Tom's Intl. $750 Cheap Computing Challenge

USA System Configuration And Overclocking

USA System Configuration

Once the system was up and running, we benchmarked performance without enabling energy-saving features. With some data gathered, it was time to start testing just how we could lower power consumption while maintaining performance. And last, we would explore our ultimate intentions for this system: overclocking with as little increases to voltages as possible.

At stock speeds, we enabled EIST (Enhanced Intel SpeedStep Technology) and CPU Enhanced Halt (C1E) in the BIOS. We next installed Gigabytes Dynamic Energy Saver Advanced utility and found complete stability running the CPU voltage switch at level three, providing the greatest drop in idle VCore. The last attempt to lower consumption within DES failed as we lost stability when turning on the utility's CPU throttling control.

We next turned to Windows Vista’s Power Options explored in this review, and found the balanced setting to be the best option for our system, lowering the watts consumed with barely any loss of performance. Lastly, the Antec Three Hundred’s two case fans were overkill even on low speed so we disconnected the 140 mm fan to shave 1.2 Watts of consumption. After stability testing and running our complete test suite, it was time to move onto overclocking.


The E0-stepping Wolfdale processor did not disappoint, remaining stable at 3.95 GHz with VCore manually set to VID (1.25V), and the CPU fan on auto control. Sticking to this voltage was crucial, as any attempt to lower or raise VCore also disabled SpeedStep’s throttling of CPU voltage. We had no luck utilizing the DES Utility while overclocking, and thus had a bit higher idle VCore versus stock speeds. But fortunately, the system was totally stable without the need to increase any other voltages. It came as a pleasant surprise the G.Skill memory even ran fine at 4-4-4-12 timings at 1.8V, as we figured either  timings would need to be relaxed or DIMM voltage bumped up.  

Lastly we turned toward getting more performance from the Radeon HD 4850. We didn’t push the Sapphire card to its limits, but instead used AMD's Catalyst Control Center to overclock, so 2D clock speeds would cycle lower. We maxed out the core at 700 MHz, but left the memory down a bit so there was no need to manually increase the GPU fan speed to cool these bare memory chips. Again, using Vista’s Balanced power option setting, we stability tested the system further and then proceeded to run the test suite.

Stay tuned. Once the other three countries participating in this challenge finish introducing their respective $750 systems, we'll publish the benchmark results and winning configuration.

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USA System Test Configuration
ComponentBase SettingsOverclock Setting
CPUIntel Core 2 Duo E8500 3.16 GHz, FSB-1333, 6MB Cache3.95 GHz (9.5x 416 MHz), FSB-1664, 1.250V Core (VID)
CPU CoolerArctic Cooling Freezer 7 ProUnchanged
MotherboardGigabyte GA-EP45-DS3L, Intel P45, BIOS F10 (11/10/2008)Unchanged
RAM4.0 GB G.SKILL PI Black PC2 6400, 2x 2048MB, DDR2-800, CL 4-4-4-12 at 1.8VDDR2-832 4-4-4-12 1.8V
GraphicsSapphire 100245L Radeon HD 4850 512MB, 625MHz GPU, 1986 MHz Memory Data Rate700 MHz GPU, 2340 MHz Memory
Hard DrivesWestern Digital Caviar Green WD10EADS, 1TB, 32MB CacheUnchanged
SoundIntegrated 8-Channel HD AudioUnchanged
NetworkIntegrated Gigabit NetworkingUnchanged
PowerAntec EarthWatts EA380 380WUnchanged
OpticalLITE-ON 20X DVD±R SATA Model iHAS120-04Unchanged
Row 11 - Cell 0 Software and DriversRow 11 - Cell 2
Operating SystemWindows Vista Ultimate 32-bit, SP1Unchanged
Graphics DriverAMD Catalyst 8.12Unchanged
Onboard Device DriversIntel
  • xx12amanxx
    The Phenom 940 uses less power than your chosen cpu when cool and quiet is enabled at idle and it only cost's a tad bit more.

    Difference of opinion but i think quad's are now cheap enough that not considering one to get maximum life and performance is a bad mistake.

    Dual''s will go the way of single cores soon.
  • kirvinb
    I totally agree with 12aman....the quads can outperform duals in anything that takes full advantage of their cores...pretty soo it will be everything!...8500 still is a good cpu...if you had to go dual i think that was the best choice...still you could of grabbed a amd 920 for under 200 now and get fantastic results.1
  • Noya
    This article it lame. The corporate world cares about server energy use, the home PC user/gamer could give a s**t.
  • dirtmountain
    1.2 watts of consumption by disabling the 140mm fan? Give me a break.
  • Son_of_Blob
    This article is way past its use by date.

    What's needed now is a bang for buck review of a basic but powerful Core i7 versus Phenom II quad core rig....and then some game loving overclocks to see what can be done....with a comparison of stock coolers versus 3rd party air cooling too.

    Something like this for the Intel side:

    i7 920
    Asus P6T non deluxe mobo (or decent equivalent).
    3GB DDR3 triple channel Kingston Value RAM with XP Pro(not overpriced 6 GB on a Vista 64 bit OS..let's wait for Windows 7).
    GTX260(216 version) or a 4870 1GB, say.
    Decent 750watt PSU, i.e. a Zalman, to allow possible 2 way SLI or CF.

    That's the current sweet spot for people on a budget who want to get the best way forward at the moment.

  • enewmen
    I don't know why THG uses Vista 32 so much?? Even 8 megs of DDR2-1066 RAM is getting cheap now.
    This makes me think 64 bit apps made to use more than 4 gigs won't take off for a LONG time or people just don't want it (like the new curved screen iPod).
    I also agree with most posters the days of dual-cores are very limited even though most apps can't use 4 cores yet. Personally I think a cheap E0 Yorkfield or Phenom-II makes much more sense in this case..
    1 TB hard-drive? I like big drives. But, that's 10x more storage than then average econo user will use. Unless future apps will actually efficiently use lots of drive space like the 64bit apps can address & use 8+ gigs of RAM.

    SonOfBlob, it seems to me the Intel system your describing is will cost way more than $750.
  • Why use the WD Green Drive? The WD Black or Hitachi 7K1000.B are much better choices for Mainstream/ all-round usage according to Tom’s Winter 2008 Hard Drive Guide. They both can be had for less than $115.
  • Siffy
    Why use a rotating drive at all if performance + low power is the goal? An OCZ Core V2 or Solid would provide better throughput and access times for less than half the wattage draw of even a 5400rpm disk. And you can pick up a 60GB Solid for
  • Onus
    Well Noya, I think that's a problem; people ought to care more. Just my opinion, but why pay for something you don't need? The choice to buy or build a low-energy PC is not an isolated decision; the same guy probably uses CFL bulbs, drives a fuel-efficient car (and doesn't take many short trips in it), keeps his thermostat on reasonable settings (75F in summer), runs only full loads of laundry, etc. Any one of those may not make a huge difference, but they add up.
  • pauldh
    xx12amanxxThe Phenom 940 uses less power than your chosen cpu when cool and quiet is enabled at idle and it only cost's a tad bit more.Difference of opinion but i think quad's are now cheap enough that not considering one to get maximum life and performance is a bad mistake.Dual''s will go the way of single cores soon.Phenom II's were not an option as component selections were prior to NDA and as a requirement needed to be readily available in retail.

    Other Quad core's in general were avoided for our system as looking over the benchmark suite, they just don't currently win enough to warrant the consumption. There will be no bonus points awarded for a possible advantage in future aps/benches. But, we'll soon find out if any of the other countries went the quad route.

    For now, take a look back at this article.,2010.html