The Electric Jalapeño: A new system via Windows 7 - Reviews.
by the Reviews Team
Each sub-system is independently reviewed and in no particular order – from CPU cooler to an exciting video board and high end hard drives and all devices in between!
Antec P183 Case: Rodeo Drive Styling
Antec’s P183 is a high-end mid-tower case. It is based on Antec’s P193 without the side fan and one of the top fans and also with the remaining top fan reduced to 120-mm, making it less expensive than P193. Let’s see what you should expect from P183. First, you notice there is significantly less noise due to the 3-layer side panels. And there are lots of places for hard drives, memory, add-on cards, etc. - a generous mid-tower case in gun metal steel that just oozes quality in this style conscience enclosure.
The Antec P183 chassis is an example of what happens when you think outside the box and design something from the ground up. Several of the design features are unique to this chassis and make it stand out from the crowd. Sure it looks great, very stylish and presents itself well. In fact, we decided it was nice enough to take home to meet our mom. Well engineered and designed with no sharp corners or ill-fitting nooks. It arrived with two 120mm fans controlled by an exterior, multifunction switch on the back. We added a third up front to cool the hard drives. You’ll get significant amounts of air intake through the front mesh grills whose filters are washable.
This case has rolled edges to keep your hands out of harms way and add sturdiness to the case. Inside (see picture) there are four, separate chambers: the bottom one is for the power supply that draws air from the bottom of the case; to your upper right are compartments for optical drives and anything else 5.25”, underneath is the hard drive compartment with two pull out “cages” for up to six hard drives. Then the larger open compartment to your left for the motherboard, coolers, etc. The left access panel has two thumb screws and easily removed.
The “front door” swings back left and around to the side of the case. We prefer it to swing right so it out of the way when working inside the computer. It is thoughtful that the USB and e-SATA ports are accessible when the door is closed. There are air vents on either side of the door. Although a mid-tower, it is a bit larger than typical. We did find it was uncomfortably close between the HD’s and the video card.
Antec has dropped the Firewire port which is OK since Firewire was never popular on PC’s. The whole exterior of the case just has a really nice tactile feel to it. You now have to remove the doors themselves to clean the filters.
The entire rear PSU plate is now removable. This is to accommodate the new PSU form factor CPX introduced by Antec. The larger form factor allows for better PSU design with improved airflow also.
AMD 945 Phenom II X4 CPU: Tiny Transistors on Steroids
Everyone gather ‘round AMD’s most capable CPU. OK, there are two faster ones on the market, but this one is the most cost-effective. This quad-core 945 puts out a lot of horsepower for your buck! For a number of years AMD has been in a sort of “whoa is me” funk. Always playing catch up to big bro Intel. Well, congrats AMD I think you’ve done it. This CPU is the heart of our system. But, alas, you cannot overclock it. You’ll need the more expensive 955 or 965 models. But it does fully support DDR3 memory.
Summary: the power to perform brilliantly whatever you demand of it: from complex PowerPoint presentations, illustrated Word docs or digital media, it races through multitasking in no time. We’ve never had a problem with this rock solid chip. It is a feature rich chip that runs fast, very fast, offers exceptional quality at a competitive price. Many fast chips run hot, but not this one. It is a 95 watt chip and under normal loads, is just warm. Extra features just add icing to the electronic cake.
The Phenom II series processors offer great performance for the money. And the Phenom II series processors are slowly, but surely, improving like a fine scotch.
Select your mobo carefully. Not all support the AMD 3 chip and not all support higher end RAM (DDR3). What does all this “AMD3 and DDR3” mean? It is the newer, heftier technology to improve your computing experience. While we’re in specifics, the 945 chip runs at 3.0 GHz – each of the four parts or cores can run independently. They can run together at 3.0 or you can configure them to run four different tasks on separate parts/cores. It’s more expensive cousin, the 955 runs at 3.2GHz and it is “unlocked” which means you can tweak it and overclock it (voltage, etc.). Sorta like buying a higher speed chip for less money. Our next issue will include performance test results and over clocking. HyperTransport is also included in both chips. But no overclocking this chip. Booo.
Both feature a total 2MB Level 2 cache; 512KB per core. But: a big change is the increase in Level 3 cache. Phenom II can use or address 6MB L3 cache shared among cores as a buffer, so is can exchange data in-between the four logical cores. That's 8MB of cache and yet we’ve not even accounted for the 512KB total L1 per processor. We know this is techie stuff, but some readers will know how to use it.
L3 is where the enchantment happens though and is probably the reason for Phenom II's success. How about a look-see at a processor die? (See the first picture in this review.)
The price difference between Intel’s i7 and AMD’s 955/45 is narrowing. That translates into price versus performance of course. Core i7 X58 motherboards these days start at 195 USD where you can pick up a AMD 790FX motherboard for 110 USD. That is something you need to keep in mind. Again, price vs. performance.
Compare Core i7 920 versus Phenom II X4 945 with ordinary daily applications, you’ll not notice a real difference. Gaming? We don’t find a dime’s worth of difference. When it comes to gaming, your graphics sub-system is 95% of the limiting factor. We used an ATI Radeon 4890 video card and it is a real performer.
We’d advise you to spend the extra 25+ bucks to get another 200 MHz of performance and the flexibility to tweak the processors really well. The Phenom II X4 955BE AMD brings a very mature, fast and stable processor to the market. If you crave for some more performance, for a few dollars more, buy the Phenom 955.
AMD's Phenom II processors are exciting. We can't say anything other than, this…as a platform this entire infrastructure works out especially well for both AMD and you, the end-user. We like what AMD continuously brings to the table. And though these are relatively small incremental updates over time...try to imagine where AMD was a year ago with Phenom 1. For more info and updates surf to www.amd.com.
ATI Radeon HD4890 Graphics: Virtuoso Visual Performance
ATI has upped the ante in its competitive fight with NVIDIA. For years these two champs have had a video slug fest for winner in the video card market. The HD4890 is one such card, while not being radically new, this it is definitely a few steps above the already powerful HD4870 and it includes some significant changes. If you are into digital media, gaming or any other app that demands muscle, this card may be your champ. Oh yes, it is easy to overclock.
In the next issue we’ll have serious performance results. This time, let’s stick with some basic specs from ATI:
With all the operations on this board and a fan running at top speed, this board is certainly the quiet one. There are enough other fans in the case to make noise – thanks ATI. The variable speed fan increases RPM to handle additional heat loads.
OK, you got us! We have already played with overclocking – that world of esoteric gurus! If you are overclocking the core you may just as well overclock the memory to the max as this card’s cooling can clearly take the heat. And while we are in the virtual confession booth, we also began to play HAWX (a character, not the skateboard guy). None of us has played games in a while and we all were just blown away by this game and how exciting the HD4890 makes it. Back next month with details. How ‘bout Need for Speed: Undercover?
Your package includes the video card, install CD, etc. plus a dongle or adapter (VGA to DVI). Your power supply will need two power cables to feed this hungry puppy. I told you it had muscle, so now you need to feed it – about 190 watts. NOTE: some less expensive power supplies have fairly short cables – check cable length first and then buy.
One of us likes to crank up the details and have awesome frame rates on a large display, these cards do that flawlessly. Tear through the latest games with seamless frame rates and go beyond HiDef. GPU stands out from the rest with massive graphics processing muscle.
We don’t have this powerful feature in our system, but you might. Just a note from ATI about their CrossFireX™ Technology: it will support up to a quad (4) GPUs and it offers superior scalability. It is the ultimate multi-GPU performance gaming platform…to move faster, aim quicker, and see more clearly than all who stand between you and victory… before tea time.
Each high-end graphics card will always get a spin-off product. For the Radeon HD 4870 that meant the Radeon HD 4890, launched in April. Many manufacturers jumped onto that bandwagon and we right now are seeing a wide range of the most astounding capable Radeon HD 4890 cards. For more info go to www.ati.com.
PS: Tom Clancy's HAWX Game
With HAWX (air combat game) we enter a new level. There are well over 50 planes in the game, each of which carries a destructive payload. You'll need it, as you'll engage multiple hostiles across war-torn but still gorgeous looking terrain. However, you won't be alone, and you'll have the option of issuing orders to your fellow squad mates.
Visually, the game's impressive, especially when flying in close to cities, which really shows off the building details. But it's when the game pulls into the third-person perspective while you dog-fight that the game flaunts its visuals and you really see much of the environment. HAWX and our HD4890 are perfect partners. DirX 10.1 mode brings additional performance into the gaming arena alright; as such, it is totally dominating this test.
Seagate Barracuda 1.5TB Hard Drive: A Workhorse
Why install 1.5 terra bytes of storage? OK, why two drives? First, with the surge in digital media, what we considered a “lot of storage” is now just adequate and price is so right - think about 1.5 terabytes of storage costs less than 8 cents a gigabyte. Now that's cost effective storage - a seriously cost-effective choice. And it is a high transfer SATA drive. For such a high capacity drive moving at 7200 rpm, it is surprisingly quiet – remember there are two.
Second question, why two? We’re like most you. We don’t have a back up strategy and frankly, we do little back up. The second hard drive is a “mirror” (RAID 1 configuration) of the first, and becomes our auto back up drive. At least that was our original intent until a well respected guru suggested otherwise. We still think it will work, but as he points out you “automatically copy onto the second drive what you have on the first drive.” “And that’s the point” we said. He responded, “yes, but that includes virus and malware copies was well”. Well, ‘nuf said and a valid point. You decide.
Seagate has long been both an innovator and a crowd-pleaser in terms of data storage technology. The new ST31500341AS is the latest in a long line of Barracuda drives, with a storage and speed seldom seen. Designed with noise- suppression engineering and state-of-the-art speed and power on the surface, this Seagate drive has muscle. It's got 32MB of cache, spins at 7200 rpm, supports NCQ (native command queuing) and SATA I/O of 3.0gbps. But how does the drive perform? We stacked up this Seagate behemoth against two other 1.5TB drives. Oh yes, early 2009 there were some problems with the “firmware” – not the physical drive. This has been fixed.
Some basic specs:
Seagate turns in slightly better read and write performance and burst transfer speeds are pretty even across the board. However, this particular Seagate drive seems to have random access speeds slightly slower. Installation? Making a cup of coffee is harder. Just carefully remove from the anti-static bag, slide into the computer and connect it to the SATA slot on your motherboard. Just could not be easier. Seagate supplies a bag with the SATA cable, a helpful CD with utilities, etc. and a useful pamphlet.
Huge capacity; good price; impressive areal density; and, fast transfer speeds. The Barracuda's transfer speed is fast considering it has eight read/write heads to move around. You have to weigh the overall performance differences against the vast capacity of this drive, as well as the price. Seagate's Barracuda 7200.11 1.5TB drive is a touch slower than the competition, but offers tremendous capacity at an affordable price. Summary: Good reliability, Good capacity, Good price. Good by. For more info go to www.seagate.com.
Corsair XMS3 DDR3 1600C9 Memory: Excellent Speed and Value
Corsair’s new XMS3 1600MHz C9 memory arrived with sufficient 2GB “sticks” to fully populate the RAM. The DDR3 speed of 1600MHz is significant amount of speed right off the bat without any over clocking. If you’d like to speed things up, you can (as we’ll do later) jack up the voltage a bit. We are adding a Corsair RAM air cooler to cool off these fast puppies. A year ago the price of the newish DDR3 was expensive. Today, the price is quite a different. Considering you are getting some top-speed 4GB kit for this price, I would say that DDR3 is within reach to most enthusiasts now; not just the wealthiest few.
Why anyone would build a system with a 1600 MHz front side buss processor and 1066 MHz DDR3 memory is a ambiguity. But what it does allow us to do is swap out those modules for the new Corsair XMS3 DDR3-1600C9 modules and see what performance gains we can achieve.
Like the older sibling, DDR2, DDR3’s XMS3 DHX feature Corsairs patent-pending DHX technology - an innovative quad-layer heat sink design that optimizes memory performance and reliability by maximizing thermal dissipation. With DHX Technology, heat is removed via two paths the leads of the BGA chips into the PCB (convective cooling) and the back of the BGA packages into the custom designed extruded aluminum heat sinks (conductive cooling). This engineering design helped us well in the last review using Denominator DDR2. Never a problem.
You can see from these benchmarks that the new Corsair memory modules improved on the system memory bandwidth quite a bit: from 7.92 GB/s up to 8.54 GB/s. That is a difference of about 7.5% - not bad for such an easy swap.
In our first test, the memory read speed, the new Corsair XMS3 DDR3-1600C9 modules are running faster with a 10.36 GB/s score while the original memory ran at 9.2 GB/s: that is a 12% boost with the 1600 MHz modules. We found it runs a little hot, but we countered it with help of the adjacent CPU cooler that is off-center and a DDR2 memory fan cooler module.
Most readers would consider memory modules to be moving towards a commodity item for a gaming or enthusiast PC – we don’t buy that. The market will demand higher and higher performance. Corsair will be there to accommodate them. Corsair XMS3 DDR3-1600C9 kits are becoming more and more popular – these are memory configurations that are both fast and easy to install. There is little-to-no legwork necessary by the end user to reach these speeds and that is what MOST users want.
"Depending upon who you talk to in the industry, DDR3 is either hideously expensive and marginally pointless, or it's the best thing since sliced bread.” The future may be bright but the current problem is that DDR3 is still expensive and only a handful of chipsets support it.
DDR3 will gain significant traction in 2009 as Intel's Core i7 processor increases market share. AMD, too, will move on over to a DDR3 memory controller on its high-end desktop CPUs. If you choose the DDR3 route it makes sense to go right in and buy 4GB, because anything less and Windows will just chug along.
Enthusiast who can’t get enough speed find this is a real adrenalin rush! For those who simply want fast memory for a decent price that can be tweaked at the user’s discretion, the Corsair XMS3 DDR3-1600C9 memory kits are you’re an excellent value. For more info go to www.corsair.com.
Corsair HX850 Power Supply: Efficient Green Electricity
A quality power supply will not only promote system stability but it can also save on your electricity. It is becoming more and more evident that we are pushing efficiency. The 80Plus designation has allowed manufacturers to give potential customers a solid certification to better determine their power savings. Corsair’s HX850 is one of the best examples of looking ahead. For a large power supply, it is very quiet, in large part due to its thermally controlled 140mm fan that dominates the top side – high speed when there’s a load and less when not.
A few basic specs:
As a practical matter Corsair’s cable management allows a user to connect only the cables s/he really needs to wire the rig neatly (remember 2nd grade? well neatness still counts!). There are 12 HD and 12 SATA plugs enough for very well equipped file server. With the six 6+2 pin connectors you'll can power triple-SLI systems as wells as triple-Crossfire rigs.
We recommend the Corsair HX850W without reservation to anyone who needs a stable system and a significant, efficient power source. Therefore it doesn't matter if you're a gamer or hardware-buff. The HX850W is stable and provides your rig with plenty of muscle. For more info and downloads go to: www.corsair.com.
Zalman 9700NT CPU Cooler: Quiet air power.
Overall, a well made and practical CPU cooler. It is a biggie however; about the size of a small grapefruit. Zalmann has a long history of producing innovative designs that are well engineered. Like any CPU fan, just measure carefully so both cooler and its surroundings can coexist. We thought there’d have sufficient space between the cooler and fourth stick of RAM – not so, when you install the memory fan.
Their coolers are designated CNPS, which stands for Computer Noise Prevention System. It surprised us how quiet this large set of fins and fan were. It weighs about 750+ grams. If your cooler is over 500 grams, it is recommended that you remove the cooler before moving your system. As you can see, when the case is upright, it hangs perpendicular to the motherboard – a considerable shearing weight.
Coolers earn their keep by transferring heat from the CPU to the air blown out of the case. There are copper “heat pipes” that absorb heat from a heatsink attached to the CPU. This heat is carried to the radial fins by the six heatpipes and blown away by the attached fan. This fan promises high performance while the Zalman name promises quiet operation.
The Zalman CNPS 9700NT about 145 mm tall by 125 mm wide. The box contains hardware for a number of different CPU models. The fan is 110 mm. The fan is powered from a four pin PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) plug seen on many P4 boards. You can use the included Fan Mate 2 controller to manually control the speed of the fan. One was not included in our retail package.
This is an excellent cooler for enthusiasts looking to overclock their computers, and for anyone who appreciates a quiet cooling solution. It offers great cooling and very low noise.
AeroCool Touch 2000: Fan/Temp Control
AeroCool’s newest fan controller and temperature monitor display panel is enclosed in a very stylish, hair brushed case with an LCD touch screen. Do you absolutely need a Touch 2000 type of device? The answer is simple: No. So why? If you are a gamer or inclined to over clock your system, then will need this type of device. For the rest of us, it is an excellent system monitor.
Fan controllers make it far easier to manage your system’s airflow and temperature. With the Touch 2000 you connect and monitor up to four fans with a single integrated control panel. The touch screen displays the speed for each connected fan and, provides individual temperature in either Fahrenheit or Celsius. Motherboard based monitors really aren’t that accurate.
If you are away when the alarm starts you won’t be alerted if a fan stopped or if a temp is too high because the alarm volume is way too low. AeroCool should add a blinking light for the hearing impaired. Touch 2000 has included a multi-lingual, simple and intuitive manual, explaining basic usage, and a HiDef audio cable, a SATA cable, two extra temperature probes, securing screws, thermal tape and an internal USB cable
It is not possible to connect fans with four-pin connectors ("Molex"). In order to make adjustments you need first to unlock the panel, which is done by touching the lock icon. This prevents you from accidental changing your configuration. The panel also shows the rotating speed of each fan.
Temperature alarms can also be programmed individually for each sensor, from 25 oC to 90 oC. The alarm not only warns user about high temperatures: when activated, it also increases fan to max speed.
The only drawbacks we found are the lack of a feature that disables unused fan channels and adaptors to use fans with other types of power connectors. The fan light keeps blinking if not connected. Also, no visual alert. The audio alters are basically non-existant.
The AeroCool Touch 2000 is first-rate product that will satisfy any enthusiast or gamer. It provides touch screen fan control and temperature monitoring, plus eSATA, USB and audio connects all in one well-engineered package including overheat notification. We strongly recommend the Touch 2000 for those who need thermal control. For more info go to www.aerocool.us.
Cobra D984 CPU Cooler: Arctic Breeze
Xigmatek’s newly designed CPU cooler, the Cobra D984 takes the heat off your CPU. Why this model? One, it incorporates the new heat pipe direct approach. That is, the “pipes” that carry heat away from the CPU and actually touch rather than use an intermediary, such as a heat sink. Second, our cooler space is limited, so its off-center design does not intrude into the memory slots and permitted a fully populated memory.
Our original cooler is quite powerful, but exceeded the space allowed. This off-center design moves the cooling fins and fan off to the side opposite the memory. A win-win situation device.
There are several other features that caught our eyes. One, it has an extensive mounting package to accommodate a number of different CPUs. The quality just oozes – from the tightly engineered heatsink/pipes to the fins. The 92 mm fan is top mounted and simple to install and insures efficient airflow. The fan moves air through the fins from 40-55cfm and operates in a range of 1200-2800 rpm – depends on the cooling need of the CPU. All-in-all, a very quiet cooler – no loud roar when the rpm maxes.
Actual cooling? We performed three tests, but the one that matters most is how much heat is removed from the CPU. On average, it reduced the heat by 8 degrees, depending on the system load. Basic stats: standard cooler about 80-85% loaded was 75C and the Cobra averaged 6-9 degrees cooler.
Even with the smaller 92 mm fan, this little cooler does a superb job at keeping a extremely loaded AMD 945 under control. The flattened heat pipes touching the CPU actually remove extra heat. The backplate installation of the Cobra is a wise choice by Xigmatek, as it's likely preferred by most people over the antiquated push pin system.
At 452 grams it is sufficiently light enough so you need not remove it when moving the case about. The PWM based fan works exactly as it should. An elegant design that works hard to remove heat from your CPU and does so quietly – oh, thank you Madam Cobra! Cost? Reasonable, so check around. Now go to www.xigmatekusa.com for more info.
Charles W. Evans is a HAL-PC member and the Magazine’s Reviews Editor who can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org