Meet The Twins
I've been working on a new storage test suite what feels like ages now, but before we get into the revamped mix of tests that will greet the VelociRaptor, I should take a moment to introduce The Twins. No, I'm not talking about Mary-Kate and Ashley. Instead, I refer to the duo of identical new test systems we've assembled with a smattering of cutting-edge hardware.
In the hearts of these systems beat Intel Core i5-750 CPUs. The i5-750 may not have the Hyper-Threading capacity of the i7 series, but with four Nehalem-derived cores ticking at 2.66GHz, there's still plenty of power on tap for only $200. Thanks to Turbo Boost, the i5-750 can actually push the clock speed of a single core all the way up to 3.2GHz. However, in the interests of keeping The Twins running at the exact same clock speed, we disabled Turbo Boost and set Windows 7's power plan to High Performance, which stops throttling from lowering the CPU clock.
Keeping the i5-750s cool are a pair of SpinQ heatsinks graciously provided by Thermaltake. These towers have a unique design that stacks radiator rings around an internal blower-style fan, and the end result is nothing short of beautiful. The SpinQ has a handy control knob that adjusts the fan speed, and I've had no problems running the i5-750s on an open test bench with the fan spinning at its slowest setting. You can find the SpinQ selling online for as little as $54.
4GB of memory sounded about right for these systems, and OCZ sent over a couple of Platinum DDR3-1333 kits for The Twins. These modules have been rock solid running at 1333MHz with 7-7-7-20-1T timings at 1.65V. Each 4GB kit sells for about $110 online right now.
Gigabyte kicked in matched motherboards and graphics cards for our tandem of new test systems. The P55A-UD7 is the crown jewel of Gigabyte's P55 motherboard lineup. The UD7 has built-in 6Gbps Serial ATA support via a Marvell 9128 storage controller and SuperSpeed USB 3.0 via an NEC chip. Both of those next-gen storage chips sit behind a PLX bridge chip to ensure that the P55's half-speed PCI Express 2.0 lanes don't bottleneck performance.
The UD7 has all the comforts one might expect from a high-end Gigabyte board, including gobs of overclocking options and weak BIOS-level fan speed controls. Flagship products like this are rarely cheap, and the UD7 costs a pretty penny at $275 online.
Gigabyte's passively-cooled Radeon HD 4850 1GB is quite a bit more affordable at only around $140. Although it features a last-gen graphics chip, the card is completely silent. The port cluster's inclusion of a VGA port threw me for a bit of a loop, though. Fortunately, you still get dual digital outputs: one DVI and one HDMI.
A number of our benchmarks test drives in an unformatted state or as the secondary drive in a system. For those tests, we need a primary hard drive to host the operating system. Western Digital kindly sent over a couple of its latest terabyte Caviar Blacks to fill in when necessary. These models can currently be had for as little as $110.
Two OCZ Z-Series 550W PSUs provide power for The Twins. We didn't need anything special on the PSU front beyond something quiet and reliable, and while I can't speak to the latter after only a few weeks of continuous testing, these units barely make a whisper. You can pick up a 550W Z-Series PSU for $90 at Newegg.
The Twins give us a double-barreled storage test platform that should nicely represent the sort of systems enthusiasts are putting together today. We have 6Gbps and USB 3.0 covered, and thanks to Windows 7, support for TRIM with solid-state drives, as well. Thanks to Gigabyte, OCZ, Thermaltake, and Western Digital for hooking us up with the necessary hardware.