System Builder Marathon Q3 2015: AMD Mini PC

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palladin9479

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Guys what they are talking about is someone with absolutely zero access to another system to install Windows via USB. Right now if you buy a boxed copy of Windows <whatever> it comes with a DVD not a USB flash drive and thus the only option to do an unassisted install is with a ODD. As enthusiasts we all have second systems and other ways to make that install USB but many people won't and these articles are tailored for them.
 

chlamchowder

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Guys what they are talking about is someone with absolutely zero access to another system to install Windows via USB. Right now if you buy a boxed copy of Windows <whatever> it comes with a DVD not a USB flash drive and thus the only option to do an unassisted install is with a ODD.
That's no longer true, though. Check out http://www.microsoftstore.com/store/msusa/en_US/pdp/Windows-10-Home/productID.319937100 - you can click the USB option and get Windows on a flash drive directly. No second computer needed.

Also, how many people here have no access to another PC? PCs have been around long enough that practically every family has one. Even old $400 laptops that some non-enthusiasts have are adequate for downloading a Windows ISO and flashing it to a USB stick.
 

lilcinw

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"This probably won't work but let's try it anyway and see what happens." Your approach made this one of the more interesting SBMs I have read recently. Lately the builders seem to be so focused on winning some segment of the final analysis that they forget to have fun with their builds.

Overall, excellent first entry to the SBM.
 
I thought it was a very well written article and I liked the testing of the AMD 860k with the GTX 970. I get request for time to time about the 860k and it's nice to see it can perform adequately with a good VGA card like the GTX 970. Of course I think next I'd like to see that same build with a Pentium and the i3 for more comparisons. I agree I don't think I've seen a good AM3+ Mini ITX board or mATX for that mater. AMD seems to not be offering much options on the AM3+ platform these days. It is a little disappointing to see the same issue being raised again and again about the better cooler, lol. I agree completely with Red at that point why not just go to the i3. I look forward to more of your articles I enjoy your writing style keep up the good work and don't let the posts get you down some of us read all the post before we comment. Then again sometimes we can't help ourselves.
 

Onus

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Exactly; the goal was to generate useful data, regardless of how viable the machine itself turned out to be. I believe Eric knocked this one out of the park. Sure no one will build this, but the ways theirs will be different will have been inspired by what this one turned up.
 

larkspur

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Great SBM entry, really interesting and well-worth the read! I'm looking forward to more of these experimental systems rather than the same old, same old. Great writing and analysis RedJaron!

I must comment on the ODD discussion. RedJaron made it clear that his first case selection was not possible due to the mandatory ODD requirement. That right there proves that the ODD requirement is the "excrement of a bovine". This particular build is basically a gaming-LAN-party box. Forcing the builder to use a less-than-optimal case as a result of the ODD requirement is incredibly silly and detrimental. These days this restriction is completely unrealistic for the general audience of builders. Some users need an ODD, some don't.

"The winner must install Windows themself". Ok, no problem - when the system doesn't include an ODD, then why doesn't the BUILDER just buy a cheap USB stick and make a bootable Windows installer USB stick? This should actually be cheaper than an ODD ($5 for 16gb stick on Newegg). Then they send the winner the installer USB stick and the disc. The winner can then install windows via the stick. They even gain a potentially useful removable storage device since they can reformat and reuse the stick once installed. Even the .0001% of Tom's SBM readers who "don't own any computers" might appreciate the merits of a removable USB flash drive. And if they really need an ODD for something then they can go out and buy an external USB ODD and have the flexibility to use it with any computer with a USB port... As someone previously stated, give the builder the choice! If it was builder's choice then RedJaron could have used his first choice case and I really think that would have been an improvement.
 

ASW92104

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I find it interesting that I build a similar machine to this a while ago, though i did not put so much into the video card, only a GTX 760, but same processor and case. I think the major difference is in CPU cooling, as I was able to pick up a Corsair H50 for about $50. I have not played much with overclocking it, but reading this has me curious how it might stack up against your build.
 

Crashman

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Until we start getting our Win10 distros on USB this winter. WooHoo!

And then I can continue telling people how the machine would have came with an ODD if the media were DVD :)
Nope, it proves the case was poorly designed. I'm still reviewing motherboards that have 5.25" bay devices in the box. And when people who buy those cases complain that they can't use those bay devices, it proves they were wrong to push for those designs in the first place. We all know that "fashion sense" often flies in the face of "common sense".

Besides, as long as this is a "how to" that uses a DVD, the builder always has the option of an external drive. It's only 1/4 the cost of Windows, and only 3% the cost of an $800 machine.
 

RedJaron

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That's Windows 10, not Windows 8.1. Our test bed image is still on 8.1 for the time being.

Thank you, I appreciate that. Though in honesty, I was trying to win a segment: the high-detail/high-resolution value segment.

I think the Pentium's two cores are starting to run short. But as I said in my conclusion, I think an i3 + 970 might be the single best gaming performance value right now.

There are a few AM3+ mATX boards, but not many. But I've never seen a single AM3+ ITX board.

They're waiting for Zen

Oh, Hell, I can see it now. Next year when some SBMs start ditching the ODD we'll have to hear from the other side about how the machine can't be considered practical without an ODD. ;) That's both sad and hilarious.
 

margibso

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This is one of my favorite SBM articles. Bottlenecking and CPU/GPU matching is one of the most debated topics on Tom's. We also get to see how much of a difference having four core's over the i3's two core's has on gaming.
 

larkspur

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Poorly designed because it doesn't have a 5.25" drive bay? We're talking about a mini-ITX LAN box. Cooling, size, weight should be considered over an internal ODD otherwise just build a mATX system. Seems to me that most mini-ITX motherboards would not include a bulky bay device with their boards. But it's people's own fault if they buy a mini-ITX motherboard with a 5.25" bay device and can't use it because their mini-ITX case doesn't have a 5.25" drive bay. But really, you guys are close enough to win 10 usb sticks so there's no sense in arguing any of this. Can you confirm that the ODD will be optional once you guys start using win 10?
 

palladin9479

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Those asking about the Pentium G, it's a benchmark queen only. The problem with the Pentium is that it only has two addressable cores, meaning there is no additional headway for system administrative overhead. Most benchmarking builds are stripped down highly controlled images that have everything non-critical turned off so as to not interfere with the benchmark results. Things like AV, background services, voice chat, web browsers and so forth. In real usage scenarios people have all sorts of stuff running simultaneously along with the OS frequently needing to do background stuff like hardware management, device I/O and so forth. Games now frequently have two heavy threads with dozens of lighter ones and if the system only has two addressable cores, then those critical threads are going to be swapped out frequently to give processing time to those background applications / system stuff. This is why a three core CPU should be minimum for anyone expecting smooth system performance under real world usage. Treat Haswell and newer Intel CPU's as having an extra core from HT and AMD cores as being multiplied by 0.75 each. So you get into either an i3 or an FX4 class as a minimum requirement.
 

traner

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"Second-guessing" the $249.99 purchase prices for Asus GTX 970 Turbo - my link to Newegg shows $324.99 in the cart currently. Was the price $75-80 cheaper at your SBM parts acquisition?
 

TallestJon96

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Good article, it was interesting. At first, a low power CPU with a huge GPU can be compelling, but when you consider just how long a good CPU can last compared to s GPU, you really are wasting your time.

I have to say though, a low CPU high GPU combo might make 4K within mainstream reach soon. An i5 and gtx 980 ti is probably the same as an i7 at 4K, and I wouldn't be shocked to see an i3 not far behind either. 4K is simply so heavy that the GPU is automatically the bottleneck.
 

Onus

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People should always build to purpose, and one of the things they must consider is if their specific purpose is mutually exclusive with other common purposes. There was a build done a couple years ago which, iirc, featured an i3-530 with a HD7970. It was severely beaten about the head and shoulders by the other builds in everything but the single purpose for which it was built: high resolution (for its day, I believe 1920x1080) gaming on Ultra settings. At this, it did quite well, but the readership concluded that no one in his right mind would build such a machine.
This build is not quite so unbalanced, and may actually be amenable to certain tweaks. Is it worth testing the exact same parts in a larger case, but with aftermarket cooling to get a CPU OC?
 

RedJaron

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No, I paid $330 for that 970, though I almost had it for $300 with a temporary sale. The $250 is from the shopping plug-in on the site.
 

RedJaron

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I personally don't believe an 860K can be made to outperform an i3. Then again, a lot of people didn't believe you could get gaming results like this machine demonstrated, so I can't go on just that.

Case and form factor make the big difference here. A basic i3 ITX system can be had for $125 CPU + $55 mboard = $180 total. Going with the 860K means you have $110 to split on mboard and cooling before you spend more on it than the i3. In an ITX build, you'd need to spend $40 - $50 on a good low-profile cooler, or more likely, an AIO waterblock, meaning you have only $55 - $65 left for the mboard. That's simply not enough for a good FM2+ ITX board.

Going to (m)ATX changes things up a lot, mainly airflow and cooling, which would require a lot of testing. First up would be to see how much better the stock cooler can do out of the confines of a tiny ITX case. Most of the time while benching the Munchkin, the CPU was down to 3.5 GHz. Could the stock cooler let it stay around 3.7 - 3.8 GHz in a tower case? ATX and mATX FM2+ boards are cheaper, but again, you want one that can sustain the OC. With a cheaper $20 - $30 cooler, you should definitely be able to sustain 4.0 GHz+, but how high would you have to go to beat the i3?
 

LordConrad

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Speaking of which, it is about time 'management' recognise that ODDs are no longer mandatory. I built a machine 5 years ago with an ODD and have used it only 3 times in those 5 years, and those occasions only because I couldn't be bothered to go downstairs to get my keys with their attached USB stick. On one of those occasions I had to take an external ODD with me as my friend didn't have any ODD of his own!
I disagree, I often transcode DVD and Blu-ray discs for use on mobile devices (and to store on my NAS). I also take pictures and video clips from relatives and create DVDs for them. Most people have at least a few family members who still prefer to watch movies from disc because they're not into electronics, or because they don't have the bandwidth for streaming.
 
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The 860K is heavily overvolted at stock. Mine and many others can be undervolted for huge savings in power and heat. Try 4GHz@1.250v ;) I've got the same Asrock motherboard and I've noticed the 860K holds a quite linear voltage/frequency ratio from 3GHz up to 4GHz. After that voltage steps are increasingly bigger:

Example: 3.4GHz holds at 1.050v, 3.5GHz at 1.075v, 3.6GHz at 1.1v and so on. At 4.2GHz I need 1.325v, which is still the stock VID for my specific sample.

On another note: Thermaltake Core V1 is a much better ITX option IMO.
 

RedJaron

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We might revisit these builds again next quarter and see how we can "fix" them of their shortcomings without concern for budget. I'm not sure if the better solution is just to liquid cool in the Elite 130, or to get a modest air cooler in the Core V1.

I will look at the voltage if we do this again in three months.
 

sitandspin

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Not bad for your fist foray into sbm, I have used the msi mini itx boards with same cpu and and gtx 960. the 25 dollar savings went towards a better cooler for longevity.
I noticed your nb feq was only 2000 any reason you did not bump that to 2400 or 2600

I still contend itx ff is better suited towards apu, in fact the apus in my experience have better oc capabilities than the athlon parts even when using a discrete gpu.
 

RedJaron

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I hit instability problems, particularly in Grid 2, Premiere, and After Effects, when I took the NB to 2200 MHz, even with a generous voltage boost. Dropping it back to 2000 MHz solved the problem. Silicon lottery limitation on my mboard, I suppose. MSI boards tend to optimize the memory sub-systems a little better than ASRock, so reaching 2600 MHz might be a feature of your particular board.
 

palladin9479

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Since they are using a dGPU and DDR3-1600 memory there isn't really a need to OC the NB to over 2Ghz. It's the APU's with DDR3-2133 or higher memory that really benefit from that kind of tweaking.
 
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