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System Builder Marathon, March 2010: $3,000 Extreme PC

Motherboard And CPU

Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD7

Focusing on the “perfect balance” of current performance and future expansion meant finding a motherboard that would support today’s relatively-affordable Core i7 models and any six-core upgrades, currently affordable three-DIMM kits plus three additional modules, our current single-card and future CrossFire-graphics upgrades, and future SATA 6.0 Gb/s and USB 3.0 expansion needs. Only the X58 chipset can do all those things today, and even it requires add-in controllers to get the job done.

Read Customer Reviews of Gigabyte's X58A-UD7

With all of the above-noted features (plus dual eSATA, dual Gigabit Ethernet, support for up to 10 internal SATA drives, a massive 24-phase voltage regulator, and the builder’s choice of enormous air or liquid heat-pipe cooling), Gigabyte’s GA-X58A-UD7 appears to be the best choice for our particular needs.

CPU: Intel Core i7-920

Our previous System Builder Marathon (SBM) used a 2.8 GHz processor, but a change in socket type required us to “downgrade” to a CPU that’s only 2.66 GHz at stock settings and doesn’t even have the high Turbo Boost multipliers of our previous selection. Further adding to the apparent loss in CPU value, the replacement model sells for the same price as the faster one it replaces.

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Read Customer Reviews of Intel's Core i7-920

Fortunately, Intel’s Core i7-920 processor (especially with the  most recent stepping) is famed for its overclocking capabilities, unlike the dud i7-860 we used last December. This means that, while most of our CPU-limited benchmarks will suffer slight losses at stock settings, our overclocked configuration should solidly defeat the previous build.

  • zoemayne
    More than 64GB is gonna be needed for multiple games and good apps... those ssd's can only handle 5 games max.
    Reply
  • zoemayne
    the case is sick it just needs a black interior
    Reply
  • Crashman
    zoemayneMore than 64GB is gonna be needed for multiple games and good apps... those ssd's can only handle 5 games max.
    You're repeatedly ignoring that it's 128GB, not 64GB, because the article repeatedly states that the drives are striped (Level 0) by the RAID controller. And there's a terabyte of added storage on top of that for stuff that isn't programs.
    Reply
  • sid1712
    I couldn't have made it better. Amazing rig for a 3k budget.
    Reply
  • Onyx2291
    Nice fail there Zoe.

    This thing is a beast.
    Reply
  • anamaniac
    Nice as it is, my only complaint is that...
    Overclocked 5970 + i7 on a single 120.2?
    ARE YOU MAD!
    Likely.

    Well, I personally would have dropped something else and gone for a 120.3 or 140.3 radiator. =D
    Hell, maybe even a 140.4 radiator, but then again, I like my system to run chilly and silent. It's also be very difficult to mount a 140.4 I assume. Maybe I could jack a radiator form work, I think it's about 1 metre by 3 metres by half a metre. Granted, it's for industrial use, but just for one day, please boss please?

    Good results on the i7 though. Decently low voltage and still managed to reach 4.3GHz. My i7 is a lemon. It makes me sad. =(
    Also an impressive overclock for a 5970.

    At this kind of power, you should be testing multi monitor resolutions. I have a 5770 and I run 7 megapixels, you use a 5970 and only run 4 megapixels.

    Looking forward tho the $1,500 build. See how my build compares to one six months older on a similar budget (and cry).
    Reply
  • tacoslave
    i cried when i saw that 5970. in action
    Reply
  • tacoslave
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U9l-XQzdRGg&feature=related this is what happened when i saw that 5970 in action "I CAME"
    Reply
  • Crashman
    9490893 said:
    Nice as it is, my only complaint is that...
    Overclocked 5970 + i7 on a single 120.2?
    ARE YOU MAD!

    Well, the explanation is in the conclusion, the builder wanted redundant storage instead of the big radiator but chose neither, leaving enough room in the budget for anyone who wanted to copy the build to make their own upgrade choice.

    But what's not in the budget is that the water was never hot, it was barely warm. The problem with running the CPU at 100% load and the GPU at 100% load is that the water temperature went up by around 10 degrees...we're talking about going from the 30's to the 40's here at full load. The article points to the GPU cooler as a likely flow restriction so I have three solutions:

    Solution 1: Add 1/2" by 3/8" adapter T's and cool the chipset block, parallel to the GPU block. That would allow some of the water to bypass the GPU cooler, which is OK since the GPU was always cold. But 1/2" by 3/8" T's are hard to find outside of a hardware store, and Newegg certainly doesn't have them.

    Solution 2: Switch to a 3-fan radiator. A 4-fan unit won't fit nicely into that case, and making an ugly system wasn't considered a solution.

    Solution 3: Add a second liquid-cooled 5970 parallel to the first. Get twice the GPU power and completely unblock the lines in the process. The GPUs would run slightly hotter when each gets only half the water, but at least the CPU block's flow won't be restricted. And...since it's probably adding another 10 degrees to the coolant...stick the three-fan radiator in there as well. For FOUR grand you could have a KILLER system!

    OK, so solution 1 is the cheapest, but you have to admit solution 3 is tempting...
    Reply
  • Sihastru
    I kinda like it. Dramatic power increase for the overclocked components. But also dramatic performance increase.

    Another solution to the constricted water flow would be to change the block on the 5970.

    This build gets one and a half thumbs up from me, not that anyone cares...
    Reply