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Introduction

Just about anyone can put together a solid computer using a decent midtower and the right parts. What we don't see as often is just how fast a computer can be assembled in a small form factor. More and more, too, the term "fast" isn't an all-encompassing one; as the GPU becomes increasingly important, the definition gets foggier and foggier. Today, all of these considerations collide as we test two top end configurations from Puget Systems against each other.

On the outside it looks we have two systems assembled in Antec's ISK-110 enclosure, but on the inside, we have a showdown between Intel and AMD's best and brightest at 65 watts. The more cynical (and admittedly informed) reader may already have an idea of where this is going, but there are definitely some surprises in store.

The Antec ISK-110 is a mini-ITX enclosure with exactly enough space for the motherboard, CPU, memory, and two 2.5" drives located on the opposite side of the chassis, underneath the motherboard tray. There's no space inside for a power supply, and indeed each enclosure comes with the necessary tools to mount it to a monitor's VESA mount, effectively hiding the entire system. As a result, the ISK-110 employs an 80-watt external power supply—good for saving space, bad for driving powerful hardware. Puget Systems faced a very real limit as to how much power could be crammed inside this chassis, but we felt like it would be a good opportunity to see just how powerful a system could be built in it...from both AMD and Intel.

In an effort to keep things fair, Puget Systems tried to use as many of the same components as they possibly could between the two builds. In practice things didn't quite work out that way, as you'll see later.

In the Blue Corner...

Expectations for our Intel-based system are set appropriately; Intel's been leading AMD in terms of CPU performance-per-watt for quite some time now and there's no reason to expect anything to change here, especially with the bulk of the Llano desktop chips sporting 100W TDPs that remove them from contention for this build. Here's what we're testing in the Intel configuration:

Puget Systems Echo I (Intel Edition) Specifications
Chassis Antec ISK-110 VESA
Processor Intel Core i7-2600S
(4x2.8GHz + HTT, Turbo to 3.8GHz, 32nm, 8MB L3, 65W)
Motherboard ASUS P8H67-I Deluxe Rev. 3.0
Memory 2x8GB Patriot DDR3-1333 SO-DIMM
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 2000
(6 EUs, 850-1350MHz)
Hard Drive(s) Intel 520 240GB SATA 6Gbps SSD
Western Digital Scorpio Blue 1TB 5200 RPM SATA 3Gbps HDD
Optical Drive(s) -
Power Supply 80W external
Networking Realtek PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Atheros AR9285 b/g/n Mini-PCIe Wireless LAN
Bluetooth v2.1+EDR
Audio Realtek ALC892
Speaker, mic, and line-in jacks, optical S/PDIF
Front Side 2x USB 2.0
Headphone and mic jacks
Top -
Back Side 4x USB 2.0
2x USB 3.0
PS/2
DVI-D
VGA
HDMI
Optical out
eSATA
Ethernet
Speaker, mic, and line-in jacks
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
Extras SSD
Wireless-N
Bluetooth
Warranty 1-year parts, lifetime labor and support
Pricing Starts at $852
Priced as configured: $1,756

First of all, Puget Systems opted to equip their Intel version of the Echo I (the Echo II line can handle higher TDPs and includes an optical drive, but in a slightly bigger chassis) with the fastest CPU that Intel offers at a 65W TDP: the Core i7-2600S. The i7-2600S is able to turbo up to as fast as the regular 95W i7-2600 can on three cores, two cores, or even just one core, but on all four it peaks at 2.9GHz. For all intents and purposes, that's not a huge hit in exchange for being able to fit inside the power envelope this enclosure's power supply requires.


That's a lot of heatsink for a small chassis!

Where things do get a little bit dicier with the i7-2600S is the integrated graphics processor: the i7-2600S uses Intel's cut-down HD 2000 graphics that sports half the shader cores the HD 3000 does. This is actually a small change of pace for us; the HD 2000 is actually fairly rarefied in review systems we test, as on the notebook side [nearly—mobile Celeron and Pentium have lesser GPUs] every CPU's IGP has all twelve shaders, while the desktops we test almost never run the IGP.

Instead of full length DIMMs, the ASUS P8H67-I Deluxe uses a pair of SO-DIMM slots that admittedly prevent our comparison from being completely fair. Keeping with maximizing these configurations, Puget Systems filled both slots with 8GB DDR3-1333 SO-DIMMs from Patriot. The PCIe x16 slot is left unoccupied (and there's really no room for a GPU in this chassis), while the board's wireless duties are handled by an Atheros AR9285 controller.

Finally, storage is handled by an Intel 520 series SSD with a 240GB capacity as the system drive, while a slow 1TB Western Digital Scorpio Blue running at just 5,200 RPM handles mass storage. You can actually configure the system with a 750GB Scorpio Black for a bit less money, and that drive runs at the full 7,200 RPM, making it potentially a more ideal choice unless you absolutely must have the extra space.

And in the Green Corner...
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  • Hrel - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    Seriously people, before you leave angry comments read the ENTIRE article. He addresses your complaints IN the article. As weiran says, it comes down to supply. AMD doesn't have anything better available to buy. My guess is AMD knows the only systems getting AMD chips right now are the cheapest possible systems, so they probably only manufacture a few thousand of their higher end chips; knowing anyone willing to spend that much money on a CPU will probably go with Intel. Why waste the resources on chips that will never sell? At least not for a profit. So they only keep the cheaper CPU's in stock. They have no delusions about the situation they're in; if only their fan-boys were as clear sighted. Reply
  • SteelCity1981 - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    We know Intel has the best CPU's as far as performance on the market goes, but Wwat this did show is AMD's IGP is far better than Intels IGP. So it's really a trade off between CPU performance or Graphics performance if you only had those two options in buying a system like this. Things should get a lot better on the CPU side with AMD's APU's with Trinity using AMD's Piledriver Cores instead an old revised version of the Athlon II cores that come with Llano. And not to mention the HD 7000 series on the GPU side that will come along with it. Reply
  • Hrel - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    Problem is you don't game on an IGP; you buy a dedicated graphics card. Also this is HALF the GPU performance of Intel. He says in the article 6 cores compared to the normal 12. So while the AMD gpu is still a little faster, not by much. And not nearly enough to matter. You aren't gonna game on an IGP, so saying AMD wins because their IGP is better for gaming is moronic. Intels chip is better at literally EVERYTHING, even video rendering. Reply
  • SteelCity1981 - Thursday, March 22, 2012 - link

    What's moronic is the fact that yopu said AMD's IGP is a little better? Are you blind. Intels IGP is way better then intels IGP is the benchmarks clearly showed that.

    So people that do light gaming can't game on AMD's APU?
    Reply
  • silverblue - Thursday, March 22, 2012 - link

    This isn't meant to be a performance machine, it is meant to be a setup for 65W or less. The article points out that whilst the i7 is easily the faster of the two for CPU work (and why shouldn't it be with an extra core advantage, hyperthreading, better turbo, and 8MB L3 cache), in terms of general usage you probably wouldn't notice it that much over the A6-3500. What's more, the AMD machine uses less power and performs far better at gaming. I also feel the need to point out that the HD 2000 requires a clock speed of three times that of the HD6530D yet falls far behind. The HD3000 will help but not enormously so - put simply, only CPU bound games will do better on the Intel side (and we're talking the minority of games). Let's also not forget that Llano performs noticably better with 1600MHz RAM over the 1333 in this build.

    I should also mention that, due to the size of the enclosure and the limited power feed, you CAN'T really add a dedicated card to this setup. So, you have to ask yourself - do you want to use the machine for media or productivity? The AMD machine will handle both whilst costing less, whilst the Intel setup will seriously limp through games but excel at anything that doesn't require a GPU (plus it has QuickSync, of course).

    Having said that, neither system is the most price friendly.
    Reply
  • piroroadkill - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    A bit cruel to pick out a cheap Llano vs a Sandy Bridge most people would be happy with in their main desktop.

    A8-3820 is the fastest Llano inside 65W, and would be vastly quicker than the chip tested.
    I admit it's probably a pain to get hold of (I was trying to find one a while back), but it's not a fair fight without it..
    Reply
  • Hrel - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    You know who said this EXACT same thing? Dustin... IN THE ARTICLE!!!!! Gahhhh!!!! Seriously people, READ THE WHOLE DAMN THING BEFORE LEAVING A COMMENT COMPLAINING!!! Reply
  • Hrel - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    Ok, so you absolutely cannot game on the Intel system. You can play some games on very low settings and even lower resolutions on the AMD system. Absolutely EVERYTHING else is faster on the Intel system. So, you don't WANT to game on either system. WHY would you choose the AMD system? If you want to game I'm sure a system like this is not your only system. A decent 15" gaming laptop, P151HM for instance. Any desktop that you've built or bought that has a 75 dollar graphics card in it or better. Point being if you want to game you won't do it on either of these. So unless price is all you care about, Intel it is.

    Ever since Intel put that video rendering engine on their CPU's, I forget what it's called right now, the one and only reason to ever consider anything AMD sells is if you play video games. The kinds of video games that require a GPU. Even then a given person might choose Nvidia over AMD. I don't want to see them go under, with the recent legal battles they've won that won't be for a while. But things don't look good. I would love nothing more than to build an AMD system, but I haven't been able to justify it since my Athlon XP. (skipped the Athlon 64 (and X2) era of CPU's). Running E8400 and GTX460 in my desktop, Sandy Bridge 2630 and GTX560M in my laptop. Each one suits all my needs in excess. I cannot see myself buying anything AMD, replacing desktop in 6-18 months. Laptops got a few years left on it. Maybe by 2015/2016 AMD will be a viable option??? Probably not:(
    Reply
  • HW_mee - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    I think the question is, why would you pay 1750$ for that Intel system? Reply
  • Hrel - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    lol, well, I wouldn't, not even close. But I might build a similar setup myself. I've always liked the idea of a thin client as a HTPC. Reply

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