Part 3: Building A Balanced Gaming PC

Overclocking, Test System Configuration, And Benchmarks


The goal here was not to set any air-cooled overclocking records with our hardware samples, but rather seek out stable everyday clock speeds we could count on throughout the duration of the series, including the upcoming warm summer months. We therefore did not push voltages as high as you’ll see in other articles. Load temperatures or diminishing returns from extra voltage were among reasons for dialing back a bit from the maximum stable overclock.

Preliminary testing at our lowest resolution, pairing the most powerful graphics card with a 3.8 GHz overclocked Core i7-920, determined HTT (Hyper-Threading Technology) provided no benefit in the series' current 3D game suite. Disabling HTT, however, reduced load temperatures by a good 12 degrees Celsius, allowing us to then push the processor to 4.0 GHz and still maintain lower temperatures.

BFG’s factory overclocks were used for both the GeForce GTX 260 and GTX 285. For other graphics cards, the GPU itself was dialed down about 20 MHz from its limit, while graphics memory was reduced by 20-30 MHz. The lone exception is the Radeon HD 5970, which didn’t get far without additional voltage. Once we added more juice, the card could no longer run Furmark without the VRM temperatures skyrocketing upward to the throttling limit. Considering this design consideration prevented torture testing, we chose to play it safe and run all Radeon HD 5970 numbers at the card’s stock speeds.

Be sure to check the test configuration table below for specifics on the overclocks achieved.

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Test Hardware
ProcessorsIntel Core i7-920 (Bloomfield) 2.66 GHz, LGA 1366, 4.8 GT/s QPI, 8MB L3 cacheOverclocked to 4.0 GHz (21*190), 1.237V idle, HTT Disabled Intel Core i5-750 (Lynnfield) 2.66 GHz, LGA 1156, 8MB L3 cacheOverclocked to 3.98 GHz (21*189), 1.328V idle Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 (Yorkfield) 2.66 GHz, LGA 775, FSB-1333, 12MB L2 cacheOverclocked to 3.697 GHz (8.5*435), 1.328V idle, FSB-1740Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 (Wolfdale) 3.0GHz, LGA 775, FSB-1333, 6MB L2 cacheOverclocked to 4.4GHz (9*489), 1.384V idle, FSB-1956Intel Pentium E6300 (Wolfdale) 2.8 GHz, LGA 775, FSB-1066, 2MB L2 cacheOverclocked to 3.876 GHz (9.5*408), 1.400V idle, FSB-1632
MotherboardsAsus Rampage II Extreme (LGA 1366) X58/ICH10, BIOS 1504 (07/23/09)Asus P7P55D-E Pro (LGA 1156) P55 Express, BIOS 0806 (03/25/10)Asus Rampage Formula (LGA 775), X48/ICH9R, BIOS 0902 (4-28-09)
RAMCorsair 6GB (3 x 2GB) DDR3-1600, 8-8-8-24 @ DDR3-1524 (Core i7-920), DDR3-1516 (Core i5-750), 1.6VCorsair 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2-1066, 5-5-5-15 @ DDR2-1045 (Q9550), DDR2-980 (E8400), DDR2-1088 (E6300)
GraphicsATI Radeon HD 5970 2GBStock @ 725 MHz GPU, 1,000 MHz GDDR5ATI Radeon HD 5870 1GBOC @ 910 MHz GPU, 1,270 MHz GDDR5ATI Radeon HD 5750 1GBOC @ 830 MHz GPU, 1,320 MHz GDDR5ATI Radeon HD 4890 1GBOC @ 980 MHz Core, 1,100 MHz GDDR5Nvidia Geforce GTX 295  1792MBOC @ 648 MHz Core, 1,404 MHz Shaders, 1,150 MHz GDDR3Nvidia Geforce GTX 285  1GBOC @ 712 MHz Core, 1,620 MHz Shaders, 1,332 MHz GDDR3Nvidia Geforce GTX 260 896MBOC @ 655 MHz GPU, 1,404 MHz Shaders, 1,125 MHz GDDR3
Hard DriveWestern Digital Caviar Black WD6401AALS, 640GB, ,7200 RPM, 32MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s
PowerCorsair CMPSU-850HX 850W
CPU CoolersCooler Master Hyper 212 PlusXigmatek Dark Knight-S1283VXigmatek HDT-S1283
Operating SystemMicrosoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64
Graphics DriversAMD Catalyst 9.12Nvidia GeForce 195.62
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Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
CrysisPatch 1.2.1, DirectX 10, 64-bit executable, benchmark tool, Very High Quality, No AA
Far Cry 2Patch 1.03, DirectX 10, in-game benchmark, Ultra High Quality, 4x AA
S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Clear SkyAverage of 4 segments 'a-tested object', DirectX 10/10.1, Ultra High Quality, EFD Lighting, no MSAA
Grand Theft Auto IVPatch, in-game benchmark, High Quality Settings, High Textures, Medium View Distance
Fallout 3Patch 1.7, Custom THG Benchmark "Capital Wasteland" (60 sec.), Ultra High Quality, 4x MSAA, 15x AF
Need For Speed ShiftPatch 1.02, Custom THG Benchmark "Dakota GP" (60 sec.), Highest Quality, 4x AA/ 16xAF
World In ConflictPatch 1009, DirectX 10, timedemo, Very High Quality, 4x AA / 16x AF
  • fatkid35
  • ColMirage

    Glad to see the last part of the series. Very useful!
  • liquidsnake718
    I love how on the first page picture of all the games on this article show the games that truly take a toll on GPU's and CPU's. You are however missing Metro 2033 and Dirt 2 in DX11 which obliterates some GPUs in DX11!
  • IzzyCraft
    A metro 2033 graph wouldn't be interesting it would start at 0 and end at 5 for most set ups :D
  • The choice of Corsair Dominator for the RAM is surprising, given that there are equally fast and stable choices at a much lower price point. OCZ, G Skill, Crucial, etc. I still love their power supplies though.
  • duk3
    ColMirageGlad to see the last part of the series. Very useful!
    They mentioned a part 4 in the article, with overclocking AMD processors.
  • kaintfm
    The choice of Corsair Dominator for the RAM is surprising, given that there are equally fast and stable choices at a much lower price point. OCZ, G Skill, Crucial, etc. I still love their power supplies though.
  • agnickolov
    And where is the Core i3 530? This is the real gaming gem of a CPU, but I hardly see it in any reviews @ Tom's...
  • manitoublack
    Bought 2 GTX295's on release and run them on my i7-920, in SLi at 640MHz. Still over a year on and there still almost top dog.

    Great review Toms, and makes it easier to sleep at night knowing that 14months on little can touch what I've got regardless of the $1600AUD buyin.
  • FUtomNOreg
    Very enlightening though, given my current rig's specs, thoroughly depressing. Curse you for breaking my delusion that my PC was adequate! I feel an overwhelming urge to upgrade coming on.....