My Dream Machine: Tuning

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Description

This Part 3 of a 3 part series on My Dream Machine (Part 1, Part 2)

Tuning.

I finished Part 2 with a Windows Experience Index of 4.7

Stated goal: an all round 5.9 for all measurements.

Off to order more bits, and change some components in the beastie: General Melchett.

Tweaking time.

 

Video Card.

At the time of building this machine, the NVidia GeForce 8800GT cards were extremely popular, if not sold out. Many gamers and performance enthusiasts had to wait in a queue for their cards to arrive. DirectX 10. Those extra smooth graphics in Crysis. Nice. Shame I don't play Crysis, but if I did - it would look way excellent.

Once the card arrived, and I arrived home: a quick swap over and installation of the Vista x64 drivers, and another check of the Windows Experience Index: 5.6. We are getting closer.

post-8800GT

 

Temperature

Like any new performance car owner, I want to take it out on the track and safely measure the top speed. How fast can this thing go?

Before heading down the motorway of speed, it's time to talk safety.

Too much heat in your PC, and your engine is going to be fried. Melted bits of copper, silicon and gold. Fire could erupt. Safety first. To ensure safe speed, keeping your performance PC cool is paramount.

cpuid-stock

Using a nifty little tool from Franck Delattre, CPU-Z: you can find out many things about your motherboard. The hotter a PC is, the less efficient the electrons. The cooler, the longer the components work and the more efficient your PC. Keeping air flowing through the PC and cooling all the hot bits is a key game all performance enthusiasts.

I decided to get a faster yet quieter rear case fan to pull air through the case, and replace the stock-supplied CPU fan. Intel provide a sufficient CPU fan with their processors, but knowing that colder is better, a little research was in order. 

After looking at what other AUSPCMarket guys where buying for their Intel Q6600s. Result: Zalman CPU fans. Below is a photo of the fan installed.

Installation process (note, being the hardware n00b that I am: this took an hour. Chiefly gathering the courage to remove the underside heatsink)

  • Remove motherboard from case
  • Remove existing CPU fan with the badly designed plastic clips
  • A benefit of the Gigabyte motherboard: removable underside heatsink. Remove this
  • Screw new baseplate onto front/backside of motherboard
  • Clean off old thermal grease from top of CPU
  • Re-apply new thermal grease to top of CPU
  • Screw down new baseplate for fan
  • Clip on new fan
  • Wire in fan to CPU_FAN connector on motherboard
  • Replace motherboard, restart PC

Zalman CPU Fan Replacement

What is my target temperature?  Less than 50degC in my research is a good target temperature for my configuration. With the application of the Zalman fan, I managed to reduce the core temperatures by an average of 5-7 degrees C, and the ambient temperature in the case by the same measurement. This was a net change in temperature after installing the new RAM and Video card as described above. The NVidia Geforce is a mini-motherboard on its own: it has its own power connector, fan, processor and memory.

 

hwmonitor

I found CPUID's Hardware Monitor an excellent, and more accurate tool, for measuring both the speed of the fans and the temperature on hard disks and video card.

 

Overclock

Stickers, Stickers, Stickers

As this machine is my "go-to-work drive", stability is critical. Burning out a cylinder is not a good look.

But, on the weekends.. well, it's time to see what General Melchett can do. As a side note, I own a MINI Cooper S John Cooper Works. My wife has taken this beauty of a car around a racing track at near 200km/hr. This also happens to be my work car. Really don't know why this is relevant, but I thought I'd post it anyway.

Overclocking is a little rocket science, a little play with the numbers and mostly fun. Essentially, you are tweaking values in the BIOS at boot time to increase voltages, bus speeds and clocking to get a faster PC. Thankfully, for overclocking newbies, the Gigabyte BIOS has a great mechanism for tweaking. If you set something wrong, it switches back to a known-good default. Almost fail-safe BIOS tweaking.

By tweaking the Bus Speed to 350Mhz, I managed to push the processor to 3.15Ghz. The fans where blaring as the core temperature raised to above 60degrees C due to the core voltage going to greater than 1.3v - the cries of "she cannae go any faster, captn" rang through my head.

overclock-max

 

Memory

The memory scored a 5.6 in the initial construction. Using two packs of Corsair Twin2X DDR2 XMS2-6400 Twin Pack was financially a good purchase, however not the fastest. The speed is not the absolute maximum; with a little research I found that the Corsair was OK. It was more a matter of latency.

Memory has speeds. There are these strange codes saying things like "2-2-2-12". These numbers refer to the latency timings at a very low level; and the smaller the numbers the faster the memory can be read to and written from. And it is no the direct speed, but rather the "queue waiting time". The smaller the number, the smaller the queue and the less waiting time.

A quick review of the Gigabyte motherboard list of supported RAM modules pops up an interesting choice: Geil DDR2-800 Quad Pack. Lower latency timings, and boom! above that 4Gb barrier on the beastie.

Lesson: when making performance PCs, check memory latency timing speeds. Lower the better.

Recheck the Windows Experience Index:

five-point-nines

We get 5.9s all around! Success.

Added bits bill: AU$1,257.19

Further Reading

The Discussion

  • User profile image
    Dengin

    Gratz on the 5.9! I'm still trying to figure out why my 3DMark06 score is 'only' 10850, should be about 1000 points higher, but other than that, everything is running smoothly on my new build. I'll have to try those temp/fan programs you mentioned, and see how it compares against Abit's μGuru app.

    I'll be picking up Crysis soon. If I can only tear myself away from WoW long enough...

  • User profile image
    Catto

    Hey Now Nick,

    Great Series, I really enjoyed it & learned some things about some new hardware.

    Thx 4 the info,

    Catto

  • User profile image
    kurtbrockett

    Tweaking is an art and can really pay off.  I bought a XPS410 last summer and had an experience score of 4.2!  Digging deeper I found that it was because the Hard Drives were set in RAID1 from the factory.  I do my own offline backup every week so didn't need this redundancy.  Removed the RAID and reinstalled...wahla 5.2.

    The lack of keeping computers clean and tuned accounts I would guess for over 50% of new PC purchases.  People think their computers are slow but they're just not tuned.

    Thanks for the informative rundown,

    Kurt

  • User profile image
    Nick Hodge

    @Dengin @catto @kurtbrockett

    Thanks for the encouragement to complete the series!

    Tuning your XP/Vista machine from a software standpoint is a good topic... research time.

    Nick

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