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Test notes
Here's a look at our test system, in which we inadvertently used all of the components of AMD's so-called Dragon platform, including a Phenom II, the 790GX chipset, and a Radeon HD 4870.


Handsome, innit?

Nothing against these fine individual components, but I have yet to be impressed by a desktop "platform" package. I prefer simply to choose the best motherboard, processor, and graphics card, regardless of who makes them. To date, "platforms" have only served to thwart that ambition (see: CrossFire and SLI chipset requirements and corporate catfights, for instance) without delivering any concrete advantages. AMD seems to be committed to this direction, though, so you can probably expect to hear more about it. I will admit that AMD's "Overdrive" utility has some nice features—and a new version is slated for release with the Phenom II—but it's mainly tied to the 7-series chipsets rather than the whole package, including graphics. And a software utility alone isn't likely to sell us on the platform concept.

Anyhow, another thing you'll want to note is that several of the CPU models we tested were actually simulated using underclocked versions of higher-grade processors. Specifically, the Phenom II X4 920 is an underclocked 940, and the Core 2 Quad Q9550 is an underclocked Core 2 Extreme QX9650. We expect the performance of these "simulated" speed grades to be identical to the real things, but we have omitted these processors from our power consumption testing because we do anticipate that power use would vary slightly from the actual products.

Our testing methods
As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. Tests were run at least three times, and the results were averaged.

Our test systems were configured like so:

Processor Core 2 Quad Q6600 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo E8600 3.33 GHz
Core 2 Quad Q9300 2.5 GHz
Core 2 Quad Q9400 2.66 GHz
Core 2 Quad Q9550 2.83 GHz
Core 2 Extreme QX9770 3.2 GHz Dual Core 2 Extreme QX9775 3.2 GHz Core i7-940 2.66 GHz
Core i7-940 2.93 GHz
Core i7-965 Extreme 3.2 GHz Athlon 64 X2 6400+ 3.2 GHz Phenom X3 8750 2.4 GHz Phenom II X4 920
2.8 GHz
Phenom II X4 940
3.0 GHz
Phenom X4 9950
Black 2.6 GHz
System bus 1066 MT/s
(266 MHz)
1333 MT/s
(333 MHz)
1600 MT/s
(400 MHz)
1600 MT/s
(400 MHz)
QPI 4.8 GT/s
(2.4 GHz)
QPI 6.4 GT/s
(3.2 GHz)
HT 2.0 GT/s
(1.0 GHz)
HT 3.6 GT/s (1.8 GHz) HT 3.6 GT/s (1.8 GHz)
HT 4.0 GT/s (2.0 GHz)
Motherboard Asus P5E3 Premium Asus P5E3 Premium Asus P5E3 Premium Intel D5400XS Intel DX58SO Intel DX58SO Asus M3A79-T Deluxe Asus M3A79-T Deluxe MSI DKA790GX Platinum
BIOS revision 0605 0605 0605 XS54010J.86A.1149.
2008.0825.2339
SOX5810J.86A.2260.
2008.0918.1758
SOX5810J.86A.2260.
2008.0918.1758
0403 0403 11/25/08
North bridge X48 Express MCH X48 Express MCH X48 Express MCH 5400 MCH X58 IOH X58 IOH 790FX 790FX 790GX
South bridge ICH9R ICH9R ICH9R 6321ESB ICH ICH10R ICH10R SB750 SB750 SB750
Chipset drivers INF Update 9.0.0.1008
Matrix Storage Manager 8.5.0.1032
INF Update 9.0.0.1008
Matrix Storage Manager 8.5.0.1032
INF Update 9.0.0.1008
Matrix Storage Manager 8.5.0.1032
INF Update 9.0.0.1008
Matrix Storage Manager 8.5.0.1032
INF update 9.1.0.1007
Matrix Storage Manager 8.5.0.1032
INF update 9.1.0.1007
Matrix Storage Manager 8.5.0.1032
AHCI controller 3.1.1540.61 AHCI controller 3.1.1540.61 AHCI controller 3.1.1540.61
Memory size 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 6GB (3 DIMMs) 6GB (3 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs) 4GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair TW3X4G1800C8DF
DDR3 SDRAM
Corsair TW3X4G1800C8DF
DDR3 SDRAM
Corsair TW3X4G1800C8DF
DDR3 SDRAM
Micron ECC DDR2-800
FB-DIMM
Corsair TR3X6G1600C8D
DDR3 SDRAM
Corsair TR3X6G1600C8D
DDR3 SDRAM
Corsair TWIN4X4096-8500C5DF
DDR2 SDRAM 
Corsair TWIN4X4096-8500C5DF
DDR2 SDRAM
Corsair TWIN4X4096-8500C5DF
DDR2 SDRAM
Memory speed (Effective) 1066 MHz 1333 MHz 1600 MHz 800 MHz 1066 MHz 1600 MHz 800 MHz 1066 MHz 1066 MHz
CAS latency (CL) 7 8 8 5 7 8 4 5 5
RAS to CAS delay (tRCD) 7 8 8 5 7 8 4 5 5
RAS precharge (tRP) 7 8 8 5 7 8 4 5 5
Cycle time (tRAS) 20 20 24 18 20 24 12 15 15
Command rate 2T 2T 2T 2T 2T 1T 2T 2T 2T
Audio Integrated ICH9R/AD1988B
with SoundMAX 6.10.2.6480 drivers
Integrated ICH9R/AD1988B
with SoundMAX 6.10.2.6480 drivers
Integrated ICH9R/AD1988B
with SoundMAX 6.10.2.6480 drivers
Integrated 6321ESB/STAC9274D5
with SigmaTel 6.10.5713.7 drivers
Integrated ICH10R/ALC889
with Realtek 6.0.1.5704 drivers
Integrated ICH10R/ALC889
with Realtek 6.0.1.5704 drivers
Integrated SB750/AD2000B
with SoundMAX 6.10.2.6480 drivers
Integrated SB750/AD2000B
with SoundMAX 6.10.2.6480 drivers
Integrated
SB750/ALC888
with Realtek 6.0.1.5704 drivers
Hard drive WD Caviar SE16 320GB SATA
Graphics Radeon HD 4870 512MB PCIe with Catalyst 8.55.4-081009a-070794E-ATI drivers
OS Windows Vista Ultimate x64 Edition
OS updates Service Pack 1, DirectX redist update August 2008

Thanks to Corsair for providing us with memory for our testing. Their products and support are far and away superior to generic, no-name memory.

Our single-socket test systems were powered by OCZ GameXStream 700W power supply units. The dual-socket system was powered by a PC Power & Cooling Turbo-Cool 1KW-SR power supply. Thanks to OCZ for providing these units for our use in testing.

Also, the folks at NCIXUS.com hooked us up with a nice deal on the WD Caviar SE16 drives used in our test rigs. NCIX now sells to U.S. customers, so check them out.

The test systems' Windows desktops were set at 1600x1200 in 32-bit color at an 85Hz screen refresh rate. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

The tests and methods we employ are usually publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.