We built a REALLY fast system, and made it even faster!
We've seen a lot of people build fast performance systems but with the kind of hardware that is available today, we at Tech Guru aren't the kind to say "that's good enough". So just when this year is about to end, we decided that we wanted to build something quick. We wanted to build what most definitely was going to be India's Fastest PC!
Now, there are plenty of people who set up nitrogen cooling rigs and hold records for the fastest processor. But can those systems be run for more than a couple of hours. We wanted to build a rig that was going to be hopefully, one of the fastest in the world, but yet practical and could be run for long periods of time without having to be refueled with liquid nitrogen.
We wanted to be sure we got the best we could find. After considering a lot, we finalized on a list. The fastest desktop processor, a 6-core Intel Core i7 980X would be at the heart of the system. The Extreme class processor would ensure we had enough flexibility when we got started with the overclocking. The motherboard, an ASUS Ram-page III Extreme was one of the best X58 boards around. There are tons of BIOS tweaking options to help get the best possible performance out of the processor. To ensure there weren't any bottlenecks, we chose to go with 12 GB of Kingston DDR3 HyperX RAM. Our faithful WD Velociraptor would be the drive of choice for this supreme system. One Velociraptor would suffice, but we thought we'd push the envelope. We went with a RAID 0 configuration with two WD Velociraptors.
The grand gaming performance would have to come from a really powerful graphics card. Once again, the fastest card had to be procured. XFX's Radeon 5970 was the card. But wait, one card wouldn't be enough, so we got two of them. XFX sent us their Black Edition Radeon 5970s cards. To power this mammoth of a system, we needed a reliable power supply and of course, a chassis. Cooler Master's Silent Pro 1200W Gold rated power supply was used to power the two power hungry Radeon 5970s. The Cooler Master HAF X chassis would have ample space, plenty of fans and it would be sturdy for our needs.
Corsair sent us their H50 liquid cooling unit. Keep in mind that we were looking to build a stable, everyday use system. The H50 might not be the ultimate water cooling kit in the world, but it sure is compact, easy to setup and it does the job rather well. Monitoring the Intel Core i7 980X idle at 33C gave us a good feeling.
We weren't going to be using a silly 17-inch CRT for this system, so we called in for a Viewsonic VP2655WB, a 26-inch IPS panel LCD from the Pro series of displays. Just the sight of the desktop made most of us hate the TN panel LCDs we're so used to seeing. The Razer Lachesis was brought in for the gaming that might occur post-overclocking.
Let's start assembling
We put together the entire rig one piece at the time. We started by mounting the processor on the board and applying a thin layer of thermal paste on it. The mounting for the H50 cooler hooked on to the board easily and then went the main block. We then connected the radiator unit to the back of the cabinet.
The memory went in next, followed by the two Radeon 5970 graphics cards. The installation was a close fit with the two cards hugging each other. The Velociraptor drives and the power supply followed. Quite honestly, the cable setup was not the ideal setup. We're talking of two auxiliary power connections, four power connections for the power supplies. Two more for the hard drives, one for the optical drive, and a large 24-pin power connector for the mainboard.
We booted up with fingers crossed to see if it would be one of those starts without hiccups. It proved to be so. The idle temperature of the processor didn't cross 33 to 35C, which was a good sign. A quick run to 4 GHz was successful in a matter of seconds. Remember that the stock speed for the Core i7 980X is 3.33 GHz (133 x 25). We left the settings to the defaults, and went ahead with the Windows installation.
- Processor : Intel Core i7 980X
- Motherboard : ASUS Rampage III Extreme
- Graphic Card : XFX Radeon 5970 Black Edition (x2)
- Memory : Kinston H perX DDR3 (6 x 2 GB) WD Hard Disk : Velociraptor 300 GB (x2)
- Power Supply : Cooler Master's Silent Pro 1200W Chasis : Cooler Master HAF X
- Mouse : Razer Lachesis
Testing of the system was no different from other products. We installed the latest drivers for the graphics card and the motherboard along with the RAID controller. The drives were setup in RAID 0 configuration for the best performance. The plan was to note down a few scores and then overclock the other components.
A couple of benchmarks were installed and we were on our way. The initial scores we received were all very promising. The scores of the initial and final runs are given in the table.
Let the overclocking commence!
The setting up of the rig went on into the early hours of the morning. Overclocking only began after that. The first trial run showed us that we could cross 4GHz without any issues. This was only in the BIOS. We would have no issues with posting. The BIOS was setup to disable any thermal protection and alerts. There would be no throttling down of the CPU, so we would know immediately if we were going to face instability. Throughout our exercise we noticed BSODs during bootup, and sometimes while running benchmarks.
We would use CPU-Z, GPU-Z and SpeedFan to monitor the various statistics of the graphics card and processor. Cine bench was our stress test for the processor once we overclocked it a step higher. A 100 per cent load on the CPU for more than 30 seconds would result in an instant blue screen of death or a lockup.
Finally, we started our overclocking run. Initially, the clocks were pushed higher by simply switching multipliers and we were easily able to touch around 4.1GHz without much effort. Once we reached 4.2 GHz or so, we hit a road block. Depending more on the board's clock frequency was the way to go. We cut down on the multiplier and started focusing on incrementing the FSB. Finally around 4.3GHz, we hit another roadblock. The overclock was stable till we booted into Windows. Benchmarks would throw up BSODs and sometimes even just a CPU-Z or Speed Fan application would cause instability.
It was time to tweak the voltages to improve stability. We went with over-volting the processor by a bit to get that stability. After multiple combinations, tweaks and reboots, we hit our magical figure of 4.4 GHz or 4412 MHz to be precise. We were able to cross 4.5GHz and boot into Windows, but not enough to achieve stability for benchmarks.
The results of the overclock and build are nothing short of impressive, even for us. Majority of the overclockers online don't cross 4.1 GHz overclocks on a 980X. The 4.4 GHz over clock we achieved, lets the processor idle at around 40 C and under load, it peaks out at around 63 C. We can assume this setup to be stable enough to run day and night without any problems.
The Corsair H50 does a great job of cooling the Core i7 and although compact and simplistic, it isn't far behind large heavy duty cooling units.
Coming to scores, the stock setup itself was the fastest we had seen and the likelihood of anyone using such a system is pretty slim. The stock frame rates in Far Cry 2 at the absolutely highest quality settings, was mind boggling. Turning on FSAA to 4x or 8x hardly made a difference to the scores.
|1920x1200 / DXI0 / 4x||148||154||165|
|FSAA / Max Detail|
|1920x1200 / DXlO / 8x||139||146||151|
|FSAA I Max Detail|
|Far Cry 2|
|1920x1200 / DXI0 / Ultra||146.21||162.56||181.95|
|1920x1200 / DXlO / Ultra||143.51||16022||178,26|
|High - 4xAA|
|1920x1200 / DXI0 / Ultra||143.75||156.79||167.56|
|Cine bench 10|
|Multiple CPU Render Test||21546||26861||28249|
Overclocking only boosted this performance by a lot. The overclocked processor ran 32 per cent faster. For the fastest desktop processor that Intel sells, it's a lot. The performance wasn't only limited to processing and graphics rendering either. The RAID setup drives were churning out numbers not reachable by standard drives. To give you a gist, we were seeing 200 MB/s read speeds. The graphics cards we used were extremely hot. Fortunately, they were factory overclocked but we would have liked to push them a little bit further. It would have helped us reach the 44,000 figure in 3DMark Vantage.
What we've managed to do is build the fastest gaming PC in the country. It doesn't look like this kind of performance will be available on a single graphics card for at least a year to come. The approximate cost of the entire system was around 2.5 lac rupees. We've achieved what we set out to build, and most of the guys at Tech Guru should be occupied with playing games at the most ridiculous quality settings ever.