This year has been an exciting time for consumer and enterprise computing platforms. The highest performance platforms remain on the desktop where power and cooling can be brought to bear. This makes the desktop the home for high-performance addicts such as gamers and video editors, and it takes a combination of winners to deliver the best performance.
THE ARCHITECTURE AND MOTHERBOARD
At the center of everything is Intel’s Nehalem architecture. The quad-core, 3.33-GHz Core i7 975 Extreme is still one of the fastest chips around, even though it has been out for a while. It is complemented by the Xeon 7500, the eight-core server incarnation of the Nehalem architecture.
Nehalem brings a host of technologies to the masses, including Turbo Boost for dynamically accelerating performance, Smart Cache for more efficient cache operation, integrated memory controllers, and HD Boost using new SSE4 instructions for multimedia and compute-intensive applications.
Also new to the mix is the QuickPath Interconnect (QPI). QPI is especially effective in the Xeon server environment, where direct QPI links connect up to eight processors in a multichip system. QPI also can achieve transfer speeds as high as 25.6 Gbytes/s.
The Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD5 motherboard uses the company’s Ultra Durable 3 technology with 2-oz copper printed-circuit board (PCB) design (Fig. 1). It also has the Intel P55 Express chipset, which is designed to handle the fastest Core i5/i7 processors. And, it sports a host of interfaces including the latest 4.8-Gbit/s USB 3.0 support and 6-Gbit/s SATA.
Three x16 PCI Express slots can be used to turn a desktop into a GPU supercomputer including support for ATI CrossFireX and Nvidia SLI. The GA-P55A-UD5 additionally has Smart DualLAN with Intelligent LAN port auto-switching with two Gigabit Ethernet ports providing high-speed communication support. Built-in Dolby Home Theater audio delivers top-notch sound.
MEMORY, GRAPHICS, AND HARD DISK
The Corsair Dominator GT DDR3 memory modules deliver the kind of performance and capacity necessary to keep the 975 running full tilt (Fig. 2). They run at 2000 MHz with tight timings of 8-8-8-24 at a voltage of 1.65 V. Also, the Dominator GT’s removable, integrated DHX+ (Dual-path Heat eXchange) heatsink cools both the front and back of the memory ICs and the module’s PCB for greater reliability. It’s also handy if overclocking is going to be employed.
AMD’s ATI Radeon HD 5870 isn’t just one of the fastest graphics boards around (Fig. 3). It’s also one of the first to support Microsoft’s DirectX 11 and DirectCompute 11. The TeraScale 2 unified processing architecture includes 1600 Stream Processing units, 80 Texture units, 128 Z/Stencil ROP units, and 32 Color ROP units. This equates to 2.72 TFLOPS of single-precision or 544 GFLOPS of double-precision computation.
The Eyefinity multi-display technology can handle up to three independent displays. The Avivo HD Video and Display technology has a pair of dedicated video playback accelerators that can stream 1080p content. DVI, HDMI, and DisplayPort support are standard as well.
One of the biggest peripheral bottlenecks has always been the hard disk. Seagate’s 2-Tbyte, 7200-rpm Barracuda XT delivers data over a 6-Gbit/s SATA connection supported by new motherboards like Gigabyte’s GA-P55A-UD5. It has a 64-Mbyte cache and an idle power requirement of only 6.39 W. And, it’s quiet at less than 3.2 bels during a seek.