Platform upgrade: Core i7-920 vs i7-3770 at 4.2GHz featuring ECS Golden Series Motherboard and Kingston
This evaluation will test our new ECS Golden Board Z77H2-A2X against our Gigabyte X58 and Z77 motherboards, as well as introduce Kingston’s Hyper-X SSDs into the mix while comparing 4GB of system RAM versus 8GB in gaming. We are going to test possible performance gains by overclocking Kingston’s PC1866 DDR3 RAM versus stock speeds and against the slower-clocked PC1800 DDR3 that we have been using for the past 3 years. We want to see if it is worth it for a gamer to upgrade his CPU platform.
Intel has released brand new Ivy Bridge CPU architecture on 22nm in late April of this year. We were able to briefly compare its performance in more than 20 games against our aging flagship 45nm Core i7-920 CPU at 4.2GHz by using an overclocked GTX 680 on both platforms. We benchmarked CPU graphics and we compared other performance benchmarks. Today we are going to build on our earlier evaluation to carry out a complete platform upgrade evaluation to compare Bloomfield’s Core i7 920 IPC directly against Ivy Bridge Core i7-3770K at 4.2GHz.
We shall also attempt to reach higher clockspeeds with our Core i7-3770K and will compare further overclocked performance at 4.8GHz to test CPU scaling in gaming. We are trying to help answer the question if an overclocked Core i7-920 is still “good enough” for gaming with the very fastest available video cards in the world – the GTX 680 and GTX 690.
Before we evaluated Intel’s Core i3-2105, our last major CPU evaluation introduced AMD’s new FX “Bulldozer” architecture as we focused on performance in 20 modern games. We compared AMD’s new 8-core flagship, the FX-8150, versus Intel’s overclocked Core i7-920 and the overclocked Phenom II 980 BE X4. We concluded that the FX-8150 required a lot of power and overclocking to beat the Phenom II and to approach the Core i7-920’s overclocked performance in gaming.
This time, we are taking a second and much more intensive look at Intel’s new enthusiast-level Ivy Bridge top LGA 1155 CPU, the quad-core, Core i7-3770K and we shall compare it in gaming against our Bloomfield quad-core, Core i7-920, overclocked as far as ours will go, to 4.2GHz. Our overclock is considered a good overclock for Bloomfield, especially for the older stepping.
For our first look at Ivy Bridge in April, we received our Core i7-3770K only 5 days before Intel’s NDA ended and we had to scramble to get a suitable Series 7 motherboard. We purchased a micro-ATX Z77 Gigabyte motherboard from Amazon.com that featured SLI and CrossFire at 8x+8x PCIe 3.0 specification.
Unfortunately, the motherboard did not allow the GTX 690 to seat itself in the PCIe slots very well over the SATA ports, and CrossFire and SLI was really hard to fit on such a small board. Where relevant – and especially regarding Intel CPU graphics – we will compare this Gigabyte Z77 board against our new ECS Golden Series Z77 motherboard (below).
In the meantime, we received quite a bit of new hardware for evaluation. Besides receiving the Z77H2-A2X ECS Golden Series motherboard from ECS, Kingston sent ABT two 240GB Hyper-X SSDs as well as 8GB PC1866 (below left) to compare with the PC1800 (below right) they sent us a couple of years ago. This evaluation compares performance in games with the DDR3 at stock values and overclocked, as well as benching games with 4GB vs. 6GB vs. 8GB of system memory.
Kingston sent us two slightly different 240GB HyperX SSDs – one is designated “3K“(below left) for the number of program/erase cycles that the NAND inside the SSD is rated for, and it is less expensive than the “regular” HyperX SSD (below right) which is rated for 5K cycles.
There is almost no difference in performance between the two; perhaps “writes” are slightly slower due to the less expensive NAND used in the HyperX 3K series, but the actual differences in real world performance is negligible. We also received a 32GB DataTraveler Elite 3.0 flash drive from Kingston which has proved invaluable in testing USB 2.0 vs. 3.0 speed transfers.
Core i7-3770K’s built-in HD 4000 Graphics
One important feature of Intel’s new Core i7 CPU is that Intel’s latest DX11 HD 4000 graphics is integrated directly into the CPU. This is a real convenience for Intel users as they no longer have to buy discrete graphics cards, to run the latest DX11 games or to run three displays for productivity. AMD’s new APUs also provide Integrated Graphics (IG), while the older Phenom II and current FX processors do not. That means that you must buy a discreet video card or spend more for a motherboard with IG just to run your PC at all with Phenom II and FX processors.
The Sandy Bridge Core i3-2105 is a dual-core processor with HT enabled and it uses DX10 Intel HD 3000 Graphics with twelve execution units (EUs). The new HD 4000 graphics is now DX11 and it has 16 EUs operating at 1150MHz in the Core i7-3770K.
Buying a discrete video card is never an issue for PC gamers as integrated graphics (IG) performance is never sufficient for them. However, we will again benchmark our Core i7-3770K’s integrated HD 4000 graphics on the Z77MX-D3H Gigabyte motherboard versus the HD 4000 graphics on the ECS Z77 motherboard with identical settings at 720P to see if there are any differences.
The Core Ivy Bridge i7 Architecture
The Core i7-3770K processor is offered in an 1155-land LGA package (H2). Here is an example of the Ivy Bridge desktop platform block diagram.
We are benching using the GTX 680 and the GTX 690 on both platforms to give you a comparison of our two CPUs’ scaling in games at 1920×1200 and 2560×1600 resolutions and at the maximum details that gamers play at.At time of writing, the GTX 680 (below) is the most powerful single-GPU stock card available and the GTX 690 (above) has almost the same performance as two of them in SLI while using less power.
The Core i7-3770K has four identical 3.5GHz Ivy Bridge cores, and is rated at a TDP of 77W. As with the other Ivy Bridge Core i7 CPUs, they have a large pool of shared L3 cache, along with four L2 cache pools (one for each core) and a pair of dedicated pools of L1 cache (again, one per core).
Here you can see it clocked to 4.8GHz
Probably the main advantage offered by Ivy Bridge’s Core i7-3770K is its incredible power savings features on the 22nm process. Ivy Bridge is a refinement of Sandy Bridge and a node shrink that should give us some performance improvement over last generation along with a lot of power savings and new features, including being able to drive 3 displays at once. A lot of the new significant improvements have been made to the HD graphics over last generation.
The Z77 Chipset and ECS Golden Series Z77H2-A2X
The Z77 chipset is the premium chipset for Ivy Bridge including Core i7 which supports both CPU multiplier and IGP overclocking (for unlocked Intel CPUs), Quick Sync, and SATA 6.0Gbps as well as PCIe 3.0. It also supports Intel Virtu Technology, which uses the IG for less demanding tasks and the discrete GPU for more intensive applications, saving energy. With this chipset, Intel has further refined their Smart Response (SSD caching).
The ECS Golden Series Z77H2-A2X is ECS premium enthusiast motherboard that includes their “non-stop” technology and premium 99-hour replacement service. It is currently priced at $219.99 at Newegg which is average for a quality enthusiast board.
ECS Non-stop Technology
All ECS Black Series Motherboards are Nonstop certified, including the Z77H2-A2X and Z77H2-A2X deluxe. ECS assures us that future Black Series Motherboards will also adopt ECS Nonstop Technology. Nonstop technology comprises four interlocking tests and enhancements that combine together to protect PCs and defeat many of the most common causes of hardware problems and system instability.
Every ECS Nonstop certified motherboard runs a course of tests that checks and stresses critical components to ensure that they are up to ECS standards through their non-stop testing cycle over 3 days and under extreme environmental conditions. ECS Nonstop boards also include 100 percent solid Apache Long-life capacitors, to protect users from capacitor leakage and failure problems.
ECS Nonstop technology also uses comprehensive electrostatic discharge (ESD) protection. The 100 percent ESD protection on Nonstop motherboards is achieved with special circuitry that protects expensive and delicate chips from static build up that can damage or destroy them. So this motherboard is ECS’s premium board and it is also ‘gold’ in every way.
Warranty & Replacement Service
The 99-Hour Replacement Service gives ECS customers in the USA (48 contiguous states) a fast and trouble-free service to replace ECS products if any issues should come up. Simply register the ECS motherboard or VGA card bought after Dec. 31, 2011 on ECS’ website, and if a replacement is needed, ECS will process your return and ship out a replacement within 24 hours after receiving it via 3 Day shipping – guaranteeing that ECS customers will receive their replacement within 99 hours.
In addition to the first class replacement service, ECS customers by registering their products on the ECS website will receive the latest product/service updates & announcements and be automatically entered in drawing for random prizes.
Register your ECS motherboard or VGA card at: http://www.ecsusa.com/ECSWebSite/Member/LoginPage.aspx
Here are the ECS Z77H2-A2X specifications from the ECS web site:
As one can see, the ECS Golden Series Z77 motherboard is full-featured. Head over to the next page and we’ll find more out about the new Ivy Bridge Core i7-3770K as we unbox our ECS Golden Series motherboard.