Articles: Mainboards

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Testbed Configuration

We carried out our tests on a testbed that included the following components:

  • Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7 rev.1.0 mainboard (BIOS version F7);
  • Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition CPU (3.3-3.9 GHz, Sandy Bridge-E rev.C0, 32nm, 130 W, LGA 2011);
  • 4 x 4 GB DDR3 SDRAM Corsair Vengeance CMZ16GX3M4X1866C9R (16 GB, 1866 MHz, 9-10-9-27 timings, 1.5 V voltage);
  • MSI N570GTX-M2D12D5/OC graphics card (Nvidia GeForce GTX 570, GF110, 40 nm, 786/4200 MHz, 320-bit GDDR5 1280 MB);
  • Crucial m4 SSD (CT256M4SSD2, 256 GB, SATA 6 Gbps);
  • Zalman CNPS12X CPU cooler;
  • ARCTIC MX-2 thermal interface;
  • CoolerMaster RealPower M850 PSU (RS-850-ESBA);
  • Open testbed built using Antec Skeleton system case.

We used Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.1, Build 7601: Service Pack 1) operating system, Intel Chipset Software Installation Utility version, Nvidia GeForce Driver 285.62 graphics card driver.

When we began reviewing LGA 2011 products, we upgraded our testbed with a new solid state drive, new memory modules and a new CPU cooler. Unfortunately, Thermalright Archon Rev. A with an uneven base, which is a typical peculiarity of the coolers from this manufacturer, proved incapable of coping with hot processors like that that is why we replaced it with Zalman CNPS12X the first chance we got, since this cooler managed to outperform Archon and therefore received numerous awards from reviewers. However, the new cooler is much wider than the previous one, and may conflict with the tall heat-spreaders on the memory modules. It barely fits onto LGA 2011 mainboards with eight memory module DIMMs, like Asus P9X79 Deluxe. If there are only four memory slots, like on Gigabyte GA-X79-UD7, the modules can only be installed into the two farthest slots.

If you have read our article called “DDR3 SDRAM for LGA 2011: Which Memory Is Best?”, then you should remember, that in LGA 2011 systems DDR3 SDRAM frequency matters the most. This parameter has greater effect on the overall system performance than the number of memory channels, and a much greater effect than the timings. Therefore, if you are using a dual- or triple-channel DDR3 SDRAM kit in your LGA 2011 system, you will end up with almost the same level of performance as you would get with quad-channel memory. This is good news for those who already have a good dual- or triple-channel high-speed memory kit at their disposal. They will not need to invest into a special quad-channel kit. However, for test purposes it makes more sense to use a special quad-channel memory set that is why we had to resolve the compatibility issue between the CPU cooler and memory modules with tall heat-spreaders in a different way.

DDR3 SDRAM modules, like our Corsair Vengeance CMZ16GX3M4X1866C9R, which work at the nominal voltage of 1.5 V, get barely warm. Their tall heat-spreaders perform primarily an aesthetic function, so we simply removed the heat-spreaders from two of the modules and this way could fit all four of them and the CPU cooler onto the board just fine.

Unfortunately, the cooling efficiency of Zalman CNPS12X is only a little bit better than that of the previous cooler, so we didn’t really improve our CPU overclocking results. However, we are still very happy with this upgrade, because the new cooler works significantly better than the old one. The CPU under this cooler works in smoother and more comfortable thermal conditions. The temperatures of individual cores differ by 1-2°C under heavy load, while with the old cooler this difference could reach as much as 10°C!

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