OUR CORSAIR 300R PLATFORM

PC 2013 with Sapphire HD 6970 installedWe use a gaming grade desktop PC in the shop. During the day we use productivity tools. On the weekend we like to play games. The flexibility of the PC makes this possible.

This machine was assembled from a new chassis, motherboard and RAM. The CPU was recovered from the dead M4A77D board. Initially we used GTX 260 SLI until we procured the EVGA GTX 660 Ti FTW Signature 2. With the graphics card the overall performance has been enhanced considerably while drastically reducing the power consumption.

The goal with the build was to assemble a machine that was modern in design. AMD is more easy to work with which favors the DIY market. Longer term is the goal to reduce the idle load to as low as possible. The EPA Energy Star 5 specifications have some provisions for graphics cards and both AMD and NVIDIA have designed successive generations of more energy efficient designs. We took inspiration from the PA238QR which is EPA Energy Star gold rated.

The Corsair Carbide 300R chassis was chosen for the new machine. This 300R rotates the disk cage to allow for 4 disks while making more room for video cards. Air flow is also much better which makes this chassis suitable for 2-way or even 3-way video card systems. We installed more ball bearing fans to improve the air flow. The 300R also moves the PSU to the bottom which makes for a cooler placement. Drawing air from the bottom provides a convenient source of cool air. There is a filter to help protect the PSU fan from being fouled with dust.

The Asus M5A99FX PRO R2.0 motherboard is SLI capable.  It uses the well regarded AMD 990FX chipset. The basic x16 x16 PCI Express slots is best for gaming with a 2-way setup. Installed into the 300R chassis it provides a good platform for gaming enthusiast video cards. While the old Phenom II was retained, primarily as newer CPU models offered no material gains. The G.SKILL RAM is faster than needed. The new motherboard has USB 3.0 headers for the front panel which the 300R provides, making the combination very attractive. The faster SATA is helpful for SSD use.

Moving to SLI is more feasible now that adequate power supplies are available. The TX850V2 was used with the old machine but the capacity is more than adequate for SLI using enthusiast gaming video cards. Older power supplies were hard to use and prone to failure for a number of reasons. Corsair fixed the problem with a single extreme high-current 12V system. We found the TX850V2 fit the 300R chassis very nicely. In 2013 and 2014, 80 PLUS gold and platinum power supplies have become widely available.

This machine is substantially more powerful than 9th generation consoles (Xbox One and PS4). The GTX 660 Ti is marketed for 1920×1080 panels which is the same resolutions the consoles use. The new 4K UHD panels are expensive and games like Crysis 3 achieve about 5.7 fps at 3840×2160 with a GTX 660 Ti. Even quad-SLI GTX Titans cannot hold 60fps. 4K is very early in the cycle.

The EVGA GTX 660 Ti is overclocked aggressively which makes it about 5-10% faster in benchmarks. This is enough to compete with the rival HD 7950 which occupies the same price band. The goal when selecting this card was to be able to beat the Xbox One and PS4 consoles for graphics performance. Looking at benchmarks, the card is about 95% as fast as the reference GTX 680 which makes the EVGA card a real value.

The move to BD is now important. Bare drives for desktops are now under $60 and the 128GB BDXL is the same as the Xbox One and PS4 drives. Many games ship on 3-5 DVD9 disks which is costly to manufacture. The BD drive is much faster then DVD drives and game installs are more than 50% faster. Backups are a bonus with the increased capacity.

In 2013, Crysis 3 was the first game to want DirectX 11 graphics and now Battlefield 4 has also jumped on board. The biggest move is with 64-bit games to better manage memory. The GTX 660 Ti was carefully selected for games using our Asus PA238QR panel. The Kepler seems to be well suited to PC gaming as even the most demanding games are very playable even with maximum graphics. We noticed the GTX 660 Ti often uses only 70-80W of power to play even more demanding games, which does wonder to the power bill.

While consoles remain static, PC games tend to become more demanding over time. Equipped with an SLI board, however, we are less concerned as we have more options than the old rig could provide. The AMD 990FX chipset has not delivered real gains outside the SLI capability.

The OEM Phenom CPU fan is very noisy and one of the features we like about the Corsair chassis is the support for water cooling. Corsair offers several models that fit the 300R for under $100. We chose the budget Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo which dominates the CPU area with its optional dual fans. We also installed a 140mm fan on the top above the CPU.

We noticed that the audio and network ports stopped working. We installed a PCI Express WiFi card and use USB audio to overcome the problems. RMA was pointless so we are looking at other vendors for motherboards.

SERVICE LIFE

A desktop computer should have a service life of at least 5 years with the parts we use. Obviously parts do fail, but the PC is easily repaired or upgraded.

2014

Generally with games through 2014 are generally extremely playable. The old Phenom II X4  965 has to work harder than the GTX 66i Ti generally. The motivates consideration of a CPU as the next component to be upgraded. The AMD FX-8350 is the fastest CPU that will run on the M5A99FX as of December 2013. In late August 2014, Intel finally delivered the first DDR4 platform. AMD will likely follow once DDR4 prices become more mainstream.

2015

Games in 2015 are increasingly 64-bit but the PC has been ready for years. The new FX-9570 is 220W which is one of the reasons we selected the Corsair TX850V2 PSU in the first place. Asus had added that CPU series to the M5A99FX support list. This is the reason for the 8-pin motherboard connector which has enough current to drive extreme processors. It does limit the amount of power for video cards somewhat. This is why the PCI Express video card cables on the TX850V2 all have 3 yellow wires to be sure there is enough current. This is also the reason we like the single rail design, which allows for extreme variations in load.

The StarTech SATADOCK525 on the front panel of the 300R makes backup a snap.  The dock connects to the mother board and it runs at full speed. A front panel memory card reader with USB 3.0 and fan control fills the last bay. The fan control is helpful for front fans which often are under supplied by motherboards. Our M5A99FX only offers 1/2 the connectors needed for top and front fans.

Prices for GTX 660 Ti cards have fallen considerably since 2013. This motivates using dual cards to perk up games. The noisy HD 6970 is roughly 1/2 the value of GTX 660 Ti with dual fans. The HD 7970 are also falling rapidly. HD 5970 dual GPU cards have fallen below $50 at auction. The HD 6990 and HD 7990 are also now coming down.

THE CURRENT SETUP

 

CHASSIS Corsair Carbide 300R
MB Asus M5A99FX PRO R2.0
CPU AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition 3.4 GHz
HSF Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo
RAM 12288MB DDR3-1600 dual channel
GPU EVGA GTX 660 Ti FTW Signature 2
PSU Corsair TX850V2
MON Asus PA238QR (1920×1080 60Hz)
HD Seagate Barracuda 7200.14 ST2000DM001
OS Windows 8.1 x64 Professional

UPGRADE IDEAS

We often procure video cards which are vital for gaming. Other components may have a longer service life.

  1. RM-1000
  2. AX-1500i
  3. DDR3-2133
  4. 750D chassis

If we rotate the 212 Evo by 90° and remove one of the fans, it will make more room for RAM. The larger 750D chassis is designed for water cooling which targets the extreme segment of the market. AMD offers some 220W processors. Another idea is the single fan water cooler which will fit the existing 300R.

The RM-1000 PSU has rather limited ROI when replacing the TX850V2. There are 3 advantages: higher capacity, modular cables and better efficiency. The AX1200i costs more than the improved efficiency could justify easily. The same for the AX1500i flagship. The AX860i is attractive with its better efficiency. Higher electric rates are the only material motivation, with the low rates we pay, the payback is barely $2 a month.

The 300R is not hurting for gaming purposes. Lots of room for video cards and hard disks. The larger 750D makes sense for those who need water cooling. A video of someone fitting an H100i into the 300R chassis make it clear, it’s a tight squeeze. The smaller H80i replaces the rear fan which is more suited to the 300R and similar sized chassis.