Thursday, October 29, 2009

Gamer PC: core i7 860, p55, ATI Radeon HD 5850, Windows 7

Messy construction phase:

Parts are in but man are the wires still a mess:

Stock cooler:

- So I finally decided to pull the trigger on building a new gamer pc. It's been over 4.5 yrs since I've built a gamer pc. It started as an athlon 64 3000 venice core, 1gb ram, and an ati x800xl. Over that time period I finally ended up with a pretty heavily overclocked opteron 170 dual core running at 2.7ghz, 4gb ram, 8800GT, and windows 7 x64 ultimate. That lasted me a good long time but a few things appeared on the hardware scene that finally made me decide to build a new gamer.
- The core i7 8 series (lynnfield) 1156 and the p55 chipset: It's just an overall better value. It's very fast, better turbo mode, integrated pcie into the cpu die, and dual channel memory. I don't really plan to sli/cf (limited to pcie 2.0 8x on each 16x slot) and though 6 cores gulftown (only available on 1366/x58) does sound sexy I don't see myself needing to upgrade my cpu for quite some time. So lynnfield was a great fit for me.
- Windows 7/DirectX 11/ATI Radeon HD 5850: Full dx11 part, 31% cheaper than the 5870 but only about 15% slower, just a great value for the near high end.

tax and shipping included in prices:
- $249 core i7 860
core i5 vs i7 860. It was $70 more to go i7 860 and you gain 140mhz and 8 threads vs 4 threads. I thought it was worth it.

- $34 ARCTIC COOLING Freezer 7 Pro Rev.2 92mm Fluid Dynamic CPU Cooler - Retail
My favorite cpu cooler has now been updated to fit 1156.

- $170 GIGABYTE GA-P55-UD4P LGA 1156 Intel P55 ATX Intel Motherboard - Retail
I love gigabyte motherboards with their backup dual bios, qflash, and other great features and a very reasonable price. Their bios updates are pretty solid too vs the sometimes "pushed out too early" asus ones. This model is a bit on the high side but you get sli/cf options, 1394, and more pcie 1X slots (vs more pci slots) vs the $140 step down model. I'll probably never sli/cf but I figure the extra $30 was worth it for all the other upgrades and the sli/cf is just a bonus.

- $200 CORSAIR XMS3 8GB (4 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model CMX8GX3M4A1600C9 - Retail
I have had good experiences with corsair and gskill. 8gb might be a bit overkill but why not. I figure fill it up now so I'm sure to get a matched set. In hind sight I might have picked up some DDR3 2000 memory instead for a bit more flexibility in overclocking and bumping up the base clock higher without having to drop down the memory multiplier:
G.SKILL Trident 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 2000 (PC3 16000) Desktop Memory Model F3-16000CL9D-4GBTD - Retail

- $270 XFX HD-585A-ZNFC Radeon HD 5850 (Cypress Pro) 1GB 256-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFire Supported Video Card w/ATI Eyefinity - Retail

- $32 samsung dvd burner

- $15 internal 3.5" card reader

$970 Total

Parts I already had on hand:
- $0 Windows 7 x64 ultimate (MSDN subscription)
- $70 Antec 900 (I picked this up 2 yrs ago during some black Friday sale intending to build a new gamer back then. Yeah, I've been putting this off for a long time)
- $70 Thermaltake 750w toughpower (same story as the antec 900, been sitting in the closet all this time)
- $15 2 x 120mm antec tri cool fans
- $105 1.5 seagate 1.5TB. I have about 8 of these, and I have had zero issues them them. They are down to $90 now at frys.

$1230 Final Total

Antec 900:

Press in the tab with a screwdriver to remove the fan housing:

After installed the fan I decided to add a fan grill:

There are two of these nubs that I was able to squeeze the grill on to mount it:

For the other 2 corners I used 2 linked zip ties:

- The antec 900 is an OK case but I probably wouldn't get it again. It's got some great innovative cooling designs but dang does almost everything require a tool or a special screw. In contrast the cooler master cm690 has to be the easiest and tooless case I've ever worked on. The antec sure does have a ton of gpu cooling though. Double 120mm fans in the front, 2 inline creating sort of a wind tunnel that shoots right at the video card and another 120 on the side above the video card. Then you got the 120 rear exhaust and the 200mm top exhaust and that's a LOT of air flow without a lot of noise. I have all fans set to medium speed.
- way too many screws required for all the drive stuff. 4 thumb screws each for each of 2 drive cages not counting the additional long screws required to mount the drives into the cage. 4 screws for each 5.25 device. You must remove both panels. This pales in comparison to the super fast and easy built in hinged drive rails on the cm690.
- Getting the 3.5" bracket on is a bit of a pain. It took me a while to figure out which way to orientate the 5.25->3.5" adapter I needed to install my 3.5" internal card reader (rounded end goes to the front). Also the front 3.5" external plate attaches directly to the case NOT to the 5.25 -> 3.5 bracket.
- Using that wind tunnel thing knocks down your hdd capacity from 6 to 3. It also gets pretty close to the ati radeon hd 5850 power connectors. I put fan grills on everything so that helps. Taking off the fan mount on the inside of the drive cage is more easily done if you remove the drive cage first. Then use a flat head screwdriver to push in each of the 4 tabs to pop off the fan bracket. You'll also want to ditch the fan bracket if your video card is longer than 9.5".

CPU Cooling:

There is contact between the lower fins and that blue heatsink. In fact you can see the bottom fins are compressed against each other.

Slipping the fan on which has a bit of a frame you will have to further compress the fins to get the fan around them and between the fins and the heatsink.
Yeah, there is a bit of pressure on the heatsink but what are you going to do.

- I went with the stock intel cooler for now but using arctic silver 5 (wiped off the intel goo). The cooler is super easy to install. It's just 4 push pins (remember to push them in a crisscross pattern).
- Something is not right with cpu temps. Idle is 32c which is fine. cores are about 2c delta which is a nice tight spread. Under occt load It hits 90c before occt shuts down to prevent the cpu from frying. This happens within about 7 min of occt running. I made sure the heatsink was on tight and push pins are firmly pushed in. I'll probably try reseating tonight. Under 3dmark it hits about 70c which is still too high. My q6600 under occt never breaks over 55c.
- So I've ordered a 3rd party cooler (my favorite arctic cooling one) which was NOT available last week when I ordered the rest of the parts. This new rev supports 1156 which is what I need. It's the same cooler used on the above mentioned q6600 build.
- Another thing, under pc health, do not leave cpu fan speed detection method to auto. You want pwm vs the older voltage method. Default was auto and the cpu did NOT speed up while under load like it is suppose to. Once I set it to pwm it does hit max rpm under load but it's just not keeping up with the cooling needs.
Reseated the cooler. I definitely heard a loud click for each push pin. Not much change. Oh well.
- freezer 7 pro is on. After 15min of occt temps doesn't go over 58c (idle around 25-30c). MUCH MUCH better! Conclusion: stock cooler is utter crap and doesn't even work under stock conditions. Hours of playing wow and max temp never goes above 48c.
- From a cold boot the cpu fan won't start for a full 5 seconds. This did not happen with the stock cooler. Disabling auto cpu fan control in the bios didn't help either. I'm not sure what the deal is but I'm living with it for now. I've read other people with a similar issue and the solution is to use a different fan header but I want my pwm.

freezer 7 pro install tips:
- I used the included thermal paste that was already on it since the reviews I've read it actually out performed arctic silver 5.
- make sure you align the fan to blow through the fins and out the exhaust fan of the computer
- line up the bracket, place all 4 white pins in first. push them all the way in using a flat head screwdriver.
- Next, insert the black pins that go into the white pins. Again, push them firmly down with a screwdriver. Do it in a crisscross pattern.
- Fins did come in contact with one of the chipset heatsinks. The fins on the outer edge to give pretty easily so bending them up a bit is no big deal.
- Slipping on the fan was a bit tougher since I had to push the fins even further up to get the frame of the fan around the edges of the fins.

ATI Radeon HD 5850

Clearance is a bit tight but is fine even with the power plugs coming out of the end of the card and my added fan grill.

- GPU temps during 3dmark vantage never went higher than 65c which is really cool.
- There is currently a cursor bug in even the latest catalyst drivers. The arrow gets really big and is quite annoying. UPDATE: Cursor bug has been fixed with the latest motherboard bios and latest ati catalyst drivers.
Here is some more information about the cursor bug here and here.
- Apparently it is related to powerplay (down clocks the card when it is mostly idle).
The work around is to use the amd gpu clock tool and set your clock to stock speeds. This basically overrides powerplay and keeps your card running at a constant speed.
- You can also setup a shortcut with command line parameters similar to this and stick it in the startup:
"C:\Program Files (x86)\AMD GPU Clock Tool\AMDGPUClockTool.exe" -eng=725 -mem=1000
- I'm not sure but the amd gpu clock tool could be causing some stability issues. All I know is borderlands crashed twice within an hour until I stopped using the gpu clock tool and just lived with the cursor bug. I'll have to play borderlands some more. I've also read disabling dynamic shadows in borderlands helps too.
- The thermaltake 750w power supply is a nice modular one. One tip: the pcie-6 pin power plugs will fit either end into the power supply but only one end will fit into the video card. Red tip goes into the power supply!

Windows 7:
- I have now been using Windows 7 RTM since August through my MSDN subscription. I've installed it on 5 pc's during that time (all clean installs):
Dell Inspiron 8600: x86 ultimate
Macbook Pro 13" bootcamp: x64 ultimate
SFF Lan party pc on athlon 64, venice, socket 939, nforce 4: x86 ultimate (could have gone 64bit but the kids use this to play some older game and then there is gametap which I think I'm going to finally cancel anyways.)
old gamer on opteron 170, socket 939, nforce 4: x64 ultimate
this new gamer: x64 ultimate
- So I've installed windows 7 on a wide range of systems now and have used it extensively on a day to day bases for the last couple of months. I can say hands down windows 7 is the best and dare I say most enjoyable OS I've used in a long time (and that includes snow leopard). Everything from the refined install process to hardware support to the UI has been much improved.
- Hardware support seems to be as broad as ever. Just realize that they moved some of those drives to the online space and windows update vs being on the actual disc. So if your hardware device tree shows a few missing drivers, check windows update first and see if you can find them there. It seems they have moved some software online too like windows movie maker. It's no big deal since it's just a quick free download.
- For older systems running x86 you can usually get away with vista or even sometimes xp drivers if you have to.
- I was able to get all my hardware running fine under x64 including printers and scanners. The only issue I ran into were some old hauppauge pvr 250/150 tv tuner cards. This is more due to the lack of proper 64bit drivers than anything it has to do with Win 7.
- I found game compatibility to be mostly excellent as long as you are playing games that are semi modern (say within the last 5 yrs).
- There are some nice UI tweaks. I especially like the new taskbar which combines the best from osx dock and the windows taskbar. Pinning apps that run over a unc network share is more difficult than it should be. It should be as easy as making a shortcut but it isn't quite there. I like "peek" how you can preview all the instances of an app when you hover over the taskbar icon. Also, pinning favorite "docs" or files (jump lists) that belong to that app (folders for file explorer, media files for vlc, text files for notepad, etc) is very hand. You can also "shake" a window and all the other windows minimize. That one I found a bit gimmicky. What is really useful is you can drag any window to either side of your monitor and it will fill up just that half of the monitor. Great for widescreen displays and drag and drop between windows.
- If you like stacks in leopard then you might give 7stacks a try (I haven't personally tried it yet).
- I haven't messed with homegroups and library stuff yet. I'm very comfortable with just using shares.
- The built in backup now supports creating images of your drive and backing up over network shares.
- Nice list of windows 7 keyboard shortcuts.
- I had an issue with resume from sleep that was related to storage. Installing the latest intel matrix storage manager seemed to have fixed it.

Windows 7 Quirks/Complaints:
- File explorer no longer displays disk free space in the bottom status bar no matter what folder you were in. WTF!!!!! I used that all the time. It really sucks that I have to now go to the drive to get that info.
- On two different machines I've had icon images vanish from the taskbar. You just get a place holder graphic and it's annoying and difficult to fix.
- Some things are difficult to pin to the taskbar like unc shared paths to exe's and .cmd batch files. You can work around it by pinning the app first (like cmd.exe for batch files) and then modifying the properties (right click icon on taskbar, find the app in the menu, right click the app, properties) but it's a bit of a pain. You can also just enable the old quick launch.
- If you use logmein you should now use machineName\username instead of just username to login. Actually, this probably applies to other situations as well.
- For auto login run: control userpasswords2. This is also where you can you can add windows credentials for other shares on your network that happen to use a different username and/or password. Yes, I know it prompts you if you want to save the login info when you first hit the share but it's a lie (it clears after reboot). It's been a lie since vista (worked fine in xp but has been broken ever since). Do it here and it will be really saved, and you won't be prompted in the future for login credentials when you hit that share.

everything is at stock speeds. RC6 drivers:

3dmark 06: 19877 (was logging gpu/cpu temps in the background though)
sm2.0: 8074
hdr/sm3.0: 9493
cpu: 5172

gt1: 68.092 fps
gt2: 66.482 fps
hdr1: 101.550 fps
hdr2: 88.305 fps
cpu1: 1.710 fps
cpu2: 2.503 fps


3dmark vantage (also while logging)
gpu 12549
cpu 18618

gpu test 1: 37.80 fps
gpu test 2: 35.68 fps
cpu test 1: 2586.04
cpu test 2: 24.43

feature 1: 1425.64
2: 6.37
3: 44.96
4: 23.56
5: 44.90
6: 118.53


3dmark vantage: High

gpu: 8422
cpu: 18600

gpu test 1: 25.69
2: 23.61

cpu 1: 2618.40
2: 23.54

feature test 1: 1425.18
2: 6.39
3: 45.13
4: 23.96
5: 45.34
6: 118.84


3dmark vantage extreme

gpu: 6113
cpu: 18571

gpu test 1: 19.44 fps
gpu test 2: 16.32 fps

cpu test 1: 2607.34 plans/s
cpu test 2: 23.67 steps/s

feature test 1: 1425.64
2: 6.35
3: 45.08
4: 23.99
5: 45.38
6: 118.86

new ati drivers were released (last beta before final release). Very slight performance boost:
gpu: 6155
cpu: 18448

Overall I'm pretty happy with this build. It's pretty bleeding edge so there are a few issues I ran into like the stock cooler and the less than mature ati drivers. Also, the antec 900 proved more difficult and time consuming to work with than expected. It ran about $250 less than my last gamer pc build and is pretty high end. I almost always overclock my machines especially gamer ones but honestly I don't feel the need....well at least not yet. The turbo mode works well enough for now. But I'm sure in a year or so I'll be overclocking both the cpu and gpu. Here is a pretty nice overclocking guide. When I get around to overclocking I'll be sure to come back and update this post. It's nice to finally be able to run all my games at 1920X1200 with everything maxed out and AA on.

UPDATE: 11/3/2009
- Bios update F4t just came out and seems to fix the large cursor bug though the cpu fan start up delay is still there.

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