Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

Part 2 | The Best CPU?

It has been my intention, all week, to tell you about my most recent hardware upgrade, and why I have a new recommendation for those who are interested in maximum computer performance — I rebuilt a machine into an i7, X58, DDR 3, SLI ‘rig’ (the latest technologies) and its performance is impressive. I am quite taken with the i7/X58 combo.

I feel I should try to explain the significant architectural changes that occured with the “i” series CPU‘s (and why they needs a ’50 series’ chipset) but, I am well aware that most readers are not Geek-y enough to enjoy hearing about bus speeds, or the fact that the “i-series” does away with the southbridge. Um, wait.. does away with the northbridge.. or.. something, and replaces it with on-chip “QPI” (which is faster).

So.. I will quit there, and try my best to avoid jargon from here on out. I remind you that I wrote a 4-part series on the ‘How To’s’ of upgrading your CPU, and suggest it as a starting point.. (please refer to part 1, Replacing or Upgrading Your CPU).

Starting with the CPU: The Intel i7-920 is the “consumer grade” CPU which quickly captured the attention of PC enthusiasts, Geeks and Gamers — not only due to outstanding base benchmarks, but because of its ease-of-overclocking, and stability when over-clocked (used to attain levels of performance beyond the specified values). It currently can be found for $199.

The first thing I did to mine was simply change the bclock (baseclock) from the stock 133 MHz to 166 (one BIOS  setting adjustment). Without having to add a heavy-duty CPU cooler, or do any other drastic ‘mods’, my CPU went from the ‘stock’ (out-of-the-box) 2.67 GHz – which was plenty fast – to just shy of 3.5 GHz.
Which is a hair faster.

(Articles I have read on various enthusiast/over-clockers Websites all seem to agree that the 920 can be over-clocked to over 4 GHz, but I would not consider trying that w/o also upgrading my power supply and cooling. For those of you a bit curious as to what “over-clocking” might entail, this PDF is a How To Overclock The i7 tutorial written for a specific motherboard, but gives you the gist.
Also: PC World article, Overclocking for Newbies)


Another other factor that has me truly liking my i7-920 is that its “i-series” technology gives me true hyper-threading. This means that the “quad-core” CPU is seen as eight CPU’s by the operating system.. as seen in this Task Manager screenshot.


If you are at all Geek-y, you will have noticed that the average load at the time this was captured is a mere 1%.

If you are at all Geek-y, let me clue you a bit more:
* this is Vista 32-bit (i.e., not particularly multi-core savvy).
* this is while Avast! 5.0 antivirus is running a deep scan.
* while not particularly relevant.. also Open were Outlook 14, Live Messenger, Speedfan, CPU-Z, SIW, and Spider Solitaire. When I launch Call of Duty 6, the load goes up a bit… but, I have not yet attained a “wait-until-100%-unsticks” .. which hits my Core 2 Duo/4 GB Vista laptop all too frequently (and I don’t “game” on it).
* If you are not particularly Geek-y, this translates to: the i7 has the performance horsepower to handle “multi-tasking” with aplomb, and the times when the “wheel just spins” (or.. hourglass) are much fewer (and don’t take nearly as long), and your windows open faster.

Well.. that’s enough for today. In Part 3 I will discuss why I went with the X58 instead of the more affordable X55 motherboard.. and talk a bit about tri-channel RAM.

Continue toPart 3 | The Best CPU?

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February 24, 2010 - Posted by | computers, hardware, how to, performance | , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Dang! Nice rig!

    I have my eye on an i7 Toshiba Qosmio laptop that I will probably buy before the end of the year. It doesn’t have SLI like my current one but I suppose I can muddle by with a 1gb NVIDIA GeForce GTS 360M.


    Comment by gadzooks64 | February 24, 2010 | Reply

    • gadzooks64,
      The hardware upgrade path I went with – well, it’s a fairly total overhaul (mobo/CPU/RAM) really – has noticeably better ‘zip’ when I boot to 64-bit Vista, and not just due to accessing the whole 6 GB’s of RAM (I haven’t “used” 3 yet..)
      I am kicking myself, now, because I put my Win7 license to use on the other quad-core upgrade, and Win7 has much, much better multi-core-ability (to coin a word) than Vista. Sigh. I knew I should have bought more during that pre-release sale…

      If I were looking at a future-ish new machine, I would consider waiting for USB 3.0.


      Comment by techpaul | February 24, 2010 | Reply

      • One of the reasons I am waiting until later this year to buy a new machine is the hope that USB 3.0 will be included!

        I can’t tell you how many people I know wish they had purchased a Family Pack or at least a few pre-release, $50 copies of Win7. I know I would have been able to unload as many as I could buy.


        Comment by gadzooks64 | February 25, 2010 | Reply

        • gadzooks64,
          It is my humble opinion that you will not regret biding your time until USB 3 comes standard.. and, as a bonus (maybe), solid-state hard drives may be quite competitive then too..? (or.. SATA 6GBps)
          Since my machine is a desktop, I can rather easily gain USB 3 (or other upgrades) through the addition of an expansion card, but with laptops you’re kind of stuck…

          Yesterday you mentioned that the unit you have your eye on is not a dual graphics (SLI) unit, but has a single high-end card. While it is true that in the arena of computer hardware that “more IS better”.. I think that you will indeed be able to “muddle through”. As you probably know, the main (most significant) advantage comes in taking the graphics ‘load’ off of the CPU and not grabbing RAM, which you will have done with the (“discrete”) card — a second card will give you more “gamer” muscle by allowing for higher frames-per-second (fps), which is overkill for most people and most situations.
          After I read your comment, I went and turned off SLI and launched Call of Duty 6 (latest generation/very “graphics intensive”) and did not lower any settings. My eye could not detect any difference.

          PS — I wonder how many more Win7 install discs Microsoft would sell if they woke up and realized that their current pricing structure is ridiculously obsolete, and used the prices they briefly offered..? (I, alone, would buy three more licenses.. at least.)


          Comment by techpaul | February 25, 2010 | Reply

  2. I’m running the i7 920 2.66 on an x58 w/6gb ram (64bit win7).

    Even during heavy video encoding and no less than 6 instances of firefox running, I haven’t even come close to maxing it out.

    The closest I came to maxing the cpu out was it hit 86% a few times during a mpeg4 to MKV high quality video encode.

    Ram has never been above 60%.


    Comment by g | February 24, 2010 | Reply

    • g,
      Thanks for the added input. Video encoding is one of the most (the most?) demanding tasks you can ask of a PC, and as such, is frequently used in benchmarking tests.. the fact that you have “horses to spare” is a great testimonial to the i7’s capabilities.

      .. maybe you’ll agree with me.. (or not) but I have decided that 6 GB’s of RAM is today’s “sweet spot” for RAM. I don’t know how much longer that will be true, but I suspect for a good long time yet.. like, 3 years.
      (I have to giggle a bit when I say that; my first “gamer” had 32 Megabytes of 133 MHz RAM.. with a 4 MB “3D card”.)


      Comment by techpaul | February 24, 2010 | Reply

      • When I decided on 6gb ram, it was a financial decision! I haven’t even came close to maxing it out yet. I don’t recall going over 4gb so 6 is plenty for guys like me!!


        Comment by g | February 26, 2010 | Reply

        • g,
          As you may have read in my first hardware/CPU upgrade series, I put 8GB’s of DDR2 in a machine (DDR2 is best installed in matching pairs, DDR3 in sets of identical triplets) and it became near-immediately apparent that there was no “load” I could open and run .. or combination of apps .. that would take up more than 3 GB’s..
          I settle on 6 as “future proofing” as .. who knows how long it will be before 6 GB’s is viewed with the same scorn as 512 MB’s is today?


          Comment by techpaul | February 26, 2010 | Reply

  3. TechPaul,

    I’m just sitting here salivating over all of this : )



    Comment by Ramblinrick | February 26, 2010 | Reply

    • Rick,
      I did not intend to cause anyone to “salivate”.. only to point out that there really is advantages to the new combination available to us consumers — 64-bit + new hardware.

      Unfortunately, my schedule has not allowed me to 1-2-3 this series as I’d planned, or you’d have already read the following: if I had it to do again (and time allowed), I would wait for a mobo that came with SATA 6 (and the right chips for the new solid state drives) and USB 3.0 — now there would be a performer…


      Comment by techpaul | February 26, 2010 | Reply

  4. Best Core Processor i love that . Thank for sharing


    Comment by Corei7 | March 14, 2010 | Reply

    • Corei7,
      I do appreciate your taking the time to leave a comment.

      But I feel I should clarify just a bit. The title has a question mark in it.. to reflect the fact that “the best CPU” is a debatable point. For one thing a person’s budget will heavily weigh on what is the best CPU for them (I’m sure the $1,000 Extreme Edition is a very nice CPU…) And for another.. tech is always evolving — 32 nanometer chips are here now, for example.

      At the time of writing, the i7 920 and X58 mobo’s had come down in price enough to make them reasonably affordable for the “average user”, yet still very high end.


      Comment by techpaul | March 14, 2010 | Reply

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