Sport & Auto
- About Future
- Digital Future
- Cookies Policy
- Terms & Conditions
- Investor Relations
- Contact Future
This month, Intel's "Haswell" generation of desktop CPUs landed in the Lab, so like most builders, we were itching to see how she runs. For the uninitiated, Haswell is an upgrade from Ivy Bridge in terms of power efficiency and performance, but it also comes with a whole new motherboard socket—Socket 1150. We were curious to see if our building regimen would require any adjustments. As luck would have it, Nvidia also launched its 700-series cards this month to much fanfare, and since both of these components are going to be popular parts for upgraders and system builders, we decided to jump into the deep end of the pool with both of them and see how the combo performs in gaming benchmarks.
On the CPU front, we went with Intel's Core i7-4770K, a quad-core chip with Hyper-Threading. The video card we used is the Nvidia reference GTX 780, basically a slightly watered-down GTX Titan. We also threw in a new SSD from SanDisk, a low-noise case in the form of the Thermaltake Soprano, an alternate drive installation method, and an oversized air cooler. Our goal was to build a quiet, Haswell-based gaming rig that would give our zero-point a run for its money.
You may have noticed we've been using a lot of cases with sound-absorbing panels lately, and you may think we're crazy, especially since we plan to overclock, but once you've experienced a powerful PC emitting nothing more than a gentle hum, it's hard to go back. This month we tapped the Thermaltake New Soprano (which received a 9/Kick Ass verdict in our February 2013 issue). Its massive 20cm front fan should drag in a lot of cool air, and the 12cm rear fan is no slouch either. We ended up making some modifications to the case’s interior layout in order to improve airflow, which we'll talk about later.
To cool our new Haswell chip we went with a Phanteks TC14PE, which is arguably one of the best air coolers around. That should give us some extra headroom to perform overclocking duties, though the cooler’s massive size makes low-profile RAM necessary. SanDisk also has a new SSD, the Extreme II, which should give quite a boost to general desktop performance. Though the previous model, simply named Extreme SSD, was a bit of a me-too drive with its SandForce controller, this new drive has an all-new Marvell “Monet” controller and 19nm toggle NAND, so it’s primed for high performance. It even uses a tiny bit of super-expensive SLC NAND in addition to traditional MLC in a setup called two-tiered caching, which is supposed to speed up small writes from the OS.
The Intel Core i7-4770K uses Intel's new LGA1150 socket, so we grabbed a brand-new Gigabyte Z87X-UD3H; it's basically the Haswell version of the company’s Z77X-UD3H, which has a reputation for allowing high CPU overclocks and being extremely stable.
|Case||Thermaltake New Soprano||
|CPU||Intel Core i7-4770K||$340|
|CPU Cooler||Phanteks TC14PE||$85 (street)|
|GPU||Nvidia GeForce GTX 780||$650|
|RAM||Corsair Vengeance 2x 4GB||$60|
|SSD||SanDisk Extreme II 240GB||$230|
|HDD||Seagate Barracuda 3TB||$135|
|OS||Windows 8 64-bit OEM||$100|
Intel has had a "tick-tock" development cycle for its last few generations of desktop CPUs, where each "tock" is a new microarchitecture. Haswell is the latest tock. Each iteration has bumped up performance 5–15 percent, depending on the task. Physically, Haswell is pretty much identical to previous comparable Intel chips, despite changing from an LGA1155 socket to LGA1150. So, we were able to just drop it in like an 1155 chip, dab some thermal paste on top, and use the CPU cooler's installation instructions for LGA1155. We could have gone with the Core i5-4570K, which costs about $100 less than the Core i7-4770K, but none were available as of press time. And the i7 has Hyper-Threading, which is nice for multithread tasks like encoding video.
We chose the Gigabyte Z87X-UD3H because the Z77 version has a good rep for performance and build quality, and this board improves on it. For example, the SATA 6Gb/s port count has gone from two to eight, which is much appreciated. It also has beefier heatsinks around the CPU socket, but we were able to fit the husky Phanteks TC14PE without any obstructions (albeit with low-profile RAM).
Gigabyte has also finally upgraded its unattractive EasyTune performance-tweaking software. Before, you could only plot two points on a graph to tell the board how to manage your fan speeds. Now you have five, for much finer-grained control. You also finally have several speed presets to choose from. You won't get as much overall tweaking as with Asus's AI Suite II, but the BIOS should have nearly everything you need, though it's still not as easy to navigate as we would like.
Storage duties are handled by Seagate's 3TB Barracuda, which offers a lot of room for the money and is a snappy performer. It’s joined by the SanDisk Extreme 2 SSD, the sequel to a respectable SSD, with the intriguing addition of some internal SLC cache.
We removed the lower drive trays to maximize airflow for the CPU and GPU, and installed the drives in the upper section, which has a 3.5-inch drive bay with storage space for both 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch drives. We had to remove the front fan to extract the slide-out tray through the front of the case. Removing the fan requires removing the front bezel, but it snaps on and off fairly easily.
Click the next page for the final steps along with our conclusion on how well it performs.