So, for my selection of components, I opted for the following:
MOBO: ASUS Rampage III Gene
GPU: Asus ENGTX470/2DI/1280MD5
SSD: Kingston SNV425-S2/128GB
HDD: Western Digital caviar Green WD15EARS 1500gb/1.5Tb, Sata3G
PSU: Corsair AX750
CASE: Coolermaster RC-690-KKN1
RAM: 3 x 2GB kit – ddr3-1600 (PC3-12800), CL8
H2O: Corsair H50
OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 64Bit
DVD: Samsung SH-S243D
This amounted to R20,700, in other words, R700 over budget. I gave the client an option to remove the Corsair H50 water cooler which would have dropped the price to exactly R20k, but by keeping the water cooler, and paying a fraction more, I would overclock and guarantee the components for him. As you will see later on, having a water cooler attached, enabling one to safely overclock, was well worth that extra money spend. The client left the H50 on the quote and agreed to me overclocking the system for him. Later on, the client also asked for a gaming mouse, not included in the top quote.
The CPU, well not much one can say about it, it is a CPU… ounce for ounce it is higher priced than gold, yet this piece of silicon is useless unless it goes into a motherboard. One thing that I can comment on, I bought two of these CPU’s and the one that I placed into the client’s PC was by far the better cpu. I reached a stable OC of 4GHz (stable as in running Prime 95 for 24 hours without any workers failing) at a voltage of only 1.275. The other CPU (although identical) needs about 1.325 to achieve that same speed.
As boring as the CPU was, as exciting was the motherboard. Some gamers will never buy the Rampage Gene range of boards because they are all Micro ATX motherboards thus providing only a limited number of expanding slots. The physical size on this board did not concern me since the odds that the client will plug in additional cards are slim. The board sports enough SATA and USB ports to build a small server on it. It comes standard with USB3 and SATA3. The goodies that came with the board are just the average ROG stuff, some of which will never be used.
It obviously has six memory slots that support more memory than the size of the biggest hard drive a couple of years ago.
Ideally, if I had designed this board, I would have liked it if the colours where reversed on the two memory banks. I.e. have red closest to the CPU, and then the black banks but that might be considered nit-picking. The reason though, if you only use a single pair of triple channel memory (as I would expect most people do), you will plug it into the red slots which effectively removes some colour in that area. Having a nice red would have broken the black a little bit more and would have been slightly more visually pleasing as could be observed from the below picture in the final build.
The H50 water cooler is an interesting concept, a closed circuit unit, with a single 120mm fan. It comes standard with brackets that allows you to mount this on AMD, Socket 775, 1156, or 1366. A nicely integrated unit and well worth considering.
However, the unit is not all sunshine and roses. My two biggest criticisms with the water cooler were the thermal paste it came out with just looked dodgy. Not 100% sure exactly what paste was used but it looked similar to those found on stock CPU fans. I would recommend wiping the stock paste off and apply some good quality stuff on there. My second gripe with it is that it messed up the airflow in the case. The manual recommend that you mount the fan so that it sucks air from the outside and blows through the radiator into the case, now I would imagine most users will mount the fan on the back, like I did. Typically when mounting the fan on the back, you would want that fan there to be sucking the warm air out of the case and dispense with it out of the back. I figured the manual was written by the lowest denominator, and I followed traditional wisdom instead. I mounted the fan so that it was sucking air from the inside of the case and dispensing the hot air out at the back. I was a bit unsatisfied with the CPU-Temps and decided to just give the manual writer a chance. Miracles seem to happen every now and again, and this time round, the manual did actually know better and proved conventional wisdom false. Following the manual, mounting it so that cold air is suck from the outside and blown into the case dropped my CPU temps with almost 8 degrees. This obviously increased the temps on the motherboard. So in order to counteract that, I had to install another fan on the top of the case, sucking air out and dispersing it out the top. Not all cases have this capability, so make sure your case can get rid of hot air before going with the H50 cooler. The end result, despite an increase in temps on the motherboard, the system still ran stable. Obviously Corsair did their research when writing the manual, so follow it if you ever opt for the H50.
Another option (and ideally, I would have liked to do this) would have been to mount the radiator in the front of the case, sucking air in from the front, and blowing it out at the back. The problem with that approach is that the loops are not long enough on the water cooler to reach the front, and the case did not allow a nice mounting spot in the front. The only other option was to top mount the radiator, but that was not doable in this specific case since the clearance between the motherboard and the top of the case was too small for both a radiator and a fan (potential buyers of H70 be warned since that is an even thicker radiator). The case allows for just a fan, but definitely not both. In summary, will I buy this water cooler again? Yes, on condition that I have a case that allows for a separate place to vent the hot air out at. Blowing back hot air into the case, right above the graphics card, just cannot be a good idea. Finally, another good lesson I’ve learned from this water cooler is not to only “RTFM” but to follow it from time to time as well.
It was the first time that I built a pc into a Coolermaster 690 case. Overall, it is a nice case with the entire range of goodies one expects at this price range. However, this isn’t a Lian-Li or a Corsair case by any means, but still a good quality case with space to fit most builds. The bottom placed power design is a good idea but there were no extension cables provided with the case which made it a tricky build to keep the cables neat. Even a very high end power supply, like the AX750 cables were battling to be neatly tied down. The airflow in the case was good thanks to fully perforated front and top panels. I am just hesitant that in time those holes will get clogged up by dust, and somebody spilling a drink over the case could be dangerous (you never know what can happen at a LAN party).
In my mind, the main difference between a custom build and a factory build is the amount of time that goes into making it look good. This build took me the better part of three hours to assemble, simply because I am anal about certain details and the way that it is done. For instance, I hate it if my cable ties don’t all face the same direction, or if my screw heads don’t all align perfectly (the notch should be 90 degrees from the front and the back of the case). The cable management in this case was horrendous; unfortunately, the bottom placed power supply (even though it was a modular one) just did not help the cause at all.
In my opinion the perfect case would have all the cables running via the back. This case definitely does not allow for that since it only allows a small number of cables (due to thickness) to be run via the back as per the below picture. If I had to categorise this case, I would say that this is a top class budget case, it is definitely not a high-end case at a bargain price. Just out of curiosity, because the case was overwhelming black, I’ve decided to break the colour a bit and used red cable ties everywhere I could. (Yes, I do alternate the colour of the cable ties I use based on the system I build.)
The SSD is a Kingston V Series. Any SSD is an improvement over a spinning drive, and this drive was a pleasure to work with. Not all SSD’s are created equal, and time will tell how this one turns out, fresh from the factory, I can confirm that it was quick reaching 220MB’s read times in HDTach and the overall user experience was ridiculously quick.
The following is a summary of the benchmarks that I’ve run over the years on systems like these. I apologise that it is not looking as good, nor as complete as that of TomsHardware, or Anandtech, but I like them, and since I am writing this article, I am including them.
The interesting point on the above graph is the difference between a stock system and an overclocked CPU. Note that the CPU was overclocked from 3.06GHz scoring only 20,739, to a very stable 4.0GHz suddenly scoring 25,157 score. That is an improvement of 20% made possible by spending R700 on the water cooler. Surprisingly, note how close the GTX470 is to the ATI5970 irrespective of the CPU speed. BTW, I am currently in the process of building a ATI5970 rig using the second i7-950 CPU, so watch this space for a review on that and me trying to understand why there is so little difference between the two cards in the above charts.
And entering the realms of real monitors – when increasing the resolution to 1680×1050, note how good the i7-930 with the ATI5850 scores in comparison. Running a 5870 at 4GHz would have made a worthwhile alternative to the GTX470. Anybody feel like commissioning a 5870 system?
As of now, the i7-950 running at 4GHz, with a GTX470 is the fastest beast I’ve ever had the pleasure to build. That is until next week when the i7-950 4.2GHz paired with a 5970 and a Asus Rampage III Extreme comes out to play.
The motherboard overclocked like a charm, and I had very little problems to get this CPU to 4GHz, running stable there for a 24 hour Prime 95 torture test. I only had a single “no post” and that was when I was trying to reach 4GHz using a 24 multiplier. When I dropped the multiplier to 23 it just worked. My target was 4GHz and once I reached that, I stopped. The fact that the CPU was still on very low voltages (1.275) tells me one should be able to push it quite a bit harder without too much a problem provided you could keep your temps under control. When running Prime95 the temps peaked at 75 degrees which is in my opinion really on the limits when wanting to guarantee all components. However, under any normal load, the temps rarely exceed 60 degrees which is well within the safety margins. In hindsight, if you want to exceed the 4GHz threshold, I would suggest considering the H70 Corsair water cooler or perhaps something with a little bit more oomph than the H50.
Overall, this is a very nice system, well balanced in all aspects and should hopefully be able to play games for the next couple of years without having too much of an issue.
Since I am still new at writing these kinds of “post mortems” on PC builds, please comment if anybody would like to have seen anything else, or think that I might have missed something. I’ll try to incorporate it in my next write up.
Ps. all photos were taken by me, so if there are any serious photographers here, let me know how I could improve future shots, since most of them still look a bit amateurish to me.
PPS, due to some forum restrictions I was unable to load the HD pictures, for those, please download them here.