Summary: EVGA Matrix winner Mike Armour decided to use his EVGA X58 Micro motherboard to build a portable Core i7 gaming PC for LAN party use. In this article Mike chronicles his experience putting all the parts together and OC'ing the rig. See how well everything came together in this article!
I remember the days when I didn't think twice about lugging monstrous full tower cases and heavy monitors to LAN parties. I actually had a monitor that weighed 70 lbs—literally. It was a 21” Sony CPD E540 or something like that. Sure, it was heavy; but it also had a 1600 x 1200 resolution and I could generally see distant enemies much better than my friends, thus giving me an advantage with a sniper rifle.
My full-size tower probably wasn't much lighter, either. At least it could keep my hardware cool, right?
OK, OK, I admit—I was young and I may have been trying to compensate for something... Well, no matter how much fun I had having a slight upper hand over my buddies, they always got the last laugh when they were watching me painfully lug my gear up some basement stairs and trying to fit it into my car at 4:00 in the morning. It's a wonder I didn't give myself a hernia.
Thankfully for people like me, companies today offer LAN party goers and space-conscious people an array of good hardware that aims at packing features and performance into a small size. I recently set out to build such a LAN party machine to see if I could pack typical desktop performance into a portable package. Read on to see how I did.
Motherboard: EVGA X58 Micro
Case: Thermaltake Lanbox Lite VF6000BWS
Processor: Intel Core i7 920 (D0 stepping)
RAM: OCZ Reaper HPC 6 GB (3 x 2 GB) DDR3 1866
Power Supply: Thermaltake Toughpower XT 850W Spedo Edition
Additionally, this unit has a feature called FanDelayCool which continues to run the PSU fan after the computer is shut off to provide quicker cool down of hot system components. This will be especially beneficial in this application.
Video Card: HIS Radeon HD 4770
I began by attaching the motherboard to the tray. Thermaltake has all of the standoffs pre-installed, which was nice. One of the middle standoffs had a rounded protrusion coming out of it that served as a type of guide post to align the motherboard's screw holes with the other standoffs. Again, another subtle, but nice touch. Once the motherboard was on the tray, I installed the CPU, stock heatsink, RAM, and video card.
Next, I installed the hard drives in the hard drive cage. Again, this was pretty straight forward but I was a little puzzled by the location of the HDD cage. It's directly in front of the front 90 mm fan, but it's perpendicular to the direction of the airflow and I don't see how much air would be going over the drives, let alone past them to the rest of the case since the sides of the cage seem to block it like a wall. (A little future mod might remedy this hindrance). While the cage was still outside of the case, I installed the SATA cables and one of the modular power cables. Then I installed the cage back in the case.
Next in line was the optical drive—just a plain Samsung SATA DVD burner with lightscribe. Pretty straightforward here. Again, I attached SATA and power cables before installing back into the case.
Now it was time to slide the motherboard tray back in. As I did, I connected the front panel headers, the PCIe power cable, the motherboard power connectors and the SATA cables.
In hindsight, I should have installed the 8 pin motherboard power connecter sooner, as it was a bit tight to get to. I also should have installed the motherboard tray and power supply before putting the optical drive bay back in as this would've made it easier to route cables. It worked out well enough, though, until I went to push the tray all the way in and screw it in place. At that point, I realized that the SATA cable connectors were running into the HDD cage, preventing it from going in all the way.
It's a minor nuisance, but an issue nonetheless. I see a few ways it can be remedied: using cables with shorter connectors (the supplied EVGA ones seemed sort of long); using right angle connectors; or relocating the HDD cage with a modification or removing it entirely.
If you remove it entirely, you are left with space for only one drive by using the available 3.5” drive bay. I think the possibility of running a RAID array is important, so removing it entirely was not an option. For right now, it's OK sticking out a bit, but this is not a long term solution. Again, I hope to follow up with a second part to this article that will address this issue.
Lastly, I connected the power cables to the PSU and dropped the unit and its bracket into place. I pressed the on button and everything fired up without a problem.
Testing was done in Windows 7 (64 bit RC, build 7100). Video Drivers: Catalyst 9.8.
Games: Far Cry 2 DX 10; Company of Heroes
Synthetic Benchmarks: 3dMark06, Super Pi Mod 8M
To get base measurements I set everything to default values in the motherboard's BIOS. I did have to manually adjust the memory speed and timings, however, to fit OCZ's specs. This is not an unexpected step, though, since Intel's X58 spec is just DDR3 1066 and these were 1866 modules. I also made sure the uncore frequency was at least twice the memory speed and I set the CPU VTT to +100mV.
I feel I should mention a word here about the BIOS. For one thing, it was very easy to navigate and had everything you need to easily tune your system. I also noted the menu and setting descriptions. They seemed to be much more informative than all the other motherboards I've worked with before. A small thing, but nice nonetheless.
Ok, on to benchmarking. I chose the tests I did mainly for their ease of use and availability. Far Cry 2 is obviously a newer game and it provides a nice enough challenge for modern hardware. CoH is older and represents what you can expect from similar games. As far as the synthetics go, I'm mainly concerned with real world performance, but these are widely used and can provide a point of reference.
After I got these base results, I set out to overclock the micro build and see what improvements I could squeeze out of the tiny box. Since the Core i7 920 is known to be decent overclocker (especially the D0 variants) I was excited to see what the EVGA X58 micro could do with it.
For common builders, the story with components like RAM and power supplies is often a “no news is good news” type of deal. These components never caused me a moment's headache and ran as expected. Thermaltake's PSU delivered reliable power for my overclock and came in a modular design to cut down on a mess of cables—a total necessity in a small space like a micro ATX build. And if its FanDelayCool feature is well suited to any application, it's this one. The scope of this article was to see if high end desktop performance could be packed into a portable, LAN party-ready size. It wasn't to split hairs with the memory's latency and frequency limits, nor was it to hook up the PSU to expensive testing equipment and ogle at oscilloscopes. The fact of the matter is that the machine performed without a hiccup.
The real star of the show has to go to EVGA's X58 micro board, though. This was the foundation which anchored everything else. It packs about as many features you can in such a size, it performed well, it helped the 920 achieve an impressive overclock on a minimal voltage increase, and it looks good to boot. I hope to see what else this board is capable of when I get some better cooling for the processor and a do a few minor case mods which should help out with air flow. For now, it's safe to say EVGA has a winner on its hands and it has no problem delivering the kind of performance you'd expect from a high end X58 motherboard.
So what's the verdict? Well, I think it's safe to say that if I showed up at a LAN party with this bad boy, I'd be the one having the last laughs.
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