Part 4: 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 to seek out stable clock speeds we could count on through the duration of the series, including these warm summer months. We therefore did not push voltages as high as you’d 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.

Those of you unfamiliar with overclocking AMD processors can check out these two “How To” guides for overclocking both "unlocked" Black Edition and standard "locked" AMD processors. Here, we used BIOS overclocking to first find the highest stable CPU core speed, and then tweak some additional performance by raising the northbridge (NB), HyperTransport (HT) link speed, and memory frequencies.

Apart from a tedious Phenom II X2 550 BE overclock, which went late into the night, the procedure was straightforward and uneventful. Despite 3+ hours of success in Prime 95’s “Blend” test, the only solution found for complete stability in Grand Theft Auto IV and Need for Speed Shift was to knock the Phenom II X2 550’s core speed down almost 80 MHz.

Readers should keep in mind that, by mixing locked and unlock processors in today’s story, there’s more to look at with each overclock than just the CPU core speed. For instance, while the Phenom II X6 1055T easily hit the highest core speed, less multiplier flexibility led to pairing with the lowest HT link speed and memory frequency.

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 120 degree throttling limit. This air-cooled design consideration prevented torture testing, so 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. For comparison purposes, we’ll include data for the overclocked Intel Core i7-920 from Part 3 of the series.

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Test Hardware
ProcessorsAMD Phenom II X6 1055T (Thuban) 2.8 GHz, Socket AM3, 2000 MHz HT Link, 6 MB L3 cache. Overclocked to 3.864 GHz (14*276), 1.363 V, 2484 MHz NB, 1932 MHz HT Link
AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition (Deneb) 3.2 GHz, Socket AM3, 2000 MHz HT Link, 6 MB L3 cache. Overclocked to 3.708 GHz (18*206), 1.45 V, 2472 MHz NB, 2060 MHz HT Link
AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition (Callisto) 3.1 GHz, Socket AM3, 2000 MHz HT Link, 6 MB L3 cache. Overclocked to 3.774 GHz (18.5*204), 1.425 V, 2652 MHz NB, 2040 MHz HT Link
AMD Athlon II X4 640 (Propus) 3.0 GHz, Socket AM3, 2000 MHz HT Link, no L3 cache. Overclocked to 3.645 GHz (15*243), 1.45 V, 2430 MHz NB, 1944 MHz HT Link
Intel Core i7 920 (Bloomfield) 2.66 GHz, LGA 1366, 4.8 GT/s QPI, 8 MB Shared L3 cache, Overclocked to 4.0 GHz (21*190), 1.237 V idle, HTT Disabled
MotherboardsAsus Crosshair III Formula (Socket AM3) AMD 790FX /SB750, BIOS 1702 (5-26-10)
Asus Rampage II Extreme (LGA 1366) X58/ICH10,  BIOS 1504 (07/23/09)
RAMCorsair 4 GB (2 x 2 GB) DDR3-1600, 8-8-8-24 @ DDR3-1472 (X6 1055T), DDR3-1648 (X4 955 BE),  DDR3-1632 (X2 550 BE), DDR3-1620 (X4 640), 1.65 V
Corsair 6 GB (3 x 2 GB) DDR3-1600, 8-8-8-24 @ DDR3-1524 (Core i7-920), 1.6 V
GraphicsATI Radeon HD 5970 2 GB Stock @ 725 MHz GPU, 1000 MHz GDDR5
ATI Radeon HD 5870 1 GB OC @ 910 MHz GPU, 1270 MHz GDDR5
ATI Radeon HD 5750 1 GB OC @ 830 MHz GPU, 1320 MHz GDDR5
ATI Radeon HD 4890 1 GB OC @ 980 MHz Core, 1100 MHz GDDR5
Nvidia GeForce GTX 295  1792 MB OC @ 648 MHz Core, 1404 MHz Shaders, 1150 MHz GDDR3
Nvidia Geforce GTX 285 1 GB OC @ 712 MHz Core, 1620 MHz Shaders, 1332 MHz GDDR3
Nvidia Geforce GTX 260 896 MB OC @ 655 MHz GPU, 1404 MHz Shaders, 1125 MHz GDDR3
Hard DrivesWestern Digital Caviar Black WD6401AALS, 640 GB, 7200 RPM, 32 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s
PowerCorsair CMPSU-850HX 850 W
CPU CoolersXigmatek HDT-S1283
Xigmatek Dark Knight-S1283V
Software and Drivers
Operating SystemMicrosoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64
Graphics DriversAMD Catalyst 9.12
Nvidia 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
  • wildeast
    "such as NVidia’s GeForce GTX 400-series and revamp the benchmark suite with some new DirectX 11 titles."
    i'll be waiting for that, and maybe some i5 cpu to see what fit sli best
  • jsowoc
    "We set forth to measure the perfect balance in seven different games and four resolutions in this third of many parts." (?)

    I think you copied this paragraph from part 3 and forgot to change it to 4... ;-)
  • theshonen8899
    With the amount of love you guys have for the Athlon x3 I was really hoping to see it on here :\
    I guess I can kind of predict where it'd fall though.
  • Darkerson
    I love the in-depth articles like these. Keep 'em coming!
  • L0tus
    Brilliant piece.

    I wish I had read this before building my system as I can see that I clearly spent too much on my CPU instead of GPU (i5-750 + HD5770) . Would have done much better with (X2 550 BE + HD5850) !

    ...ain't hind sight a b***h!

    Also interesting to see how GPUs really start to distinguish themselves at higher resolutions. Again, brilliant work.
  • TheStealthyOne
    I built a computer for my brother using a Phenom ii 550 paired with a 5770, and it screams! Fantastic gaming chip! It just goes to show you can achieve fantastic performance by planning and balance.
  • garlik_bread
    Personally, i'd be interested to see results from a card with less han 1GB RAM on the GPU.

    On the lower end of the spectrum, with the lower resolutions, is the 1GB really necessary?

    Basically, i have a 512MB Asus 5770 and want to validate my purchase :D
  • plasmastorm
    Still running a Maximus formula 775 board with a Q6600, 8gb ram and a Radeon 5850 but this is certainly handy for future reference.
    Probably skipping the i5/i7 generation as I can still play anything at max settings on my 22" monitor while running a 2nd for a film tho :)
  • Tamz_msc
    Please test some newer games, which is essential for an article like this.
  • descendency
    plasmastormStill running a Maximus formula 775 board with a Q6600, 8gb ram and a Radeon 5850 but this is certainly handy for future reference.Probably skipping the i5/i7 generation as I can still play anything at max settings on my 22" monitor while running a 2nd for a film tho
    i5/i7 isn't a generation. it's like 5 or so.

    It's the same thing as C2D and C2Q