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8/29/2007
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Intel's Hottest Quad Core Ever: Build A QX6850 PC Without Busting Your Budget

Here's how to roll your own computer equipped with Intel's top-of-the-line quad-core processor, along with CPU benchmarks and some lower-cost project alternatives.

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." -- Thomas J. Watson, Chairman of IBM, 1943

Watson's famous, though possibly apocryphal, aphorism, leads one to wonder just exactly how much power can reasonably fit into a single desktop PC. A blazingly fast, single-core processor, such as the 3.73-GHz Pentium Extreme Edition 965? Sure. A hot dual core from AMD or Intel? Absolutely.


Inside The Box


   Image Gallery

What about a quad-core CPU? Though there are at least seven desktop quads to choose from (and more coming when AMD ships its Phenom quad later this year, four CPUs on the floor isn't exactly mainstream yet. Indeed, some have questioned whether any desktop really needs the power supplied by four cores chugging away.

That's what I was wondering when Intel supplied me with a test unit of its fastest CPU ever: The 3.0-GHz, Core 2 Extreme QX6850.

One thing the project resolved for me: If there were ever any questions about why one might need four processors on the desktop, they've been removed. This processor is a screamer; it's the only chip I've encountered recently -- dual cores included -- which can run a bloated modern Internet security program without the slightest noticeable delay in anything else you throw at it.

The main impetus for the build was to benchmark the QX6850, which Intel bills as a "multitasking monster delivering significantly more performance for highly threaded apps."

I put the processor through its paces using the popular Futuremark PCMark05 test suite. I fully expected that the Intel chip would show its stuff in those quantitative measurements, just as it had done in reviews at several PC enthusiast sites (see here and here).

Key components for the project.
Intel's QX6850 processor has four cores running at 3.0-GHz each.

(click image for larger view)

Key components for the project.

view the image gallery

(click image for larger view)

Intel's QX6850 processor has four cores running at 3.0-GHz each.

view the image gallery

Surprisingly, the QX6850 didn't show its full strength in the benchmarks I obtained when I put my system through its PCMark05 paces. The actual measurements I obtained (see below) were held down by my regrettable decision to skimp on the quality of the graphics card and the speed of the hard drive and memory. Subjectively speaking, though, the system performed spectacularly.

Before we get to those numbers, let me show you how I put the system together. In addition to the processor, we'll take a tour through the PC's other components. I'll also offer a bunch of tips which will help your next build, regardless of whether you go with a quad-core processor or a more mainstream dual-core device. We'll conclude with suggestions for future upgrades to the project.

In the interest of full disclosure, Intel provided the QX6850 processor and Asus shipped us a review unit of the motherboard for our project. The rest of the stuff we either paid for ourselves or scavenged from older, obsolete, or half-broken machines.

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