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System Builder Marathon, Q2 2014: A Balanced High-End Build

Power, Heat, And Efficiency

I configure my builds to maximize low-load energy savings. The same doesn't look like it applies to Don's approach. Or, maybe his motherboard didn’t idle down properly even with those settings enabled. Either way, the new $1600 build appears to draw far more energy under load, and even the 80 PLUS Gold-rated power supply in last quarter's $2400 machine couldn’t promote power-savings with GeForce GTX 780s rendering away.

And now for the shocker: my new $1600 configuration doesn't run cool enough. But should we blame its cooler?

The above chart doesn’t tell the whole heat story, since my measurements were taken with both the GPU and CPU under duress. First, a CPU-only load would have dropped CPU temperature by up to eight degrees. Second, voltage levels approaching 1.30 V are extremely difficult to cool Haswell-based CPUs predating Devil's Canyon. Indeed, Thermaltake's cooler produced similar temperatures as the old MUX 120 that I use in motherboard round-ups to push the same Core i7-4770K up to 4.7 GHz. This truly was a bum processor for overclocking.

I could have spent twice as much money on CPU cooling to save a few degrees, and might have passed on a pass/fail system. But if I really wanted to be sure the platform would stay under its thermal threshold, I would have also needed more case cooling or an externally-venting graphics card cooler (you know, the noisy blower-style reference cooler from AMD that everyone hates). To that end, perhaps I could have used a GeForce GTX 780 rather than a Radeon R9 290X, since it appears that only Nvidia knows how to make a well-behaved blower-style cooler.

This quarter's $1600 build performs 3.4% better than Don's $1600 machine from last quarter at its stock settings, but falls a little more than 1% behind when both of us overclock. Again, it's a bummer that my CPU wouldn't stabilize above 4.2 GHz.

It’s also less efficient, and I can probably point to the graphics card’s high power consumption for most of that. The new CPU did need a bunch of extra voltage to run at its meager overclock though, which further hurt the new machine’s overclocked efficiency.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.