.36V output was enough to keep the C0-stepping Core i7 stable at 3.9 GHz, at least for a quick test. But we wanted more because we knew the processor could do more.

Curious to find a setting that would yield the preferred 1.44 to 1.45 volt Vcore under full load, we used ASRock OC Tuner to find it at a 1.60V manually-keyed-in voltage, then backed down immediately prior to additional testing. A lower specified voltage would help to prevent damage when voltage spiked upon relieving the load, or so we thought.

Next would be the attempt to reach 4.0 GHz, a frequency commonly reached with our C0-stepping processor core. With an output voltage of 1.40V at full load, we felt safe trying the 1.56V setting for the 4.0 GHz attempt. After less than ten minutes under Prime95, the e-tail-purchased revision 1.03 motherboard failed. Fortunately, our CPU survived this time.

Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent anything bad from happening to your setup, if you also have a 1.03 board and C0 processor. Read on, for all is not lost here.

Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • goonting
    wow...greet board
    Reply
  • falchard
    There are several boards that can support 4 double wide GPUs like the MSI K9A2 Platinum.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    falchardThere are several boards that can support 4 double wide GPUs like the MSI K9A2 Platinum.
    K9A2 Platinum cannot support Core i7: The ASRock X58 SuperComputer is only ever compared to other LGA-1366 motherboards.
    Reply
  • goonting
    It supports both Nvidia and ATI...at minimal cost compared to ASUS, MSI, and Gigabyte variants
    Reply
  • Crashman
    9472126 said:
    It supports both Nvidia and ATI...at minimal cost compared to ASUS, MSI, and Gigabyte variants

    You do get a lot of features, but it's not cheaper than the competition. The big difference is that it supports four double-thick cards, as long as your case has enough room under the last slot.
    Reply
  • Shadow703793
    Quick question, what is the higher voltage limit for the i7? For example the C2D 45nm are said to be at 1.45v and 65nm are said to be at 1.5v. I define the higher voltage limit as the point where actual damage to CPU can happen (point on no return). Is it still 1.45v for the i7 as it's still 45nm?
    Reply
  • Crashman
    9472132 said:
    Quick question, what is the higher voltage limit for the i7? For example the C2D 45nm are said to be at 1.45v and 65nm are said to be at 1.5v. I define the higher voltage limit as the point where actual damage to CPU can happen (point on no return). Is it still 1.45v for the i7 as it's still 45nm?

    Yes, Tom's Hardware uses 1.44 to 1.45 volts for testing the overclocking capabilty of its Core i7 920 on various boards. The problem is that set voltage is never actual voltage, and an attempt to get 1.44-1.45V actual voltage would overload the VRM when using traditional voltage-changing methods on version 1.03 boards (and 1.04 with early BIOS). Newer BIOS on 1.05 boards (and 1.04 according to ASRock) allows setting electronic compensation which is much more responsive (than a person is) to changes in load, preventing damage.
    Reply
  • Marcus52
    It does not impress me that AsRock would continue to sell the older versions of this board; they should pull them all from newegg's stock and everyone else, fix them or throw them away, not foist them on un-suspecting buyers with rebates and free shipping offers. I know it is common practice for manufacturers to do what they are doing, but it is, to me, an abhorrent practice. If the problem could be fixed with just a BIOS update all well and good, especially for us early adopters, but it can't, so anyone hoping to overclock their i7 920 will be at risk - and a huge percentage of i7 buyers will overclock this chip even if they never have before because it is so easy and inexpensive (can even be done on stock air cooler to some degree).

    Kudos to them for their slot layout though, that is what would cause me to buy their board; much better use than, say, a daughterboard slot for a sound processor which might be good but I'm going to replace anyway (much as I love my Asus Rampage II Extreme, that 'feature' chaps me).
    Reply
  • hellwig
    Marcus52It does not impress me that AsRock would continue to sell the older versions of this board; they should pull them all from newegg's stock and everyone else, fix them or throw them away, not foist them on un-suspecting buyers with rebates and free shipping offers.
    Unsuspecting buyers? I'm pretty sure you can read their warranty where they tell you that manually adjusting settings is dangerous and can void your warranty. Believe it or not, there is actually a reason companies tend to recommend against overclocking their products, because you are taking the product out of its designed specifications.

    I don't think any of these ASRock boards are failing out of the box with a stock CPU, and therefore, ASRock has no responsibility to pull or repair these boards. Should Ford re-build your engine cause you used jet fuel instead of regular gasoline?

    Anyone who knows enough to overclock their CPU should know that they do so at their own risk.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    Marcus52Kudos to them for their slot layout though, that is what would cause me to buy their board; much better use than, say, a daughterboard slot for a sound processor which might be good but I'm going to replace anyway (much as I love my Asus Rampage II Extreme, that 'feature' chaps me).
    You know that Rampage II audio riser slot also supports x1 cards: Asus has some nice x1 sound cards.
    Reply