Upgrade time

I’d been contemplating a few upgrades to my PC for quite some time and one of the central things to the upgrade my CPU. Whilst my trusty Core 2 Duo had served me well for almost 5 years (and still is in my new HTPC build), seeing it running at 100% the whole time I played newer games suggested I needed something with a little more ‘oooomph’ in it. My needs are not great so I decided a triple-core chip from AMD would be both cheap and adequate. Having had some success in the past, I also decided to hunt for it on eBay…

As is often the case with these things I didn’t have much luck for a while. I looked for both a Phenom II X3 720 and various Athlon X3 chips – even spreading out into some of the lower end Athlon II quad-core processors. Whilst they went quite cheaply when I was simply information gathering to see what price people were paying, they went for at least £10 more when I ever bid on them.

With a little bit of specification creep sneaking in – and because I’d been at it for about 6 weeks and was starting to get a little impatient – I finally went for a Phenom II X4 840. The price was £62.20 but with cashback from TopCashBack that came down to a smidge under sixty quid. Not bad as it was also brand new and boxed. I know most people would not consider eBay as a first destination when hunting for new PC kit but quite a few bargains can be found for those will to look.

So far it’s performed perfectly although I’ve not had much call to really tax it. Half of the games I play don’t even seem to have muti-core support but at least the fairly high clock speed of 3.2GHz allows even those games to run quite smoothly on the one core.

I’ve not really spent much time seeing how far I can take the chip but a very limited attempt at overclocking in the BIOS had it at 3.55GHz. It’ll probably go higher if I try. The thing is I run several different Windows 7 installs from this machine – a straight installed gaming PC and a couple of other Windows 7 desktops running directly from VHD files, one of which I use for general web surfing (I keep that one locked down and protected). So whilst it would be good to have my gaming desktop running overclocked (sometimes), I’d prefer my internet browsing desktop to run at a much more sedate pace. With that in mind I opted to use the ASRock OC Tuner software. This allows me to overclock after Windows starts up and apply different settings edpending on what I’m booting in to. It doesn’t work as well as using the BIOS but I still managed to get a modest overclock of 150 MHz when booting to my gaming desktop. I went the opposite way with my internet desktop, underclocking it down to 2.6GHz and also lowering the voltage.

Power Consumption
I was quite surprised to find that my new PC build actually used about 20W less power than my old one but that includes a new motherboard and two new sticks of RAM. The CPU itself seems fairly efficient even though it’s rated at 95W TDP whilst my old Intel chip was 65W. It probably helps that the CPU speed drops to 800MHz when not in use and I find I’m only using 79W (total system draw) when surfing the internet or watching DVDs. Underclocking/Undervolting also means it runs about 5W lower than normal even when the CPU is working harder. It’s not much but helps keep things running cool and efficiently.

All in all, I’m pretty happy. Hopefully this build will last me another 5 years.

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