Custom test rigs
Our endurance experiment will likely be running for many months, so we need dedicated systems to power the endeavor. We've assembled two identical rigs for the task. Each one lives in a closet with three test subjects inside.
Our test machines are built inside twin BitFenix Prodigy enclosures. We could have gone with smaller cases, especially since we're using Mini-ITX motherboards. The Prodigy has room to grow, though. The thing boasts nine 2.5" drive mounts—more than most mid-tower ATX enclosures. We certainly have room to expand our sample size if this initial experiment goes well. The Prodigy also supports full-sized CPU coolers and PSUs, which lets us keep the systems relatively quiet without too much effort.
Gigabyte's H77N-WiFi motherboard sits inside our Prodigy chassis. This is one of our favorite mini Ivy Bridge boards. Apart from the platform hub, it's identical to the Z77N-WiFi we reviewed earlier this year. The H77N-WiFi serves up dual 6Gbps SATA ports in addition to two 3Gbps ones—enough I/O connectivity for our first round of testing. It also has built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi that enables us to manage the systems while they're stuffed in the closet.
We selected an Intel platform because we've found the firm's SATA controllers to be faster than those in AMD chipsets. Our testing doesn't require a lot of CPU horsepower, so we chose a pair of older Core i3-2100 processors from the Sandy Bridge generation. At 3.1GHz, the dual-core chips have more than enough oomph to swamp our SSDs. The Core i3's integrated GPU eliminates the need for discrete graphics cards, as well.
A pair of Thermaltake NiC F3 air towers is tasked with cooling our CPUs. These puppies combine slim radiators with three heatpipes that make direct contact with the CPU. The mounting bracket is easy to use, and the four-pin PWM fan is relatively quiet. Truthfully, we don't need anything fancy to keep the Core i3-2100's temperatures in check.
Unlike a lot of aftermarket coolers, the NiC F3 leaves enough clearance for taller memory modules. We decided to take advantage by using some Corsair Dominator Platinum DIMMs left over from our PC build guide. The modules have monster heat spreaders, and they were a tight fit on one of the boards, whose DIMM slots are angled toward the CPU slightly. Doh! We ended up swapping the CPU fan over to the other side of the radiator to give the memory more room to breathe.
Our endurance testing is being conducted with the target drives connected as secondary storage. That means we need a separate system drive, and why not use another SSD? They're silent and power-efficient, and I have a growing stack of 'em in the Benchmarking Sweatshop. To match the red CPU fans, I grabbed a couple of 60GB Corsair Force GTs that have been on the shelf since our look at SSD performance scaling.
Admittedly, the Rosewill Fortress 550W PSUs are overkill. We wanted something power-efficient, though, and these are 80 Plus Platinum-certified. They're also very quiet, and they nicely match our system's largely blacked-out theme. The PCIe power connectors even have a splash of red.
The Fortress is technically too large for the Prodigy, but we managed to marry the two with some careful cable routing. At least the case provides plenty of places to cram excess cabling. We ended up with pretty clean systems overall.
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