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Posted on August 6th, 2010 by David Fearon

Intel’s own superchilled test rig

StevesRigThere’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.


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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27 Responses to “ Intel’s own superchilled test rig ”

  1. Paul Says:
    August 6th, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    …Perhaps AMD would like to take up the challenge. I’m sure they would be delighted to put some of the $1.25B they got from the Intel fine to producing a super cooled rig (oh the irony). What about using one of their new 12 core opteron processor – please AMD, please kick Intel’s Butt

  2. Mike Says:
    August 7th, 2010 at 1:51 am

    @Paul – Good for Intel’s engineers to push the limits. Sorry, but AMD has fallen to the wayside in the last 5 years. Keep buying your AMD procs…I will buy the best performing on the market – Intel.

  3. Alan Says:
    August 7th, 2010 at 2:21 am


    I completely agree. Unlike Intel chips, AMD processors don’t cold bug below -180C, which is why they were able to overclock using liquid helium (and why nobody can do that with intel’s processors, yet).

    I’d be interested in seeing one of amd’s 12-core processors overclocked under liquid HE, but since it’s server-only at the moment, I doubt any boards support this.

    Here’s a thought intel: Fix the cold bug and put YOUR chips under liquid helium – just to see what they are capable of. :)

  4. Mathieu Says:
    August 7th, 2010 at 2:50 am

    I just want to say he was limited to a single socket solution. You can’t compare this to multi-socket Opteron solutions. I wonder what this software runs like on 2x X5680 6-core and 12 threads each :D 24 threads anyone?

  5. Dan Says:
    August 7th, 2010 at 3:17 am


    Shove that, I’ll buy the best performing chip crack, like you got your lips glued to Wintel’s Rusty Bullet Hole. Maybe some people actually want a CPU that screams, will do everything they want it to do at half the cost of what Intel charges for they try to sell you on needing. Like you really need that i7 to run your stupid farmville on facebook.

  6. Smart_Monkey Says:
    August 7th, 2010 at 4:28 am

    @Dan – A little bit harsh but still true. I would buy AMD purely for price/performance ratio. Intel still makes damn fine chips and would have to say, some Intel chips are still faster but that is why people pay more.

  7. Smart_Monkey Says:
    August 7th, 2010 at 6:15 am

    disregard that. i suck peepees.

  8. PWn3R Says:
    August 7th, 2010 at 6:52 am

    Intel works. AMD doesn’t nothing like my good old Dual Core FX60 Volcano. That thing ran hotter than my 3.7GHZ Prescott did. AMD is flat-out getting creamed in the processor market and for good reason. We don’t buy any AMD products at work and heat is just one of the reasons.

  9. Crashman Says:
    August 7th, 2010 at 7:27 am

    @Mike – Pushing the limits or copying them? Intel was party to all the inside info on this one:,2665.html

    It looks like they just copied some settings, rather than really try to push their hardware.

  10. Robert Sneddon Says:
    August 7th, 2010 at 10:24 am

    There was a team working on extreme OC a few years back that got hold of a two-stage lab refrigeration system that could get their processor cold-block down to about -120 deg C. They were getting 4.6GHz stable on 3.0 GHz P4 CPUs but they had a hell of a job keeping moisture and ice out of the working parts.

  11. madhukarah Says:
    August 7th, 2010 at 4:47 pm


  12. a.martin Says:
    August 7th, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    This is not really that impressive. Head over to and check out what ppl are doing in the OC community.

    here’s a stable i7 OC @ 6742mhz

    and here’s the world records for top Overclock.

    funny no amd’s :P

    fastest OC in the world.
    1. TiN Intel Celeron LGA775 347 @ 8199.5MHz »

  13. Anonymous Says:
    August 7th, 2010 at 7:51 pm

    or how about you all stop fucking around with overclocking in unrealistic environments
    and with the AMD-Intel thing… its a case of Intel releases brilliant new cpu, AMD makes simmilar yet underperforming over power hungry and generally dodgy product… amidoinitrite?

  14. vivo Says:
    August 7th, 2010 at 9:11 pm

  15. Luizg Says:
    August 8th, 2010 at 7:12 am

    Try this on for size:
    root@eris:/tmp# time ./smallpt 5000
    Rendering (5000 spp) 100.00%
    real 6m3.586s
    user 367m35.048s
    sys 0m0.250s
    Or for 100spp:
    root@eris:/tmp# time ./smallpt 100
    Rendering (100 spp) 100.00%
    real 0m7.849s
    user 7m37.749s
    sys 0m0.160s

    This is a quad socket Xeon X7560 system. 32 cores at 2.26ghz (With HT on, 64 threads)

  16. Ho Tuan Says:
    August 8th, 2010 at 9:57 pm

    I just did it in 21 seconds.
    Dual AMD Opteron 12 Core (24 Cores total), with NO SPECIAL COOLING (just a basic Dynatron A6 fan for each CPU).

    Here’s the catch, I had to run it in Ubuntu 9.04 x64. The Windows version distributed on your site was behaving eratically (it kept alternating between freezing for ~ 20 seconds and bursting, so it took 595 seconds to finish on Windows, which was unjustifiably slow). Any ideas why it’s bottlenecked on Windows?

    Unless Intel’s rig was similarly bottlenecked on Windows, I think the AMD Opteron Magny Cours beats the Intel i7 on performance AND price (total machine cost less than $2500) hands down.

  17. Mathers Says:
    August 9th, 2010 at 4:32 am

    That’s a heck of a lot of cooling…

    “1 x EVGA GTX480″

    Ah, now I understand :)

  18. Lomskij Says:
    August 9th, 2010 at 10:25 am

    @Ho Tuan
    Honestly, would you really recommend the Opteron based machine to run Windows Server?

  19. Ho Tuan Says:
    August 9th, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    Depends on what your application is. If you have a lot of threads, you want a lot of cores and the Opterons can get you those for cheap. Windows Server works quite well on these Opterons, especially if you need to virtualize a ton of instances, or if you’re doing non-GPU accelerated video encoding where core-count matters more than core-performance. If you’re looking for the best single-thread performance, however, Intel wins hands-down.

  20. Chris Says:
    September 1st, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    Steve, fantastic stuff buddy – looking forward to seeing the next update!

  21. Mike Saunders Says:
    October 7th, 2010 at 9:34 pm

    Well done Steve I will look forward to your liquid nitrogen OC later this month, after seeing what you did with the scull trail live I am sure it will be awesome.

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