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3/18/2008
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Build The Ultimate Quad-Core Desktop With Intel's QX9770

Our latest PC build project paired Intel's top-of-the-line Core 2 Extreme processor with an Asus motherboard, fast GeForce 8800 graphics, and DDR3 memory in a dual-boot configuration with both Vista and Windows XP.

Intel has quietly begun shipping its hottest quad core desktop processor ever, the Core 2 Extreme QX9770. We built a PC, to see just how fast the 3.2-GHz, 45-nm chip, complete with a 1600-MHz front-side bus, really is.



(click image for larger view)


Intel's QX9770 quad-core on the Asus P5E64 WS Professional motherboard.

View the entire PC gallery.

Our previous project, where we put together a system last fall with Intel's then top-of-the-line QX9650, resulted in a solid machine stymied by a poor choice in graphics cards.

This time, we went with a high-end Gigabyte GeForce 8800 GTS graphics, with 640-MB of video memory. For the motherboard -- the key component of any system -- we selected an Asus P5E64 WS Professional. This mobo uses the new Intel X38 chipset, and was one of the first to support the 1600-MHz front-side bus used in the QX9770. (Most Intel Socket 975 boards only handle FSB speeds up to 1066- or 1333-MHz. The P5E64 WS exhibit's Asus's usual attention to detail, incorporating an ample complement of on-board copper cooling pipes to draw heat away from the processor and core-logic chipset.

However, the mobo did hammer home one often-neglected item which should be on every PC builder's to-do list. Namely, always check whether a BIOS update is available for your motherboard. In the case of the Asus, attention to this detail would have same us a lot of time spend investigating what at first glance appeared to be a memory compatibility issue.

A key element of the project turned out not be to electrical, but rather physical. This was the task of picking out a case. No part of the project is less enticing. However, the PC's enclosure used to be an afterthought. Nowadays, with hot-running modern processors, it's critical.

Complicating the problem is that the choice of cases used to be limited to a $39 special or some fancy day-glo model aimed at gamers. Now, there are too many options. The first crop I call "snap-in" designs. These are the cases with all those do-dads so you supposedly don't have to screw in the drives and cards; these never work properly, by the way. The second, more important category of cases is designed to support good cooling.

Beefed-Up Supply

The Core 2 Extreme QX9770 demands one of the latter. This 3.2-GHz quad-core powerhouse is rated at 136W. Technically, the 136W figure is what Intel calls the TDP, for thermal design power or thermal design point. This isn't its dissipation all the time, or in the real world even most of the time. But it does mean that you have to build your system so that it can properly cool a processor that's chugging away at 136W.

The figure of 136W for the QX9770 is 6W higher than the 130W TDP of the QX6850 processor I used in my last PC build project. There, I focused mostly on selecting a strong fan-plus-heatsink for the processor, and didn't worry too much about the case. I picked the Arctic Cooling Freezer Pro 7, a solution I highly recommend, in no small measure because its clips can actually be attached to the motherboard. (If you've messed around with a lot of heatsinks, you know why this is important, and how many shockingly bad designs are out there.)

After I built that box, I was worried that my inattentiveness to cooling would result in a fried PC. However, the QX6850 has run surprisingly cool. Still, for the QX9770, I wanted to aim for an overdesigned cooling environment. This means a killer case. On the other hand, I didn't want to pay hundreds of bucks for those great enclosures, by Thermaltake and others, that I read about every month in Maximum PC.

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