Test Rig- The CPU

Several people have messaged us asking why we chose a quad-core CPU for our test rig when there are processors with hex-core, octo-core, or even higher-base cores available, along with the option of dual-processor motherboards.

In short: the Intel Core i7 6700K Skylake 4.0 GHz quad-core is one of the best value high-end processors on today’s market, and beyond that, one of the top processors at any price for a personal computer.
Having multiple cores in a processor is great. What multiple cores do is allow the computer to multitask. Each core is a separate instruction that can be completed at once. The more, the merrier… to an extent. Many programs are not optimized to take full advantage of these extra cores, and this is especially true for core counts above four. Games and graphics editing software typically lean more on a single core at once as the tasks they demand of the CPU tend to be singular large ones. Where having a large number of extra cores really shines is in typical small business server use. Server workloads for businesses often involve a large number of small tasks needing to be performed at once. We are not saying that gaming and graphics use do not utilize extra cores, but that a high performance per core is more desirable than a high core count. The 4.0 GHz in each core of the i7 6700K leads the market in performance and can handle heavy loads whether or not the software is not multi-core optimized.

While comparably priced true hex-core and octo-core processors do perform faster with all cores running at maximum capacity, for single-core use they lag significantly behind. An octo-core processor priced equally to the i7 6700K has about half the frequency per core: which means half the performance. To get single-core performance as high as our chosen processor from a hex-core or octo-core processor requires exponentially increasing the price of the CPU. This puts the builds beyond what most clients deem a reasonable price.

Furthermore, we feel that hex-cores and octo-cores are still too bleeding edge to be cost-effective for the typical client. Buying bleeding edge equipment often results in a person having hardware that is not yet fully matured. This means later generations of that technology appear quickly afterward which rapidly improve upon it in performance and cost. A similar concept can be seen with the first quad-core processors, which were hugely more expensive than the dual-core processors of the time—but within a short time they were eclipsed by newer quad-core processors that were not only more powerful but were also less expensive.

We did consider a dual-processor motherboard running two i7 6700Ks in tandem. We decided against it for a few reasons. The most important was that it would increase the total cost of the system by 150%. Most builds we have tested with the i7 6700K were not bottlenecking with the processor, so spending a lot of money to improve it was an inefficient way of improving the speed of the computer. Finally, at this point most of our clients have not needed that extra processing power. We wanted our primary test rig to best represent the most typical type of personal workstation, gaming rig, or graphics editing system we design. We felt it would give us better test data than a rig that spares no expense in the pursuit of maximum speed and performance. Meanwhile, a dedicated server test build is slated for later development.

It’s worth mentioning here that the i7 series of Intel processors does have a special feature called hyperthreading that works as a pseudo-dual core capability for each core. This does not actually double the number of cores. It is a method of managing incoming tasks more efficiently, that boosts performance from 20-30% above what could otherwise be expected from the processor.

An important feature we took note of with the i7-6700K is the comparatively low-wattage requirement. This allows our power supply to be allocated to other components, such as the GPU, without requiring an overly large PSU. Increasing the PSU size would generate more heat, restrict airflow, and cost more.

The i7-6700K’s 4.2GHz overclock speed will be appealing to certain clients. However, we have not yet done tests on overclocking the processor, and do NOT recommend overclocking for non-expert users nor support its use in our builds.

As far as choosing between Intel vs AMD, we have more experience with Intel processors and appreciate their versatility. We’ve talked about single-core vs multi-core strength. Using an Intel processor doubles down on that with Intel processors having stronger single-core performance than AMD processors. AMD processors typically contain more cores than their comparatively priced Intel competition, which we find to make them a fantastic choice for our clients’ servers, but less optimal for single-user machines. Intel’s integrated graphics and on-board video decoding capability are welcome additions to their processor. For the base test machine the i7-6700K is our first choice; however, we have an AMD Phenom II X4 975BE on our testing schedule to get a side by side comparison in the near future. Stay tuned!

Building the Test Rig

Our design philosophy is to build long-lasting machines that will work under heavy use and hard environments, thanks to superb cooling and heat management. We believe in providing our clients with power to spare for their expected use, while remaining at an affordable price. We select components that will give competitive performance for years, rather than being out of date the moment they ship. We design our computers to be easily upgradable in the future to allow clients to affordably keep up with technology developments via single component updates, rather than needing to buy an entire new system.

We do extensive testing to make sure our builds meet our high standard. Company reputation, advertising promises, and customer reviews all have their place in choosing products, but we believe that tests best reveal truth, and hard numbers are the best kind of truth. We will be sharing the numbers we obtain from our tests here on the Things Electronic blog as a useful reference for anyone wishing to learn more about the components we choose.

To do worthwhile testing we needed a control rig to provide a baseline that we could compare our test results of new components with. Fortunately, we had an existing Things Electronic build on-hand. We felt this computer still had lots of life left in it despite having some age and use. So we went down to the nuts and bolts and built it back it back up with needed upgrades to exceed the modern standard. Not only would this make it a sustainable testbed for years to come, but our testbed would provide similar performance to what we were seeing for client requirements.

As a major part of optimizing our computers is heat management, we then gave the test rig a powerful yet inexpensive cooling system by installing five quiet 120mm Thermaltake Riing 12 hydraulic bearing high static pressure radiator fans, and optimizing the case airflow with a multidirectional pull-push-push scheme. We removed the stock CPU fan, and in its place installed a CoolerMaster Hyper 212 Evo fan with two additional 120mm ThermalTake fans entirely dedicated to a pull-push scheme for the CPU. With a fresh coat of thermal paste, we were ready to start our baseline testing.

Our test rig ended up with the following components:
Motherboard: Gigabyte Technology Co. Ltd. GA-990FXA-UD3
CPU: Intel Core i7 6700K 4.0GHz Quad-Core
CPU Cooling Fan Array: Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo with 2x Thermaltake Riing 120mm fans
GPU: 8GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080
RAM (4x): 8GB G.SKILL Ripjaws X.Series DDR3-2400
SSD Storage: 240GB Intel SSDSC2BW240A4
SATA Storage: 1TB Hitachi HGST HTS541010A7E630
System Cooling Fans (5x): Thermaltake Riing 120mm
Power Supply Unit: EVGA SuperNova P2 1600W
Case: Rosewill Nautilus

In future posts we will show the test rig’s baseline performance with this setup and how we use it with benchmark testing to choose components for the machines we build. We will provide performance data on various components, and temperature data that we use to optimize the temperature of our rigs under idle load, normal load, and max load. Some of the other testing we will discuss includes the stresses between SSD and SATA drives, and how we identify system bottlenecks. Please comment below if there is any test you’d like to see us perform!

If you are interested in having us design and build one or many machines for you or your company, please contact us at sales@thingselectonic.com or call us at 507-369-3562 between the hours of 0900-1700 Central Standard Time.  As our computers are built based on conversations with clients so that they get the performance that best fits their needs, we do not use online ordering. Send us an email or give us a call and we can discuss crafting a build that will have you smiling.

Respectfully,
Things Electronics LLC
Owned and Operated in Rochester Minnesota

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pctemps

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Respectfully,
Things Electronics LLC
Owned and Operated in Rochester Minnesota