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Test notes
As I've mentioned, our CPU test rigs are all-new this time around, and we've taken the opportunity to freshen up the hardware used in them.


Asus' ENGTX460 TOP 1GB graphics card

For graphics cards, Asus was kind enough to supply us with its version of the GeForce GTX 460 1GB with a swanky DirectCU cooler. This cooler is pleasantly quiet, and it has helped reduced the noise levels in Damage Labs when we have a number of systems running tests concurrently.


Corsair's Nova V128 SSD

We've also made the move to SSDs courtesy of Corsair, which supplied its Nova V128 SSDs for our test rigs. We chose these drives for couple of reasons. The Nova V128 has been one of our editorial picks for a while, and the TRIM implementation in its Indilinx controller is pretty aggressive about clearing unused pages, which should mean disk write performance doesn't vary greatly from run to run while we're benchmarking. We're really pleased with the move to SSDs for our test rigs. They're constantly being rebooted, and the SSDs shorten that process noticeably. Also, the silence is golden.


Our Sandy Bridge test rig with 8GB of Corsair RAM and an Asus P6P67 Deluxe mobo

After consulting with our readers, we've decided to enable Windows' "Balanced" power profile for the bulk of our desktop processor tests, which means power-saving features like SpeedStep and Cool'n'Quiet are operating. (In the past, we only enabled these features for power consumption testing.) Our spot checks demonstrated to us that, typically, there's no performance penalty for enabling these features on today's CPUs. If there is a real-world penalty to enabling these features, well, we think that's worthy of inclusion in our measurements, since the vast majority of desktop processors these days will spend their lives with these features enabled. We did disable these power management features to measure cache latencies, but otherwise, it was unnecessary to do so.

Our testing methods
As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. Tests were run at least three times, and we reported the median of the scores produced.

Our test systems were configured like so:

Processor Athlon II X3 455 3.3GHz
Phenom II X2 565 3.4GHz
Phenom II X4 840 3.2GHz
Phenom II X4 975 3.6GHz
Phenom II X4 1075T 3.0GHz
Phenom II X4 1100T 3.3GHz
Pentium Extreme Edition 840 3.2GHz Pentium G6950 2.8GHz
Core 2 Duo E6400 2.13GHz
Core i3-560 3.33 GHz
Core i5-655K 3.2GHz
Core i5-760 2.8GHz
Core i7-875K 2.93GHz
Core 2 Quad Q9400 2.67GHz
Motherboard Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H Asus P5E3 Premium Asus P7P55D-E Pro
North bridge 890GX X48 P55
South bridge SB850 ICH9R
Memory size 8GB (4 DIMMs) 8GB (4 DIMMs) 8GB (4 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair
CMD8GX3M4A1333C7
DDR3 SDRAM
Corsair
CMD8GX3M4A1600C8
DDR3 SDRAM
Corsair
CMD8GX3M4A1600C8
DDR3 SDRAM
Memory speed 1333 MHz 800 MHz 1066 MHz
1066 MHz
1333 MHz
1333 MHz
Memory timings 8-8-8-20 2T 7-7-7-20 2T 7-7-7-20 2T
7-7-7-20 2T
8-8-8-20 2T
8-8-8-20 2T
Chipset
drivers
AMD AHCI 1.2.1.263 INF update 9.1.1.1025
Rapid Storage Technology 9.6.0.1014
INF update 9.1.1.1025
Rapid Storage Technology 9.6.0.1014
Audio Integrated
SB850/ALC892 with
Realtek 6.0.1.6235 drivers
Integrated
ICH9R/AD1988B with
Microsoft drivers
Integrated
P55/RTL8111B with
Realtek 6.0.1.6235 drivers

Processor Core i7-950 3.06 GHz
Core i7-970 3.2 GHz
Core i7-980X Extreme 3.3 GHz
Core i3-2100 2.93 GHz
Core i5-2400 3.1 GHz
Core i5-2500K 3.3 GHz
Core i7-2600K 3.4 GHz
Motherboard Gigabyte X85A-UD5 Asus P8P67 Deluxe
North bridge X58 P67
South bridge ICH10R
Memory size 12GB (6 DIMMs) 8GB (4 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair
CMP12GX3M6A1600C8
DDR3 SDRAM
Corsair
CMD8GX3M4A1600C8
DDR3 SDRAM
Memory speed 1333 MHz 1333 MHz
Memory timings 8-8-8-20 2T 8-8-8-20 2T
Chipset
drivers
INF update 9.1.1.1020
Rapid Storage Technology 9.5.0.1037
INF update 9.2.0.1016
Rapid Storage Technology 10.0.0.1046
Audio Integrated
ICH10R/ALC889 with
Realtek 6.0.1.6235 drivers
Integrated
P67/ALC889 with
Microsoft drivers

They all shared the following common elements:

Hard drive Corsair Nova V128 SATA SSD
Discrete graphics Asus ENGTX460 TOP 1GB (GeForce GTX 460) with ForceWare 260.99 drivers
OS Windows 7 Ultimate x64 Edition
Power supply PC Power & Cooling Silencer 610 Watt

Our test systems for integrated graphics looked a little bit different. They were configured like this:

Processor Phenom II X4 1075T 3.0GHz Core i3-2100 2.93 GHz
Core i5-2500K 3.3 GHz
Core i5-655K 3.2GHz
Motherboard Gigabyte 890GPA-UD3H Intel DH67BL Gigabyte H57M-USB3
North bridge 890GX H67 H57
South bridge SB850
Memory size 8GB (4 DIMMs) 8GB (4 DIMMs) 8GB (4 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair
CMD8GX3M4A1333C7
DDR3 SDRAM
Corsair
CMD8GX3M4A1600C8
DDR3 SDRAM
Corsair
CMD8GX3M4A1600C8
DDR3 SDRAM
Memory speed 1333 MHz 1333 MHz 1333 MHz
Memory timings 8-8-8-20 2T 9-9-9-24 2T 8-8-8-20 2T
Chipset
drivers
AMD AHCI 1.2.1.263 INF update 9.2.0.1016
Rapid Storage Technology 10.0.0.1046
INF update 9.1.1.1025
Rapid Storage Technology 9.6.0.1014
Audio Integrated
SB850/ALC892 with
Realtek 6.0.1.6235 drivers
Integrated
P67/ALC892 with
Microsoft drivers
Integrated
P55/ALC889 with
Realtek 6.0.1.6235 drivers
Graphics Integrated
Radeon HD 4290 with
Catalyst 10.12 drivers
Integrated
Intel HD Graphics with
8.15.10.2266 drivers
Integrated
Intel HD Graphics with
8.15.10.2246 drivers

They shared the following common elements:

Hard drive Corsair Nova V128 SATA SSD
OS Windows 7 Ultimate x64 Edition
Power supply PC Power & Cooling Silencer 610 Watt

We'd like to thank Asus, Corsair, Gigabyte, and OCZ for helping to outfit our test rigs with some of the finest hardware available. Thanks to Intel and AMD for providing the processors, as well, of course.

The test systems' Windows desktops were set at 1900x1200 in 32-bit color. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled in the graphics driver control panel.

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.