Setting Up The Comparison
As mentioned, we used retail Core i5-750 and Core i7-860 processors in this experiment—probably the two most likely candidates for the enthusiast treatment. The i5 is a sub-$200 component shown to reliably hit 4 GHz or more, while the i7-860 is a sub-$300 alternative that adds Hyper-Threading support, a 2.8 GHz base clock rate, and one extra bin of Turbo Boost with a single-thread active.
Why no Core i7-920? That’s also a completely viable option, especially if you tend toward high-end gaming and need the extra PCI Express 2.0 connectivity afforded by Intel’s X58 chipset. But for roughly the same price as our Core i7-860, the -920 adds a third memory channel, loses 133 MHz of base clock frequency, and isn’t as aggressive with its Turbo Boost binning. Additionally, buying the LGA 1366-based chip means investing in a pricier X58-based motherboard, too. Lynnfield and P55 are probably more representative of what value-oriented enthusiasts are going to want from a new build.
Our choice of motherboard might leave some folks scratching their heads, but there’s sound reasoning behind going with Intel’s DP55KG.
First of all, the technical reasons: our go-to for this one was Asus’ Maximus III Formula. But after updating the board to the latest BIOS posted on the company’s site, it no longer ran stably with our retail CPU and Corsair Dominator memory kit. Hoping this was just a fluke, we swapped over to Gigabyte’s P55A-UD6, which ran wonderfully with Turbo Boost turned on, but got all choppy when Turbo Boost was manually disabled. Benchmarks would run fine, but actually launching apps and navigating through Windows felt as if our powerful machine was a decade-old Pentium II.
So, hoping for an easy remedy, we swapped over to Intel’s DP55KG, which performed well in Thomas’ most recent P55 motherboard roundup. If any board was going to work properly, we surmised, it’d be Intel’s own enthusiast-oriented offering. And sure enough, the Kingsburg board did the trick, and we were back on track.
The rest of our choices were designed to minimize bottlenecks. ATI’s Radeon HD 5850 is what we’d consider to be the best enthusiast buy right now, and a second-gen Intel 160GB SSD alleviates pressure on storage. Two 2GB modules of Corsair’s DDR3-1600 Dominator GT DDR3-2200 8-8-8 memory allowed us to run at DDR3-1600 frequencies without any stability issues.