Huawei API v4.0

Sunday, February 28, 2010

System Builder Marathon, Sept. '09: $1,250 Enthusiast Build

System Builder Marathon, Sept. '09: $1,250 Enthusiast Build

I'm fully prepared for the legions of people who will call me crazy for the path I have chosen in this month's $1,250 System Builder Marathon (SBM) build, which addresses the legions of readers who wanted to see a series based on AMD-based platforms. A part of me would have liked to play it safe, but sometimes a hardware reviewer has to do what a hardware reviewer has to do. So, with my colleague Thomas Soderstrom wielding double my budget, I went outside the box a little bit to see if I could work a little magic from my build to keep this little competition interesting.
The heart of this beat remains fairly basic for a $1,250 AMD-based box: there's a nice Phenom II X4 945 CPU, 4GB of low-latency DDR3 memory, a premium 790FX-based motherboard, a solid power supply, and a good case. It's the choice of graphics cards--well, more specifically, the quantity of graphics cards where I left the tried-and-true formula behind:

$1,250 Enthusiast AMD PC Parts Prices
MSI 790FX-GD70
AMD 790FX, AM3
AMD Phenom II X4 945
Four Cores, 3.0 GHz, 6MB Cache
Patriot 4GB (2 x 2GB) PVS34G1333LLKN
Dual-Channel Memory Kit
4 x Gigabyte GV-R485OC-1GH Radeon HD 4850 in CrossFire
1GB GDDR3-1996 Per Card, 700 MHz GPU
Hard Drive
Western Digital Caviar Black
640 GB, 32 MB cache
Sony Optiarc AD-7240S-0B
NZXT Tempest ATX Tower
PC Power & Cooling S75CF, ATX12V 2.2, 80-Plus Certified
CPU Cooler
Xigmatek Dark Knight S1283

Total Cost

That's right folks, it's not a typo--there are four graphics cards in this $1,250 build. Read on, and I'll explain.

Video Cards, Motherboard, And Case

Video Cards: 4 x Gigabyte GV-R485OC-1GH in CrossFire

This was the choice that shaped the build, which is obviously the most controversial component in the list. Why did I choose four Radeon HD 4850s? Let me guide you through the thought process.
I wanted to make this AMD box a formidable gaming machine, and to do that, I needed to consider some real horsepower. In fact, I originally tried to fit two Radeon HD 4870 X2 cards into the budget. I could have made it work, but the tradeoffs would have been hard to live with: we would have had to settle for a dual-core Phenom II X2 550 or a triple-core Phenom II X2 710 to make it workable. In addition, we would have had to spec out a monster power supply capable of handling a pair of mammoth Radeon HD 4870 X2 cards.
The next logical step was to use four 512MB Radeon HD 4870s instead, to save money. This allowed us to budget a true quad-core Phenom II, a better motherboard, and a nicer case. Unfortunately, we couldn't find a suitable PSU at a reasonable price that we were confident could handle our quartet of Radeon HD 4870s. Remember that each card would require two PCI Express (PCIe) power cables just to run the graphics subsystem alone. Yes, we could have used molex-to-PCIe adapters, but we weren't confident it would be a good choice for a stable system, because we didn't have all the money in the world to spend on a top-tier power supply.
Then it occurred to us: why not use Radeon HD 4850s? This choice would allow us to get cards with 1GB of memory instead of 512MB, and we could get overclocked models that would perform closer to the Radeon HD 4870s we craved while remaining within our budget. Lo and behold, we found Gigabyte's GV-R485OC-1GH, and it fit the bill so nicely:

With a 700 MHz core clock rate (versus the reference 625 MHz) and a full gigabyte of memory (not to mention a nice, quiet aftermarket cooler) each GV-R485OC-1GH gave us just what we needed at a low $120 price tag.
Will four of them provide epic gaming leetness? For the price, maybe. We're well aware that CrossFire provides diminishing returns as we scale up, especially past two cards. It might turn out that we could have been better served by two Radeon HD 4890s. It might turn out that the low-end pair of Radeon HD 4850s in CrossFire matches the system's performance due to driver limitations. But you know what? We're doing it anyway, just because we want to see what it can do.

Motherboard: MSI 790FX-GD70

We weren't kidding when we said the decision to go with four graphics cards heavily affected every choice thereafter. For example, it was the MSI 790FX-GD70 or nothing, as we couldn't find any other motherboard that would provide the usable space for four dual-slot Radeons in CrossFire.
Sure, there were other boards with four PCIe slots out there, but most of them will only realistically handle three dual-slot graphics cards because of the way the slots are spaced. But just because we didn't have a choice doesn't mean we were disappointed. The 790FX chipset is ideal for our purposes, and MSI's board has an excellent reputation as an enthusiast piece. At $165, it ate up a good chunk of our budget, but it was worth every penny.

Chassis: NZXT Tempest Mid-Tower Case

Now that we have a motherboard and graphics card, where are we going to put them? Our experience has shown us that the NZXT Tempest is a great case with a lot of airflow. But more importantly for this specific application, it offers a lot of space for graphics cards. Even with the power supply mounted below the ATX-sized motherboard, the Tempest leaves us more room than a lot of its competitors, which makes it an easy pick. The $100 price tag is reasonable, too.

Power Supply, CPU, And Cooler

Power Supply: PC Power & Cooling S75CF

It's a little ironic that the reason a PC Power & Cooling PSU wasn't ideal for our previous microATX build is precisely what makes it so attractive this time around. In our last SBM, we experienced less-than-ideal airflow out of our CPU cooler because the power supply didn't pull air from below.
This time, however, we're mounting the PSU below the motherboard, and since it only takes air in from the rear, we don't have to worry about it interfering with the lowest graphics card's airflow. In addition, the S75CF is CrossFire-ready with four PCIe power adapters, which are just enough to feed our quad-CrossFire Radeon HD 4850s. This is a great PSU for this application at $120.

CPU: AMD Phenom II X4 945

Usually, the CPU decision is foremost in our SBM articles, but this time around it was a bit of an afterthought, since the AMD theme was a foregone conclusion. With the graphics cards shaping the meat of the build, we simply picked the best CPU our budget could handle when the rest of the components were picked. In this case, that processor was AMD's Phenom II X4 945.
Sure, it doesn't have an unlocked multiplier like the 955 and 965, but we have the feeling it'll probably overclock almost as high, so it's a natural choice. And its current $170 price tag is agreeable (although we should add that prices have dropped a lot since we completed our build and the $190 Phenom II X4 955 is looking a lot more attractive).

CPU Cooler: Xigmatek Dark Knight S1283

The Xigmatek Dark Knight can dissipate a good amount of heat for the $37 price tag, which we’ll use to push the hot CPU and GPU heated air upwards and towards the NZXT Tempest case's upward-facing exhaust fans.

Memory, Hard Drive, And Optical Drive

Memory: Patriot 4GB (2 x 2GB) Dual-Channel Memory Kit PVS34G1333LLKN

Phenom processors like low memory latencies, and this kit is a good deal at $85 when you consider that it sports relatively low 7-7-7-20 latencies at 1,333 MHz.
It had just gone out of stock when we ordered it, but we were able to buy Patriot's PVS34G1333LLKN anyway as part of a kit, although it was priced a little higher (probably due to the included 2GB USB key with the full version of FutureMark's 3DMark software).

Hard Drive: Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB 32MB Cache

A single drive is more cost-effective than a RAID setup, and a striped RAID array won’t offer a perceptible performance increase for the typical user. Of course, a redundant array is appealing for data protection, but it wouldn’t easily fit within our $1,250 price ceiling.
We went with the Western Digital 640GB with 32MB of cache. Now at $75, this drive is a good choice with decent speed and a good amount of space, allowing us to stay within budget.

Optical Drive: Sony Optiarc AD-7240S-0B

We've used Sony's Optiarc drives to good effect before, and the OEM model was so reasonably priced we couldn't resist. We didn't have room in the budget for anything fancy like a Blu-ray drive, so we settled for this 24x DVD/CD rewritable combo unit.

Assembly And Overclocking

This system was well thought out during the planning stages, and it really paid off with a smooth, clean assembly. The NZXT Tempest affords a lot of space, and the graphic cards weren't even difficult to fit together in MSI's well-placed PCIe slots.

Our only complaint--and it's a nitpick, really--is that the Gigabyte GV-R485OC-1GH graphics cards didn't come with CrossFire cables, which is a shame since they are premium Radeon HD 4850 offerings. While MSI thoughtfully included two cables with the motherboard, three are necessary for quad-CrossFire usage, so we had to use an extra one we had lying around.
Other than that, we have absolutely nothing to report. Everything ran smoothly on first boot and the Catalyst Control Center (CCC) was happy to utilize all four cards in CrossFire. With such a fringe setup, we assumed there'd be a bit more to do, but no fiddling was necessary.


Overclocking was a bit more involved. The graphics cards bombarded the case with heat, since these Gigabyte Radeon HD 4850s don't push their hot air out of the back of the case. The Xigmatek CPU cooler thus had to earn its keep.
The system would boot to 4 GHz, but the CPU really wanted a lot of voltage to get there. Of course, voltage begets heat, and heat begets instability. I suspect if the graphics cards exhausted their heat out the back of the case, or if we'd have had some liquid-CPU cooling, our overclocked numbers would have been a lot more impressive.
At the end of the day, with 1.46V fed to the CPU, we found a balance of speed and heat at a reference clock rate of 245 MHz and at the stock 15x multiplier, we were able to settle on a stable clock speed of 3.675 GHz. This is nothing epic, but is not terrible for a 24/7 overclock.
In order to keep memory latencies low, we had to choose a ratio that gave us a slight memory underclock to 1,306 MHz, but still allowed us to maintain the 7-7-7-20-27-1T timings. We also lowered the HyperTransport link multiplier to 9x, and the CPU-NB link to 8x. Northbridge voltage was increased slightly to 1.3V, and ACC was set to “Auto.”
The graphics cards were completely unwilling to budge at all in our overclocking efforts. While this is unfortunate, it's not entirely unexpected as the cards have a high factory overclock, meaning less headroom right out of the gate. We're also dealing with four cards in CrossFire, and the environment is not ideal for overclocking. On the positive side, these four Radeons are powerful enough to be held back by the CPU speed, so the CPU overclock should show us some positive gains.

Test System And Benchmarks

A couple notes here: we'll compare this system against the previous $1,300 SBM machine, which was based on a Core i7-920 with two GeForce GTX 260s in SLI.
Unfortunately, we didn't benchmark that system at 2560x1600 before sending it off to the lucky winner of that machine, which is where I anticipate the four Radeon HD 4850s would have shown the biggest advantage. While this is a pity, we'll be able to compare 2560x1600 game benchmarks against Thomas' $2,500 AMD system in the SBM conclusion article, so that will just have to suffice.

$1,250 AMD Enthusiast PC Test Settings

Standard Speed
AMD 790FX, AM3
AMD Phenom II X4 945 @ 3 GHz,
200 MHz Reference Clock
 3.675 GHz at 1.46V
245 MHz Reference Clock
Patriot PVS34G1333LLKN 4GB DDR3-1333
2 x 2GB, CAS 7-7-7-20
4 x Gigabyte GV-R485OC-1GH
Radeon HD 4850 in CrossFire
  1GB GDDR3-1998 Per Card, 700 MHz GPU
Hard Drive
Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB
7,200 RPM, 32 MB Cache SATA 3.0 Gb/s
Sony Optiarc AD-7240S-0B
NZXT Tempest ATX Tower
PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750 Quad S75CF
750 W, ATX12V 2.2, 80-Plus Certified
CPU Cooler
Xigmatek Dark Knight S1283

$1,300 Portable Performance PC (from previous SBM) Test Settings

Standard Speed
DFI LANParty Jr X58-T3H6 microATX
Intel X58/ICH10R, LGA 1366
Intel Core i7-920 2.66 GHz,
2.80 GHz Turbo, 133 MHz Bclk, 1.36 V (load)
 3.44 GHz at 1.296V (load),
172 MHz Bclk
G.Skill 10666CL7T 6GB DDR3-1064
3 x 2GB, CAS 8-8-8-19, 1.56V
 DDR3-1378 at 1.56V,
CAS 8-8-8-19
2 x BFG GeForce GTX 260 in SLI
  896MB GDDR3-1998 Per Card
590 MHz GPU, 1,296 MHz shader
600 MHz GPU, 1,300 MHz shader,
Hard Drive
Western Digital Caviar Black 640GB
7,200 RPM, 32 MB Cache SATA 3.0 Gb/s
Lite-On iHAS422 SATA
SilverStone TJ08-B microATX Mini-Tower
PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750 Quad S75QB
750 W, ATX12V 2.2, 80-Plus Certified
CPU Cooler
Xigmatek Dark Knight S1283

Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
Patch 1.2.1, DirectX 10, 64-bit executable, benchmark tool
Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA
Test Set 2: Very High Quality, No AA
Far Cry 2
DirectX 10, in-game benchmark
Test Set 1: Very High Quality, No AA
Test Set 2: Ultra High Quality, 4x AA
World In Conflict
Patch 1009, DirectX 10, timedemo
Test 1: Very High Details, No AA/No AF
Test 2: Very High Details 4x AA/16x AF
Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.
DirectX 10.1, in-game benchmark
Test Set 1: Highest Settings, No AA
Test Set 2: Highest Settings, 4x AA
Fallout 3
Patch, Saved Game "Capital Wasteland" (60 sec)
Test Set 1: Highest Details, No AA, No AF
Test Set 2: Highest Details, 4x AA, 15x AF
Audio/Video Encoding
iTunes 8
Version: (x64)
Audio CD ("Terminator II" SE), 53 min
Default format AAC
Lame MP3
Version: 3.98 64bits (07-04-2008)
Audio CD "Terminator II," 53 min.
wave to MP3
TMPGEnc 4.6
Import File: "Terminator 2" SE DVD (5 Minutes)
Resolution: 720x576 (PAL) 16:9
DivX 6.8.5
Encoding mode: Insane Quality
Enhanced multithreading enabled using SSE4
Quarter-pixel search
Xvid 1.2.1
Display encoding status = off
Mainconcept Reference 1.6.1
MPEG2 to MPEG2 (H.264), MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG2), Audio: MPEG2 (44.1 kHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kb/s), Mode: PAL (25 FPS)
Autodesk 3ds Max 2009
Version: 11.0, Rendering Dragon Image at 1920x1080 (HDTV)
Photoshop CS4 (64-bit)
Version: 11.0 Extended, Filter 15.7 MB TIF Image
Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Gisoft AVG Anti-Virus 8.5
Version: 8.5.287, Virus database 2094, Benchmark: Scan 334 MB Folder of ZIP/RAR compressed files
WinRAR 3.80
Version 3.80, WinZip Command line Version 3.0, Compression = Best, Dictionary = 4,096 KB, Benchmark: THG-Workload (334 MB)
WinZip 12
Version 12.0, Compression = Best, Benchmark: THG-Workload (139 MB)
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark Vantage
Version: 1.02, GPU and CPU scores
PCMark Vantage
Version: 1.00, System, Memory, Hard Disk Drive benchmarks, Windows Media Player
SiSoftware Sandra 2009 SP3
Version 2009.4.15.92, CPU Test = CPU Arithmetic / Multimedia, Memory Test = Bandwidth Benchmark

Benchmark Results: Synthetics

As usual, 3DMark Vantage is the first synthetic we'll scrutinize, comparing this month's stock and overclocked configuration against last quarter's $1,300 setup.

Yes, the i7/GTX 260 SLI combo starts strong, but as resolution and detail are increased to the Extreme preset at 1920x1200, the AMD-based $1,250 system establishes a solid lead. Clearly, the four Radeon HD 4850s are showing their strengths here, despite the faster i7-920 processor from the April SBM build.


PCMark favors the April SBM's i7 platform by about 10-15% in general, but by 20-30% when it comes to the Memories test. No big surprises here, as the i7 is a formidable opponent for the Phenom II.

The SiSoft Sandra synthetic benchmarks tell the same story, with the Core i7-920 taking the lead, especially when it comes to memory bandwidth. The overclocked Phenom II X4 945 is able to reach the i7-920's stock speed when it comes to the multi-media benchmark, which is notable.

to be continue......


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Best PCIe Card: ~$95 To $180

Best PCIe Card: ~$95 To $180
Best PCIe Card For ~$160
Radeon HD 5770

Great 1920x1200 performance in most games
Radeon HD 5770

Universal Shaders
Texture Units
Memory Bus
Core Speed MHz
Memory Speed MHz
DirectX/Shader Model

While the new Radeon HD 5770 isn't any faster than its older Radeon HD 4870 cousin (we've found that it's even slightly slower in many instances), it does have something the Radeon HD 4870 doesn't have: full DirectX 11 and Eyefinity support. Indeed, while the Radeon HD 5770 doesn't run away with any performance crowns in this category, it does look good from a longevity/value standpoint.