Thursday, 20 June 2013

Prepare to be Boarded

Boards as Bad as that Pun?

OK, Intel socket 1150 boards which accommodate the Core i3, i5 and i7 cpus are ten a penny (well maybe not that cheap, but they ARE dead common), and as I mentioned last time they're designed to a cost leaning towards performance. So I started off by searching for product reviews against all of the motherboards that LinITX and stocked. Some of them weren't exactly cheap but they still yielded excessive power usages of at least 50 watts at idle.

In other words that's 50 watts to do absolutely nothing, zip, nada, nix, zilch... get the idea?

There went my lunch time on fruitless searches, but I suppose deduction requires that you eliminate the impossible in order to infer a conclusion. Or in plain talk, "get rid of the dross!"

But I'm not the target audience (I hear you cry), they're aimed at people who want to build small gaming or media centre machines, lusting after oodles of power and not minding a few fans whirring away. Typically there's a slot for a nice high-end video card, multichannel sound and support of up to 16Gb of memory. OK,.. they're not really rubbish, but it's not a good fit for my list and far from being considered green. In the car world they'd be called "a hot hatch" like a Golf GTi whereas I'm looking for a Prius.

That evening I started searching on Google for a mini-itx board for socket 1150 using low power, and to my surprise (and quite quickly) I found that again Intel had produced the very thing I needed. It wasn't cheap, but still priced reasonably, and it's primarily aimed at the embedded systems market where a lower power slim motherboard is valuable. It's called the DQ77KB and this baby will run under 20 watts.

Silent PC has the following to say it's power use (equipping it with a 55W dual core Pentium G2120 which runs at 3.1 GHz). Essentially they have it 'ticking-over' at 17 watts and peaking at 56 watts. OK that's not quite 10 watts at idle, but for a 55W TDP cpu that's pretty darned good!!

More about the DQ77KB

Apart from efficiency the QD77KB isn't that different the other socket 1150 boards, but there is a restriction on the maximum processor TDP of 65W. This rules out some of the higher end Intel Core based processors, but this wasn't a problem to me as I was planning to use an i3 2100T cpu. It does of course leave the door open for the mid range level of performance if you require it, as long as you have enough room in your case for the bigger cooler that would be required.

There's various LVDS and eDP (embedded DisplayPort) sockets which I don't intend to use, the usual array of standard sockets (ethernets, usbs and displayport / hdmi etc), a couple of mini PCI Express sockets (which I'll talk more about later) and a PCI-E 4x slot for a high end graphics card.  Importantly it was 4 SATA ports, two of these being the faster 6Gb/sec variety.

Oddly it doesn't use a standard 20 or 24 pin ATX power supply, instead there's a co-axial barrel type power connector nestled in the corner for an external 19 volt Dell laptop type power supply. (seems a bit non-standard!!) The SATA drives are then powered from a daisy-chain cable that fastens directly to the edge of the motherboard, which is neat, and I guess overall it keeps another source of heat outside of the computer case.

Finding a UK supplier who stock it was another problem, and in the end I found it on Pixmania who in the past have always come up trumps on my more esoteric of my purchases for £115.

Then I tried to order an i3 2120T and it wasn't in stock, but they did have an i3 3220T which after a little googling discovered it was a later Ivy Bridge version (instead of Sandy Bridge) giving slightly higher performance for the same price and thermal/power constraints. So at £93, I ordered that too.

Thanks for the Memories

One of the details I'd read about the DQ77KB was that you could alter some of the voltage and clock settings. Now whilst this doesn't give you full over-clocking control it does give me some scope for lowering some of the voltages, chasing those green fairies. Memory could be reduced right down to 1.35 volts.

That doesn't seem like a big difference from the 1.5V standard but if your memory is being clocked at 1600Mhz switching all those memory circuits on an off requires quite a bit of power to drive these changes so quickly. In fact it's general practice on memory and cpu that if you want to over-clock it then you HAVE to increase the voltage. So maybe I can reverse that, slow down the memory speed and reduce it's voltage.

In the end (after much deliberation) I found a pair of 4Gb 1600Mhz DDR3 sodimms that where rated at 1.35 volts. I figured that if I was spending all that dosh on a new system that fitting cheap ram was folly. I toyed with the idea of just getting one at first, leaving the door open for future upgrades. But then after reading that with both slots filled you get the benefit of dual channel and the increased performance this brings I opted for the pair.

So I placed the order, and then was surprised when they split it across three different suppliers and charged me three lots of postage. Damn,.. but couldn't be bothered to change it now (watch out for this people!!)

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