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Core 2: Upgrade Guide

Discussion in 'Hardware' started by Highland3r, 10 Oct 2006.

  1. Highland3r

    Highland3r Minimodder

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    First off, need input from you guys on this one. If you don't agree with something then feel free to chip in.
    There have been a fair few "should I upgrade" to Core2 threads floating about recently. Hopefully the purpose of this thread is to aid those thinking of making the jump up to Core2, from whatever current hardware you maybe running.

    There's a number of ways you can go with Core2, which of these you choose depends on what you want from your PC.
    Each of the various options will be split up, recommending CPU, Motherboard and memory for each. Graphics card choice isn't included, but maybe taken into account within each of the options.

    First off, lets give a brief overview of the various hardware which is currently available (note, we're talking generically here it's up to the reader to pick a motherboard to suit their needs)

    Motherboards -
    Intel chipsets - Almost all the 975 boards available should support Core2. It's worth double checking before buying however that the rev you get is Core2 compatible. Some boards may just need a bios flash, however for many its a hardware limitation.
    There *should* be no issue with 965 boards, as almost all were launched around the same time as Core2's launch.
    The boards DON'T officially support SLI, however hacked drivers are available.
    The boards DO support Crossfire however.

    Intel 965 chipset
    These boards tend to cost less than their elder 975 brothers. Features wise the boards don't differ vastly from their elder brothers here either. Only thing to note is that the 965 chipset only supports a single IDE device. On many boards however external or third party controllers are used to get around this issue. It's something to check before you buy a board though.
    Also note that, although some boards may have 2 PCI-e 16* slots only 1 of these operates at full 16* speed. The other operates at 4* only.
    This isn't a huge issue, performance will be lower than a true 16*2 or 8*2 configuration, however its not a big hit. You *may* find that some boards will run the 4* slot at 1* speed if another PCI-e card is placed into the 1* slots.
    The 965 boards don't seem to allow memory to run at lower speeds than the FSB. Basically the memory runs 1:1 or faster than the FSB.

    Intel 975 chipset
    Bigger brother to the 965 chipset, these boards tend to come a little more feature full due to the fact they are "workstation" chipsets. They do however tend to cost more than 965 based boards, despite the fact the P965 has the newer ICH8 with extra SATA ports, compared to the now year old, ICH7.
    The chipset supports 2 16*lanes in an 8*x8* configuration, compared to the 965's 4* and 16* config.

    NVidia
    Nforce 570 - Currently the only boards offering official support for SLI. Feature wise, they are a rehash of the Nforce 4 Intel Edition boards with a new southbridge. These boards tend not to be widely reccomended due to their poor overclockability. Also Nforce 680i (C55 versus C19 northbridge) is just around the corner which seems to be a much more rounded chipset.

    Nforce 650i
    "Basic" version of the 680i boards, badged for gaming performance.
    Despite the fact it uses the same northbridge as the 680 , and therefore memory controller which means they still support Async memory clocking and pull rather nice FSB's but it has reduced PCI-e lanes to 8*2 over 16*2. It also has an older southbridge which has only 4 SATA, but an extra IDE channel and only a single GB Ethernet.

    Nforce 680i
    Has the latest 680i northbridge and MCP55 southbridge (iirc from Bindi). Has 2*16 PCI-Express graphics ports, 10 USB 2.0, 6 SATA (including eSATA support), two Gigabit PHY, single IDE. Reference boards based on the NVIDIA/EVGA design have had problems with Memory drive strengths and SATA corruption but other 680i boards seem to be OK, but expensive.
    Not totally async memory like the RD600, but in unlinked mode it provides far more ratios than any Intel chipset. In linked mode it provides a lower latency and therefore higher theoretical bandwidth (5395 versus 5285 unbuffered Sandra on the Asus Striker Extreme) than unlinked mode.

    ATI AMD RD600
    Totally Async memory, which provides completely independent memory to CPU buses but also increases latency, even over that of the 680i leading to lower theoretical unbuffered memory scores (5010 in Sandra from the DFI ICFX3200). Generally high overclocking and can provide very stable high oc's though (400+) but not as good as some other boards, and the chipset needs plenty of volts to get going, and as such, outputs lots of heat. Performance is still pretty good (on the DFI, other boards may vary) despite the lack of mem bandwidth though, although few manufacturers are commiting to this chipset since it's expensive.

    There are also chipsets from SIS and VIA which support Core2. These tend to be lower priced and have fewer features. They are however ideal for a budget minded build
    ======================================
    CPU's
    Available CPU's are split into 2 sections, Allendale and Conroe. Allendale is, to all intents a Conroe with 2mb Cache (Conroe has 4mb)
    E6300 and E6400 are the Allendales, with the E6600, 6700 and X6800 being fully fledged Conroes.
    Kentsfield is the quad core version of two Conroe dies on one cpu and will arrive in November.

    ======================================
    Memory
    DDR2 is the only way to go for Core2 (expect a few very low end boards which support DDR). PC2 4200 is the minimum to look for, this will run at the same speed as the CPU when running default clocks.
    Going for PC2 5400 or PC2 6400 gives some overclocking headroom, and the memory can also be run on an multiplier if required.
    PC4200 = DDR2 533
    PC5400 = DDR2 667
    PC6400 = DDR2 800

    You want at least DDR2 800/PC6400 for maximum performance.
    =======================================
    The options
    This is split into 2 sections, those willing/wanting to overclock and those not.


    Limited overclocking/Stock running

    Budget System and mid range
    Look to spend a little more on the CPU here if you can. 6300 and 6400 should be the CPU's of choice, unless you can stretch to a 6600. Memory isn't as important so you can cut corners on the budget here. PC2 5400 is more than fast enough.

    Motherboard wise, 965 is again the better option due to the reduced cost. Nforce 570 boards may also be an option if they fit the budget, as they'll allow for a second card to be added in SLI mode at a later date.

    Mid to Higher end
    Again focus more on the CPU here, same applies as above memory wise also. You should be looking at 6600 and 6700 here, it's certainly not worth shelling out for a X6800 if you're not going to overclock.
    Mobo wise, look for a board which gives you everything you need. Look for features over overclocking - again this means Nforce 570 boards should be considered especially if you want to run SLI.

    =============================
    Overclocking:
    Budget System and mid range
    965 based board is your best bet here. They'll give the headroom needed to overclock the slower E6300 and E6400 CPU's. Due to their low stock multipliers (7 and 8* respectively) high FSB is required to push these chips.
    You need to be aware of the lack of downclock memory dividers on the 965 chipsets however. You'll need to get some decent memory to really push your CPU.
    The recent release of the 650i chipset also adds another option here. These board's are cheap and overclock well. 500 FSB is about the max which is 3.5ghz on a 6300. If that's enough for you then the 650i's are worth considering. The boards also offer async memory overclocking which means you can spend MUCH less on ram. PC2 4200 would be an option with this board, though it tends not to be much cheaper than PC2 5400.
    PC2 6400 is a good bet, if you can't stretch this far 5400 memory should be good for 400 FSB.
    Spend as much of your budget as you can on decent memory.

    Mid to Higher end
    Here, mobo choice depends on CPU choice and how far you want to push things.
    If you choose a lower multiplier chip (ie 6300 or 6400) then again plump for a 965 based board.
    If you pick a higher multi CPU (ie 6600 or faster) then the 975 board maybe the best bet. These boards tend to celing at around 430-450 FSB giving a shade over 4ghz from an E6600.
    As above, 650i is another option in this bracket.
    Ram choice isn't quite as important here if the budget doesnt allow. Of course you can run upclock dividers on the memory or drop the CPU's multiplier to fully overclock your ram if required.
    If you choose an X6800 CPU then the Nforce 570 board maybe a consideration too. Due to the unlocked multipler, the overclock shouldnt be limited by the low FSB's achievable (around 330 max).

    =========================

    Reccomended Systems:

    Budget/mid Range -
    E6300 or E6400
    Gigabyte DS3 or Asus P5B "vanilla"
    1GB PC-5400 GSkill ZX

    Mid/High
    E6600 or 6700 or Higher
    Asus P5B Deluxe or Asus P5W DH
    2GB DDR2 XP2-5300 Mushkin Extreme Performance (default rated 3,3,3,x)

    Budget/mid Range Overclocker -
    E6300 or E6400
    Gigabyte DS4, Asus P5N-E SLI or Asus P5B "vanilla"
    1GB PC-5400 GSkill ZX

    Mid/High Overclocker
    E6600 or Higher
    Asus P5B Deluxe or Asus P5W DH, or Gigabyte DQ6 (Possible P5N-E SLI)!

    2GB GSkill HZ 6400, Geil C4 6400 or Corsair C4 6400 Note the C4 Corsair no longer uses D9 IC's. It's using Promo's which don't clock as well. This is also the case for C4 dominators. C3 dominators are still using D9 based IC's . Look for memory with default voltage over 2.0v if you can. This tends to indicate D9 xxx based IC's from Micron. These overclock REALLY nicely. Bit uses Corsair C5 8500 and the 6400 C3 in testing - both are capable of 3-3-3-9-1T at with 2.2V at DDR2-800 with ease.
    Another option is the now rare Crucial Anniversary 5400, which should run 500+ FSB without any issues. Will hold tight timings at 400 FSB also.
    Cellshock and Team Xtreem modules are also great performance wise, and certainly worth a look at along with the Crucial over GSkill and the Corsair sticks if budget allows.
    Current batches of Geil have been a bit hit and miss, and could be worth avoiding if you can afford something better.

    ===================================
    Do I upgrade?
    If you've got enough cash, and your machine could do with a new lease of life then go for it.
    Core2 should give a decent performance boost over pretty much any other platform out there. Even a stock E6300 will match an FX60 easily.
    Core2 will give a boost to almost all graphics cards out there, maybe not huge but it should breathe a new lease of life into most hardware.
    For those of you on 939, with nicely clocked CPU's the performance boost may not be quite as large for you. If you don't need the extra graphics or processing power then it's probably worth holding off for a little until Quad core arrives and things start to settle down.

    For those of you on AGP and DDR1 who can't afford the full jump to DDR2 and Core2, there are boards out there to suit.
    Asrocks 775 Dual VSTA supports Core2, DDR1 + DDR2, AGP 8* and PCI-e 4*. This would allow a stepped upgrade, adding components as and when you can afford. The board iself is cheap too and runs rather nicely.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: 15 Jan 2007
  2. Highland3r

    Highland3r Minimodder

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    <placeholder>
     
  3. hitman012

    hitman012 Minimodder

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    Stuck; this has been needed for a while :thumb:
     
  4. ozstrike

    ozstrike yip yip yip yip

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    Good work highland3r.
    Do you reckon it's worth putting up one of your basic overclocking guides as a sticky? (if it hasn't already been posted)
     
  5. Highland3r

    Highland3r Minimodder

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    If people want em shouldnt take long to overhaul for Core2 etc.
     
  6. Lazlow

    Lazlow I have a dremel.

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    Great guide - one question though, shouldn't it be named "Core2: Howto"? As you've covered both cores throughout.
     
  7. Highland3r

    Highland3r Minimodder

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    Sorted :thumb: :thumb:
     
  8. doctore

    doctore What's a Dremel?

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    Memory / Board Speeds 975/965

    I'm a little unsure about something here...assuming I'm not overclocking:

    You say that the P965 can only run memory at the same or lower speeds than the FSB. If I use an E6600 then the FSB is 1066 which would mean each channel would run at 533.

    If that's the case then a) why would I benefit from DDR2-800 RAM and b) what's the benefit of the 975 chipset?

    I've read a lot of things about 975 being better for the E6600 but I haven't yet figured out a definitive reason.

    I'm currently considering the P5W (favourite) / P5B / DQ6 options. I like the Asus boards but I'm not going to overclock unless I can keep the E6600 fanless with the Scythe Ninja. Also not going to run Crossfire. I want a silent board so the DS3 is out. Money is not a consideration - I can afford the extra £20 or so for the P5W. I've also considered the Intel BadAxe - not sure if that makes sense or not.

    Thanks for any help
     
  9. Highland3r

    Highland3r Minimodder

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    The default FSB for Core2 is 266 FSB (this is "quad pumped" to give 1066)
    The benefit from faster ram is more ram speed! You can run the memory on an upclock divider, leaving the CPU at stock FSB and the run the memory at its rated speed.
    It's not a massive performance gain, but there would be one. If you can afford it, get faster ram. If you can't then don't worry, performance gain/loss is minimal.

    re the 975 boards, the major reason they're not as widely paired with 6600's or faster is that these chips tend not to need the uber FSB the 965 boards offer.
    Almost all the 975 boards are good to ~ 430 fsb which equates to ~ 3.9ghz from an E6600 and 4.3ghz from an E6700.
    The 965 boards run a different chipset strap it would seem once they hit 401 fsb. This basically means that the internal timings in the 965 chipset itself are a touch slower than the 975. Because of this, performance at the same FSB is slightly worse on the 965's, however they will scale MUCH MUCH further than their 975 brothers. This is ideal for those running E6300 and E6400 as it allows them to be pushed much further. The higher FSB isnt as useful for the higher multi chips however as they'll tend to max clockspeed wise before the motherboard runs out of FSB.
     
  10. doctore

    doctore What's a Dremel?

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    Thanks for a great reply.

    So to summarise (and make sure I get it right)
    - At stock speeds no real difference
    - Moderate overclocking no major difference
    - Around 400-430ish FSB the you would probably be better with a 975
    - Serious overclocking (above 430) the 965 would be better

    If that's right (I get the point about the higher multiplers) then I presume people say that the 975 is better for the E6600 and higher because the chipset is faster in the 400-430MHz range which is where you can get the CPU to before running into problems.

    David
     
  11. Highland3r

    Highland3r Minimodder

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    Thats right :) :thumb:
     
  12. doctore

    doctore What's a Dremel?

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    So one last question... (probably)

    I want to keep my system silent (or as close as possible) which was the reason for not overclocking. I was going to get a Scythe Ninja cooler.

    Would it be practical to overclock the E6600 with a passive cooler? If so, what speed would be reasonable - I'm thinking conservative here - the system needs to be stable.

    Reason for asking - is it worth me looking at a 975 based board (P5W) because I could run over 400MHz passive or should I just stick with a 965 based board (P5B/Intel/DS3).

    Thanks for all your help.
     
  13. Highland3r

    Highland3r Minimodder

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    The Core2's run fairly cool, you should be able to get to around 2.8 maybe 3ghz passive cooled if you get a decent CPU. You'd want to use stock volts (ish) to keep temps down.

    Look for the board which gives you the features you require. If you're not pushing for a huge OC it shouldnt matter either way :)
     
    Last edited: 12 Oct 2006
  14. Tim S

    Tim S OG

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    If you can't get to 400MHz on a P965 board, I'd almost say you've got a bad one. Certainly the boards from Asus and Gigabyte are like that, IMO. ;)
     
  15. Highland3r

    Highland3r Minimodder

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    There is (was?) an issue with the P5B's whereby the boards sometimes had issues between ~ 350 and 400 fsb. Booting at 401 (forcing a higher chipset strap) wasnt a problem. If you see FSB issues in the 300's, drop the multiplier and try 401 or higher on the 965 boards.
    This maybe limited to the P5B, don't have any other boards to test. We saw something similar to this when running Dry Ice on a Celly. 265 fsb was rock solid, 266 was no post.
     
  16. DarkReaper

    DarkReaper Alignment: Sarcastic Good

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    Would you need to overvolt to get to the high 300s, or should I just try it on stock first to see how it runs? I've got a P5B deluxe and am still just dipping my toe into the overclocking waters, havent worked out how to adjust memory timings yet either
     
  17. Highland3r

    Highland3r Minimodder

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    Talking CPU here? Really depends on what chip your running tbh. Either push as far as you can, or bump up the voltage to whatever your happy running based on your cooling then run from there. Of course with the second option you'll probably want to reduce the voltage once you've found your max/stable speed.

    <edit> Could also leave the vcore on "auto" and let the mobo decide how high to run it. Could be an easier option... </edit>
     
  18. DarkReaper

    DarkReaper Alignment: Sarcastic Good

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    CPU is an E6300 that's running at 2.2GHz atm according to CPU-Z, x7 multiplier and 320 bus. So long as I can't do any damage to it I'll just leave it on vcore and see what happens.

    Now to try the ram at 5-5-5-12, which it is rated to run at according to Corsair... I need to learn my way around the BIOS!
     
  19. trig

    trig god's little mistake

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    reaper...granted i have a gigabyte board, but i have it at 388 with no voltage bumps...just an fyi
     
  20. DarkReaper

    DarkReaper Alignment: Sarcastic Good

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    I put it up to around 380 a few days ago with voltage on auto, which gave me 2.66GHz from the processor. I was well chuffed but I had to turn the case fans up to full in order to keep it at around 62 degrees when fully loaded, it's now back down to 300/2.1Ghz until I get a quiet 120mm fan to strap to the side of my Ninja.

    This overclocking lark is well addictive, I can see me going totally overboard all too easily and plumping for a WC setup or something!
     

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