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Test notes
We've completely overhauled the portion of Damage Labs dedicated to desktop CPU testing for this review, and we've added a number of new tests and methods along the way, as well. Here's a look at one of our new CPU test rigs, the one destined for Ivy Bridge:



Yep, we've mounted it in one of those slick open-air cases from MSI, which is just about ideal for our purposes. Sadly, this MSI case isn't a commercial product, but stay tuned: we plan to give one away to a lucky reader shortly.

The rest of the hardware involved was provided by several companies who were kind enough to support our efforts. For this system, we used MSI's Z77A-GD65 motherboard, as we've noted. Although they're kind of hard to see in the pictures above, Corsair provided the Vengeance DIMMs, which are 4GB each and capable of 1600MHz operation at 1.5V. Corsair also supplied the AX650 power supply, which is very efficient at low loads and is incredibly quiet, particularly because it switches off its cooling fan under low loads.

That handsome graphics card is a Radeon HD 7950 DD Edition from XFX. These cards have granted our test systems a much higher ceiling, so we can test CPU performance in recent games at common resolutions without running into GPU bottlenecks. These cards draw very little power when idle, so they don't contribute too much when we test system power draw and CPU efficiency. Last but not least, these Radeons are PCI Express 3.0-compatible, so they should be able to talk to Ivy Bridge at full speed.


Also kind of hidden in the first couple of pictures is the Kingston HyperX 120GB SSD. Based on the latest SandForce controller with synchronous NAND, this drive is one of the best SSD configs available. It's also completely silent, very power efficient, and cuts our boot times between tests dramatically versus a hard disk drive.

We've built four of these test systems for the different CPU socket types out there, so we're able to test multiple processors concurrently. Our Ivy review here has "only" seven different processor types included, but we expect to be able to expand that number over time and to include a range of different CPU vintages and socket types, just as we've done in the past. Just bear with us as we accumulate results with our new methods and test rigs. Fuller specifications for the individual test systems are available below.

Our testing methods
We ran every test at least three times and reported the median of the scores produced.

The test systems were configured like so:

Processor AMD FX-8150
Phenom II X6 1100T
Core i7-2600K
Core i7-3770K
Core i7-3960X
Core i7-3820
AMD A8-3850
Motherboard Asus Crosshair V Formula MSI Z77A-GD65 Intel DX79SI Gigabyte A75M-UD2H 
North bridge 990FX Z77 Express X79 Express A75 FCH
South bridge SB950
Memory size 8 GB (2 DIMMs) 8 GB (2 DIMMs) 16 GB (4 DIMMs) 8 GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type AMD Entertainment
Edition
DDR3 SDRAM
Corsair
Vengeance
DDR3 SDRAM
Corsair
Vengeance
DDR3 SDRAM
Corsair
Vengeance
DDR3 SDRAM
Memory speed 1600 MT/s 1600 MT/s 1600 MT/s 1600 MT/s
Memory timings 9-9-9-24 1T 9-9-9-24 1T 9-9-9-24 1T 9-9-9-24 1T
Chipset
drivers
AMD chipset 12.3  INF update 9.3.0.1020
iRST 11.1.0.1006
INF update 9.2.3.1022
RSTe 3.0.0.3020
AMD chipset 12.3
IGP drivers - 8.15.10.2696 - Catalyst 12.3
Audio Integrated
SB950/ALC889 with
Realtek 6.0.1.6602 drivers
Integrated
Z77/ALC898 with 
Realtek 6.0.1.6602 drivers
Integrated
X79/ALC892 with
Realtek 6.0.1.6602 drivers
Integrated
A75/ALC889 with
Realtek 6.0.1.6602 drivers

 They all shared the following common elements:

Hard drive Kingston HyperX SH100S3B 120GB SSD
Discrete graphics XFX Radeon HD 7950 Double Dissipation 3GB with Catalyst 12.3 drivers
OS Windows 7 Ultimate x64 Edition Service Pack 1
(AMD systems only: KB2646060, KB2645594 hotfixes)
Power supply Corsair AX650

Thanks to Corsair, XFX, Kingston, MSI, Asus, Gigabyte, Intel, and AMD 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.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

Some further notes on our testing methods:

  • The test systems' Windows desktops were set at 1900x1080 in 32-bit color. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled in the graphics driver control panel.
  • We used a Yokogawa WT210 digital power meter to capture power use over a span of time. The meter reads power use at the wall socket, so it incorporates power use from the entire system—the CPU, motherboard, memory, graphics solution, hard drives, and anything else plugged into the power supply unit. (The monitor was plugged into a separate outlet.) We measured how each of our test systems used power across a set time period, during which time we encoded a video with x264.
  • 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.

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.