Electronic Design

Pickin' Powerful Parts For The Top PC

If you found one of these PCs on your desk, your eyes would light up. The quest for more computing power never ends, but 2006 saw some significant steps forward.

Intel's Core Duo 2 Extreme QX6700 processor packs four cores into a 775-landing multichip package (Fig. 1). The cores run at 2.66 GHz using a 1066-MHz system bus to deliver unrivaled performance, at least for this year. It employs all of Intel's latest technology, including 64-bit support, enhanced SpeedStep, and the latest virtualization technology.

If you don't think quad core is going to be a mainstream technology, take a look at our 2005 Best Computer to see how common dual-core laptops have become (see "Bevy Of Computer Parts Adds Up To Banner Year").

And Intel's quad core solution pushes the envelope. Its motherboard helps match the processor with peripherals via three 16x PCI Express slots that can accommodate ATI multiboard graphic solutions, as well as the latest SAS RAID controllers.

ATI's X1950XTX uses the latest 90-nm fabrication process to pack 48 pixel shader processors, eight vertex shader processors, and 256-bit eight-channel GDDR4 memory interfaces into a chip that runs at 1.55 GHz, requiring a native PCI Express x16 bus interface (Fig. 2). ATI's CrossFire technology allows multiple boards to be linked together in a cooperative graphics processing system.

A single board can drive dual 2560-by-1600 displays with 16-bit DVI capability. Hardware acceleration is included for MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, and HDTV decoding and compression along with hardware motion compensation and color space conversion.

The architecture supports up to 6x anti-aliasing with temporal and adaptive anti-aliasing modes. It also supports up to 16x anisotropic filtering modes with up to a 128-tap texture filter. The boards can handle high-quality rotational transformations. And, there's hardware support for Microsoft's DirectX 9 vertex and pixel shader.

The X1950XTX uses ATI's Share Model 3.0 with 32-bit floating-point support and high dynamic range rendering with floating-point blending and anti-aliasing support. This board generates the smoothest and most realistic gaming output around.

The choice of Viewsonic's N2751w indicates the preference for wider HDTV screens, providing more screen real estate (Fig. 3). The N2751w also incorporates a TV tuner for users who need to stay up to date with the latest TV news programs.

The 27-in. N2751w has a resolution of 1366 by 768. Viewsonic's ClearPicture technology delivers a bright (550 candelas/m2) screen with a high contrast ratio of 1000:1 and a 176° viewing angle. The 8-ms response time can handle fast action movies and gaming.

Also, it has analog VGA and HDMI inputs with 720p and 1080i support. The HDMI channel has HDCP content protection. A 10-W amplifier with Dolby Digital sound support drives each stereo speaker. And, the N2751w comes with its own 51-key remote to handle the on-screen display interface.

At 750 Gbytes, Seagate's 3.5-in. Barracuda 7200.10 is the largest-capacity drive around (Fig. 4). Seagate's perpendicular recording has a data density of 130 Gbits/in.2 that translates to 188 Gbytes/platter. Drives are available with cache sizes ranging from 2 to 16 Mbytes. The hot-swappable, 3-Gbit/s Serial ATA (SATA) 2.0 interface supports native command queuing (NCQ). The drives' adaptive fly height provides consistent read and write performance. The Clean Sweep technology operates in the background, checking media integrity and drive reliability. It passes the drive head over the entire platter during power-on to smooth out any irregularities in the disc surface.

Higher capacities also increase the importance of reliability and backup. That's one reason why our hands-on project uses a pair of Barracudas configured as a RAID system.

Looking for the hottest optical drive? High-performance DVD writers like Hewlett-Packard's 940i are the drives of choice for PCs (Fig. 5). Good luck finding Bluray or HD DVD. It's still too early to get one of these drives for a PC, and it's unclear which one of these emerging technologies will be the winner.

Getting a drive these days is difficult, but the 940i leads the pack with single-layer write speeds of 18x and double-layer write speeds of 8x. The drive also supports the latest LightScribe V1.2 media, which has a higher contrast than previous media.

LightScribe is a labeling technology that employs special two-sided media. One side is the usual DVD media for data, while the other is a printable layer that can be written by LightScribe-compatible devices like the 940i.

Multicore processors run each core slower than a single-core chip to improve overall performance while keeping power consumption lower. Still, high-end systems with multiple video cards and quad core processors need a power supply like Enermax's Galaxy 1000W (Fig. 6).

The Galaxy 1000W is designed for quad core processors, multiple graphics cards, and multiple hard drives. It hits 85% efficiency while keeping itself and the system cool with dual fans. The system uses three transformers, and its dual-tier architecture separates the motherboard power generation from the peripherals with five 12-V rails. It also has a dedicated RAM power cable for 32- to 64-Gbyte systems and IDE/SCSI and SATA drive power cables, which is critical in power-sensitive multicore processors.

Designing a high-performance PC or embedded system always has been about matching the components for the best results. Check out the assembly of these and more components like BFG Technologies' Physics board with Ageia's PhysX chip in "Best Computer Of 2006 Goes Quad" at ED Online 14149.

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