One thing we respect about Overdrive PC is that it’s never predictable. These guys seem to always take the path of most resistance.
In this case, Overdrive PC has constructed a rig whose sole purpose seems to be smashing our benchmarks. The company’s theory: Why go with a quad-core setup when you can push a dual core to higher speeds and guarantee stability? Since the overwhelming majority of applications aren’t multithreaded for quad core, why not push the hell out of a dual core?
That’s the course OPC took with the Core 2.SLI. The company overclocks Intel’s newly minted 3GHz Core 2 Duo E6850 to 3.8GHz by cranking the chip’s stock 1,333MHz front-side bus to 1,900MHz. Forgoing the quad cores also simplifies cooling needs—it’s all air here, baby! There’s no need for exotic (and perhaps leaky) water cooling and it’s pretty darn quiet to boot. The rig’s Patriot DDR2/1066 RAM gets a workout as well with a bump up to 1,250MHz. OPC also snagged a pair of GeForce 8800 Ultras, the fastest GPUs on earth. Of course, true to form, OPC also takes the cards’ GPU and RAM speeds up. That in itself tells you about OPC’s technical prowess. While civvies aren’t allowed to overclock the stream processor on the 8800s, those laws apparently don’t apply to OPC. But we’d expect nothing less from a system vendor that goes as far as tweaking the BIOS on the EVGA 680i SLI board with its own settings and profiles.
So how does OPC’s gamble pay off? Can a dual core really compete in the quad-core era? First, the good news: In our GPU-limited FEAR gaming test, the Core2.SLI vaults over the previous record by a massive 15 percent. Unfortunately, not all games are graphics bound. In the multithreaded Quake 4 test, both the CPU and GPU count, and the Falcon Northwest Mach V we reviewed in June continues to hold the record at 226fps versus the 210fps of the Overdrive.
The Core2.SLI tied for the top score in our Premiere Pro 2.0 HDV test (held by the 3.73GHz quad-core Mach V we reviewed in June) and also our Photoshop CS2 test (held by the 3.46GHz quad-core Digital Storm Twister Ultra 4 we tested in July). So, are those two other cores really just freeloading bastards after all? Well, maybe not. In our Nero Recode 2.0 test, in which we encode an MPEG2 file to H.264 for the iPod, the dual core can’t hang. The Twister Ultra 4 holds the record at 1,249 seconds, while the Mach V takes a close second at 1,315 seconds. The Core2.SLI, while fast at 1,505 seconds, is out of contention. As a comparison, the stock 2.66GHz Polywell quad core we reviewed in March was slightly slower at 1,653 seconds. The story would be the same in any multithreaded encoding test, which makes us wonder if dual core is the right way to go.
That, ultimately, is the prickly problem that will haunt the Overdrive configuration. As more apps and games adopt multithreading, will you wonder if you should have bought a quad core? In Overdrive’s favor, however, is the fact that it is a smokingly fast gaming machine. In 90 percent of today’s games, we can easily say that the Core 2.SLI will kick ass over all other comers. However, as that 10 percent grows, so might your regrets.
Damned quiet and damned fast in gaming.
Lack of quad-core support will hurt future performance.
Overdrive PC Core2.SLI
Intel Core 2 Duo E6850 (3GHz overclocked to 3.8GHz)
EVGA 680i SLI
2GB Patriot DDR2/1066 (two 1GB sticks)
Dual Gigabit LAN (Nvidia)
Two 150GB WD Raptors (10,000rpm SATA) in RAID-0
Two GeForce 8800 Ultras in SLI (662MHz core/1,200MHz RAM)
Sound Blaster X-fi Fatal1ty Edition
Cooler Master CM Stacker 830 Enermax Galaxy 1000 PSU
Premiere Pro 2.0
Our current desktop test bed is a Windows XP SP2 machine, using a dual-core 2.6GHz Athlon 64 FX-60, 2GB of Corsair DDR400 RAM on an Asus A8N32-SLI motherboard, two GeForce 7900 GTX videocards in SLI mode, a Western Digital 4000KD hard drive, a Sound Blaster X-Fi soundcard, and a PC Power and Cooling Turbo Cool 850 PSU.