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09-28-10, 02:37 PM
Project: Media/Gaming/Review system upgrades - Fall 2010

In July of '09 I made what turned out to be a few smart purchases. I upgraded my old Socket 939 x2 system (hooked to my 720p TV in the living room) with an HD 3850 to something newer (and ended up re-using some parts):

Asus M3A (AMD 770 chipset) DDR2 ATX motherboard
Phenom II x3 720 Black Edition
Arctic Cooling Freezer Pro 64 CPU cooler
PowerColor HD 4870 512mb
G.Skill 2x2gb DDR2-800
WD Caviar Blue 16mb cache 250gb SATA hard drive
Memorex 16x DL DVD R/RW drive
Antec EarthWatts 650 power supply
Sunbeam Tuniq III case
SB Audigy 2 ZS
3x 120mm fans
MS Wireless Laser 6000 keyboard/mouse

This rig was a little more powerful than I thought it would be. I got a good overclock out of the x3 (3.4ghz), though I couldn't unlock it due to limitations of the 770 chipset, and the 4870 overclocked nicely as well.

After some time, I upgraded my desk rig, another 939 x2/HD 3850 rig, to Socket AM2/AM3. Since the media/gaming PC was actually a little overpowered, I swapped some components, and downgraded the Phenom II to an Athlon II x3 425 at 2.7ghz (and didn't overclock it), and downgraded the HD 4870 to an HD 4850 (which I also ran at stock). Still, the system performed great, and I honestly really didn't notice much of a performance difference.

When Bad Company 2 came out, I realized that I might need a bit more power, so I re-upgraded the media/gaming PC. Another x3 720BE went back in, as did the 4870, which enjoyed a short stay, as I bought an HD 4890 (which I didn't use and ended up selling), and then finally got a Sapphire HD 5830. With the x3 720 at 3.5ghz and the 5830 at 920/1250 (stock speeds were 800/1000), this rig positively flew. Of course the hard drive is the glaring bottleneck, but honestly it performed fine for my needs, as my Vista install was well-optimized.

This system has done great over the past year plus, but since I've done a couple reviews on it (and one review using my other PC), it's become apparent to me that I need to use some equipment that is a bit newer, and maybe a bit faster. So the Asus M3A/x3 and CPU cooler has been sold, the DDR2 is for sale, and several other components have been upgraded.


I thought I would end up going for a brute-force speedy CPU like an x4 965BE, but instead a Phenom II x6 1055t 125w caught my eye for $160.


Reviews indicate that this CPU doesn't really do much better than the x3 when at stock speeds, but when overclocked it creeps up into x6 1090t/i7 920 territory.

CPU Cooler:

The Arctic Cooling Freezer Pro 64 has been a sleeper of a cooler, and it still ranks high on Frostytech's list. But I felt that after 2+ years, it was time to move on. So I found a Kingwin XT-1264 for $22 at Amazon.


Review: http://www.frostytech.com/articleview.cfm?articleID=2420

Kingwin generally makes lower-end coolers, but this unit actually outpaces the Scythe Mugen, and approaches the cooling capabilities of the Thermalright Ultra-120. $22 for a direct-contact cooling setup FTW!


At the time I didn't have much money to work with, so I ended up not being able to get an AMD 8-series chipset. This is disappointing, but I still ended up getting a stellar deal ($35 shipped) on an MSI 785GM-E65 785G mATX motherboard.


Review link: http://ixbtlabs.com/articles3/mainboard/msi-785gm-e65-785g-p1.html

This motherboard has a great layout and construction, and...

The 5-phase switching voltage regulator incorporates four MOSFETs per channel in four channels responsible for supplying power to processor cores and three MOSFETs in a channel catering for CPU NB, ten 820-uF and six 270-uF solid-state capacitors. Considering the installed heatsink, this solution should cope not only with 140-TDP processors, but also with their overclocking.


This motherboard is even better than we have thought before the tests. Peripheral functionality really leaves almost nothing to be desired. It offers full support for overclocking experiments, both in terms of BIOS options and stable power supply for an overclocked processor owing to the reliable VRM and cooling system. That is engineers in MSI fully implemented their idea to create a compact motherboard for hard-driving users. This product also demonstrates very good power saving results.

The integrated 10-channel HDA codec Realtek ALC889 might actually persuade me to ditch the Audigy 2 as well. In the review the motherboard also overclocked a Phenom II x4 810 nicely, to 3.64ghz using 280HTT. This appears to bode well for my CPU choice as it does not allow multiplier adjustments. I'm pretty excited to see how well this motherboard does with the combination of hardware I have.


Again, I didn't have a lot of money to work with, but I ended up with 2x2gb A-Data Gaming series DDR3-1600 9-9-9-24 1.55V - 1.75V, for $88.


I know that despite the increase from DDR2-800 to DDR3-1600, I don't need to expect a huge performance increase just from the memory. I think I'll be happy with this purchase though.

Hard disk:

I can't afford an SSD quite yet, so I at least felt the need to get something faster than my single WD2500AAKS. So I picked up two WD2500KS drives for $50. On their own, they're a tad slower than the newer Caviar Blue, but setup for RAID 0 these should be plenty fast until later this year or early next year when I pick up two 60-80gb SSDs.

Carryover components:

Video card: As evidenced in the GTX 460 and 465 reviews and the Lost Planet 2 review addendum, the HD 5830 does a nice job of pushing pixels. It was a decent upgrade from the HD 4870, it plays nice with my old HDTV, and I'm still happy with it.

Power Supply: This Antec Earthwatts 650 has powered several systems over the two years that I've had it. It's quiet and allows for some decent overclocks. If I need more headroom or if performance starts degrading I'll get a $90-$100 Corsair unit, or another PSU that gets the thumbs-up from JohnnyGuru.

Optical Drive: I HATE this Memorex drive. It only reads half the discs I put in, and has a hard time playing DVDs. After I get an SSD my first goal is a Blue-Ray drive.

Case: It's not the best, but this Sunbeam Tuniq III is quiet, cool, and has a nice monolithic look due to the single-piece brushed aluminum front.


I'll keep it until another case catches my eye. I might be ending up with a hand-me-down black CoolerMaster WaveMaster, so there's a possibility that I might pull a switch-a-roo.

Sound card: With both the video card and the new motherboard featuring high-quality audio, the Audigy 2 ZS might not be needed any more. We'll see.

OS: I'm installing Vista x64 on this system one more time, but I think within a few weeks I'll finally have a copy of Win7.

So this won't end up being a HUGE upgrade, but think things'll be a little snappier, and this will be a little more relevant in hardware reviews. With the motherboard/CPU/cooler combo, I'm hoping for 3.4-4.0ghz, hopefully the latter and not the former though.

I'll post updates as it comes together.

bob saget
09-28-10, 04:44 PM
great stuff. keep the pics coming.

09-30-10, 12:43 AM
It's not really an upgrade per se, but this is noteworthy:

I was at the Salvation Army store today looking in the tech and toys section when I saw a speaker set with a big sub. I'm in need of a sub for my Denon HT receiver (which drove the sound for my media/gaming PC), so I got it... $7.00.

Took it home and dusted it off.

Its a dang Altec Lansing ADA890!!


analog/digital, LCD screen on right front speaker, 8" sub, Dolby Digital and THX, 4.1/5.1, remote control, 27Hz to 20kHz freq response... nice!

So I replaced my receiver with it for now... It's more energy efficient for sure, it doesn't heat the room up, and the small speakers save some space. It's in "good as new" shape, and this was a $350 set back in the day. Plus now I have proper surround sound. Right now I'm trying it out in the soon-to-be-upgraded rig, using the HD 5830's sound via HDMI. On the new setup I'll try that again, but I'll also give the onboard a whirl.

I wonder if it's even worth it to put the Audigy 2 ZS in to try it out.

09-30-10, 02:41 PM
if you go bluray, I suggest pioneer. Hasn't done one thing wrong since I got it. BDR-205 12x writer.

10-04-10, 05:54 PM
I got the system together, and in most ways it just feels one tick snappier than the AM2+ rigs I've had over the last year plus.

I'm still working on an overclock, but here's a preliminary Sandra Multimedia result:


I'll try to hit 4.0ghz, but won't be mad if I don't. :)

I also ended up getting Win7, so I'm trying it out for the first time... IMO it just feels like an optimized Vista; no biggie.

The speaker set, wow. Sounds GREAT. It's my first true 5.1 setup in years. It's loud and clear.... the mids aren't as good as the home theater setup, but I'll tweak a bit to get the sound optimized.


Cable management: My case does not have anywhere to tuck wiring except under the 5.25 bays, and IMO that's no way to manage cabling. My Antec PSU doesn't have hardly any sleeving on the wiring, so it's easy for it to get messy in there. My last setup with this case/PSU used a bunch of zip ties, but I'd like to do something better this time. Can I buy some sleeving? If so, does that stuff help a lot?

Regarding my ATI card's HDMI connection to the LCD (TV), the audio connection is dropping out if the PC goes into standby. This never happened with Vista. Is there some solution for this? In the mean time I've changed the power settings so that the PC never sleeps, though I shut the display off manually when I'm away.

DDR3 speed: I have DDR3 1600. When overclocking, do I really need to get the RAM dialed in to as close to DDR3 1600 as possible, or is the performance difference between DDR3 1333 and 1600 negligible?

More on this later as I tighten the last screws and neaten things up.

10-05-10, 02:49 AM
How about 3.8ghz, a full 1ghz overclock?


http://img153.imageshack.us/img153/291/38ghz.jpg (http://img153.imageshack.us/i/38ghz.jpg/)

I know that my hard drives are the bottleneck, and I need to do some heavy Prime95 testing to insure stability, but usually I can get an OC to fail during Sandra testing... I'll torture this setup and see how it goes, but as of right now, the numbers in the above graphs indicate quite a nasty gaming rig (provided it can do this speed with stability).

10-05-10, 03:06 AM
BTW temps at idle are 25-26 degrees @ stock, 30-32 @ 3.8ghz. Wow, this Kingwin cooler is nice. I'll report on load temps as soon as I can.

10-05-10, 05:06 AM
You are really swaying me towards an AMD build now. lol

10-05-10, 09:29 AM
Let me know if you see a difference in BFBC2 over the x3 720. I had my 720 at 3.8ghz and my 4ghz 6 core is MUCH smoother in it.

10-05-10, 04:06 PM
I just tested MOH Open Beta and BC2; and BC2 now feels like it did on the 720BE @ 3.4-3.5 when I had HBAO off. So yeah, big difference.

So far my OC is holding up just fine... and as far as load temps are concerned, I hit a high of 43 degrees, and within a minute of unstressing the CPU it was back down to 31... I witnessed this happening a few times, and am growing more and more impressed with this cooler.

Mr Bigman
10-05-10, 08:53 PM
Very classy and stylish shovs.

The Ragjij guy always does good stuff vims.

10-05-10, 10:23 PM
Very classy and stylish shovs.

The Ragjij guy always does good stuff vims.

Uh, thanks Biggie.

Say this out loud and you'll have my username down: "rage jay jee".



Mr Bigman
10-06-10, 12:17 AM
Thanks too ragejayjee guy.

Where is the wolf guy?

Very sweet overclocks with that 1055t shovs.

10-06-10, 12:29 AM

While running a Prime95 torture test, the system shut off...

Felt around the case and the northbridge/MOSFET area was waaay hot despite having a heatpipe cooling setup.

Tried another PSU, no go. Brief flash and nothing.

Took that system's CPU and video card and tried them in my desk rig (which is about to be rebuilt as well)... they booted fine.

Looks like a brand new motherboard died on me.

I've never had an overclock kill a motherboard. THIS SUCKS.

It's not going to shy me away from overclocking, but damn, I don't know what to do. I don't have the money for a new motherboard. Hopefully I can RMA it.

ragejg is sad. Very very sad.:(:(:(:(

I will however rise like a phoenix with a better setup, more insured stability etc...

10-06-10, 01:17 AM
I just filled the MSI RMA form out. Looks like I won't be posting again in this thread until I get a new motherboard in the mail.

Maybe on the next one I'll be a little more careful? All in all I don't think I was doing anything outside the norm; it was a relatively normal x6 overclock.

10-06-10, 11:19 AM
Good luck with the rma. Were you overclocking using software or in the bios?

10-06-10, 11:21 AM
Good luck with the rma. Were you overclocking using software or in the bios?


I'm not sure that MSI can deny me an RMA based on overclocking. After all, they're the makers of Afterburner, and the utility in their motherboard BIOS is meant for overclocking.

We'll see I guess. :o

10-06-10, 11:34 AM

I'm not sure that MSI can deny me an RMA based on overclocking. After all, they're the makers of Afterburner, and the utility in their motherboard BIOS is meant for overclocking.

We'll see I guess. :o

I imagine they could totally deny your rma for that. Hopefully they don't. What voltages were you using? Im pretty sure I had my cpu at 1.475 and didn't really push much else more than a tenth of a volt or so over stock.

10-14-10, 03:18 PM
Replacement on the way:

For the purpose of future NVIDIA GPU reviews I went with an AM3 SLI motherboard, the Asus M4N98TD EVO. It should be here in a couple days.


The 8+1 (just a 4+1 with extra chokes I think) power phase design, 16x+16x PCIE configuration and well-cooled MOSFET/NB gives me hope in building a somewhat high-end rig.

... and after some disappointing RAID 0 performance from the two old-ish WD2500KS drives, I procured an SSD. :D:D ... a Mushkin Enhanced Callisto Deluxe 60gb (Sandforce).


I'm not going to expect the world out of this drive, but this coupled with the upgrade to Win7 and (maybe?) better SATA controller performance from the NVIDIA chipset should make the system feel a bit snappier.

... I'll get it all together this weekend most likely, and will take a more careful route to what I hope is a fairly cool-running 4ghz hexa-core setup. :) It almost seems like this might qualify as a "high-end" rig now. :p

10-14-10, 03:30 PM
You're going to love the performance of an SSD if you have never used a system with an SSD you're in for a treat.

AFAIK the sata performance of the nvidia chipset is slower than the AMD chipset but I doubt it's by much.

10-14-10, 04:35 PM
Would I benefit from a discrete SATA controller card?

10-15-10, 02:52 PM
Would I benefit from a discrete SATA controller card?

Doubt it would be worth it IMO

10-16-10, 11:13 AM
Is there anything I should know about the 980a chipset with regards to overclocking, specifically with an x6? It would seem that I have a fairly optimal setup for pushing to 4ghz (expecially after I tag on another 120mm fan to teh XT-1264), with the limiting factor possibly being the PSU, which will be replaced in the next couple months.

I don't know much about NVIDIA BIOSes at this point, and want to make sure I don't overvolt anything I shouldn't.

Any assistance would be appreciated.

10-17-10, 02:12 AM
When i get this SSD drive (which reportedly has a pretty spankin' new Sandforce firmware) ... what tests should I run to ascertain integrity? Is there anything I should do to optimize? And should I partition?

10-17-10, 02:41 PM
Pretty much just ensure AHCI is enabled and install windows 7 on it and you should be set. Since it's not that big of a harddrive I wouldn't recommend more than just a single partition. Some people insist on using other software to create and align partitions but from what I have seen the windows installer should be able to do it fine.

There are a few optimizations that you can check to make sure that are enabled. You can find a program called SSD Tweaker will pretty much check them for you. So many people insist on disabling indexing. I say just limit its locations, there are a couple things that you want indexing for.

I think you'll really enjoy the SSD. With the advances in processors, graphic cards, and memory, it has been harder and harder to notice general OS performance improvements (not just game performance) through upgrades. But this is one upgrade that you will definitely notice. Startup and shutdown times are ridiculously fast, updates install unbelievably fast, file tranfers are speedy. Just amazing how we've been held back by traditional drives for so long.