Intel's own superchilled test rig

6 Aug 2010
StevesRig

There's been a healthy response to my render challenge posted last week, in which I pitted a Core i7 980X machine against my dual Xeon workstation and invited you lovely readers to run the same timed test that I was running.

Over 50 people have run it on their PCs so far, and posted the results. Bless the reader, known only as 'N' in his post, who ran it on his Atom netbook and achieved a blistering 1,935 seconds' render time. That's a mere 26 times slower than the Core i7 980X.

But now Intel has weighed in to the fight, and not surprisingly, it's winning, thanks to a monster PC overclocked to nearly 5GHz.

That mass of components and pipes and things in the photo is a PC system buried deep in the heart of Intel's very own UK labs, and it's the property of one Steve Anderson, an Intel virtualisation engineer. Intel's Alistair Kemp fills us in:

"Well here at Intel we could not resist the challenge, particularly when in our IT department we have overclocking nut Steve 'DaFridgie' Anderson. We gave him the challenge of beating 60 secs but restricted him to only a single-socket setup. Last night he ran it on his rig. Result: 50 seconds to complete."

Hmmm. 50 seconds. That's quite fast.

The rig itself uses phase-change cooling: in other words it's attached to a chuffing great freezer, which I believe is the big box on the right of the photo. That yellow meter with the readout is showing the temperature of its output: yes, that's minus 40 degrees celcius.

I asked Steve to send over some more details of his rig (which Alistair says is his "pride and joy"). He responded with this:

"The system is built as follows:
Chassis - Dimastech test rig
Processor - Intel Core I7 980x retail CPU
Memory - Corsair Dominator GT memory ( 2250 CAS 8 ) running at 2046 at CAS 7
Motherboard - EVGA Classified X4 E762 motherbaord
Power supply – 2 x Corsair 950w Single Rail Power supply (1 for system, the other for graphics card) automatically switched
Graphics card – 1 x EVGA GTX480
CPU cooling - Asetek Lightspeed refrigerated cooling system with a running temperature range of -40 to -32oC at 18oC ambient temperature
Storage – Seagate 160GB Sata drive (16mb cache)

Construction – Custom built for performance, not for looks! "

Well, quite. He has some interesting thoughts on the finer points of the smallpt test and the best way to get maximum performance from it too:

"The smallpt benchmark is a nice one to run, simple and very effective at loading up processors and checking for stability at speed. For the run illustrated by the screenshot [see the screenshot above] I set pretty much the same settings as I use for processor-intensive 3D benchmarks. This benchmark is sensitive to both memory performance as well as QPI speed and these were both adjusted up to the limits of stability at this processor temperature. Intel i7-980x processors do like the cold but also need some extra voltage to drive to extreme frequencies, hence the 1.63v CPU core voltage."

But it doesn't, of course, end at a mere 5GHz. No, no, no. They want to cool it down just a tad more. Well over a hundred degrees more, actually:

"I would expect that as we cool the processor further down to extreme cold temperatures (-180C) with Liquid nitrogen cooling, we would see stable runs on this benchmark in the 5.7-6.0ghz range.
We’ll be doing some extreme overclocking around the end of august and I’ll add this benchmark to the list to see if we can provide an even more impressive result."

So, if anyone else out there is thinking of beating 50 seconds, you'd better do it before the end of August. Unless you happen to have a handy liquid-nitrogen cooler knocking around in the back of your garage, of course.

Anyone?

The system is built as follows:

Chassis - Dimastech test rig

Processor - Intel Core I7 980x retail CPU

Memory - Corsair Dominator GT memory (2250 cas 8) running at 2046@ cas 7

Motherboard - EVGA Classified X4 E762 motherbaord

Power supply – 2 x Corsair 950w Single Rail Power supply (1 for system, the other for graphics card) automatically switched

Graphics card – 1 x EVGA GTX480

CPU cooling - Asetek Lightspeed refrigerated cooling system with a running temperature range of -40 to -32oC at 18oC ambient temperature

Storage – Seagate 160gb Sata drive (16mb cache)

Construction – Custom built for performance, not for looks ;)

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