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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  • GeorgeH - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    Especially since the stated goal was low power consumption and the 750 consumes ~10W or less than the 661 at idle. He could've saved $10 and gotten a faster, more mature, more power efficient, and cheaper platform.
  • jnmfox - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    Seems like you dropped a lot to get a SFF build, but like you said the SSD was almost half the cost. I'm sure the SSD really helps with heat and noise, I love my laptop SSD for that reason.

    I've been looking at building a mini-ITX gaming system using the upcoming Sugo SG07, an i3 CPU, and my 4850 for the GPU. Good to read your experiences with the micro ATX build.
  • takumsawsherman - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    I kind of get it. Vacation is fun. I don't mean the Bahamas. I mean being home with family and being able to enjoy the fruits of your labors and good fortune. You might not want to come back in a full time way, so you don't. I think that sounds like a lot of fun, and look forward to the day where I can do the same.

    At the same time, hiring a "Loyd" was probably a bad idea. There is no value in his writing or "experiments". I don't want to hurt the guy, it's just that Anandtech has had it's share of mediocre articles. This doesn't meet the standard of mediocre.

    Between the fact that there are fewer articles posted than in years past, very few roundups with actual stability and feature testing, Anandtech is getting to be a very boring bookmark to click every day. Someone should be hired who has the time and inclination to get motherboards, memory, video cards, cases, etc., and not just test them and rave about them, but to push back on the vendors to improve them. They should be encouraged to reduce the "inspire a 14 year old" theme that they seem to embrace, and build professional products. Like Tyan used to do. Extended stability testing, checking for bugs regarding QVL memory compatibility (this has been a problem lately) and holding their warranty service to account are all things that Anand has done in the past, and should do again.

    Also, Firewire should be implemented at the highest speed available (currently 800) or the motherboard should be thrown in the garbage :) I include this to let others know that I have not forgotten the true cause.
  • mindless1 - Saturday, January 30, 2010 - link

    I'm in total agreement with the second half of what you wrote!

    As for the first half, the kind of articles you want have to *exist* in order to displace the articles you don't want, and you can opt not to read anything, at any time. Often I know if I want to read a complete article by the end of the first couple paragraphs if the title alone doesn't deter me.

    IOW, more articles is better. So long as Loyd gets click-through there's every reason to keep articles that apparently were of interest to some readers. All visitors to AT are not hardware gurus, everyone had to start somewhere too.
  • blowfish - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    Lloyd's component choices seem as extravagant as the recent ones he made for his teenage daughter's pc! Could it be there's a pattern developing?

    Without overclocking, there would seem to be no point in the 661 - so I hope there is some follow-up meat to go on the bones of this article.
  • stromgald30 - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    As with most novice builders, he buys into a lot of the marketing and doesn't yet have the feel for balancing performance across CPU, GPU, RAM, Mobo, and hard drive so that he's not overspending in any one area.
  • alphacheez - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    Well, he's overspent on basically every component just like he said he would in the article. He's basically taken each component and taken it a step (or more) above the sweet spot of performance per dollar.

    I'd like to see this system compared with a system along the lines of the "budget" component suggestions he makes at the end of the article. How much more are you getting for your money? I have a feeling the expensive system won't be terribly much faster but it might enable a better experience by allowing gaming at a higher resolution and more eye candy, less slowdown when a mechanical hard drive may choke on random reads/writes, etc.

    The i5-661 does seem to be an odd choice to pair with a discrete graphics card since the main benefit of the 661 over the 660 is a higher-clocked integrated GPU which would presumably also increase heat output, power consumption and noise; all things Lloyd is trying to avoid. Is there some ability to switch from the discrete GPU to the integrated CPU that might allow for some power savings when not performing demanding 3D workloads? I know there had been talk of systems along those lines earlier, but I thought those had all been discontinued (or maybe just delayed???).

    I look forward to the followup to this article to see how it actually works out. I personally would get a lower performance computer closer to the $/performance optimum and use the money I saved to allow me to upgrade to a new machine (or newer components) sooner.
  • stromgald30 - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    I think that may be worth an article. A comparison of real world performance differences between his high end system and a mid-range and budget system with the same case.

    The article seems well written, but there's no meat to this other than Loyd documenting his experiences. For veteran PC builders/tweakers, this isn't all to interesting, and IMHO belongs more in the forums than as an article.
  • pjladyfox - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    I'm curious as to why you went with the Silverstone SG04B? As you pointed out space is incredibly tight in that enclosure and airflow really is restricted after you put in everything. And that's not even covering the massive cost of the case itself.

    Just glancing at similar cases I see there are better options:

    Antec Mini P180 - $70-$80 via newegg

    Thermaltake VF1000BWS Lanbox - $110 via newegg

    Thermaltake LANBOX Lite VF6000BWS - $80 via newegg

    All of these should have not only given you the size of case you wanted but more room and better airflow.
  • loydcase - Wednesday, January 27, 2010 - link

    The Silverstone SG04 is easily more transportable than the cases you mention. I really wanted to squeeze this a bit. The gating factor was really the size of the graphics card more than anything else, but I wanted small, quiet and low power.

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