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Introduction

Just about anyone can put together a solid computer using a decent midtower and the right parts. What we don't see as often is just how fast a computer can be assembled in a small form factor. More and more, too, the term "fast" isn't an all-encompassing one; as the GPU becomes increasingly important, the definition gets foggier and foggier. Today, all of these considerations collide as we test two top end configurations from Puget Systems against each other.

On the outside it looks we have two systems assembled in Antec's ISK-110 enclosure, but on the inside, we have a showdown between Intel and AMD's best and brightest at 65 watts. The more cynical (and admittedly informed) reader may already have an idea of where this is going, but there are definitely some surprises in store.

The Antec ISK-110 is a mini-ITX enclosure with exactly enough space for the motherboard, CPU, memory, and two 2.5" drives located on the opposite side of the chassis, underneath the motherboard tray. There's no space inside for a power supply, and indeed each enclosure comes with the necessary tools to mount it to a monitor's VESA mount, effectively hiding the entire system. As a result, the ISK-110 employs an 80-watt external power supply—good for saving space, bad for driving powerful hardware. Puget Systems faced a very real limit as to how much power could be crammed inside this chassis, but we felt like it would be a good opportunity to see just how powerful a system could be built in it...from both AMD and Intel.

In an effort to keep things fair, Puget Systems tried to use as many of the same components as they possibly could between the two builds. In practice things didn't quite work out that way, as you'll see later.

In the Blue Corner...

Expectations for our Intel-based system are set appropriately; Intel's been leading AMD in terms of CPU performance-per-watt for quite some time now and there's no reason to expect anything to change here, especially with the bulk of the Llano desktop chips sporting 100W TDPs that remove them from contention for this build. Here's what we're testing in the Intel configuration:

Puget Systems Echo I (Intel Edition) Specifications
Chassis Antec ISK-110 VESA
Processor Intel Core i7-2600S
(4x2.8GHz + HTT, Turbo to 3.8GHz, 32nm, 8MB L3, 65W)
Motherboard ASUS P8H67-I Deluxe Rev. 3.0
Memory 2x8GB Patriot DDR3-1333 SO-DIMM
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 2000
(6 EUs, 850-1350MHz)
Hard Drive(s) Intel 520 240GB SATA 6Gbps SSD
Western Digital Scorpio Blue 1TB 5200 RPM SATA 3Gbps HDD
Optical Drive(s) -
Power Supply 80W external
Networking Realtek PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Atheros AR9285 b/g/n Mini-PCIe Wireless LAN
Bluetooth v2.1+EDR
Audio Realtek ALC892
Speaker, mic, and line-in jacks, optical S/PDIF
Front Side 2x USB 2.0
Headphone and mic jacks
Top -
Back Side 4x USB 2.0
2x USB 3.0
PS/2
DVI-D
VGA
HDMI
Optical out
eSATA
Ethernet
Speaker, mic, and line-in jacks
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
Extras SSD
Wireless-N
Bluetooth
Warranty 1-year parts, lifetime labor and support
Pricing Starts at $852
Priced as configured: $1,756

First of all, Puget Systems opted to equip their Intel version of the Echo I (the Echo II line can handle higher TDPs and includes an optical drive, but in a slightly bigger chassis) with the fastest CPU that Intel offers at a 65W TDP: the Core i7-2600S. The i7-2600S is able to turbo up to as fast as the regular 95W i7-2600 can on three cores, two cores, or even just one core, but on all four it peaks at 2.9GHz. For all intents and purposes, that's not a huge hit in exchange for being able to fit inside the power envelope this enclosure's power supply requires.


That's a lot of heatsink for a small chassis!

Where things do get a little bit dicier with the i7-2600S is the integrated graphics processor: the i7-2600S uses Intel's cut-down HD 2000 graphics that sports half the shader cores the HD 3000 does. This is actually a small change of pace for us; the HD 2000 is actually fairly rarefied in review systems we test, as on the notebook side [nearly—mobile Celeron and Pentium have lesser GPUs] every CPU's IGP has all twelve shaders, while the desktops we test almost never run the IGP.

Instead of full length DIMMs, the ASUS P8H67-I Deluxe uses a pair of SO-DIMM slots that admittedly prevent our comparison from being completely fair. Keeping with maximizing these configurations, Puget Systems filled both slots with 8GB DDR3-1333 SO-DIMMs from Patriot. The PCIe x16 slot is left unoccupied (and there's really no room for a GPU in this chassis), while the board's wireless duties are handled by an Atheros AR9285 controller.

Finally, storage is handled by an Intel 520 series SSD with a 240GB capacity as the system drive, while a slow 1TB Western Digital Scorpio Blue running at just 5,200 RPM handles mass storage. You can actually configure the system with a 750GB Scorpio Black for a bit less money, and that drive runs at the full 7,200 RPM, making it potentially a more ideal choice unless you absolutely must have the extra space.

And in the Green Corner...
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  • Spunjji - Friday, March 23, 2012 - link

    This is addressed very well in the article, particularly in the conclusions. The editorial is nicely balanced if you took the time to read it.

    Yes, it stinks that people will look at the graphs in this and nothing else, but that's people for you and it's AMD's responsibility to combat that.
    Reply
  • trane - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    Since you have brought up video editing and gaming as the two usage scenarios, I would like to contest that Llano would do the former much slower than SNB. The GPU is not just for gaming, but GPGPU as well. Quite a few editing software today are starting to be heavily OpenCL GPU accelerated - including Sony Vegas and Cyberlink Powerdirector. I would have also mentioned Premiere Pro but it is CUDA only for now, should be OpenCL in the near future. Perhaps you should add a Sony Vegas Pro benchmark to your suite, Sony already have a standard benchmark project available (http://www.sonycreativesoftware.com/vegaspro/gpuac... and GPUs bring massive gains over CPU-only.

    Just a suggestion, as Llano's GPGPU capabilities almost always goes unnoticed, and unfairly so. Yes, not many applications are heavily GPU accelerated today, but video editing is certainly one of them.

    It's a pity the A8-3800 isn't available, that would have been pretty great, and much faster than A6-3500 for a small price.
    Reply
  • trane - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    Here's a link to the benchmark project: www.sonycreativesoftware.com/vegaspro/gpuacceleration Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    The problem is that GPGPU and dedicated hardware encoding still, to my knowledge, have issues with end quality. If you're just transcoding for the internet or for yourself, they're probably fine, but CPU-only encoding remains the gold standard.

    That said, Premiere CS5.5 benefits tremendously from CUDA, but not entirely on the encoding side. Mercury Playback Engine still produces reference quality video, but CUDA accelerates decoding and effects layering on the timeline by a substantial degree, in some cases meaning the difference between editing in realtime and not.

    GPGPU has promise but that promise is, presently, nascent on the desktop.
    Reply
  • trane - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    Do note that I am not referring to encoding! On Vegas Pro the entire video processing pipeline is heavily GPU accelerated. Right from decoding to colour space transforms to scaling to transitions/motion graphics to nearly all video effects - nearly everything is GPU accelerated - even before we hit the encoding stage. Much more extensive than Premiere Pro. Do give the benchmark project a try, you might be surprised how far GPGPU has come. Reply
  • silverblue - Thursday, March 22, 2012 - link

    The i7-2600S sports QuickSync, so if the software supports it, it may not actually be a victory for AMD on this one. Reply
  • hypercube33 - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    This is bull. As posted by sabot they have plenty of higher powered APU's available up to the newer A8-3800.

    This is like cutting off the arms of your opponent and then saying he didnt even throw a punch. I am not saying AMD is better, but this review is skewed so badly that its not even close to worth publishing.
    Reply
  • weiran - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    Yes AMD have a higher power CPU in the A8-3800. But available?

    I'm in the UK so the availability is probably even worse than the US, but I've been unable to find any stock of the A8-3800. The only place you can get one seems to be in pre-built HP desktops.
    Reply
  • silverblue - Thursday, March 22, 2012 - link

    Not to mention the significantly higher power consumption of a quad core CPU at 2.9GHz with much more powerful graphics. Sure, the 38xx series would be preferable, if only you could actually grab hold of them.

    The 3870K is available on CCL for £103, but the A6-3500 is a mere £55 from the same site. The only available models available on that site are the A4-3300, A4-3400, A6-3500, A6-3670K and A8-3870K - there is no sign of the 3800 or 3820.
    Reply
  • djfourmoney - Thursday, April 12, 2012 - link

    Its not just you, all the major e-tailers don't carry the A8-3800 in North America. The B&M's don't either (Micro Center and Fry's). That's why I got the A6-3500 and called it a day.

    An A4-3400 is plenty for HTPC use, does 29/59 and 3D without issues. When you start using 3rd party stuff like MadVR, you may have a few problems with interlaced content as found in Rene's testing on AVS forums.

    The Triple Core is the best case scenario of price and performance. It will do what my current system does, only faster (current rig is 5000+ BE) and that's plenty for me.

    MB, APU, SSD and Memory all for under $200

    Reply

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