Articles: Mainboards

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Testbed Configuration

We performed all our tests on a testbed built with the following components:

  • Mainboard: MSI Z77A-GD65 GAMING, MS-7751 ver.5.1 (LGA 1155, Intel Z77 Express, BIOS version 25.0);
  • Intel Core i5-3570K CPU (3.6-3.8 GHz, 4 cores, Ivy Bridge rev.E1, 22nm, 77 W, 1.05 V, LGA 1155);
  • 2 x 4 GB DDR3 SDRAM Corsair Vengeance CMZ16GX3M4X1866C9R (1866 MHz, 9-10-9-27 timings, 1.5 V voltage);
  • Gigabyte GV-T797OC-3GD (AMD Radeon HD 7970, Tahiti, 28 nm, 1000/5500 MHz, 384-bit GDDR5 3072 MB);
  • Crucial m4 SSD (CT256M4SSD2, 256 GB, SATA 6 Gbps);
  • Noctua NH-D14 CPU cooler;
  • ARCTIC MX-2 thermal interface;
  • Enhance EPS-1280GA 800 W PSU;
  • Open testbed built using Antec Skeleton system case.

We used Microsoft Windows 8 Enterprise 64 bit (Microsoft Windows, Version 6.2, Build 9200) operating system, Intel Chipset Device Software drivers version, AMD Catalyst graphics card driver version 13.1.

Operational and Overclocking Specifics

Assembling a computer around the MSI Z77A-GD65 GAMING is unlikely to provoke any problems but it may be difficult to differentiate between connectors, which are all black and look identical. When starting up, the mainboard shows a new picture with a list of available hotkeys at the bottom of the screen.

You can disable the startup picture in the BIOS or with the Tab key to view system information instead. The information is absolutely correct, by the way. We mean that some other mainboards may report a wrong CPU clock rate (like ASUS’s) or a wrong memory frequency (like ASRock’s) or even don’t report anything at all (Gigabyte’s and Intel’s mainboards). It is also good that the hotkey prompt remains visible even when the startup picture is turned off.

At its default settings the mainboard selects the specified parameters for our CPU and memory but the BIOS screenshots show that not all of power-saving technologies are enabled. You also have to manually enable the automatic regulation of the CPU fan. That’s not hard, though, so the mainboard works without any problems. It is always the case with MSI products, by the way. They work very well until you get down to tweaking or overclocking them.

Well, it is actually very easy to increase performance a little. Just enable the Enhanced Turbo option in the mainboard’s BIOS. If it is turned on, the CPU frequency multiplier will always be at its maximum, which is normally permitted by the Intel Turbo Boost technology for single-threaded loads only. To reach higher results, you can use the OC Genie II feature, which is evoked by a corresponding BIOS option or a namesake button. No automatic overclocking feature is perfect but OC Genie II is better than others as it permits some user-defined fine-tuning on the My OC Genie page. Of course, manual overclocking is the best way to go, but it often involves difficulties on MSI mainboards.

First of all, we don’t like having to check out whether some other BIOS options, besides the one we’ve changed, have changed automatically as well. This intellectual behavior of the BIOS interface isn’t always bad. Sometimes it really helps make your life easier by automating certain actions. For example, when Intel’s Turbo Boost technology was introduced, the CPU’s power limit had to be adjusted manually for overclocking. Otherwise, the CPU would just drop its frequency upon reaching the default limit. Today, you don’t have to do that because every mainboard changes the power limit automatically depending on the CPU clock rate you’ve selected. But we really don’t understand why MSI mainboards disable Intel C-State, enable Intel PLL Overvoltage and turn off CPU Phase Control when we change the CPU frequency multiplier.

Next we faced a problem we hadn’t seen before with MSI mainboards but had experienced with the ASRock FM2A85X Extreme6. XMPs or eXtreme Memory Profiles are used to simplify memory subsystem configuring, so memory modules carry information not only about their default operation mode but also about maximum settings. Every modern mainboard can read these profiles and automatically set such memory parameters as frequency, voltage and timings, saving the user the trouble of manual configuring. When we selected the XMP profile on the MSI Z77A-GD65 GAMING, the voltage remained the same (because it didn’t have to be increased for our modules), the frequency was higher, but the timings didn’t change. It turned out that the mainboard read the timings information correctly but only applied it after a reboot. We usually adjust memory timings by changing Command Rate from 2T into 1T, but we couldn’t do that right away since the rest of the timings wouldn’t have been appropriate for the selected frequency and the mainboard wouldn’t have started up. So, we had to reboot, enter the BIOS once again, see the correct timings in the Advanced DRAM Configuration section, and only then specify our own settings. That’s all rather inconvenient.

As opposed to mainboards from most other brands, MSI ones don’t allow to change CPU voltage by adding or subtracting an offset value, so you have to fix that voltage at a certain level, thus disabling power-saving technologies. We don’t recommend such overclocking and don’t use it ourselves.

It is possible, however, to overclock MSI mainboards in an energy-efficient way. You just don’t increase CPU voltage at all. Instead, you can use the CPU Core Vdroop Offset Control option which counteracts CPU voltage drop at high loads. Instead of increasing voltage, we just prevent it from going down, so the result is going to be almost the same. Although we couldn’t make the CPU stable at its maximum clock rate of 4.6 GHz, we did reach 4.5 GHz. We also increased memory frequency and adjusted memory timings.

We want to remind you that we prefer “sustained” overclocking, which means that the overclocked system can be used continuously. We don’t disable any features or controllers. We keep Intel’s power-saving technologies up and running so they lower the CPU’s frequency multiplier and voltage, disable unused CPU subunits and switch the CPU into power-saving modes at low loads.

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