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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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  • ReverendDC - Monday, March 26, 2012 - link

    Folks:

    This was a review of two pre-configured systems. In the end of the article, the author specifically states that there are far more powerful AMD CPUs available in the same power envelope, but they are not readily available, even on NewEgg, and that the manufacturer doesn't add them in as an option.

    If I were an AMD fan (and I am...), I would be ecstatic that my admittedly lower-end CPU/GPU combo knocked out the MUCH more powerful i7 CPU/GPU combo for overall usefulness. I believe that competition is absolutely necessary in the CPU space - just look and see how much Intel is sitting on their laurels right now without a really good challenger to their CPU dominance right now, and then look how much work they are putting into the GPU side of things now that AMD has eaten their lunch in that arena. How could you claim that this article was written by an Intel fellow when the parting thought was that he would go with the AMD solution for a system such as this (notebook, HTPC)?

    In addition, the author basically chastises the manufacturer for not making better parts available that would take advantage of the AMD's love of memory without even coming close to breaking the power consumption limit.

    Come on, guys. We all know that the CPU side of AMD is not the reason people buy APUs. We all know that, until AMD drops the new NetBurst architecture they are trying to push (Bulldozer) and realize that, if Intel failed with that strategy, AMD may just go bankrupt using it, that Intel will DESTROY AMD on the CPU side. We also know that, even with Ivy Bridge, there is a good chance that the GPU side will STILL belong to AMD, even at current Llano builds (there is a previous article from Anand previewing the new Ivy Bridge GPU). There was not a single shock in this article. Why argue well-documented facts at this point....

    Thanks for your time.
    Reply
  • djfourmoney - Thursday, April 12, 2012 - link

    What do mean they have qualified 1600Hz memory for the Llanos? Tom's already ran its own testing and PNY Xlr8 are the best given the price, availability and performance.

    Given faster memory the Llano would put a further smack down on Sandy Bridge graphics and run BF3!

    These APU's are perfectly suited for HTPC use, especially given the price of cut down i3's (G-series).

    I was wondering if this would run on the 90W power brick Antec gives you. I have A6-3500 waiting for a motherboard and memory. I sort of want to downsize my HTPC which uses a Sonta III case currently. But that would mean buying at least one external device and leaving my poor PCI TV Tuners out to lunch.

    All total it would add $80 for the Antec case, $45 for a used 650HD USB Combo Tuner (ATI has better PQ chips!) and $15 for the ASRock board over the Mico-ATX version.

    Oh well... Serious Budget Upgrade so I'll likely stick to the original plan. Thanks for the Review.
    Reply

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