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Gen-X Tech firstname.lastname@example.orgGHz Combo
It's been a while since we have reviewed a barebones setup, actually, the last one we did was from the same company as we are doing with this one. Barebones systems are popular nowadays because component prices are so cheap, it's sometimes better to buy most of them at the same time to save and also guarantee that the hardware is compatible with each other. Although we here at SystemLogic.net prefer to buy our component separately and put them together ourselves, some of you out there might want to save yourself the hassle and confusion of doing that so you guys can make a homebuilt system faster and easier and don't have to go out and randomly buy T-Bird's to get a good stepping. Also, with dropping prices on components, this might make for a good deal especially when considering the shipping prices. You might've heard about this company in California who not only sells combos but also barebones systems. These systems are not your typical computers. They are mad overclocked to super high speeds and still are covered by their own warranty for stability and failure. They either have a very good engineering department that makes sure everything works right before shipping it out or they are very interested in losing money =). Either way, today we will put their email@example.comGhz barebones kit through the tests and see if this redline overclocking will hold or break.
First off, let me say that I am an Intel guy, I've used every type of Celeron and Pentium III there is and I'm a fan. Intel to me is something that I'm used to and comfortable with. But I downright do not like the new Pentium IV's: the processor architecture, the price, the new components you have to buy for them, etc… So I am strongly considering moving to an AMD based system so this is a good review for me… I will dissect everything about this system and find out everything that's wrong or right with it because it might be a future upgrade for me. The infamous AMD Athlon Thunderbird processor we've been having fun with in our labs are in this system, a prime choice to lower costs and increase performance. Although Pentium IV's are a popular choice now that they've regained the performance crown, the Athlon's are still a winner in speed for the price. The Thunderbird Gen-X used in this system is the 1.3Ghz at 200Mhz FSB with the famous AXIA stepping. Our own JonnyGURU has his 1GHz AXIA running at a sultry 1.4GHz. Aside from the new AHJHAR stepping T-Birds, I'd say the AXIA's are the most overclockable and the coolest running of all. Well, I'm not going to bore you with the history of the Thunderbird here so I'll just move on to make this a shorter read.
In this system, Gen-X used a voltage modified Asus A7V133 to push the processor to 1.6Ghz at 12X multiplier and 133FSB speed. Amazing as it is, it runs at 1.95 volts cooled by a Thermalright SK-6. When I first read up on the specs, I was afraid of stability issues coming up during testing and logic errors in testing. So in this review, I did more testing than I'd normally do just to test the integrity of the processor when overclocked this high. I also headed over to overclockers.com to check out the average overclock for the T-Bird 1.3GHz and the average speed is 1525Mhz which is pretty high but it doesn't get interesting until we see 1.6Ghz and above. 8 out of 10 people who pushed their CPU's to 1.6 and above were using exotic such as a peltier or watercooling. As stated before, this system doesn't use exotic methods of cooling such as those systems, the secrets all lie in good engineering and airflow in the case combined with handpicked chips designed for the best speeds and high stability.
As for the motherboard, what can I say? It's the very popular Asus A7V133. As the successor to the successful A7V KT133 board, the A7V133 adds a couple of new features, mainly the 133Mhz bus speed availability that helps to push this 1.3 to 1.6Ghz. May I also mention that this is not a review of the separate components so if you're looking for a review to tell you more about the board, I suggest you read the A7V133 article over at AnandTech. Although the A7V133 was a pricier choice than the other motherboards they could've used, I honestly think they chose it because it is one of the few KT133A motherboards that offer 1.85+ voltage settings and also because it is known to be a bit more stable than the competition, especially when operating at the 133+MHz FSB range. Also, the fact that the motherboard has quite a lot of space around the CPU socket for a big HSF is a good gracing. The Thermalright SK-6 might not fit some motherboards that are capacitor-heavy. The onboard ATA/100 controller and the ATA/100 IDE-RAID controller means you'll have plenty of space to expand you storage and also add a couple of hard disks in the famous RAID 0 (although RAID 1 and RAID 0 + 1 isn't supported). It's good to know Gen-X Tech didn't go dirt-cheap and use crap motherboards like some barebones companies do. On second thought, it wouldn't be beneficial to use generic parts on a system like this because if it fails, it'll cost them more money to replace it than going with a brand name, good motherboard.
The motherboard comes with the DIPswitches pre-set to a multiplier of 12X and the FSB of 133MHz along with the voltage modification to boost it to 1.95v. Usually, I wouldn't recommend putting that much power into a processor and that 1.85 is all you will ever need. But that's not the case. In our tests, we found that this CPU would not boot at 1.85 and that it needed 1.95v to stay stable through all the tests. When it was stable, it was very stable, impressive, but we'll get to that a little later on. The package that the barebones comes in includes everything that was originally in the motherboard box including drivers, manual, even the case sticker. Aesthetically, the board is mediocre, my one big complaint is the placement of the IDE channels which are on the side of the motherboard. A Voodoo5 5500 would overlap the IDE channels and the cables. Also, the problem with motherboards with IDE channels so far away from the top corner of the board is that you might need longer cables if you have a larger than normal case to reach your optical drives.
But all in all, according to AnandTech, the Asus A7V133 is the best performing KT133A motherboard and that should say something in itself. Lets move onto other aspects.
Not much to say in this category since the system comes fully assembled. Actually, mine came with the heatsink already mounted which I don't think is a good idea with a HSF as heavy as the SK-6. Gen-X Tech told me that the heatsink and processor weren't meant to be mounted while shipping. Anyway, all you probably need to do when you get this system either way is just mount the parts and add the optical and hard drives along with video and sound card. The case makes for a difficult installation (at least to me and my spoiled outlook towards cases). The case doesn't have side panels but rather the entire exterior plate casing lifts off just like those old Compaq's or IBM's. Aside from that, getting inside the case is relatively easy. 2 clear-bladed large 80mm fans cool the case adequately. The Thermalright SK-6 is a great heatsink but just a mess to get on. The clips were more trouble than they're worth and tool-free installation was only a dream for me.
As I tossed in a 4x4x24 HP CD-RW and a GeForce2 Pro with an SB-Live, I was wondering if this system will even boot. Sure enough it did without much of a fuss. Just o be safe, I did not use a hard drive with a pre-installed copy of Windows 2000, instead I installed it on that computer to minimize incompatibilities. Through the installation, I didn't notice a difference in installing speeds, which wasn't anything to worry about since once you get past 800Mhz, the installation process stops getting faster. Now it depends more on the optical drives and the hard drives.
Added component list:
With this specific set of hardware, there were no problems at all with installation. Once Win2k SP2, IE 5.5, and the Via 4-in41 were installed, everything worked without a hitch. Now that installation is done, lets go onto benchmarks and temperatures.
The true test of an overclocked system pre-built is the challenge of making it work in different conditions and with different kinds of hardware. So Gen-X Tech has to make sure to allow for a large variance in operating temperatures and settings the buyer wants the computer to work in. Also, note that the CPU is over-volted to 1.95v. Overclocking a computer will shorten the life of the CPU, this is pretty common knowledge in the computing world but overclocking itself doesn't shorten the life of the CPU… the heat does. If you can keep an overclocked processor as cool as a non-overclocked processor of the same speed, they will both have the same lifespan. The temperature section (this one) is very important in determining how long the system will last you and how cool the system runs.
Also, remember than T-Birds are not all created equal. Some run hotter than others by a few degrees, others by over 20 degrees. My 1.2 ran at 38 degrees under load while a Duron 750 ran at 44 degrees. It all varies on the motherboard and the batch the CPU was run in. You might not get the same temperatures I did.
The variance between the case temperatures from the Idle and Load temperatures is very small thanks for the good airflow and design of the case. Also, the extra fans didn't hurt. The Power supply's exhaust fan right above the processor helped also. The temperatures are well within AMD spec and are very acceptable for any Athlon processor, overclocked or not. I used the built in temperature sensor on the A7V133.
Potential Logic Errors?
I included this section to test for any type of logic errors that are usually associated with extreme overclocking. These can lead to interruptions in rendering, games, etc...and are caused when the processor in running in any type of unusual environment or condition. Similar to the graphics card. When the core of the graphics card is overclocked too high, you start seeing artifacts in games and errors in graphics. To safely overclock your computer into a stable, fast machine, you have to get rid of those logic errors to make sure the system is 100% stable and in working condition all of the time. To test for any errors the CPU might make while overclocked, we got 2 programs: CPU Stability Test, and Prime95.
Prime95 keeps your CPU at 100% for as long as you run the program. Anytime the computer freezes or locks up while running it means something is wrong with the system or something's wrong with the hardware. Since it's a clean install of Win2k, I don't plan on it being a software issue. We ran Prime95 for 18 hours straight without errors; we found that was sufficient enough for any working system. CPU Stability Test also reported that there were no errors in the system, good news so far.
So far we know it's a stable system but can it stand up to other systems in real world conditions? First off, we decided to test for CPU power via our favorite synthetic benchmarking program, Sandra.
I'll let the numbers talk, nothing is getting close to this computer. Time for the memory benchmark.
Although this is a benchmark not commonly used in testing for video cards by other sites, we thought it would be a good addition since it will test and give results scaling by speed better than most other programs. By the variances in the score, we should be able to see whether the big or small jump is worth it. 3D Mark 2001 is my favorite in terms of testing regarding CPU speed. For the test, we used an MSI GeForce2 Pro 64MB DDR with the 12.41 Detonators.
There was a jump of almost 1000 points in the benchmark, which is pretty good for the 300Mhz increase in clock speed. If we used a GeForce3 card in this system, I'm sure the score would've broken 7000 for sure.
Pros & Cons
Although this wasn't as lengthy a review as most of you would've liked (yeah right), we got through the basics and we added some things in to spice it up. Throughout this review, the system remained stable and consistent with the speeds and temperature. If you always wanted a fast system but didn't want to risk toasting the processor and voiding the warranty, you're a match made in heaven with this machine. You get a warranty on an overclocked system that is faster than any non-overclocked chip AMD has to offer. It whittles down to the fact that if you want to play with an overclocked system and not be blamed if it fails, then this is for you because you're guaranteed a high speed and a good warranty. But if you're a person who likes to frequently upgrade and play with their system as much as they can, then this is not the system for you. It all really depends on the type of person you are. Conservative or Liberal.
Rating: 8/10 SystemLogistics
Re-Printed From SLCentral