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System Builder Marathon, Q1 2013: $1,600 Alternative PC

Ten Days, Ten Solutions?

And tomorrow we might not be together…

A little more than two days passed before my E1-stepping Core i5-3570K suffered a severe loss in memory stability. I spent the rest of the third day trying to figure out why the system was crashing all of the sudden.

It seamed that as soon as Windows finished its updates, the system was no longer stable. I reloaded everything on the Mushkin SSD twice before getting it stable with none of Microsoft's automatic updates. Day four rolled along and I started having trouble with the graphics cards. Uninstalling one of the two boards helped a little, and reloading the graphics driver once again appeared to fix all my stability problems. Until it didn’t.

I pulled the CPU and put it into a known-stable system, only to discover that there were no stable settings for it. Though I’ve never seen a bad CPU right out-of-the-box, this one appeared to be my first. So, I replaced it.

And then the USB 3.0 controller died. Could a bad motherboard have killed our precious processor? Bad boards happen. I had started this build with ASRock’s Z77 Extreme4, so I reached into my pile of Z77 Extreme4s and pulled out a replacement. That one worked fine for about one day, and then started throwing memory errors. The first motherboard was surely bad, but could the CPU’s damage have been caused by a bad setting?

ASRock defaults DDR3-2133 memory to 1.5665 V. Add in the 1% over-voltage we’ve been seeing nearly every board vendor sneak in over the past several product cycles, and we come up to around 1.68 V. I wasn't going to risk any more hardware to pull an exact reading. Instead, I switched to the low-voltage RAM from our previous build, along with its not-fried CPU.

Our memory errors went away, temporarily. But the second CPU was suffering more issues with its memory controller. It had been used with those potentially-problematic voltage settings, so the chances appeared good that its memory controller was just a little less damaged than its predecessor.

A fresh board, a fresh CPU, and fresh RAM later, and all was well. Well, for about one more day. Very minor stability issues started to occur on the third motherboard sample. Then another thought struck: could the CPU cooler be warping boards?

The motherboard was already lying on the bench, so I removed the CPU cooler, loosened its brackets, and then set the CPU cooler atop the CPU. Stability returned. Even though I followed all of the italicized must-dos on the previous page, the Z77 Extreme4 appeared to be flexing too far under the force of Noctua’s installation bracket.

With no Z77 Extreme4s left to continue this fiasco, I moved on to Gigabyte’s similarly-thick Z77X-UD4H. Though the board didn’t feel any stiffer, it also didn’t throw errors after taking on the load of Noctua’s installation kit.

  • Azn Cracker
    Aren't the 7870 myst only $240 a piece?
    Reply
  • Crashman
    Azn CrackerAren't the 7870 myst only $240 a piece?See This?
    Article TextThe prices in that table were what we paid when the parts were ordered, and a lot of them changed over the last six weeks. For example, the PowerColor card is $20 less, per board. Other prices are up. All told, then, the total cost of buying our machine and replicating the build is within $20 of our original invoice.
    Reply
  • mikenygmail
    Please call the graphics cards 7870 LE from the start, like this:
    "Video Cards: 2 x 7870 LE - PowerColor PCS+ AX7870 Myst Edition"
    After all, it is much more than a standard 7870.
    I had no idea it was the LE until I got to the third page.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    mikenygmailPlease call the graphics cards 7870 LE from the start, like this:"Video Cards: 2 x 7870 LE - PowerColor PCS+ AX7870 Myst Edition"After all, it is much more than a standard 7870.I had no idea it was the LE until I got to the third page.In AMD/ATI model lingo, LE stands for a cut-down part. So a Tahiti-LE wouldn't be a 7870 LE, it would be a 7950 LE. The fact that it carries the 7870 model number is unfortunate, but the article attempts to make it clear that this is indeed a Tahiti-LE
    Reply
  • stickmansam
    Why not the 7870XT like Sapphire calls it?
    Reply
  • Crashman
    StickmansamWhy not the 7870XT like Sapphire calls it?That's fine, please tell AMD to do the re-brand!
    Reply
  • pyro226
    "a board damaged a processor that in turn damaged every board it touched, which in turn would damage every processor it touched" and ram damaging a CPU?

    I think I'm a bit afraid to build computers now. If either of those situations would have happened to my $600 build, I would have cried and given up...
    Reply
  • I like that build better.. :D
    Reply
  • Fulgurant
    pyro226"a board damaged a processor that in turn damaged every board it touched, which in turn would damage every processor it touched" and ram damaging a CPU?I think I'm a bit afraid to build computers now. If either of those situations would have happened to my $600 build, I would have cried and given up...
    That sort of thing happens once in a blue moon. Don't let it bother you.

    I guess Tom's tale of woe summarizes why Intel recommends against higher than 1.575 volts on the memory controller of Ivy/Sandy:

    http://www.intel.com/support/processors/sb/CS-029913.htm#4
    IntelWhat are the Intel® Core™ i7 desktop processor DDR3 memory voltage limitations?Intel® recommends using memory that adheres to the Jedec memory specification for DDR3 memory which is 1.5 volts, plus or minus 5%. Anything more than this voltage can damage the processor or significantly reduce the processor life span.
    In any case, the performance benefits of overclocking memory on a Sandy/Ivy platform seem so miniscule that it's scarcely even worth considering. Buy memory capable of an appropriate speed @ 1.5V, and leave it be.

    (I know Tom mentions Intel's position on memory voltage on the last page of the article, but I wanted to re-emphasize it because I've seen literally hundreds of people dismiss Intel's statement on various hardware forums. When sites like Tom's Hardware push limits, even for questionable performance gains, we all benefit -- but when someone who's on a budget and might not know any better pushes limits on his own, hard-earned hardware, the results might be tragic. Tom's experiments with this stuff so we don't have to.)
    Reply
  • Crashman
    pyro226"a board damaged a processor that in turn damaged every board it touched, which in turn would damage every processor it touched" and ram damaging a CPU?I think I'm a bit afraid to build computers now. If either of those situations would have happened to my $600 build, I would have cried and given up...I told Chris the system was cursed, but he refused to let the project go after the seventh day. Three more days rescued the content, if not the hardware...
    FulgurantThat sort of thing happens once in a blue moon. Don't let it bother you.Once every 12 years is twice in 13 years too often...
    Reply