We build a machine that’s red and black to hopefully beat our benchmarks black and blue
Variety is the spice of the Lab, so this month we decided to eschew our traditional builds and go with one you don’t see every day—an all-AMD gaming PC, built with (most of) the best parts we could get our hands on. We’re sure some of you will question the purpose of this build, so our pre-emptive answer is we built it because we could, and we were curious to see how a balls-out AMD build would benchmark, as we haven’t seen over-the-top AMD rig since The Matrix: Revolutions let us down. Plus, everyone is always ragging on us for ignoring AMD, so here you go AMD enthusiasts—an entire PC built just for you.
The AMD Gaming PC
We ended up pairing AMD's relatively new “Vishera” Piledriver CPU, the 4GHz FX-8350 (or “Octomom,” as we like to call it) with a totally jacked HD 7970 from Asus and a small army of AMD-ish components, which we figured would make for an interesting build. Finally, we’ve heard your feedback about how you don’t need to see another picture of RAM being inserted into its slot, so this month we’re going to talk about our component selection and the building process instead of showing you how we actually built it.
It’s Time to Choose
The impetus for this system was the release of the relatively new “Vishera” CPU from AMD along with an updated version of the Asus Crosshair V Formula Z motherboard running the 990FX chipset. We had just received both of these parts, so we knew what we had to do—take a lunch break to consider our options. While tossing back root beers we formulated the basis of the system—an AMD processor and motherboard were a given, but what else? We had yet to sample the overclocked HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP from Asus, so we added that to the equation. We then remembered AMD-branded RAM had just been announced, so we added that to the ticket as we ordered another round of brewskies. To finish the system, we settled on the Thermaltake V3 AMD edition chassis, some red-band Corsair AF120 case fans, and a red Corsair Force GS SSD, as well, to tie the room together.
Click the next page to see our CPU, motherboard, and video card specs
1. The CPU and Motherboard
AMD’s new CPU is the first proc we’ve ever seen that comes clocked from the factory at 4GHz, and it’s a surprisingly affordable eight-core processor, too. Though 4GHz is the highest stock-clock speed we’ve ever seen, don’t get too excited. The FX-8350 is not even in the same universe as something like a hexa-core Intel Core i7-3960X, despite having two additional cores and a clock-speed advantage.
The motherboard is the latest version of the Asus Crosshair V and has every feature imaginable, including an actual digital kitchen sink. It’s running the AMD 990FX chipset and dishes up a total of eight SATA 6Gb/s ports and two eSATA 6Gb/s ports as well as a new SupremeFX III audio chip and three PCI Express x16 slots for three-way SLI or CrossFire. Plus, the paint job is totally righteous.
Asus’s Crosshair V Formula Z is the perfect home for a flagship CPU like the FX-8350.
2. OUR TOP PICK
Of course we went with a Radeon HD 7970 for this build—you would do the same thing if you were in our statically shielded shoes. But instead of just going with a Nilla Wafer card, we rang up Asus and requested its overclocked bitch-maker, the HD 7970 DirectCU II TOP. In English, this means the card is a 7970 but it has the company’s ludicrously huge DirectCU II triple-slot cooler, and TOP means its core clock speed is nudged up to 1GHz from its stock speed of 925MHz. This card requires two 8-pin connectors and can power up to six displays at once, and did we mention it’s effing massive?
We can already hear the smack-talk about taking a $50 case and stuffing two-grand worth of gear into it. Point taken—and yes, we chose it for its color scheme. But since our build wasn’t too ambitious, the case actually worked out OK, though we did experience a few issues. The first sign of trouble was a warning in the manual not to use a video card that exceeds 10.4 inches. We stared at our 11-inch GPU, gritted our teeth, and wedged it into the PCIe slot with... no problem at all. It worked perfectly. The second issue was the rear-facing 3.5-inch hard drive bays, which we haven’t seen in a while and did not miss. Installing drives once the mobo and GPU are inside is a PITA, plain and simple. The biggest issue we had was a lack of holes to route our PSU cables, so please cut us some slack on that (we know you won’t).
Thermaltake’s V3 AMD is specifi cally designed for AMD processors and RAM. OK, we made that up.
Click the next page to check out the PC's SSD, PSU, and RAM
4. STORAGE DUTIES
Our SSD selection will probably be another controversial choice, but we picked it for two reasons. First, it’s red. Second, it’s fast. The second part is crucial, because if the drive was red and slow, it would not be in this rig, period. But since it’s fast, and red, in it went. Though we never officially reviewed this drive, it’s the flagship of Corsair’s previous Force lineup, and features fast MLC Toggle NAND and a SandForce SF-2281 controller, so it’s got some hardware cred. In testing, it hummed right along at 464MB/412MB read and write speeds. Since no man can survive on an SSD alone, we paired it with WD’s cavernous 4TB RE enterprise drive, which spins at 7,200rpm and is big enough to hold our multimedia stash, barely. Since the Thermaltake case only has 4 3.5-inch drive bays, we figured we had better go big on this one.
A SandForce SSD from Corsair and 4TB of rotating storage should serve our file-hoarding needs nicely.
5. MORE POWER
Our PSU choice was made interesting by the fact that the original no-name model we chose failed during testing. The system would boot fine and run normally until we really stressed it out, at which point we found ourselves staring at a matrix of orange squares on our LCD. We tried updating the mobo’s BIOS, updating our video drivers, and even swapping the power cables, but nothing worked. Finally, we grabbed the Corsair TX750M and plugged it into the 24-pin and 8-pin connectors, leaving the original PSU attached to the GPU, and everything worked just fine. Eventually, we yanked the original PSU out and went with Corsair. This just reinforces an ageold lesson: Don’t get cheap when it comes to your rig’s power supply. It’s not worth the headache.
An inadequate power supply put a halt to our benchmarking. Thankfully, Corsair stepped in and saved the day.
6. RED RAM
AMD has begun selling branded memory, so we figured we’d plop some sticks into the machine to see if anything bad would happen. The RAM is made by Patriot and VisionTek but is validated by AMD for use with its CPUs and chipsets, so take that for what it’s worth. The company is offering branded sticks in 2GB, 4GB, and 8GB modules in four flavors: Value, Entertainment, Performance, and Radeon. We used 8GB of Performance RAM, which was clocked at 1,600MHz at 1.5V out of the box. Even though AMD warns users against overclocking, it also indicates on its website that it can be safely run at 1.65V in order to achieve more aggressive timings.
We tried some AMD Performance Edition RAM and are happy to report it was rock solid and stable.
Click the next page to see our overall conclusion and benchmark numbers
1. The V3 case only comes with one 12cm exhaust fan, but we replaced it with two Corsair AF120 Quiet case fans because they look snazzy and are whisper-quiet.
2. We originally wanted a Phanteks cooler in red, but a time crunch forced us to go with our favorite cooler of the past year, the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus. It’s still the best bang for-the-buck cooler in the land and is amazingly quiet.
3. Thermaltake says this case isn’t made for extra-long GPUs and extra-tall CPU coolers, but both of ours fit with zero clearance problems.
4. The Thermaltake V3 AMD edition lacks holes for cable routing, so we ended up with a traffic jam in the lower quadrant of the chassis.
THE NUMBERS AREN’T PRETTY
As you look at the benchmark chart below, you should hear the sad trombone sound from The Price is Right playing in your head because this system got smoked by our zero-point rig, which has a hexa-core Sandy Bridge-E and GeForce GTX 690 video card. Its best result was in the x264 HD 5.0 encoding test, where our AMD rig lost by 30 percent to Core i7-3930K, its least punishing defeat, which was likely the result of the AMD part’s higher clock speed. In every other test the extra cores and clocks that AMD brings to the table didn't make a difference against Intel’s more efficient microarchitecture, even if it’s an older generation. We witnessed a beatdown in all the CPU-based tests, including Adobe Premiere Pro 6, where the Vishera system took almost 1.5 hours to complete a test that took our SNB-E machine just 33 minutes. We saw the same disparity in every other test, but it’s not a surprise since Vishera was not designed to go head-to-head with a $1,000 Intel Core i7 CPU. Sadly, our HD 7970 also got smacked around in both 3DMark and Batman, where it was picked on by the zero-point’s GTX 690 GPU. You can interpret this two ways: the first is, hey, it’s no so bad, considering that the ZP’s CPU and GPU cost twice as much as the AMD’s parts. The other way is, damn, those Sandy Bridge-E CPUs are fast.
Premiere Pro CS6 (sec)
Stitch.Efx 2.0 (sec)
ProShow Producer 5.0 (sec)
x264 HD 5.0 (fps)
Batmans Arkam City (fps)
3 DMark 11
Our current desktop test bed consists of a hexa-core 3.2GHz Core i7-3930K @ 3.8GHz, 8GB of Corsair DDR3/1600, on an Asus Sabertooth X79 motherboard. We are running a GeForce GTX 690, an OCZ Vertex 3 SSD, and 64-bit Windows 7 Professional.