Raja's Midrange Overclocking Systems

What about building a bang-for-the-buck overclocking experience, you ask? As our resident overclocking guru and motherboard reviewer, Raja has more experience with this area than the rest of us so we turned this section over to him. In order to keep things simple, we kept nearly all of the components in Vivek's midrange build but switched out the motherboard, processor, RAM and PSU. We also added an aftermarket cooler to allow the CPUs to reach their full potential. Here's what Raja put together. [Ed: Text by Jarred, most of the picks by Raja.]

Raja's Midrange AMD Overclocking System
Hardware Component Price
Processor AMD Phenom II X6 1055T
(Thuban 45nm, 2.8 to 3.3 GHz, 6x512KB L2, 6MB L3, 125W
$179
Motherboard ASUS M4A89GTD Pro (AMD 890GX AM3) $135
CPU Cooler Noctua NH-U12P SE2 120mm SSO $60
Video ASUS Radeon HD 6850 1GB (EAH6850) $200
Memory G.Skill 2x2GB DDR3-1600 (F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ) $65
Hard Drive WD Caviar Blue 1TB (WD10EALS) $70
Optical Drive ASUS 24x DVDRW (DRW-24B1ST) $20
Power Supply Seasonic S12II 620W Bronze (80 Plus Bronze) $75
Case Antec Nine Hundred Two $89
Total System Price $893

For AMD overclocking, I chose one of the hex-core Thuban CPUs, just so you can get every last ounce of performance out of AMD's architecture. The ASUS motherboard ended up being our top AM3 overclocking selection--at least when keeping prices in check--and is good for up to a 50% overclock by raising the base clock. Thuban will generally top out in the 4.0-4.2GHz range, making this board a perfect fit. The Noctua cooler will help keep things cool without making a ton of noise, and the Seasonic S12II 620W power supply should deliver clean, stable current to the system.

Alternately, if you want to spin the wheel, you can also try your hand at core unlocking and save some money. $100 will buy you the Phenom II X2 560 Black Edition, which has two disabled cores. The ASUS board allows core unlocking, provided your CPU can handle it. Many users have had success with core unlocking, but there's no guarantee, and you'll never get the six cores that Thuban processors offer.

Our memory kit may not look like much, with its DDR3-1600 speed and CAS 9 timings. In reality, it shouldn't limit you but it's getting tricky to determine which memory to buy for overclocking. Vendors are now covering up their IC choices so much it's difficult to know what's inside; what we're looking for is an Elpida BBSE type variant or a similar IC from PSC. The G.Skill kit should work, but YMMV.

Raja's Midrange Intel Overclocking System
Hardware Component Price
Processor Intel Core i5-760 Lynnfield 45nm
(4x2.8GHz to 3.33GHz Turbo, 8MB L3, 95W)
$200
Motherboard ASUS Maximus III GENE (Intel P55 1156) ($20 MIR) $127
CPU Cooler Noctua NH-U12P SE2 120mm SSO $60
Video ASUS Radeon HD 6850 1GB (EAH6850) $200
Memory G.Skill 2x2GB DDR3-1600 (F3-12800CL9D-4GBNQ) $65
Hard Drive WD Caviar Blue 1TB (WD10EALS) $70
Optical Drive ASUS 24x DVDRW (DRW-24B1ST) $20
Power Supply Seasonic S12II 620W Bronze (80 Plus Bronze) $75
Case Antec Nine Hundred Two $89
Total System Price $906

Okay, first let's get this out of the way: Sandy Bridge is right around the corner. Think your hopped up i5-760 overclock is impressive? Imagine an unlocked Sandy Bridge chip running at 4.3-4.5GHz on air cooling. If you're into Intel overclocking, we'd really consider just waiting a bit longer right now. But, if you must buy a P55 system right now and you want a good overclock....

For the CPU, the i5-760 remains the most sensible choice. Priced at $200, you still get four cores with great overclocking potential--hitting 4.0-4.2GHz is generally common with an appropriate motherboard and cooling. The jump to i7-870 is $80 and all you really get is Hyper-Threading, since maximum overclocking means you'll want to disable the Turbo Boost feature and most of the Lynnfield CPUs are going to top out around the same 4.2GHz. We might be swayed to make an investment in Core i7 if it weren't for Sandy Bridge; then again, there's an upside: motherboards that used to push nearly $200 have come down quite a bit and there are plenty of rebates going around right now.

The motherboard is always a critical component for overclocking, and even though there are plenty of options that can do well, we wanted something more than just a decent overclock. The ASUS Maximus III GENE can easily hit BLCKs far beyond what you'll need for an i5-760, but even better is the excellent voltage regulation that will allow you to push 4GHz and higher without pumping a ton of current through your CPU. ASUS also makes overclocking very easy on the less experienced, with only minor tweaks necessary to get your system running at top speed.

Cooling for both systems comes courtesy of the Noctua NH-U12P SE2, a high quality push-pull cooler capable of keeping your CPU temperatures down without raising noise levels. While there are decent coolers for a bit less money, we've never been disappointed by the Noctua; it works well even with hex-core processors if you move to X58, so the Lynnfield CPUs aren't going to be a problem.

You'll notice that the power supply isn't the OCZ model Vivek used; instead the PSU is a higher quality Seasonic S12II capable of delivering the clean, stable power you'd want in an overclocked system. If you want to move to dual graphics cards and a heavily overclocked CPU, the 620W power supply should still keep up with everything short of the fastest GPUs. If that's what you'd like, I suggest looking at Ryan's X58 high-end SLI build.

Vivek's Midrange Intel System Anand's Ready for Bulldozer/Sandy SSD System
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  • StormyParis - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    htpc should fit into a stereo cabinet. you're trying to build a NAS + HTPC + desktop into one machine, which makes no sense at all. Split the thing in 3, with a real, small, silent HTPC, a NAS, and a mini-itx desktop, and you're much better off, for pretty much the same price. Reply
  • ajlueke - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    While it is somewhat a matter of personal preference, I admit, some people really hate giant cases in the living room. I love having everything built into one system, and using it to serve the rest of the house and play Starcraft II on the big screen. The real downside, is then you are using a high end rig to serve you other computers as opposed to a NAS, and a NAS is going to have far superior numbers in the power consumption department. Reply
  • Mathieu Bourgie - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Good job on the builds everyone, great idea of getting several members of the AT's team to work together on this.

    Here are my opinions, suggestions and things that I'd personally change:

    Dustin's AMD Pure Budget System:
    Hard Drive: Actually, if you shop on Amazon instead, you can snap a Spinpoint F3 500Gb for about $46 and a 1TB for $53, without needing to find any coupons.

    Power Supply: I'd mention that the Antec EarthWatts Green EA-380D 380W doesn't include a power cord in its package. Not a big deal for most of us, but still good to knowi f you don't have a spare cord.

    DVD Burner: Why go with an IDE based model, which is out of stock by the way? Because the motherboard comes with a single SATA and a single IDE cable? Hardly a reason if you ask me.

    Might as well get a SATA model that can be used for years and years, if you upgrade the system down the road. Going by customer's feedback on NewEgg, ASUS 24x SATA DVD Burner is one of the most reliable model available, for only $20: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    Balraj's Intel Budget System:
    The one stick of RAM is an interesting trade off, sure you lose dual-channel but you gain the ability to easily upgrade RAM down the road. Then again, a motherboard with 4 RAM slots would allow for both options.

    Blu-Ray: The Samsung SH-B083L/BSBP has pretty bad reviews on NewEgg, I'd get the Samsung SH-B123L instead, which costs $20 more, but is also faster (12x vs 8x).

    Power Supply: I cannot skip this: you really want to avoid using a low-end, generic power supply, for reliability purposes and to protect your components. You do not want to cut corners on a power supply.

    Jarred's AMD Budget Gaming System:
    You mention Crossfire support, but go with a motherboard that has the PCI-Express 16x slots running at 16x and 4x, which would bottleneck performance?

    For a similar price, the ASRock 870 EXTREME3 comes with two PCI-Express 16x slots at 8x/8x, which are well spaced to allow both cards to "breath".

    125W CPU, with a stock cooler? Sure, it's "adequate" for cooling in most cases, but that stock cooler is going to be heard from miles away when you game for hours and/or during hot summer nights if you don't have an AC. Not much of an issue if you play with headphones, but still, I'd get at least a Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus CPU Cooler.

    "Gaming depends primarily on your GPU" "You could even go with a cheaper CPU like the Athlon II X4 645 or the Phenom II X4 810"
    Agreed for most games, but there are games that will be CPU bound (Think RTS like SC2, or MMORPG like WoW), where you'll want a powerful CPU that allow the GPU to flex its muscles.
    Also, while the X4 645 isn't a bad CPU, losing the L3 cache and the lower frequencies are going to hurt performance quite a bit for video games.

    Vivek's Midrange Intel System:
    Once again, Crossfire is mentioned, but the second PCI-Express slot runs at 4x...

    An ASRock P55 EXTREME4 will fix that and if you want USB 3.0 and SATA 6.0Gb/s at the same time as Crossfire 8x/8x, you'll want an ASUS P7P55D-E Pro, which features a PLX chip, making it one of the few P55 boards that can run SATA 6.0Gb/s, USB 3.0 and Crossfire 8x/8x all at once, unlike most boards where USB 3.0 and SATA 6.0Gb/s will fall back to USB 2.0 and SATA 3.0Gb/s due to the lack of bandwidth (lack of PCI-Express lanes, thanks to the P55 chipset).

    PSU: OCZ don't exactly make the most reliable PSUs, with the biggest issue being that reliability varies from a model to another, since they use various manufacturers for their PSUs. You get what you pay for with a PSU and a solid Corsair or Seasonic PSU will serve you much better IMO.

    Raja's Midrange AMD Overclocking System:
    I actually agree with all your choices and like how you didn't strictly stick to NewEgg. Way to go.

    Raja's Midrange Intel Overclocking System:

    I'd avoid the ASUS Maximus III GENE like the plague. I used to recommend it, until I'd hear back from so many readers that had issues with it (Read some review on NewEgg) that I had no choice but to stop recommending it, because it's so unreliable.

    Ryan's High-End Gaming System:
    Way to go for keeping noise somewhat under control. Once again though, an IDE DVD Burner in a 2k+ system? Really?

    Also, the sound card is priced at $100, not $75, unless I missed something here.

    Brian's Intel Dream PC:
    Hahaha, now you're talking! Couldn't agree more on the motherboard, which is a one of a kind.

    Just one thing though: You forgot CPU Coolers, since Xeon CPUs don't come with any.

    Also, why ECC RAM? ECC seems kind of futile for a Gaming PC.

    Keyboard: Yes! Mechanical keyboards are the best. I personally recently got a Filco with MX Cherry Blue switches and that keyboard helped me increase my WPM typing speed tremendously. The feedback and noise is also great for gaming.

    Mouse: I've always been a fan of the Logitech MX-518, which remains excellent years after its release and offers a great bang for your buck too.

    Don't have much to add to the HTPCs, they make sense and quite frankly, it's a matter of personal tastes too.

    Except for a few things mentioned above, great job all on the builds. Although I'm a bit sadden to not have seen any Workstation build.

    P.S. For those who wonder about my experience building PCs and the like, I’m a computer enthusiast with 10 years of experience in building, fixing and modifying computers, who has been writing about/offering PC Builds of all kinds (Gaming, HTPC, Workstations, etc.) at various price points on my own blog (www.hardware-revolution.com) for over two years and a half now.

    Cheers,
    Mathieu
    Reply
  • Ben90 - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    I agree completely on the inclusion of a mechanical keyboard, they are the SSDs of the keyboard world. Once you try to type on rubber domes again it feels absolutely horrible.
    Personally I am a Cherry Black guy as I like the linear travel for gaming, but for typing its impossible to beat Cherry Blues unless quietness is a metric.
    Reply
  • bji - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    How do you feel about scissor switch keyboards? I like them as I find them to be much less mushy than rubber dome keyboards, but alot quieter and with less key travel than mechanical keyboards. I use the Kensington "Slim Type Keyboard" (that's what it says on the bottom, I can't remember the exact model number) and highly recommend it. Reply
  • Tom_S - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Concerning keyboards etc. I *have* been living under a rock and had not heard of the DAS keyboard that sounds interesting, but while under the rock I have been using my Northgate and Avant keyboards (made by CVT Inc) which were always the gold standard in mechanical keyboards. I looked at the site, and it appears that the lesser of the Avant kbds is not available right now, but the Stellar is.
    http://www.cvtinc.com/products/keyboards/menu.htm

    I concede that these are old fashioned - not USB without an adapter, no USB hub, but they have been around since the 1980's and are noteworthy. To further date myself, one of their features has been to remap the left ctrl and caps lock keys (moving ctrl next to the "a" key), for those of us still used to old terminals and editors/programming environments that use control keys.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Are the current Samsung HDDs any good? A couple years ago I bought a Samsung HDD recommended on this site for a build for work. First one wouldn't allow an OS install. RMAed it, got a replacement. That one died a few months later. RMAed that, bought one from another brand, and after testing the third Samsung to be sure it could be formatted when we got it just kept it on the side for emergency use. Can't say I'm anxious to try again. Reply
  • Mathieu Bourgie - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Samsung HDDs are some of the best drives on the market in my opinion. Their F3 and F4 (The 7,200 rpm 320GB model that is) line-up offer some of the best throughputs rates in MB/s, are very reliable and emit very little heat.

    For the average latency time, the Western Digital drives tend to be better, although they run hotter and have slightly lower reliability. For Gaming, I'd say that WD drives are the best, but quite frankly, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a system equipped with Samsung or WD drives.

    Also, keep in mind warranty: W.D. offers 5 years on their Black Caviar line-up, as opposed to 3 years on their Caviar Blue and 3 years for Samsung drives.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    I did try to price-check everything using our internal pricing tools (Dynamite-Data is an AnandTech affiliate of sorts), so where I could find clearly better prices from other than Newegg I went that route. Obviously, 10 systems or whatever makes it a bit difficult to get every little detail, which is why some IDE DVDRW drives slipped in. Oops!

    The CrossFire/SLI issue on lower end motherboards (i.e. P55 with x16/x4) was another one that I wracked my brain on for a good long time. I'd really like to go the Biostar route on Vivek's setup (or the overclocking board), but truthfully I'm a bit gun-shy with Biostar. I've had decent boards in the past from them, and other boards that sucked hard. Price is another item that I kept running into -- I don't want to recommend an expensive Intel board when SB is coming so soon.

    I'll try to go through and update the optical drives to be SATA, though. Shame on my fellow writers for being so lazy! :-) Thanks for the comments.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, November 19, 2010 - link

    Okay, I made some updates and added some additional commentary where appropriate. But I chose to disagree (or let the editors disagree at least) with some of your comments. IMO, there's no need for aftermarket cooling on CPUs if you don't intend to overclock, so I left my build without one.

    The other big issue is Newegg reviews; they're just not reliable by any stretch. We've had motherboards that our guys loved that get mediocre scores at Newegg because of idiot users. "Gee... my memory isn't working and I plugged it in, never looked at the BIOS, never updated the BIOS. What's wrong with this board!?" Likewise, some items get 5 eggs not because they're the best but because a lot of buyers think they're a great value... and they wouldn't know quality if it walked up and punched them in the nose. So, while I generally avoid stuff that gets 3 eggs or less, the 4/5 egg stuff may be decent, good, or great depending on the user. Plus, people with problems are about 10X more likely to post as people where everything worked fine.

    Anyway, thanks for the corrections/suggestions.
    Reply

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