Hello everybody! I'm WhiteGoblin from the Arstechnica openforums & have been building computers since the late 80s. Today it's my pleasure to write about my experiences building a new Haswell-E rig that I've named the "Black & Blue Beast". First off I'd like to apologize for the poor quality pictures, they were snapped off my phone. Not only does it take poor pictures but the lighting has been an absolute nightmare to work with. I apologize in advance.
Today's system had an $1800 price limit attached to it. I spent roughly eight hours researching parts, looking at reviews, benchmarks, etc. then trying to find online deals / coupons across every combination. Basically I was trying to get every last bit of performance I could for the price range. I'd call it a success because what I have here is a very nice & STABLE 4.5ghz across all twelve threads.
It's worth noting as well that I was able to get a better price thanks to combo deals by buying it all on NewEgg in one large purchase then it was with separate shipping from the different vendors listed here on PCPartPicker. I have four different mail in rebates & used six coupon/combo deals. That brought the final price after shipping to around $1775. I'd also like to mention there are items on my build list labeled as "purchased" which means I've carried them over from previous builds to use in this one. They are not core components and in no way take away from your ability to spend the same amount of money & get this experience. The part list includes monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers, etc. It's a full computer on it's own.
I'd like to mention one big disappointment I had in ordering this through NewEgg though. I got stuck with "OnTrac" as my shipping service. I used the cheapest EggSaver shipping option so I can only blame myself but wow. When I googled this company all I found was 200+ 1-star reviews and some extremely unhappy people. There's YouTube videos of them throwing boxes at houses, leaving them on the sidewalk, etc. I took the day off when they were suppose to be delivered just to make sure I actually got my parts. Arrived in Denver at 6AM, out for delivery by noon, didn't see them until 8:55PM. I expressed shock they were still delivering and the guy told me "until end of day meant midnight" which I kinda chuckled at.
Sadly all he brought was my case, monitor, & keyboard/mouse box. Of which, as you can see in the pictures, there's some odd white liquid that splashed all over my monitor box. (picture removed for creepiness) It was fine inside but kinda interesting to find on the outside. They wrecked my case box too but it was also fine on the inside. The bulk of my parts though were left in California for a couple days for some reason. By 6AM the next day they had magically arrived in Denver. Around 7:30PM that night I got another shipment containing the rest of my order. The guy said he remembered my name & was trying to get to me earlier then the night before but that he had an entire van to deliver still so it was going to be another late one.
Putting this machine together was very easy, there's nothing odd about this combination of items. I'd never gotten to use an NZXT S340 & was worried about it's extremely small size. Most the time I use Corsair Carbide 500R cases in my builds. Thanks to trying to fit everything into this price point though I opted to go with the S340 this time. Literally the difference in case prices alone allowed me to go with a Kraken X61 over a Corsair H100i. It's a trade I was happy to make at the time & even happier now that I've got a chance to work with it. Consider me a fan of the smaller sized zero 5.25 peripheral bay design. I haven't used optical media in years so not including one saved even more money.
The only negative thing I have to say about it is getting to the far end of your power supply can be a bit of a pain once installed. It's tucked away via the cover that separates the case compartments (same design as used in the H440) leaving only a small area for your hand to travel between the hard drive mounts & the power supply. Literally that's the only down side, once you have it finished though it looks sweet as the height on the compartment cover matches the window perfectly. It literally looks so streamlined I just have to approve this design with two thumbs up. If you want to see a more indepth look at this case (plus actual decent photography) then check out LinusTechTips review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65-pqVTykMc
Another interesting factoid that saved alot of money was the blue color choices. Now I'm not one to build color matched cases with alot of extra flair put into them but buying all blue parts actually saved a ton of money. Apparently the PC enthusiast world doesn't like the color blue because companies are overstocked with blue. You can match the same model numbers on parts & find the blue versions to be much cheaper. An example was this Ripjaws 4 ram, the exact same model/series in red or black was $60 more. They have the same timings, same voltage, everything equal but the color of the heatsinks. The case was also cheaper to buy in the blue & black design over either of the straight black or white versions.
Everything came together perfectly & booted on it's first attempt. Before doing anything else I flashed the bios to the newest version because it was listed as having "stability improvements" which I figured might be a little bit important. ;) Then I put on the OS, of which installing Windows 7 only took a couple minutes. Now after working in the tech sector for decades I'm a rather big environment guy. A clean well managed OS is as important to me as the parts themselves. I'll spend copious amounts of time perfecting an install for it's exact purpose then immediately make an image of it. Anything ever gets out of order, just reimage. More on the software build later. After installing & updating Windows I dropped back into the bios to bring this machine up to speed.
I was able to find lots of reviews, guides, and chatter about how well of an overclocker the Haswell-E processors have been. It's always playing the silicon lottery but it seemed more standardized with these latest batches. Most people are seeing 4.3-4.5ghz without problem so I felt confident I could get up there. I spent eight straight hours doing nothing but playing with voltages, timings, & alot of stability tests. I could find people who had pushed this specific series of 3ghz ram further as well so it wasn't just the processor getting a working, but the ram & board as well.
What did I find? Well I could push the Ripjaws to 3096 before they wouldn't boot & that required a hefty increase in voltage to 1.45. Or I could dial back down the volts to 1.35 (what they're rated for) and get a move to a 1T command rate instead. Doing both caused alot of instability & honestly I'm not worried about 96mhz ontop of 3000 rated ram. I tried every possible combination in the world to improve it's primary CAS timings but they would never budge, 15-16-16-35 is all I could get without dropping down below 3ghz. Given overclocking should be about improvements without sacrifice to stability I went back to 3ghz, dropped the command rate to 1T & kept the rated voltage. I know pushing memory is also playing the silicon lottery & those are my results. I'm not upset, after all it's pretty quick on its own. 3K is still 3K.
The processor is currently running at 4.5ghz across all twelve threads with no speed stepping or turbo boosts. All of it's C-states are disabled & it runs at one speed all the time. Now I think it could be pushed farther but I also wanted to maintain a nice calm working environment to use it in without all the fans running at 100% constantly. Currently the fans run at 30% during normal use & it's very quiet. If you weren't overclocking it the entire rig would be silent. You can definitely hear this beast at 100% maxed out, though I remember building overclocked boxes back in the 90s that were far louder just sitting idle in Windows 98.
The Kraken X61 keeps it at 34-35C during everything but gaming, rendering, or obviously benchmarking/stability testing. If you go into AIDA64 Extreme & do the max stability tests it'll hover around the low 70s. I included a picture of this setup doing the absolute max 100% everything stability test for 30 minutes straight in this build. You can watch all the temps over that 30 mins as well. It's passed every test I've thrown at it so far & I'd call it stable. It's a pleasure to work with.
Even though everybody will have slightly different requirements what I did to achieve this speed was; disabled: Asus Multicore Enhancement, AI Overclock Tuner, CPU & DRAM SVID support, Enhanced Intel SpeedStep, Turbo Mode, Integrated CPU VR Fault Management, CPU C-States, & a couple Eco settings. (like the G2 power supply's Eco button on the back) I turned the CPU strap to 125, & brought it's ratio across all six cores to 36. The CPU Core Voltage is 1.35, Cache Voltage 1.25, System Agent Voltage 1.0, & CPU Input voltage 1.950. I think the Input & Cache volts could be dropped even lower but I've not tried it since stabilizing everything out.
While the ram is operating at 1.35v which is higher then normal Haswell-E specs of 1.2 this is actually what it's rated at from G.SKILL to achieve the 3,000mhz speeds. The fact that I was able to drop it's command rate timing to T-1 is just extra icing on the cake. The two case fans are running on the "Turbo" cooling profile inside the bios & make little to no noise unless you're cranking the system. I was trying to boost it's cache ratio to 36 as well but couldn't make it stable. I ended up leaving it at 24 (3,000mhz) to match the ram before posting this. I think it could be pushed much higher with additional tweaks but given it's effect on overall system performance it didn't make my list of things to really care about playing with in the hunt for 4.5ghz stability.
Once again this isn't a record setting box & it's not a throw away rig. This is an every single day computer that will be used for gaming. recording of footage, & video editing. 1080p 60FPS videos were the target for production & it's been achieved. Additional hard drives could be added over time though it can do it's job with whats included in the build now. The Samsung 850 Pro SSD is amazing, thumbs up on the 3-D Vertical design. When combined with RAPID mode it's blazing quick. (that's "real time accelerated processing of I/O Data" or some such nonsense) Additional longer term (rarely needed) storage outside of the cloud has been covered with the 3TB expansion drive. That wasn't included in the price because it's not mandatory for the build & was something I carried over from past use.
Other parts that I brought along for the ride in this system include a Blue Snowball microphone which is more then decent for skype & basic voice recording. It can be had for around $45 online or $80 at retail outlets. In the build photos you can see it sticking out just above my monitors as it captures most voice work just fine from there. It comes with a tripod stand though so you can pull it out & set it on the desk next to you for finer work. I also use a pair of Sony MDR-V700 DJ headphones with this setup, though thanks to wear & tear over the years they've been ported into a pair of Mossy Oak Lula Shooting Muffs. If you're into headphones at all that's a post you should check out. (I took lots of pictures along the way) The neat thing about that is not only do they look cool but you enhance them with an additional Noise Reduction Rating of 31.
Software wise the OS is Windows 7 Ultimate SP1. While this might be boring to alot of you the build includes; all the drivers but none of the Asus AI Suite or other bloatware, AIDA64 Extreme, SuperPI, Prime95, CPU-Z, EVGA PrecisionX 16, Samsung Magician, NZXT Cam 2.0, Dot Net 3.5/4.5.2, JRE 8u45, the older dev Direct X tools package, Irfanview, K-Lite Mega Codec Pack, VLC, Notepad2, CCleaner, Recuva, Drive Image XML, Winrar, Mirillis Action, Skype, Ventrilo, FileZilla FTP Client & Server, Deamon Tools Lite, Steam, roughly 3,000 Fonts, Microsoft Office 2013, Adobe Master Collection CS6, Microsoft Security Essentials, Malware Bytes, & Spybot Search & Destroy. Given the extreme cost associated with some of this software it was not included in the build list. OS wise the price was not included because Microsoft is giving away copies of Windows 10 (even to owners of currently pirated operating systems) so consider it a freebie license. I personally cannot wait to upgrade all my boxes to Windows 10, as so far the free beta has been fantastic.
Browser wise Internet Explorer (among a host of other features) was stripped from the OS immediately. In it's place Firefox is running with Adblock Plus, Ghostery, HTTPS Everywhere, & NoScript addons. All of these are highly recommended for every install & they make them for Chrome as well if you'd rather have it. (though it often takes people a bit of time to get use to noscript's functionality) Normally I'd run Flashblock as well but given HTML5's dominance across the net it's no longer required so only offers security holes to have now a days. See: Occupy Flash. The only thing a user on this particular system could want flash for is Twitch as they're behind the times. In it's place Livestreamer has been installed running off the Sebastian Meyer fork of the GUI. Problem solved! Though please do not forget to whitelist your favorite YouTube channels in Adblock Plus as it's the only way they make money.
While a minor note to include I patched the TCPIP.SYS file to 255 Half-Open TCP connections at a time instead of it's normal limit of 10. I also tweaked the TcpAckFrequency, TCPNoDelay, & NetworkThrottlingIndex registry settings. Instead of nerding out on these settings for a couple paragraphs I'll just say look them up if you have any interest. If not well, just noting changes made. :)
I don't think I'm missing much here. Overall for coming in just shy of $1800 I feel this is an impressive system. 4.5ghz across all twelve threads is amazing. Once again, I feel it could be pushed even harder but stability is so important. It's normally what you see missing from peoples builds. You try using a machine in a production environment & dealing with crashes, it's unacceptable. Stability is of most importance. Outside of my thoughts, you can find articles, benchmarks & review videos for every part in this list.
Anyways, thanks for reading! If you have any questions feel free to ask & I'll reply as soon as possible.
Update 1: After spending another three hours with it I have been able to bring the Cache/Northbridge speeds up to 4.5ghz as well. (an additional 1.5ghz overclock) This was only possible by bringing the Cache Voltage up to 1.55 & ram to 1.4. I literally tried every setting below these & could not produce stable tests. You could use it fine in Windows but when you turned on the stability burns they wouldn't hang any lower. I also tried dropping all my previous voltages to lessen heat output & could not at all, they are literally on the edge of where they need to be to make this happen.
I've included a new burn in test image reflecting these changes. I let it run for 35 mins absolutely maxed before needing to use the machine again. I'll do a prolonged burn in next time I sleep. For overall longevity I plan on purchasing a 140mm fan to replace the 120mm one that comes stock in the top & two more 140mm to setup push/pull on this radiator. It doesn't get to unacceptable ranges right now, everything is fine, but it's a cheap upgrade that will do wonders with a machine pushed this hard. :)
Update 2: People have asked how the speakers & keyboard / mouse are. These are not things I originally wrote about. The speakers are fantastic for not coming with a subwoofer. They have more bass then most cheap 2.1 systems I've played with and sound really clear. At first I wasn't happy with the price attached with them, it seemed like alot but they're actually well made & I would recommend them. They sound excellent & far exceed what's required in the small area in which they're being used if you turn them up. The only downside is the 3.5mm male connection cable is about three feet long. So it will not reach in all situations. Over all a minor complaint.
The keyboard & mouse are also good for their price but not fantastic. In the world of Mechanical gaming keyboards & mice sporting their own ARM processors these fall on the lower end. The keyboard is LOUD on use, you can definitely hear somebody typing away & it pics up wide and clear on the microphone. Both of them have like eight colors though and well if that's important to you then I guess you can match it to your system build. (it worked out well in that regard here) The mouse does have four settings maxing out at 3500 DPI. All the extra buttons work & overall I'd say it's worth the $45 price tag for both of them together. If you're looking for something to get the job done with a little bit of cool lighting on the side then this is just about right. :)