Introducing the DigitalStorm Virtue

One of the biggest benefits of doing system reviews from boutiques like DigitalStorm is the chance to see what talented builders do with brand new hardware once it's released into the wild. Single consumers/enthusiasts get used to and understand the range of performance typically available in overclocking retail kit, but boutiques have to contend with overall performance potential of a range of products on a larger scale. Whether or not you get a decent overclock on your i7-4770K isn't a huge deal; you bought the chip, you're good to go. But for a boutique it becomes a more serious issue, defining their advertising and ultimately helping us all paint a fairly broad picture of what we can expect or at least hope for from new kit.

If you're like me, you were probably incredibly underwhelmed by initial reviews of Haswell. Ivy Bridge proved to be a decent overclocker, but Intel's miserly switch from fluxless solder to thermal paste as a thermal interface material in their chip packaging put a hard limit on what we could really do with it, and they're continuing that aggavating trend with Haswell. One of the most frustrating results is a flattening of the overclocked performance curve from Sandy Bridge to Ivy Bridge, and thankfully we can at least test and see today if Haswell does anything to change things.

With the recent refresh of our benchmarking suite (I carry over notebook benchmarking to the desktop and then add a surround test), I realized we had a perfect opportunity to test just how much progress we've made from one generation to the next. One of the perks of working in the industry is access to high end kit; my personal desktop workstation isn't just fun to have, it also serves as an extremely useful reference platform that I can now pit DigitalStorm's attractive new micro-ATX mid-tower, the Virtue, against.

DigitalStorm Virtue Specifications
Chassis Corsair Obsidian 350D
Processor Intel Core i7-4770K
(4x3.5GHz, Turbo to 3.9GHz, Overclocked to 4.4GHz, 22nm, 8MB L3, 84W)
Motherboard ASUS Gryphon Z87
Memory 2x8GB A-Data DDR3-1600 (maximum 4x8GB)
Graphics eVGA NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 3GB GDDR5
(2304 CUDA Cores, 862MHz/901MHz/6GHz core/boost/RAM, 384-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) Corsair Neutron GTX 120GB SATA 6Gbps SSD

Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB SATA 6Gbps SSD
Optical Drive(s) ASUS BC-12B1ST BD-ROM/DVD+-RW
Power Supply Corsair HX1050 80 Plus Silver PSU
Networking Intel I217-V Gigabit Ethernet
Audio Realtek ALC892
Speaker, line-in, mic, and surround jacks
Front Side Power button
Reset button
2x USB 3.0
Mic and headphone jacks
Optical drive
Top Side -
Back Side 4x USB 2.0
DVI
HDMI
Optical out
4x USB 3.0
Gigabit ethernet
Mic, line-in, headphone, and surround jacks
2x DVI (GTX 780)
1x HDMI (GTX 780)
1x DisplayPort (GTX 780)
Operating System Windows 8 64-bit
Extras 80 Plus Gold PSU
240mm Corsair H100i CPU Cooler
Warranty 3-year limited parts and labor, lifetime customer support
Pricing Starts at $1,403
Review system configured at $2,563

DigitalStorm has four configurations for the Virtue, starting at $1,403. The entry level offers a basic quad core Haswell with no overclocking and a GeForce GTX 650 Ti Boost; it's adequate for gaming, but informed consumers will want the second level model featuring an i5-4670K and GeForce GTX 770 for $1,735. Worth mentioning, though, is that DigitalStorm offers a 120GB Corsair Neutron GTX SSD and 1TB HDD minimum, across the board, in all configurations of the Virtue. The highest end model bumps the SSD capacity up to 240GB and the GPU to a GeForce GTX Titan.

There isn't too much to say about the Virtue as we have it, though. DigitalStorm was able to eke out a healthy 4.4GHz overclock on the i7-4770K, but the overclock range they offer is just 4GHz to 4.4GHz, which is underwhelming to say the least. That's not their fault, though; iBuyPower only goes up to about 4.2GHz, ~4.5GHz if you're using one of their signature custom liquid cooling systems. CyberPowerPC offers roughly the same "20% overclock" which works out, again, to about 4.2GHz. DigitalStorm's overclocking options are also essentially in line with AVADirect and other boutiques; Haswell just doesn't have a whole lot of headroom. Meanwhile, DigitalStorm does offer performance tuning on their graphics cards, but the GTX 780 in our review unit is left at stock.

Representing the best and brightest of the last generation is my own custom workstation which will be referred to in charts as the "Reference PC." This is, in my humble opinion, about as good as it can get before you switch over to a custom cooling loop.

Reference PC Specifications
Chassis Nanoxia Deep Silence 1
Processor Intel Core i7-3770K
(4x3.5GHz, Turbo to 3.9GHz, Overclocked to 4.6GHz, 22nm, 8MB L3, 77W)
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H
Memory 4x8GB Crucial Ballistix Sport Extreme Low Profile DDR3L-1600
Graphics NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 2GB GDDR5 modified with Arctic Cooling Accelero Hybrid
(1536 CUDA Cores, 1264MHz/6.6GHz core/RAM, 256-bit memory bus)
Hard Drive(s) Plextor PX-M5S 256GB SATA 6Gbps SSD

Samsung SSD 840 500GB SATA 6Gbps SSD
Power Supply Rosewill Capstone 750W 80 Plus Gold PSU
Audio Realtek ALC899
Operating System Windows 8 Professional 64-bit
Extras Case modified with Noctua fans
CPU cooled by Swiftech H220
GPU cooled by Arctic Cooling Accelero Hybrid

When you get to the benchmarks, you'll see this is really about as fast as a last generation, single-GPU configuration with a mainstream CPU was going to get. 4.6GHz is healthy for Ivy Bridge, and the Arctic Cooling Accelero Hybrid allowed the GeForce GTX 680 to not only settle on a high boost clock, but maintain it consistently throughout prolonged gaming sessions. This is with the stock GTX 680 BIOS; a modified BIOS with higher voltage might have been able to push the silicon further, but I've heard exactly enough about modified BIOSes burning out GK104 to not tempt fate

System and Gaming Performance
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  • iamezza - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Actually all the power consumed will eventually end up back as heat. It's how physics works. Reply
  • MrSpadge - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Ouch.. someone's about to enter the shame corner of our little physics class! Reply
  • jameskatt - Sunday, June 23, 2013 - link

    We long ago hit the wall on how fast on overclocked CPU can perform without burning out or using liquid cooling systems - the soaking the entire computer in mineral oil. It is simply the laws of physics that present a wall that CPUs cannot bridge.

    It is not surprising that Haswell hit that wall.

    You can give GPUs more bandwidth and more cores to get faster and faster speeds. They key is that GPUs have massive numbers of cores and GPUs are used for massively parallel tasks.

    The key to future performance is parallelism - the more cores in a CPU the better.

    In day to day use, I have more than 20 apps running at the same time - at least I would like to. But I am limited by the number of cores my computer has. Four cores is simply not enough.

    For example, Parallels and Jabber Video each require 1.5 cores each. When I have them on simultaneously everything else grinds to a halt since every other app has only one core left for it.

    It would be nice to have 12 cores per CPU when doing a lot of multitasking.

    The future is multiple cores - more than 4. The more cores the better.

    It doesn't do good to complain about the limits of 4 core CPUs. They simply cannot do any better without specialized liquid cooling or other weirdness.
    Reply
  • lmcd - Sunday, June 23, 2013 - link

    You've clearly missed the complaint, which is that the die package used to be connected with what's called here a "fluxless solder," which has high thermal conductivity and transfers heat well to the metal surface that you see on production chips (I forget the name for that layer). That metal surface is then cooled with your heatsink, etc.

    The problem is that the fluxless solder was replaced with a thermal paste to save an incremental amount of money. The thermal paste is unable to transfer the same amount of heat per time. This means that no matter how good your cooler is, even if you're dissipating heat very quickly from the surface I mentioned, there is more heat retained inside the chip between the surface and the package.

    So it's a valid complaint. And Haswell didn't hit a wall, its solder hit a price wall.
    Reply
  • Nottheface - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    So by what you have said above anyone who takes off the IHS and removes the "bad" paste should have great overclocking ability compared to leaving on the IHS with the paste. This is not true and means that isn't truly the base problem. Like Ivy Bridge delidding reduces the temperature of the chip greatly ~30°C, but only marginally increases overclocking.

    It has also been shown with Ivy Bridge that it isn't the paste so much as the spacing between the chip and the IHS that causes the bad heat transfer. The paste doesn't help, but for better heat transfer you are always better off removing extra interfaces and distance the heat has to travel.
    Reply
  • MrSpadge - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    I've heard that the 22 nm transistors couldn't take the temperatures the soldering produces. No hard proof, though. Reply
  • lmcd - Sunday, June 23, 2013 - link

    Furthermore your "parallelism" is too all-powerful. If those wonderful GPU "cores" (hint, they're not cores; they're clusters) were given the same cooling mechanisms as these CPU cores, your computer would be up in flames or your magic "parallelism" would be running at 1/2 speed.

    Yes, multithreaded applications are great. Yes, more cores is great. But cooling the existing cores properly and running them at the frequencies they *should* be able to hit is still a valid solution, and in most applications there is the headroom to do so, should that fluxless solder be reintroduced into Intel's CPU packages.

    And besides, if you're running parallels and jabber video, get yourself a Sandy-E. You're a niche, so buy the niche product that fits your needs. My 3960X meets my multicore needs, and you can even settle for a 3930K if you're not concerned about clockspeed.
    Reply
  • wumpus - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    The reason GPUs aren't on fire isn't so much superior cooling (you try cramming a CPU heatsink into a single or even double slot), so much as cores designed for high efficiency at the cost of painful latency. Trying to use one of those "cores" would be like going back to the PC-AT days (with the exception of floating point single performance, more like the DSPs of those days). Larrabee was a bit more CPUish (and thus would have melted down if they ever got performance anywhere near competitive) but would still be outperformed at traditional CPU (serial) tasks by an atom. Reply
  • Sabresiberian - Sunday, June 23, 2013 - link

    The future is multiple cores, I think we are just beginning there, but you are wrong about the clock limit, and certainly AMD has proven that by releasing 5GHz factory CPUs. And, if the chips can be OC'd in extreme builds to 8GHz or better, then I suggest it IS feasible to eventually get that kind of clock in a production chip.

    If Intel wanted to, they could make production CPUs run at 5GHz base with a turbo to 5.8 easily enough. We could be OCing those to the 6GHz range. On air, or an AIO water cooler, no liquid nitrogen required. They just aren't putting their efforts in that direction.

    3.6GHz is conservative.
    Reply
  • HideOut - Sunday, June 23, 2013 - link

    That 5ghz chip is also 220w part. Not even close to relevant to most reasonable pc users. It's a marketing gimmick. Reply

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