The Clarkdale Experiment

I’ve been waiting for Intel’s 32nm CPUs to arrive on the scene, because I’ve been wanting to build a small, but relatively potent, gaming system. Now, Anand wasn’t all that impressed with the price/performance ratio of the Intel Core i5 661, suggesting that Intel had priced the CPU too high relative to the competition.

Interestingly, Anand also found the power consumption to be a little iffy, noting that his system idled at around 110W (though he did suggest it was high partly due to the particular Asus motherboard he used in the CPU review.)

I saw an opportunity with Clarkdale to do a little experimenting. I wanted to build a small gaming system with low idle power, but capable of running high end games at high frame rates. The $205 Core i5 661 looked to be just the CPU for that – two cores, two more virtual cores seemed like a good fit for even modern game titles. All you need is a better GPU… and maybe a few other things.

For example, I’d need a good discrete graphics card. Storage was relatively important, but I could get by without dropping in a terabyte drive. This system wasn’t intended to be a repository for digital video. Even though modern PC games take up a lot of space, there even a 250 or 320GB drive is ample enough to hold quite a number of games. For example, I probably have a dozen current generation games installed using Steam, and my Steam folder is just 131GB.

So in my mind, Clarkdale can enable a different class of system. Right now, I’ve got a system running a different Asus motherboard (the P7H55D-M EVO). It’s also got a discrete graphics card in it. After I build a system, I always run 3DMark Vantage as a kind of sanity check to see if it's all working properly. This little monster generates a 3DMark Vantage score of 12,738.

Did I mention that it idles at just under 70W?

Let’s see exactly how I built this thing.

The Components
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  • ctbaars - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    I agree with Morphologia. Don't stop writing a wide variaty of articles. I love your ssd pick. Big lol. and I'm dying to know how it turns out ...
  • morphologia - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    This is a hobby-build article by an author who tends to write such things...seriously, if so many of you don't like this type of article why did any of you read it????

    I found it interesting, maybe because I didn't go in thinking it was a hard-hitting blood-and-guts in-depth review/critique. It's just a by-the-way fascinating autobiographical thing and that's all it needs to be. And the response from the peanut gallery? Mostly a bunch of Simpson's Comic-Book Guy types whining ""

    Not to mention all the "you are clueless because what I would've done instead is..." garbage sprinkled in there. So? Start your own blog.

    Sorry...just sick of all the hubris and bravo-sierra from people who could better express their disdain by simply reading something else next time.
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    If the author had given a coherent explanation of some of the component decisions, I would agree with you more, but some of the choices seem to directly contradict the explanations given. Why the i5-661 instead of the i5-660, which would seem to better meet his goal of low-power/little heat while not losing anything since he isn't using the IGP anyway? Why use a Colossus when a 2.5" drive would likely provide more storage for less money and also take up less space, helping with the problems regarding breaking a connector he mentioned. In some ways this build seems to be less about a well-thought-out combination of components and more about just buying the most expensive item available in each category.
  • yacoub - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    Core i5-750: $149 at MicroCenter (up until about three weeks ago)
    EVGA P55 Micro E652: $130 (on sale at three weeks ago)
    Antec MiniP180: $79 (on sale at three weeks ago)
    Radeon HD5770: $169
    HardDrives: 40GB Intel V-series G2 SSD: $120; WD 1TB Caviar Green: $89
    RAM: 4GB Corsair XMS3 1600MHz DDR3: $93
    PSU: Whatever you want for $130 or less. I'd get a Corsair HX650.
    Optical drive: I just go with DVD/CD, don't care about BluRay, so we'll just keep your BluRay drive ($110).
    OS: I run Win7x64 Pro, which was $99 pre-ordered. We can keep your $105 lesser edition though, whatever.
    Total: $1174.
    In my build, I got 8GB of RAM, but my OS was a little cheaper, and my optical drive was a LOT cheaper. I spent $994 (including tax) and I have a $10 rebate on my Corsair PSU that I mailed out, so should get $10 back on that eventually.
    And this thing is ridiculously power efficient compared to the Core2Duo/8800GT rig I was running previously.
    Between the Core i5 & P55 C-state/speedstep/whatever power saving technology and the HD5770's power saving technology, this system is amazingly more efficient.
    And working with the MiniP180 was probably a lot less of a hassle when it comes to the build and installation. Oh and I used an extra Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro I had laying around for my CPU hsf, which was probably easier to install than that Scythe.
  • spunlex - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    I find it very strange that the i5-661 was chosen over the i5-660 considering the goals of this build. Why do you want an igp dumping more heat if your not going to use it?
  • Paulman - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    I think I have a couple improved suggestions for how to spec this system out on a budget:

    1) Instead of a $800 SSD drive, you can just go with a ~$200 64GB SSD drive like the OCZ Agility and pop in a $50-60 500-640GB 72000 RPM drive for storage. You will not lose much general usage performance.

    2) Keep the Radeon HD 5850. You can save about $80+ dollars by going with a Core i3 530 instead of the i5 661, and again, you won't lose much performance at all. Maybe 10-20%? You WILL lose about 50% performance in games, I would guess, if you went with the 5770 instead of the 5850, though.
  • juliusdavies - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    +1 to Alphacheez's comment.

    The Core i5-660 is rated at 73W TDP compared to the i5-661's 87W.

    I would really like to see the following comparisons:

    Discrete Graphics: i5-660 vs. i5-661

    Integrated Graphics: i5-660 vs. i5-661

    Otherwise keep everything else the same!

    I think such a series of comparisons would be fascinating.
  • jtroutma - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    I actually did something very similar to this build for my system a few months back. My goals were a bit different however; i7 920 system, overclock it, and watercool it. I documented a lot of the details here:">

    Would love to chat with the author of the article however and share details on how he got around some more of the challenging details involved with his build (same case just an earlier version)

  • Mr Perfect - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    I don't know why, but I'm always surprised when a "SFF" build turns out to be a MATX board and not MITX. OEMs like Dell and HP have been pumping out nothing but MATX machines for years, and I haven't had to fix a full size ATX at work since... 2007?

    MATX isn't SFF in consumer circles, it's standard. I'm glad to see it's finally gaining ground in the enthusiast market.
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, January 28, 2010 - link

    I don't really see the point of mITX if you are fitting a card the size of the 5850. If this were a small box using the integrated graphics of Clarkdale then it would make much more sense.

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