Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/809



Kryotech.  That’s a name we haven’t heard from in a while.  And there are very unfortunate reasons for that.  Just over a year ago, Rob DiGiacomo, Executive Vice President and one of the original founders of Kryotech introduced the world’s first 1GHz Athlon system, dubbed the Kryotech SuperG.  A very young and healthy individual, Rob embodied much of the passion Kryotech had at the time.  The dream was simple; to bring supercooling more mainstream, eventually to fit the power of the original Kryotech units into a space no larger than a 5.25” drive bay.  Sadly, it was during that week of the initial presentation of the Kryotech SuperG system that Rob DiGiacomo passed away leaving his family and Kryotech behind. 

After the SuperG and Rob’s unfortunate passing, Kryotech had remained relatively quiet.  While there were projects being worked on behind the scenes, very little made it to the public’s eye.  In spite of the team’s greatest efforts, Kryotech has seemingly always been just one or two steps behind.  Both the Cool K6-2 line and SuperG Kryotech solutions shared one thing in common; although they could offer clock rates largely unattainable upon their release, the performance improvements they offered almost never justified the incredible cost of the system. 

Case in point would be the Kryotech SuperG; just four months after its release there were already air-cooled Athlon 900s on the market and the extra 11% increase in clock speed the SuperG at 1GHz offered would almost never be worth the insane cost of ownership which was often double that of a equivalently configured Athlon 900 system.

This time around Kryotech is in a bit of a different situation.  The Athlon is the desired processor by many; all motherboard and compatibility issues have been sorted out and the platform is highly competitive with solutions from Intel.  At the same time, the Athlon is no longer constrained by external limitations.  With a faster front side bus and memory bus, the Athlon is better suited for high clock speed operation; and unlike the original Athlons, todays Athlons are not clock limited by their L2 cache because it is on-die. 

Today’s solution from Kryotech has the potential to be a bit more attractive than what we’ve seen in the past, provided that the Athlon can indeed scale well with higher clock speeds.  By the end of this year AMD is claiming to have a 1.73GHz Athlon 4 available for the desktop market, and Intel will have a 2.2GHz Northwood based Pentium 4; but today, Kryotech is offering a 1.866GHz Athlon based SuperG2.  Running at a cool -40C.



The Kryotech Method

If you’re not familiar with Kryotech they are a South Carolina based company (AnandTech’s southern neighbors actually) that originally gained much of their fame from their work with Intel.  Although publicly the only Intel based Kryotech system ever offered was a Pentium Pro system, Kryotech’s cooling solutions were used quite frequently in Intel demonstrations.  Many times when Intel would demo a system running at an extremely high clock speed without specifically mentioning that it was air-cooled, there would be a Kryotech unit sitting underneath a table hidden by a curtain. 

Not too keen on the idea of taking Intel processors and overclocking them, Intel left Kryotech with one choice, to work closer with AMD.  When Kryotech started working with AMD in 1997/1998, the K6 was AMD’s flagship and it didn’t exactly dominate competition from Intel in the performance market segment that Kryotech was targeting.  Regardless, AMD was a great partner for Kryotech and they continued to work closely.  When the Athlon was released, the eyes over at Kryotech lit up with anticipation of what they’d be able to do with a processor that was not only capable of reaching much higher clock speeds, but also with one that was a performance dominating offering.  But how exactly does Kryotech do what they do?

The Kryotech method relies on a phenomenon known as Vapor Phase Refrigeration.  The concept of vapor phase refrigeration shouldn’t be all too unfamiliar to you since it is the same principle that keeps your food cold in your refrigerator (it’s not surprising that a Kryotech system usually sounds a lot like a refrigerator).  Let's start by looking at the words Vapor Phase Refrigeration; refrigeration means that there must be some sort of refrigerant involved and indeed there is.  This refrigerant can be considered the base for this cooling pie as it is the substance that cycles through the Kryotech system, performing the extreme cooling.

The refrigerant alone isn't too useful for removing the incredible amounts of heat today's processors generate; this is where the "vapor phase" part of the equation comes into play.  The refrigerant is sent through a compressor which increases its pressure tremendously.  Because the refrigerant used is initially in a gaseous state, when exposed to extreme pressures it undergoes a phase change to a liquid. 

The same refrigerant, now actually in a semi-liquid form, is sent through a condenser.  Also a part of a normal refrigerator, the condenser takes the semi-liquid refrigerant and cools it down using a fan blowing across the copper pipes that hold the refrigerant. 

Now, finally as a liquid, the refrigerant is sent to the processor and undergoes a pressure drop in the process.  This allows the refrigerant to remove significant amounts of heat from the CPU in its conversion back to a gas.  As a gas, the refrigerant repeats the process, journeying through the compressor, condenser and again to your CPU. 

All of that is just great but how does it allow you to increase clock speed?  As we’ve discussed numerous times in the past, there are two major ways that CPU manufacturers can increase the clock speed of their CPUs.  They can either enhance or change the architecture of the core (for example, optimizing layout or even adding stages to the pipeline) or they can decrease the size of the processor’s circuitry thus allowing electrons to flow with less resistance through the CPU.  It is the latter that supercooling a CPU allows for, the more heat is removed from the processor, the more electrons can be moving without encountering enough resistance to stop them; this paves the way for higher clock speeds.  The rule of thumb for exactly how much of an improvement is that at -40C, you can get approximately 30 - 35% of an increase in performance out of most conventional semiconductors. 

Kryotech's solutions work by "thermally accelerating" (read: overclocking) present day CPUs beyond their limits by employing this Vapor Phase Refrigeration technology to supercool the CPUs.  Kryotech's SuperG2 can "thermally accelerate" an Athlon 1.4GHz processor to 1.866GHz, a 33% increase in clock speed and a clock speed that AMD's roadmap doesn't list anytime this year.



The Super G2

Kryotech's SuperG2 is very reminiscent of the original SuperG; from the outside the case is identical, it isn't until you make the journey to the inside of the case that you actually see any differences. 

The evaluation unit we tested was from SYS, the same company that provided the original SuperG for review.  SYS custom configures the system while Kryotech actually manufactures the case and all of the cooling components.

The base of the chassis holds the compressor which is powered separately from the rest of the system.  In addition to the compressor is the condenser contained in the base.  The copper pipes run from the condenser up through the chassis in a flexible tube called the thermal bus.  On the front of the base a small two line LCD display provides the temperature of the plate that comes in contact with the CPU.  This place is a part of a device known as the KryoCavity which is an enclosure that mounts to the chassis and sits around the CPU. 


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Unlike conventional heatsinks that clip onto the CPU socket, the KryoCavity is entirely too heavy for that so it is mounted in the same way that Pentium 4 heatsinks are mounted – using the four holes surrounding the CPU socket. 

The KryoCavity has a rubber insulator around its base to help prevent condensation, and on the inside of the cavity a moisture absorbing packet.  The circular hole in the KryoCavity is for the copper heat exchanger that is connected to the thermal bus.  On the end of the heat exchanger that comes in contact with the CPU a bit of thermal paste is applied to aid in the transfer of heat. 



Under the KryoCavity is the Socket-462 of the Gigabyte GA-7DX motherboard that Kryotech chose for the SuperG2 system.  The Gigabyte GA-7DX is a very solid motherboard that we also use in a few of our web servers; it also carries strong recommendations from AMD.  The biggest downsides to the GA-7DX are that it does not have any multiplier adjustments and it only has two DDR SDRAM slots.  The latter is a pretty big issue since it limits the amount of memory that can be paired up with the system.  With a large portion of the market for a SuperG2 being professionals that require more than 1GB of memory, only two DIMM slots require you to use larger than 512MB modules in order to get greater than 1GB total memory sizes.  Unfortunately, 512MB PC2100 DDR modules are hard enough to come by and 1GB modules are still not mainstream enough.


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In order to reach 1.866GHz Kryotech uses an Athlon-C running at 1.4GHz (10.5 x 133MHz) with the multiplier modified to be 14.0X.  This results in the sub-zero cooling of the CPU allowing for a 33% increase in clock speed, a similar increase to what Kryotech has been able to achieve in the past.  Due to time constraints we could not test the system with our Athlon MP 1.2GHz processor to see how far AMD’s Palomino core would overclock.

Since the Thunderbird core has no on-die thermal diode the only way to guage CPU temperature is by using the motherboard's thermistor mounted in the center of the CPU socket. Kryotech applied a bit of thermal grease to the underside of the CPU in order to improve thermal conductivity with the thermister. This should be unnecessary in future Athlon 4 versions of the Kryotech system because the Palomino core includes an on-die thermal diode.

SYS configured our evaluation unit very close to how we'd configure the system.  The Gigabyte board was outfitted with a single Crucial 256MB PC2100 DDR SDRAM module (CAS 2).  A Leadtek WinFast GeForce3 populated the AGP 4X slot on the AMD 760 based motherboard while a D-Link 100Mbit network card was the only other peripheral card in the system.  The Gigabyte's on-board Creative Labs audio was enough for our tastes although SYS offers upgrades to SB Live! cards if you're so inclined. 

SYS' hard drive choice was also in line with what we prefer at AnandTech.  The default configuration includes a 40GB IBM 60GXP drive; larger versions of the same drive as well as an IDE RAID of two 60GXP drives are available.  The biggest disappointment here is limited configuration options from SYS when it comes to SCSI hard drives.  At the time of publication the only SCSI offering SYS made available was a IBM 18GB Ultrastar drive.  If you're looking for a better I/O subsystem you're probably going to end up going on your own. 

The pricing is the weak point when it comes to SYS' preconfigured systems, as the system that was sent to us was easily over $3,000.  The main reason for the inflated price being the cost of the Kryotech cooling components themselves.  Kryotech also offers barebones systems with nothing more than the case, cooling setup, motherboard and CPU for $2,281 (USD). 



The Test

Windows 2000 Test System

Hardware

CPU(s)

Intel Pentium 4 1.8GHz SYS Cold-Fusion Kryotech Super G2 Athlon 1.866GHz 2 x AMD Athlon MP "Palomino" 1.2GHz
Motherboard(s) MSI 850 Pro2 Gigabyte GA-7DX Tyan Thunder K7
Memory

256MB PC133 Corsair SDRAM (Micron -7E CAS2)
256MB PC800 Samsung RDRAM

Hard Drive

IBM Deskstar 30GB 75GXP 7200 RPM Ultra ATA/100

CDROM

Phillips 48X

Video Card(s)

NVIDIA GeForce3 64MB DDR (default clock - 200/230 DDR)

Ethernet

Linksys LNE100TX 100Mbit PCI Ethernet Adapter

Software

Operating System

Windows 2000 Professional Service Pack 2

Video Drivers

NVIDIA Detonator3 v12.41 @ 1024 x 768 x 16 @ 85Hz
VIA 4-in-1 4.29V was used for all VIA based boards

Benchmarking Applications

Gaming

Quake III Arena v1.29f demo four
AquaMark V22
DroneZ Benchmark

Productivity

Dual Processor Inspection Tests
Winstone 2001
BAPCo SYSMark 2001
Office Bench 2001

3D Graphics
3D Studio MAX R4


3D Rendering Performance

There are two very hardware demanding groups of computer users: gamers and professionals.  Gamers are usually satisfied with a high performing 3D graphics card but for most artists, engineers and scientists a lot of memory paired up with an extremely fast CPU is worth the world. 

We introduced our 3D Studio MAX R4.02 render test in our 760MP review back in June; in that review, a pair of Athlon MP 1.2GHz processors took the impressive lead with a render time of 14.4 minutes.  The test scene was pretty simple and rendered at 320 x 240; the scene was designed by AnandTech’s own Matthew Witheiler during his quest to learn the ways of 3D modeling.  For more information on the test, click here for our description of it from our 760MP Review.

Just looking at single processor performance, the 1.86GHz Super G2 setup is able to outperform a Pentium 4 overclocked to 2GHz (15 x 133MHz) by a significant amount.  Not to mention that the 1.86GHz offering puts the single processor Athlon MP to shame. 

What’s even more impressive is that the Dual Athlon MP 1.2 configuration is still outperformed by the single 1.86GHz Athlon.  At this point we can only imagine how quick a pair of 1.86GHz Athlon MPs would be…



Workstation Performance

Although now over two years old, the Dual Processor Inspection Tests that are a part of High-End Winstone 99 are still very useful.  The Dual Processor Inspection Tests are conveniently enough multithreaded tests designed to stress multiprocessor systems.  The tests either use MP versions of software packages, MP centric tests or simply run two threads of a particular process in the application (for example, the Visual C++ test spawns two compile windows).

We figured that the best test for the Super G2 system would be to compare it to the world’s previous fastest x86 platform: the 760MP with dual Athlon MP 1.2GHz processors.

Microstation SE is a CAD/Design package that is very stressful when it comes to x87 FPU calculations allowing the Athlon to do very well.  In spite of this, the overclocked Pentium 4 at 2GHz (an official release to be coming very soon) manages to just edge out the two Athlon MP 1.2s – that’s ignoring the very top bar.

Taking the Super G2 into account provides the realization that a 23% performance improvement over the fastest Pentium 4 platform isn’t a joking matter.  Whether it’s worth the price is another thing, but there’s no question about the performance.

The Photoshop 4 MP benchmark that’s a part of the DP Inspection Tests clearly favors the two Athlon MP processors to the single 1.866GHz Athlon.  There are some situations where there simply will be an advantage to a DP system because of the nature of the tasks at hand, this being one of them. 

For a single processor system the 1.866GHz Super G2 is easily impressive but throwing in the lower cost dual Athlon MP 1.2 system into the equation steals a lot of its thunder.

The Visual C++ 6.0 MP test involves opening two files and initiating two compilation operations simultaneously.  Although the 1.866GHz Super G2 makes an earnest effort it is still unable to topple the performance of the dual Athlon MP 1.2.  As far as other single processor systems go, nothing is able to touch the Super G2. 

Overall, when you factor in the incredible performance of the system under Microstation and the losses to the dual Athlon MP system under Photoshop and Visual C++ the Kryotech Super G2 ends up being just slightly outperformed by the dual Athlon MP platform.  Obviously this isn’t how you want to look at the performance of the system at all; if you run applications that are extremely MP centric then you’ll probably want to go for the dual Athlon MP system otherwise the Super G2 ends up being very attractive for those applications that don’t always benefit as much from the transition to multiple processors.



IT/Enterprise Computing Performance

CSA Research’s Office Bench 2001 is another interesting benchmark tool as it allows us to see how hardware scales as application load increases.  As the name implies the benchmark runs a series of office tasks in its baseline configuration; the beauty of the tool is that you can increase the load on the system by simulating other types of stress such as interacting with an exchange server, an Access database or simply playing back a Windows Media file.

We benchmarked in three separate configurations; the first is baseline office performance with no additional loading tasks working in the background. The second configuration is with the database, email and media player stress simulators all set to the lowest loading level and the third test setup is with all of the stress simulators set to the second highest loading level. The office benchmark scripts being executed while all of these loading simulators are being run never change, and performance is measured as a function of time in seconds.

For basic office tasks the Super G2 takes the lead, however the advantage is negligible since the nature of the tasks is such that they don’t really require a powerful system.  When was the last time you felt the need for a 1.866GHz Athlon in order to run Word or Excel?

Starting the load simulators helps spread the contenders out a bit.  The single processor Athlon MP and Pentium 4 1.8GHz CPUs are clearly at the bottom of the charts, while the uppermost clump consists of the Super G2, dual Athlon MP and overclocked Pentium 4 2GHz.  Again the Super G2 takes the lead but it isn’t an incredible advantage. 

Let’s see what happens when things get just a bit more stressful…

Although this may seem surprising at first, it actually makes a lot of sense.  The more concurrent processes that are running, the greater value having two processors (and thus the ability to execute two threads simultaneously) offers the end user. In this case, all of the single processor systems group together and offer somewhat similar performance (of course with the Super G2 offering the highest) and at the top of them all, the dual Athlon MP with a significant advantage.



Overall System Performance

Because of its multitasking nature and low disk dependency SYSMark 2001 was one of the first benchmarks that showcased Content Creation and Office Application performance as being significantly improved by a MP system.  This provided the realization that even enthusiast users that don’t necessarily run multithreaded applications can reap the benefits of a MP system. 

The Pentium 4 has always done very well in the ICC tests of SYSMark 2001, and the trend obviously continues.  Although the 1.866GHz Super G2 leaves the Athlon MP 1.2 alone at the bottom of the charts it’s not quite able to outperform a pair of them in this test.

Although the Pentium 4 definitely excels in Internet Content Creation style applications, the Athlon takes the crown in Office Productivity (Office, E-Mail, AntiVirus, Internet browsing, etc... tasks).  These are the types of applications, even when run simultaneously, that aren’t demanding enough to require multiple processors. 

The Super G2 holds a 13.6% advantage over the overclocked 2GHz Pentium 4 and an even larger 22% advantage over the Dual Athlon MP.

Although SYSMark 2001 proved that dual processors are helpful even if you don’t run 3D Studio MAX all the time, it is also made very clear that a single higher clocked CPU is definitely preferable to a pair of lower clocked CPUs.  Remember that with SMP and most applications you’re never going to get 100% efficiency out of the upgrade to two CPUs.



Overall System Performance continued...

Unlike SYSMark, Winstone 2001 is extremely disk bound rendering the effect of going to multiple processors virtually unnoticeable.  For this reason we’ve omitted the 760MP scores and simply stuck with a single Athlon MP processor for comparison purposes. 

 

The Super G2 continues to exert its performance advantage over the overclocked 2GHz Pentium 4, which in this case happens to be 15%. 

The picture does not change in Business Winstone 2001 either; the Super G2 continues to hold the lead but you’d be hard pressed to find a business application user that would feel comfortable paying $2300 for a CPU, motherboard and a powerful refrigerator to get 24% greater application performance. 



3D Gaming Performance

If you’re a gamer with a very large budget then you’ll probably want to know if the Super G2 is for you.  From what we’ve seen thus far, the only market that the Super G2 really  makes sense in is the professional workstation market where having the highest level of performance possible does impact revenue.  In spite of this, it doesn’t hurt to look at a few gaming benchmarks.

Quake III Arena has consistently performed very well on the Pentium 4 platform, undoubtedly because of the processor’s architecture.  The 1.866GHz Super G2 is able to barely reach the performance of the Pentium 4 1.8GHz, and with the premium you have to pay for the system you’d be better off with a Pentium 4. 

Things change as we look at one of the first DirectX 8 game engines, AquaNox.  AquaMark, a benchmark using the AquaNox engine, gives the Super G2 much more credit and allows it to come very close to the performance of the overclocked Pentium 4 2GHz.

The picture doesn't change too much as we move to a newer OpenGL engine; the Pentium 4 1.8GHz gains a slight advantage over the Super G2. 



Final Words

The Kryotech Super G2 is, in many cases, the fastest system you can get your hands on today.  But that title does come at a price, a very high one at that.  This has unfortunately been the story with Kryotech ever since the start; $2281 will buy you a 1.866GHz Athlon barebones system, while you can get a similar 1.4GHz setup for less than $500 without the supercooling of course.  Is the 33% increase in clock speed really worth it?

If you're a gamer or an enthusiast simply craving more power then the answer is probably no.  In a few months, provided that AMD adheres to their roadmap, the desktop Athlon 4 should be available at 1.73GHz making a $2300 investment today worth considerably less by the end of the year. 

For the professional market the decision is a bit more difficult especially when taking the next best alternative, the 760MP platform, into account.  If the application(s) you're running are heavily MP optimized then you're probably better off with a 760MP setup and a pair of Athlon MPs.  However the choice becomes a bit more difficult if your application(s) are not heavily MP optimized but will benefit from dual processors. 

The dual Athlon MP/760MP setup is still quite a bit cheaper than a barebones Super G2, but the highest clocked Athlon MP is still only 1.2GHz meaning that it may be tough to attain the performance levels of a single 1.866GHz Super G2.  You also have to deal with the fact that higher clocked Athlon CPUs will be available before the end of the year. 

Although it is possible to upgrade the Super G2 later on with a faster processor (provided you modify the multiplier bridges yourself) and push it even further using the Kryotech, you still have the memory bank limitation on the motherboard itself which may be an issue currently. 

It’s a tough call to make, and this time around it’s even more difficult of one since the Athlon won’t reach the 1.866GHz clock speed Kryotech is offering today until sometime next year.  For the mass majority, the price will definitely not justify the performance, regardless of how incredible it may be.

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