Posts tagged with intel
With Windows 8 right around the corner it’s time to build a new desktop PC that will scream for both development and gaming.
Having set a personal budget of around $1500 I started the arduous process that every DIY PC builder has gone through… researching parts and playing with specifications until it feels just right.
These are the parts I finally landed on and a second choice if my budget was lower that would deliver almost as much for a lot less.
Please note that Amazon prices go up and down all the time so keep an eye on your basket! :)
My list doesn’t include a keyboard, mouse or monitor as I already have ones I love. You probably do too.
I went with Intel’s fastest i7 non-Extreme desktop chip that allows over-clocking in case I felt like going that way (I haven’t yet).
If running virtual machines are an important part of your life – and for many developers that’s true – then check out the Intel Core i7-3770S which has Intel Virtualization for Directed IO (vt-D) but gives up the over-clocking and runs at a more modest 3.1GHz.
Cheaper: Intel Core i5-3570K Quad Core comes in at $110 less and provides very similar performance for games as the main difference is the reduced cache and lack of hyper-threading. If you’re not running heavily-multi-threaded applications you’re unlikely to notice much difference in performance.
MSI Z77A-GD65 $176
This “military-grade” Intel Z77 chipset based motherboard from MSI works great with the 3770K chip and provides 4 USB 3.0 sockets and 4 SATA 6Gbps ports instead of the usual 2 giving up PCI slots entirely for 3 PCIe instead. It can support three graphics cards in either SLI or CrossFire in x8/x4/x4 configurations and has Intel networking.
Cooling has been carefully thought out and includes head-pipes and a low-profile heat-sink. With a two-digit debug display, dual BIOS, UEFI support and one-button over-clocking it’s hard to mess this up.
BIOS flash update was painless.I didn’t have much luck with MSI’s Live Update as it doesn’t actually install things so just head to the driver download page and pick the drivers you’ll be using. In my case I skipped a number of the Intel ones such as the graphics, etc. You might be tempted to head to Intel’s site instead but I found newer versions were actually available from MSI instead.
Cheaper: Gigabyte GA-Z77-DS3H $110 has good reviews and includes the dual UEFI BIOS too but looses the x8/x4/x4 mode for 3 graphics cards, Atheros networking and is not as over-clocking friendly.
Corsair are a well known brand with a solid reputation. This RAM is fast at 10-10-10-27 timings, low-profile (don’t get in the way of large CPU coolers) and is provided as two 8GB modules not four 4GB which leaves you room to upgrade nicely in the future.
That is the RAM I meant to buy – alas I picked up the older XMS3 which is slower (11-11-11-30 at 1600MHz) and not recommended.
Cheaper: Corsair 8GB for $70 offering the same performance at half the capacity should be good enough for most games and development projects.
I’ve been maintaining my MacBook SSD article over the last few years and originally picked the Crucial C300 series that was superseded by the M4 and now I think the sweet spot in price, performance and reliability was the Samsung 830. That has since been replaced by the 840 Pro. Link & price updated!
Cheaper: At $98 the 120GB model of the Samsung 840 (non-pro) is hard to pass up.
If you need a lot more storage pair it with a 2.5TB Western Digital Caviar Green for $129 more to hold files that aren’t performance critical like video, music, photos etc.
Nvidia and ATI still battle it our going back and forth as leaders in a market that seems rather stale. I couldn’t resist aiming high-end card (the GTX 690 is just insane in both perf and price) and so settled on the GTX 680.
With most manufacturers basing their cards on the reference designs the only real choice is the bundle and RAM and clock speed tweaks. The EVGA comes in at a good price and the over-clocked version nudges up the perf for no extra cost.
Cheaper: The cheapest option would be to use the Intel HD 4000 graphics built into the CPU but gaming performance will suffer. I’d go for the EVGA GTX 660Ti 2GB at $295 instead.
I had a hard time choosing a case. My last PC was in the deliciously simple black Lian-Li PC60 all-aluminum and today’s market felt limited once you discount the spiky, alien or nightclub themed offerings.
The Antec One Hundred has a lot of positive reviews and has a nice black mesh look and painted interior for a very low price. The power supply lives in the bottom to provide better cooling and a lower center of balance. Cooling is via two two-speed fans at the rear either side of the CPU – a 120mm on the back and a 140mm at the top with air coming through the front of the case which appears as 9 mesh sections although only the top 3 are actually removable 5.25″ bays and the fourth segment holding a removable 3.5″ one.
I’ve had a fair amount of bad experience with poor power supplies. Some have blown out, rattled, tripped or turned out to be responsible for instabilities.
This time I decided to pay off the power gremlins with a very high quality, quiet, efficient and powerful-but-not-crazy power supply and I also wanted modular.
The cables came in a smart little sturdy bag and so assembly was a case of finding the right cable then routing it down to the power supply and finding the right offset in one of the two long banks of almost identical looking connectors. This was a little tricky but the connectors won’t let you put them in the wrong place.
Cheaper: Corsair’s CX600W $67 is half the price but gives up the modularity, some power and efficiency and quite likely produces more noise.
Build notes & noise
Self builds are never completely smooth and I was under the impression the 3770K did not come with a fan. It does but at that point I already purchased and unwrapped a CoolerMaster HyperN 520 seduced by the promise of a quiet 19dBA.
Noise is an important issue for me and running six fans (120mm back case, 140mm top case, 2x80mm CPU, power supply, graphics) was never going to be an acceptable option.Thankfully the power-supply fan is rarely even on and the 680 fan is very quiet.
The first step was to remove the CPU fans as they were the loudest and surprisingly the CPU did not get too hot – quite likely due to the sheer size of the heat-sink of the 520. Experimenting with the case fans revealed that the just the 120mm fan on low provided the least noise and still kept things reasonably quiet and plenty cool enough.
I wasn’t done yet while I could still hear it so tried a couple of replacement fans before settling on a Cooler Master Excalibur 120mm. This fan can be speed-controlled by the motherboard as it supports the 4-pin PWM system and given it’s close proximity to the CPU head-sink I plugged it into the CPU fan socket and configured the BIOS to control it to keep the CPU under 70 degrees C.
It runs whisper-quiet at 800 RPM when under normal workloads.
I couldn’t help but try the magic one-press over-clock button on the motherboard and watch the machine hit 4.2GHz which ran just fine for hours. If anything is holding that back it’s the fact I ordered slower Corsair memory by mistake :(
Still to come
Now that cooling is done (see above) my main areas of focus are:
- Try getting Intel 4000HD graphics switching via Virtu working on Windows 8 so that power usage drops under light loads
- Keeping an eye on disk space to see whether I should get a large mechanical drive or a second 256GB SSD… or perhaps a third in RAID-5.
In case you want to see the whole thing on Amazon I created a Listmania list Great Windows 8 gaming & developer PC self-build.
As promised here are some performance figures for my machine (with slower Corsair than above but 32GB of it) using Nvidia’s 306.23 WHQL drivers on Windows 8 64-bit RTM.
|Processor||Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-3770K CPU @ 3.50GHz||8.2||
Determined by lowest subscore
|Memory (RAM)||32.0 GB||8.2|
|Graphics||Nvidia GeForce GTX 680||8.1|
|Gaming graphics||4095 MB Total available graphics memory||8.1|
|Primary hard disk||72GB Free (238GB Total)||8.1|
PS I can’t believe it’s been 7 years since I last built a PC!
The performance is quite amazing.
World of Warcraft runs nicely under Windows giving an acceptable 20 fps at 1440×900 24-bit color 24-bit depth 1xmultisample with everything turned up high or on. Dropping down the anisotropic to mid-point and turning off the full-screen glow effect and smooth shading bumps that up to 30 fps.
Unplugging the power means ATI’s PowerPlay kicks in which can results in a 50% speed reduction as the X1600 GPU cuts it’s clock from 310MHz down to 128MHz and a similar drop for it’s 256MB GDDR3 RAM. You can turn this off by un-checking the PowerPlay option in the ATI driver settings.
Everest provides a few interesting details including some synthetic benchmarks that show memory performance to be near a Pentium D 820 with Dual DDR400 – a little disappointing given that the laptop is equipped with DDR2-667 SO-DIMM’s.
Memory was a single Micron 1GB module with 5-5-5-15 timings. I added another 1GB of Kingston – a more patient me would have picked up 1GB from Crucial for half Apple’s asking price. Installing the memory isn’t as easy as flipping up the keyboard on the TiBook but only required a couple of minutes and a small Philips screwdriver.
The CPU benchmarks are where it shines with it out performing the P4 530HT, P4EE HT and Athlon64 3200+. Only the Athlon64 X2 3800+ beat it in two of the three tests. FPU performance placed it directly below the desktop chips I’ve mentioned but comfortable margin above a P4 2.8GHz again on two of the three test. On FPU SinJulia it came second only to a 8 way P3 Xeon 550MHz…
Running Everest also shed some light on the internals. Worryingly it identified the Core Duo T2500 CPU as being an “Engineering Sample” but I’m putting this down to Everest warning at start-up that the current version doesn’t know much about Core Duo (Yonah).
The motherboard is identified as an Apple design equipped with the Intel Calistoga-G i945GM north bridge and Intel 82801GBM ICH7-M south bridge. These are part of the Centrino 3 (Napa) platform but having gone with the Atheros AR5006X Wireless instead of Intel’s own 3945ABG they’ve missed out on compliance. They’ve gained 108 MBit and extended range though.
The south bridge is home to Intel’s high definition sound using the SigmalTel STAC9220 and provides the two PCI-E x1 links to the wireless and Marvell Yukon 88E8053 gigabit Ethernet.
Everest was unable, sadly, to report any sensor information such as fan speed and CPU temperature. Hopefully this is possible in a future update. The hard drive was running at 42°c and is a Seagate Momentus ST9100824AS as I went with the stock 100GB 5400RPM.
First up is the clock… as far as I can tell Windows uses the BIOS to set/determine local time while Mac OS X uses it to store GMT and adds the appropriate time zone offset. For me here in the UK this just means a one hour shift either way but obviously the problem gets worse the further away from GMT you are.
Next is the keyboard.. While eject is mapped the various volume controls and brightness etc are not. Also get used to the Mac keyboard being slightly different to Windows – alt and Apple/Win are in each others places and various symbols are where they would be on a Windows keyboard – not where they are on your Mac’s.
One oddity is the SPDIF laser is on by default, shining it’s red rays out from the left of your laptop onto whatever might be nearby. Head into the SigmaTel Control Panel and disable Digital Output before somebody looses an eye.
One worrying thing is the battery life – something which Apple have been very quiet about indeed. Unplugging the power at 100% battery charge in Windows with all the default power saving stuff turned on reports a lifetime of around 2 hours with a few apps loaded but idle.
While this is on par with other T2500 based systems such as the ASUS A6J it falls a bit short of the 3-hour expectancy set by the Pentium M and significantly short of the PowerBook G4’s 5 hour. No wonder they didn’t want to mention it.
I’d hope that Intel will release updated chipset drivers that better under-clock the system on demand but I won’t hold my breath.
I recently splashed out on a Dell 24″ 2405FPW wide-screen display. With the 20% discount offer (Small Business site only!?), living in VAT-free Guernsey and shipping being a very reasonable £5 the whole thing came to a sound £588.
As I already own an LCD, the capable Iiyama 20″ E511, and my current Radeon 9800 Pro is equipped with just one DVI connector I was going to need a new AGP graphics card equipped with two or suffer blurry images.
Nvidia have decided, in their infinite wisdom, that their latest 7800 chipset won’t be doing AGP while the clueless at ATI are certain AGP cards should only come with one DVI and one VGA despite the triviality of DVI to VGA conversion and the impossibility of converting it back.
I briefly toyed with replacing my motherboard so I could get my hands on a good graphics card but found that only one manufacturer is producing a PCI Express motherboard that would take my 3.2GHz Pentium 4 because Intel changed the socket. That motherboard would require throwing away half my RAM, any other board would require I throw away my processor. I am quite happy with both…
Left with little choice I went for an older Nvidia 6800GT card, thankfully Overclockers have a good price.
Ordering something is never as simple as it should be and while OCUK got my graphics card out of the door in record time it wasn’t here the following day despite Royal Mail’s “Guaranteed Delivery”.
I typed in the number to their tracking and receive “Your item is progressing through our network”. I call them and once through the menu system am electronically told the exact same sentence. Only when a human operator comes on the line can I be told immediately “It’s delayed” although they can’t explain why…
I am reminded I am now eligible for a refund on shipping, which of course is the final joke of the process. Royal Mail know full well that Customer B, inconvenience by their failure, is not actually entitled to a refund. That goes to Customer A, the person who paid for shipping who is normally a big company and simply can’t be bothered reclaiming a few quid. It’s one step better than the money-back guarantee gimmick.
I can’t help but feel that having typed in my number to the web site, a message indicating that the item had been picked up at XX:XX and alas, had been delayed because of Y wouldn’t have been as annoying.
Chalk up another case where a company should try using it’s own services to see where it needs fixing…