Articles: Mainboards

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Testbed Configuration

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

  • MSI Z68A-GD80 (B3), MS-7672 ver.3.0 mainboard (LGA1155, Intel Z68 Express, BIOS version V17.0);
  • Intel Core i5-2500K CPU (3.3 GHz, Sandy Bridge, LGA1155);
  • 2 x 2048 MB DDR3 SDRAM Patriot Extreme Performance Viper II Sector 5 Series PC3-16000, PVV34G2000LLKB (2000 MHz, 8-8-8-24 timings, 1.65 V voltage);
  • MSI N570GTX-M2D12D5/OC graphics card (Nvidia GeForce GTX 570, GF110, 40 nm, 786/4200 MHz, 320-bit GDDR5 1280 MB);
  • Kingston SSD Now V+ Series (SNVP325-S2, 128 GB);
  • Scythe Mugen 2 Revision B (SCMG-2100) CPU cooler and an additional 80x80 mm fan for cooling of the area around the CPU socket during overclocking experiments;
  • 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/ION Driver 266.58 graphics card driver.

Operational and Overclocking Specifics

Testing the MSI Z68A-GD80 (B3) was surprisingly problem-free. First of all, we can note the undocumented advantage of the tantalum capacitors in the mainboard’s CPU voltage regulator. They do not have feet sticking out of the reverse side of the PCB as ordinary capacitors have, so they didn’t prevent us from installing our Scythe Mugen 2 cooler without any misalignment.

We had no problems running the mainboard at its default settings although we noted one error which we had spotted during the tests of its cousin earlier. We mean the oddities of its exclusive Active Phase Switching technology. APS works well by default, changing the number of power phases in the CPU voltage regulator depending on the current CPU load. But if you set the CPU Phase Control option in the BIOS at APS Mode instead of Intel SVID Mode, the mainboard stops to lower the CPU voltage at low loads and becomes less energy efficient. This is rather odd because APS is listed among the key benefits of MSI mainboards and is specifically devised to optimize power consumption.

The CPU and memory could be overclocked easily. We selected the highest clock rate possible for our sample of the CPU, i.e. 4.8 GHz, and set the CPU voltage at 1.4 volts, which was somewhat higher than during the earlier tests of the MSI P67A-GD80 (B3). Unfortunately, our attempt to lower the power consumption was unsuccessful because we soon got errors in stability tests. When the CPU voltage was set at 1.41 volts, like on its cousin, the mainboard got absolutely stable. The system memory could be clocked at 1867 MHz with rather low timings of 7-7-7-20-1T.

Unfortunately, not only the exclusive APS feature but also Intel’s power-saving technologies cease to work on MSI mainboards when you overclock them. MSI mainboards seem to be the only ones that have not yet learned how to add a certain value to the default CPU voltage. Instead, they can only fix the voltage at a certain level, so it remains excessively high at low CPU loads. They do lower the CPU frequency multiplier at low loads, though.

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