Tech – for Everyone

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

The Best CPU? Hardware Upgrade, cont.

Welcome back to my series on my new recommendations for those who are interested in maximum computer performance. This series is about a specific, high-end, upgrade path. For more general and generic advice & How To on hardware upgrades, please see Replacing or Upgrading Your CPU.

I rebuilt a machine into an i7, X58, DDR 3, SLI ‘rig’ and its performance is impressive. I am quite taken with the combo. In the previous articles I have so far covered:

* Intel i7-920: Hyper-threading, new chip architecture, and easy (stable) over-clocking give this CPU “chip” performance numbers that make it arguably the best CPU available to us “consumers” today. And it has been around long enough now that the price has dropped to “reasonable”.

* I went with the newer X58 chipset because the X58 motherboards have the ICH10R chip, which allows dual x16 (or quad x8) PCI Express 2.0 graphics card support, and supports Solid State Drives.

As I mentioned earlier, if upgrading to an “i-Series” CPU, you will need a new motherboard, and I reco’ a X58. It is fair to warn you that X58 “mobo’s” are rather pricey. I overcame certain reservations and – due to a “clearance sale” – picked up a MSI X58M (the “M” indicates “microATX”). A detailed review of which is here.

MSI-X58M[note: I also purchased a 5-year “replace with no questions asked” extended warranty, which covered the RAM, mobo, and CPU for a very reasonable fee. Ask your retailer what their policies are. (The RAM already had Lifetime..)]

Please understand that while I am recommending an X58 chipset motherboard, I am not necessarily recommending this particular MSI board. I am happy with it, yes, but it was a unique special discount price that was my decision factor. I would not go with a “mini” (or “micro”) ATX board by choice, primarily because the number of expansion slots are fewer.
To help you decide on a board, here are some comparisons/reviews (by date published):
* X58 Motherboard Roundup Review
* ExtremeTech’s X58 Motherboard Roundup
* X58 Roundup: Seven $200-300 Core i7 Boards
* 7 Intel Core i7 X58 Motherboards Tested and Compared
* Intel X58 Motherboard Roundup – What does $300 Get You?

These boards vary greatly in number of slots (including graphics slots), features, performance, and price — so do a bit of pre-planning. Do you need four graphics slots, or will one do (if so, a P55 board may work for you…)

Biggest boost?
In my writing so far, the CPU, motherboard, and dual graphics cards have taken center stage. And one could argue “as well they might!”, but RAM is where you really put the “turbo” in a PC’s performance — upgrading your RAM is the first thing (in terms of hardware upgrades) you look at.


Patriot 6GB PC3-12800 kit

Fact is — the primary motivation for me to act, and do this upgrade was I wanted “tri-channel” DDR3 .. and I wanted 1600MHz. If you have read this series this far.. maybe you do too.

The primary benefit of DDR3 is the ability to transfer at twice the data rate of DDR2, enabling higher bus rates and higher peak rates than earlier memory technologies. For best performance, DDR3 should be installed in identical sets of 3, and I definitely advise purchasing a “3-pak” to ensure all three modules are the same.

I happened to find an unbeatable price on a Patriot Gamer Series PC3-12800 6GB DDR3 Kit (review here), but I have no idea what the best deal is today. I’m a “most bang for your buck” shopper. For those of you who are a bit more discriminating:
* Mainstream-Ready? DDR3-1600 Shootout
* The Great DDR3 1600MHz Memory Showdown
* | Focus on DDR3
* Benchmarkreviews: DDR3 Review Series

Winding down for today…
Since we are talking about cutting-edge hardware here, and “enthusiast”-level performance gear (aka “high-end”) means that these items will not be in the “student” or “budget” price ranges – some “sticker shock” is to be expected. That said, prices have come down on these items enough that you are no longer paying the premium. Still, you can buy a whole new PC for less than an i-Series upgrade…

I was able to use my existing power supply and graphics cards. And at least for now, I am not going to go nuts over-clocking the CPU, so I can stay with the stock CPU cooler and I had a well-ventilated gaming case. This reduced my upgrade cost but your situation might be different — an i7 upgrade path probably will require a more powerful PSU and more efficient cooling, and you should budget accordingly.

Copyright 2007-2010 © Tech Paul. All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.

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March 1, 2010 Posted by | advice, computers, hardware, how to, PC, performance, tech, upgrading | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

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?

Copyright 2007-2010 © Tech Paul. All Rights Reserved. jaanix post to jaanix.

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February 24, 2010 Posted by | computers, hardware, how to, performance | , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments