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| Hardware Heavyweights Heat Things Up (One) (19 comments )|
by: jacobvandy (1636) | Posted in cluster Final Round FiringSquad-Intel Editors Challenge
Posted 73 months ago ( edited 73 months ago ) in category DEFAULT
There's nothing quite like the smell of fresh printed circuit board. I would crawl right in there and snuggle up to one were it not for the threat of laceration and second-degree burn. Like many other partakers of this hobby, I find great joy in the activity of assembling a brand new computer. Thanks to the fine folks at FiringSquad and their host of sponsors, Christmas came early this year. You're looking at the proud owner of a bunch of new parts from Intel, Thermaltake, EVGA, and Corsair. All I had to do was clear off a hard drive, throw that in the mix, install Windows, and get myself to work on the final round of this competition.
|» MEDIA (9)|
Thermaltake Kandalf LCS
Inside the Kandalf
Rear of the Kandalf
Thermaltake ToughPower 1200W
EVGA nForce 680i LT SLI
Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800
Thermaltake Blue Orb II
Corsair Dominator DDR2
EVGA e-GeForce 7900 GS KO
» Thermaltake Kandalf LCS Case
I've never been much of a flashy case kind of guy. Sure, neon lights and custom paint jobs look cool, but are you really going to be looking more than working or playing? Shoot, how much did you pay for all that stuff with no practical use? However, if you're looking for something that strikes a balance of looks and functionality, the Kandalf won't do you wrong. A couple of LEDs here and there, token easy-to-reach USB and headphone ports, windowed siding with locking latch, and a built-in water cooling system comprise a handful of features that make this case something I could definitely get used to.
All-aluminum construction provides for a balance of heft and durability, but at 32 pounds empty, the Kandalf is no lightweight. The front door that serves to protect the radiator is particularly sturdy; it seems to have been sculpted from a large, solid block of aluminum and is always cold to the touch. Easily the largest case I've ever used, the inside is very spacious and has plenty of workspace around the motherboard. There are lots of mounting holes in different configurations to accommodate all sorts of ATX, Micro ATX, and Extended ATX boards. You can even purchase an optional rear panel upgrade for BTX support.
There is space for 8 3.5-inch drives and up to 9 5.25-inch drives. The tenth 5.25-inch slot is occupied by the front header panel, which bears the power button and LED, reset button, and hard disk activity LED. Each of the 5.25-inch bays is secured by plastic clips, meaning you don't need any tools to install something, like the included accessory drawer. Of course, there are provisions for some screws if you so desire. There is also a plastic device mounted alongside the expansion slots that allows you to easily secure expansion cards, though I have found it doesn't work well with a video card that occupies two slots.
The Kandalf comes with a total of six case fans; three 120mm fans are mounted on the radiator, one 120mm and one 90mm exhaust from the rear, and another 90mm goes on the ceiling to exhaust hot, rising air. There is also space for an additional 120mm intake fan - not included - to be mounted on the forward hard drive cage. The two 90mm fans provided aren't much louder than their 120mm cousins, which is very good because, as a general rule, smaller fans are noisier. This case has been designed to allow for very open air flow, as evidenced by the wire mesh openings on each of the 5.25-inch bays. Removable dust filters help to ensure that only air is coming in that way, but I wish I could say the same for the rather large grated opening at the top of the case. While it allows hot air to rise and exit, you'll need to be extra careful with liquids and small objects.
» Thermaltake ToughPower 1200W Power Supply
One of the most overlooked and underrated components, the power supply is actually an integral part of the system. Without sufficient power, your rig is prone to instability and random failures. In fact, I believe the first computer I ever owned died of power failure one evening with a flash on the monitor, very loud buzzing, and a burning smell. It has been my experience that, usually, if the computer isn't working and you have no idea why not, it's the power supply. If you're looking to buy one, it's always a good idea to be generous with your estimations as to how much power you need. Manufacturer recommendations for a graphics card arenít a bad place to start. With that said, Thermaltake is definitely a reputable name in the PSU business, so you can't go wrong with one of theirs.
This particular ToughPower has four +12V rails: two with a maximum load of 20 amps and two with 36 amps. The +5V and +3.3V rails both provide a maximum of 30 amps. There are more power connections on this bad boy than you'll likely ever want or need. On top of the 20+4 pin main, 4+4 pin CPU, and 8-pin CPU, it boasts eight 5-pin (Serial ATA), eight 4-pin, two floppy, three 8-pin PCI-E, and three 6-pin PCI-E connectors. This is the first power supply I've used with a Cable Management feature, but I can now say with confidence that, once you go modular, you can't go back. The space once filled with ye olde giant bundle of extraneous cables is now available for tidying up the ones that you do use.
The 1200-watt beast is substantially more massive than your average power supply. Because of the extra couple inches of length, it obstructs the mounting position of an exhaust fan and prevented the installation of the Kandalf's PSU support bar. Whether or not that extra support is needed has yet to be seen, however, I wouldn't mind utilizing the other 90mm fan on the ceiling of the case. On the other hand, the broad side of the PSU presents a quiet 140mm fan in perfect position to act as second exhaust for the aft hard drive cage. With a flip of the lovely oversized switch, it glows red and says I've got the power.
» EVGA NVIDIA nForce 680i LT SLI Motherboard
If the CPU were the brain, then the motherboard would be the central nervous system. The CPU isn't very effective without connections to every other component through which to communicate its needs. In general, the chipset on a motherboard is comprised primarily of the north- and southbridge chips. The northbridge handles communication between the CPU, main memory, graphics card, and southbridge. Subsequently, the southbridge handles USB devices, integrated audio and ethernet, PCI slots, input from the keyboard/mouse, and all the various forms of storage. NVIDIA's response to the demand for an enthusiast SLI chipset, the 680i design is not much different; The north- and southbridge chips are called the System Platform Processor and Media Communications Processor, respectively, while a second and third PCI-Express slot are supported through the MCP.
It appears NVIDIA put a lot of effort into designing a series of motherboards for the "Extreme Gamer." Several attractive features are present in the 680i LT, including support for two NVIDIA graphics cards in SLI configuration, compatibility with up to 8GB of DDR2-800 memory, "Azalia" high-definition audio, six SATA ports with NVIDIA MediaShield technology, eight USB ports, and gigabit ethernet with NVIDIA FirstPacket technology. MediaShield allows you to quickly and easily configure your SATA hard drives in a RAID configuration, while FirstPacket prioritizes a particular application's network traffic according to settings you configure in the NVIDIA control panel.
EVGA certainly covers all the bases in this package. You are provided six SATA data cables and three adapters that will transform a 3-pin power connector into two SATA ones, one each rounded ATA-133 and floppy cables, the SLI bridge connector, and brackets to add a serial port, four USB ports, and a firewire port to your rear panel. Included with the various drivers on the CD is the NVIDIA nTune utility that lets you change clock frequencies and memory timings from Windows, as well as automatically tune your computer for the best possible, yet stable, performance.
Looking over the layout, I was glad to see that there isn't much going on at the bottom of the board. While it's less of an issue with a roomy case like the Kandalf, it's such an annoyance when I have to get my big hands down in there to connect the front panel wires. Heck, I wouldn't even bother if I didn't think I needed a working power or reset button. Fortunately, those pins are alongside the DIMM slots on the 680i LT. Most everything else, SATA, IDE, floppy, and 24-pin power connectors are along the right-hand side of the board and easily accessible. Active cooling is employed on both the SPP and MCP, but I would recommend passive replacements if you prefer quiet. The MCP fan, in particular, is significantly louder than the rest of those in this setup.
Before you install the motherboard, make sure you replace the generic I/O plate with the one that came with the 680i LT. Then, to prevent shorting out any of the plethora of conductive points on the back of the motherboard, most cases require you install risers that should be included with the case. This will ensure that the only contact the board has with the metal siding is where it is held together with screws. The Kandalf has etchings that indicate which holes correspond with which types of motherboards, which makes inserting the risers much easier. After that, you can secure the screws that also should be provided for you. Finish it off by connecting the 24-pin and 8-pin power and front panel header cables.
» Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 Processor
Intel is the largest chip manufacturer in the world and, with the advent of the Core architecture, has reclaimed the performance crown from competitor AMD. Meanwhile, price drops and model revisions have brought top-notch power to the lower end of the market. For more detailed information on the Core 2 microprocessor, refer to my previous review of the Core 2 Duo E6600.
In a retail package, the CPU comes with a cool sticker, a 3-year limited warranty, and a heatsink/fan combination that is guaranteed to perform adequately while running stock frequencies. The Core 2 line of processors is renowned for their overclocking ability, but the X6800 features an unlocked multiplier to allow for even more freedom. If you plan on taking serious advantage of that, you might consider buying OEM and putting the savings toward an aftermarket cooler.
Like other LGA 775 motherboards, the 680i LT has a plastic protector over the CPU socket that will need to be removed before installing the processor. This is because the pins are on the motherboard, not on the chip. With that out of the way, lift the latch to free the protective plating. Make sure the CPU is lined up properly and drop it gently onto the pins. No force is required! Close the plate and secure the latch to lock the chip in place. Now you follow the directions to install whichever of a cornucopia of CPU coolers you have chosen. For the stock heatsink/fan, align the four pins with the holes around the socket on the motherboard and place the copper base directly onto the CPU. Turn the pins so that the little arrows are pointed away from the heatsink, then push! It can take a surprising amount of effort to get all four pins in there securely, just don't go too crazy. Finally, plug the fan in, and you're done.
» Thermaltake Blue Orb II CPU Cooler
A cool CPU is a happy CPU. A happy CPU will do all it can to ensure that your computing experience is all that it can be. Yes, stock cooling is almost always sufficient for normal CPU usage. But would you even be reading this if you were satisfied with "sufficient?" You want to squeeze out every last bit of performance, every last frame per second, and every last advantage you can garner over your competition. You overclock, you increase the voltage, and you scare the living daylights out of yourself when the system shuts itself down because the CPU overheated. You need better cooling, and for under fifty bucks, you can get yourself back to business with the Blue Orb II.
This heatsink is about 5 1/2 inches in diameter by 3 inches tall and forms a shallow bowl shape around the 120mm fan, so you would be wise to be sure it will fit before purchasing. In the package, along with the massive cooler, you find a pretty little cardboard box containing the mounting hardware. Inside are three individual baggies containing braces and screws for each type of installation, labeled LGA 775, K8, and AM2. The blurb on the back side claims compatibility for Sockets 754, 775, 939, 940, and AM2, so it should mount well on your Core family, Pentium D/4, Celeron D, Athlon 64 family, and Sempron processors.
On the 680i LT, the fan on the north bridge chipset must be removed to create clearance. This is perfectly fine, since a cooler like the Blue Orb will circulate air across any component in close proximity to the CPU socket. Attaching the supportive risers is simple enough, though it requires access to the backside of the motherboard. After this point, you are ready to prepare the heatsink for mounting. Remove the protective plastic sheet and apply a thermal compound according to the manufacturer's directions. Once the cooler is in place, securing the two spring-loaded screws is pretty easy compared to applying humongous pressure to insert the pins on the stock heatsink. All that's left is to connect the plug to the motherboard for power and you've got yourself one very silent and efficient CPU cooler.
» Corsair Dominator PC2-8500 Memory
One of the first things you notice about this RAM is the label declaring it SLI-Ready. Perplexing at first, it turns out that the Dominator series of RAM, when paired with a compatible motherboard such as the 680i LT, enables enhanced performance. More specifically, if the RAM is running in sync with the front side bus and, as a result, is operating at a lower speed than it is capable of, the frequency will be increased. Of course, this has no effect if the rated frequency already creates a 1-to-1 ratio with the FSB. However, the 680i LT only supports SLI-Ready memory up to 800MHz, ruling out the particular model I have here.
Another attention grabber is the Dominator's distinct heatsink design. Corsair developed what they call Dual-path Heat Exchange, or DHX. It's a fancy name for the way the RAM dissipates heat. Not only does the heatsink cool the outer surface of individual RAM chips, it also absorbs heat that is allowed to travel throughout the circuit board. Essentially, heat is drawn away from both sides of the chip. Corsair also manufactures a specialized set of three 40mm fans that attaches to the top of the heatsinks. For $20, it's not a bad deal if you really want to take overclocking your RAM to the next level.
Dubbed PC2-8500, this twin set is rated at 1066MHz and makes a perfect companion for a Core 2 processor running a quad-pumped FSB of 266MHz. That is, if your motherboard supports the speed; the 680i LT does not, so ample overclocking would be required to realize the full potential of this RAM. The recommended timings are 5-5-5-12 at 2.2 volts, though I don't doubt you may be able to press them a little tighter. To install, open the plastic clips on either end of the memory slots, line up the notches because RAM only goes in one way, and push them in until the clips snap themselves shut. As is the trend, install the pair in similarly colored DIMM slots to enable dual-channel.
» EVGA e-GeForce 7900 GS KO Video Card
In the eyes of the modern gamer, the video graphics adapter is by far the most important piece of the PC puzzle. It is not uncommon for some to spend more on a video card than they would for the rest of the entire system. Needless to say, not everyone holds as zealous a philosophy. Many are simply trying to play the games they love without breaking the piggy bank or having to disable a lot of advanced visual effects. If that is your situation, then a midrange graphics solution like the GeForce 7900 GS is right up your alley.
Featuring a G71-based GPU at 500MHz, 20 pixel pipelines, 256MB of 256-bit GDDR3 memory at 690MHz, and a peak memory bandwidth of 44.12GB/sec, the 7900 GS KO holds its own. With support for the 16x PCI-E interface, SLI, Shader Model 3.0, and dual-displays up to 2560x1600, it has all of the features you look for in a budget video card. Comparable to a Radeon X1900 GT, you won't see it break any records, but for about $150, it should serve you well.
It comes with the driver CD, two DVI-to-VGA adapters, a set of component video cables for HDTV output, a power adapter, an s-video cable, and a pair of neat little EVGA stickers. A welcome change from more sophisticated video cards, the 7900 GS KO's cooling solution doesn't occupy an adjacent PCI slot. Second only to RAM modules in ease of installation, all you do is insert the card into a free PCI-E slot and connect the 6-pin PCI-E power cable. If you do not have an available 6-pin power connector, use the adapter to create one from a 4-pin connector. EVGA recommends at least a 400-watt PSU for a single card, 500-watt if you use two of them in SLI mode.
In the next installment, we find out if an E6600 @ 3GHz is comparable to the much more expensive X6800, how the 7900 GS KO handles itself in today's games, the benefits of aftermarket cooling, and much more! Don't touch that dial!
|19 User Comment(s) • 11 root comment(s)|
| Trogdor (39) May 03, 2007 - 08:50 pm | Edited on May 04, 2007 - 11:42 pm|
I'm going to be something of a pain in the butt on these final reviews, as at this point it means you guys are getting very close to actually landing a job as an editor at FiringSquad. That disclaimer out of the way, I thought the overall article was well done. One major critique is that you continue to use first-person when writing. The sooner you leave that behind the better.
The other major issue I have is that there's a lot of information about the features of the various components without much discussion as to how it all goes together. You basically are just listing all the parts and getting a brief commentary of the features, and I would like a little bit more analysis of the components. For example, the 1200 W power supply is totally overkill for any current system, especially the one you're putting together. I think CrossFire HD 2900 XT in a dual socket (and CPU) system could make use of that sort of power supply. Without those extreme components I doubt you will ever pass 400 W of power draw.
OK, now I'm going to just give a few random comments as I continue through the remainder of the article.
Typo/missing text: "Because of this, I had to removet obstructs...."
Power Supply: Having four separate 12 V rails isn't necessarily a good thing. Discuss.
Your discussion of the motherboard could use some elaboration. Also, I believe the correct spelling is "Northbridge" and "Southbridge". A brief discussion of the differences between the 680i in the 680i LT would probably be useful. I would also be hesitant to replace the SPP and MCP heatsinks with passive cooling unless you know you have some airflow directed over them; otherwise they can to get very hot. Basically, the fans are there for a reason, and extreme care should be exercised if you decide to modify the cooling.
I know you didn't have to buy this hardware, but there's no way I would recommend anyone go out there in purchase and X6800 these days. If you're willing to spend that much money on a processor, I think getting a quad core QX6700 makes a lot more sense. You might not get quite as high of clock speeds with overclocking, but for those tasks that can use multiple cores quad cores where it's at. Video encoding is simply so much faster relative to dual core.
"This is perfectly fine, since a cooler like the Blue Orb will circulate air across any component in close proximity to the CPU socket." You might be correct, but I would be very interested in seeing some actual temperatures comparing CPU and chipset temperature with the retail fan and chipset fan against the Blue Orb II with no chipset fan. I'm sure the CPU will run cooler, but I wouldn't be surprised if the chipset ends up being warmer.
I think you could explain what SLI-Ready memory actually does for the end-user a bit more. Specifically, buying PC2-8500 memory actually serves no purpose unless you manually tweak the timings and overclock. You sort of hint at this, but I think you could say more. It's also worth mentioning: how important is it really to run the RAM and front side bus at the same speed? The quad pumped FSB is running at 1066 MHz, and the BIOS doesn't support that setting for the memory. Given that the memory is dual channel dual pumped (128-bit * 266 MHz * 2) while the front side bus is 64-bit quad pumped (64-bit * 266 MHz * 4), why is it even beneficial to have memory that runs faster than DDR2-533? (Yes, I know the answer is very complex.)
"As always, install the pair in similarly colored DIMM slots to enable dual-channel." That's not always true; it probably should be true, but there are some motherboards where you need to install the dams in the opposite colored slots. The EVGA board obviously gets the color coding correct, however.
"...dual-displays up to 2560x1600..." I don't think that's quite correct, although I admit I could be wrong. My recollection is that only one of the DVI ports on the 7900 GS is actually dual-link, while the other is single-link. So one of the ports maxes out at a resolution of 2048x1536.
Also, it must be said that the selection of components really seems to be haphazard. You have what amounts to a top-end case, an absolutely top-of-the-line power supply (at least in terms of wattage), very expensive memory, motherboard, and processor. All of this gets coupled with what is essentially a midrange graphics card at best. There's absolutely no point in having a 1200 W power supply and an X6800 combined with a 7900 GS if gaming is your primary concern. You would be far better served by a 700 W power supply, an E6600, and with the money saved you could potentially even get 8800 GTX SLI (or at the very least 8800 GTS SLI).
My final comment is that you could discuss the assembly process and how everything goes together in a lot more detail. In fact, you could greatly trim down everything that you say about the components and instead focus on the assembly.
If my comments sound harsh, don't worry about it too much. I am being very nitpicky and basically going over your article with a fine tooth comb -- just like our readers do for our articles. If you don't already have a thick skin, writing for a web site will help you develop one in short order. :-)
I think you should also include a lot more pictures. Pictures showing the assembly process for example would be very useful.
(If any of the above text doesn't make sense, I blame my speech recognition software.)
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| OgreFade (150) May 04, 2007 - 02:03 am|
|Very nice critique Trogdor. I'd like to add a few things. |
I feel the 'benefits' portion of features and benefits discussion is missing. Features are great, but benefits are where the 'reader/customer' is gaining an emotional attachment. Jacob states what the features are, but why are the feature there? The graphics card comes with the widgets and wonkers but what do they do for the user?
So the case is has fans and comes with dust filters. Great, that works. However! This case includes six fans, this 'feature' offers the 'benefit' of saving the end users time and expense of locating, purchasing and customizing their case to create a suitable substrate for overclocking. The dust filters stop dust from moving. This feature has the benefit of establishing a coherent pathway of air, prevents excessive buildup of potentially harmful levels of dust, and saves the end user the time and hassle of performing maintenance on a case which people will likely want to look inside.
Granted I'm not the greatest at drawing in the reader, but I'm not feeling the 'yearn' to want to have this hardware, and I'm not buying into your build emotionally. Maybe its the lack of actual build photos, I'm not sure.
Another thing I would do is make a quick synopsis of what you built. A list of the part required, and what you were sent. Case: Kandalf, Ram: 2 GB Corsair, etc. Sort of an outline as to what was coming. Much like listing the computer specifications before a benchmarking article. Including a list like that is totally subjective and merely something I'd like to see.
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| Trogdor (39) May 04, 2007 - 11:35 pm|
|I know you didn't get to choose the components, which sort of makes the review a bit odd as well. If I were writing, I'd almost be inclined to say something like, "hey, a lot of this is great hardware, but a few of the component selections would be way off for a lot of users. Here's why, and here's what we would suggest if you were actually looking to build something...." But that's probably at least partly the Buyer's Guide editor in me. LOL|
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