Assembly And Overclocking
This time around, with an established Core 2 Quad CPU and P45-based motherboard, we have very little to report about the hardware assembly and operating system installation.
All of the components fit inside the Rosewill Wind Ryder case without complaint, including the long Radeon HD 4870 X2.
Our only concern was that the massive Xigmatek HDT-S1283 cooler would pose a problem and prevent the case cover from fitting, but although it appeared to be close, it never touched a thing.
As we mentioned, the case surprised us with its good finish, build quality, and quiet fans, which are somewhat uncommon traits to discover in such a low-priced case.
Once everything was put together, the Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3L motherboard booted up without a hitch, using proper multipliers and frequencies without a BIOS upgrade. We didn't need to make a single tweak. The 32-bit Vista Ultimate operating system also installed without incident.
We happily continued by benchmarking the system without crashes or any other incidents of note. We then turned our attention to overclocking the happy little system.
As with our experience assembling the system, it wasn't much trouble at all to overclock this month's enthusiast system. Unfortunately, without a more expensive liquid-cooling setup, temperatures were once again our limiting factor.
We're not complaining about the job our Xigmatek HDT-S1283 did because it performed well for an air cooler in the situation in which it was placed, but there's no denying that a Q9550 can produce a lot of heat when pushed.
We tweaked some voltages and settings and were able to boot to a front side bus (FSB) speed of 400 MHz on the first try and a 3.4 GHz CPU speed. Encouraged, we tried to up the bus speed but encountered crashing.
We set the Vcore to 1.35 V and to 1.3 V for the CPU termination, MCH core, and ICH core. Memory was upped slightly to 1.9 V, and we limited the PCI Express (PCIe) bus to 100 MHz. We turned off virtualization and thermal throttling as well. With these settings we were able to set the FSB to 425 MHz, for a 3.61 GHz clock speed.
Without pushing further, we wanted to see how hot and stable the system was at this speed, so we performed some Prime95 testing. While the system was completely stable, the Speedfan monitoring application reported temperatures of 77 degrees Celsius at load. Since we accepted high temperatures in our Core i7 920 testing from our last SBM (and considering that the CPU would probably never be stressed that hard except in a synthetic benchmark like Prime95), we continued with the ~800 MHz overclock and called it a day. A clock speed of 3.62 GHz is an acceptable overclock for a Q9550 on air and we wanted to produce some results that a buyer might reasonably expect from similar components.
Sapphire's 4870 X2 card was the next overclocking focus. In our experience, dual-GPU cards like the 4870 X2 can be a little fussy when overclocking, but we were happy to see that the card would allow us to max out the Catalyst driver's Overdrive option without displaying any artifacts. Unfortunately, the driver maxed out at an overclock of 780 MHz on the core and 950 MHz on the memory, which was a mere 30 MHz core overclock and a 50 MHz memory overclock. While this won't break any overclocking records, it turned out to be almost identical to the overclock we got in our e8500/4870 X2 SBM build, which overclocked at 777 MHz core and 950 MHz memory.
Locked and loaded, we went forth into benchmarking territory...