Red, green, beige, and blue - I build this junk so you don't have to

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Red, green, beige, and blue - I build this junk so you don't have to

Postby xjas » 2018-10-19 @ 21:04

EDIT: This thread is now about upgrading a low-spec PC iteratively & benchmarking it along the way to see the results. Consider it like an episode of Phil's Computer Lab or Budget Builds - Official, only in text form and on this forum. We start with a mediocre base system, build it up, and the end result will be a really nice ~2010ish powerhouse that I would've been proud to own at the time. But it's 2018 and we're building it for couch change. Isn't living in the Future great?

To skip the "build" posts and see the discussion of the benchmarking procedure, click here. To start at the results of the first round of benchmarks, go here. Otherwise, have fun reading!

-----

Hoo boy, here we go again. I am bored, I have too many parts, that means it's time for another build thread. This one is going to be a bit more relaxed & uncertain compared to my others. I only have a very low-spec skeleton of the system I want, so the final hardware configuration isn't set in stone yet, and you guys will get to sit in and watch the descent into chaos as I figure out what this thing is even going to be.

That said, lets begin. I had my old XP gaming system built with junk parts (GEE IS THIS A TREND??) in this really cool AOpen case. I love the look and it's surprisingly nice to work on for something of this era. For some reason that system never 'grabbed' me, it didn't run a couple of the games I had installed very well and didn't end up seeing a lot of use. Eventually it stopped POSTing. Not sure why, but time to pull it apart. Here's the "before" state:

1.jpg
2.jpg

Here's what came out of it:

3.jpg

P4/3GHz, Gigabyte board, 3GB DDR1, and an Enermax 460W PSU. Comptent, noisy, and not very interesting.

Not pictured: a defunct DVD & floppy drive that were basically just in there to fill the slots.

Also this:

4.jpg

Don't worry, there's going to be an even worse bodge going into the new system. Stand by... :P

I thought the mobo failed at first but it still works fine, even with the power-thirsty Radeon installed & same PSU hooked up when I tried it on the table. The P4 12V power connector was pulled slightly out so maybe that was the problem the whole time. Anyway this lot (except the Radeon) is going up on the local used site for free, maybe someone else out there wants a good P4.

The blank slate:

5.jpg

Naturally I cleaned the hell out of this case when I got it, and it didn't see that much use, so I didn't have to do much here. There weren't even any dust bunnies inside. Yes, I'm keeping the 80GB IDE HDD and floppy (actually swapped in a known-good floppy with a black face that looks better under the front bezel.)
Last edited by xjas on 2018-10-30 @ 05:41, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Red, green, beige, and blue: I build this junk so you don't have to

Postby xjas » 2018-10-19 @ 21:49

So what's going in there? Well, a while ago I picked these two choice boards out of a dumpster haul. The AOpen Socket A setup on the left & AOpen PSU are really nice, they match the case well and it would be cool to build an "OEM-style" period-correct all-AOpen setup. It'd make a great looking & running Win98 box.

6.jpg

NAH, I'm shitting you guys. Of course I went for the AM2 board on the right. :P See, I already have a perfectly good Socket A / Win98 setup in my Shuttle XPC Lunchbox. I'm keeping the AOpen board around, and it will definitely get used in the future, but I don't need it right now. The AM2 platform is something I've never tried and want to have a little fun with.

The board in question is an ASUS M2N32-SLI Deluxe, as the big white silkscreen will tell you. I found this thing "bare" without even a CPU fitted. Fortunately I already had an Athlon 64x2 4200+ (I'd totally forgotten about this CPU and found it in my desk drawer at work of all places. NO idea where it came from!), OEM CPU cooler, and beefy Antec semi-modular PSU from entirely different dumpster dives over the last year or so.

The RAM is some way-underspecced PC2-4200 (DDR2-533), which I'm pretty sure came from the defunct 775 P4 that was in this case when I got it. Funny how that worked out. Well, it'll do for now.

Wedged that sucker in:

7.jpg


8.jpg

^^ It doesn't quite show in the picture but this board is really tight in there. This IDE port is almost covered by the 5.25" drive cage. The RAM blocks sliding drives into and out of the bottom slot, and the CPU cooler blocks removing the HDD from where it is in the pic. Fortunately the 3.5" cage itself is removable, but unfortunately it also slides back so that doesn't change anything over taking out the HDD on its own. I've seen later cases where the 3.5" cage swings out, probably for this reason. Building this thing painlessly is going to take a lot more care & planning than my usual strategy of "stuff things in and start turning screws."

It looks like a full-length GPU will just fit in the top PCIe 16x slot without fouling the drive cage, but using the bottom slot will definitely block the first two SATA ports. Genius.

9.jpg

On the other hand, they weren't messing around with that "Deluxe" label. We have a real floppy port, two serial ports, a parallel port (pictured), firewire, S/PDIF with both TOS-Link and coax outs, an onboard RAID controller (with an additional SATA RAID port in the upper left behind the I/O panel for some reason), ECC RAM support, and some really good overclocking options in the BIOS. Sweet!

You could even get a variant of this with onboard Wi-fi, although mine doesn't have that. Wondering if it's possible to add it on.

Also, if you haven't figured it out yet, the "red, green" part of the title refers to this board. It's an Nvidia nForce chipset running an AMD CPU. Team Red and Team Green, working together! Madness!

The "beige, and blue" refer to the case, for obvious reasons. No Intel here. :cool:
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Re: Red, green, beige, and blue - I build this junk so you don't have to

Postby xjas » 2018-10-22 @ 03:35

So what for a GPU? Well, my first idea was to stick this *other* HD3850 in, making some comparisons to the original system to establish a baseline.

10.jpg

Unfortunately, that was thwarted by, well, this:

11.jpg

Luckily I do have another PCI card in the HD3000 series, so I went with that instead. And by PCI, I mean PCI. It’s this one:

12.jpg

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Well, it’ll do to get things started off. Actually I’m curious how well this card does in a more modern setup. It was a monster in the P3 laptop dock I had it in, so let’s give it a go.

First, there was the matter of a bracket. I didn’t like the way it was flexing around in the PCI slot with no support and it was all too easy to unseat this thing when hot-plugging fiddly Displayport cables, so I figured I could fab something up.

Here’s the original short bracket next to some sacrificial full-size ones I tried to bodge together.

13.jpg
^^ Spoiler: none of these made it into the final “product.”
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Re: Red, green, beige, and blue - I build this junk so you don't have to

Postby xjas » 2018-10-22 @ 03:44

I thought the 4xUSB2 bracket above was going to be the answer, but it needs to screw onto the video card from the bottom, and re”welding” the tabs with a soldering iron proved to be WAY too fiddly to get accurate enough placement. After messing around for most of the afternoon, using hand tools (okay fine, my drill is electric), and not liking any of the results, I lucked out and found a vented bracket in my stash with square holes almost exactly the right size and distance apart. This is what I eventually came up with:

14.jpg

Not too bad from this side right?

WELL... the bracket itself is mostly held on with hot snot (HI DAVE FROM EEVBLOG, I see you there), and by the time I’d gone through like three different test configurations, my superbly-accurate eyeball measurements had drifted off by about 3mm. So this is how it fits:

15.jpg

^^ Remember that Even Worse Bodge I talked about in the first post? Here you go. Hope I didn’t disappoint.

WHATEVER. It’ll work for now.

16.jpg

Incidentally, here’s the back of the machine at this stage. I find this hilarious. When was the last time you guys saw a PC with the only video connectors way down in the bottom slot like that? 386 days?

Anyway, we’ve got a mobo, CPU, cooler, RAM, and GPU. Let’s move on & see if we can get this to boot!
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Re: Red, green, beige, and blue - I build this junk so you don't have to

Postby x0zm_ » 2018-10-22 @ 06:14

Love the black AOpen boards and their cases, I've got a nice little collection of them myself now.

Also love the GPU mount :lol:

Best of luck getting a successful boot & installation going on it!
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Re: Red, green, beige, and blue - I build this junk so you don't have to

Postby xjas » 2018-10-24 @ 04:59

x0zm_ wrote:Best of luck getting a successful boot & installation going on it!


Oh, we're gonna get it to boot alright - the wrong way.

I wanted to keep using the old drive out of the P4 with its existing XP install. As you all undoubtedly know, swapping an XP install from an Intel CPU on an Intel chipset using DDR1 and an Intel IDE controller, to an AMD CPU on an Nvidia chipset using DDR2 and a Silicon Image IDE controller, is holy christ don't do this levels of bad idea. My first attempt, which involved "just swap the drive over", failed miserably. It went into a BSOD bootloop and that was that.

I hadn't expected that to work, but I had to try. With a little quick searching, I was able to find these handy instructions on how to set a generic IDE controller using Hiren's BootCD. Sure enough, that fixed the first BSOD but then it crashed before getting to the login screen. I messed around with it further but was unable to make anymore progress without doing the thing I really, really wanted not to do:

17.jpg
^^ setting up the goddamn P4 again and removing every single device driver I could out of the device manager.

This wasn't a straightforward "1-shot" thing to do, BTW. It involved a ton of rebooting and re-removing things I'd already removed, as well as deleting files from Windows's various protected system folders. Also, there was a lot of swapping the HDD back and forth between the new system to see if things had worked. My Puppy Linux & Hiren's BootCDs both got a good workout.

I've condensed this section down a lot to spare YOU GUYS the pain, but needless to say I got the whole experience. BTW remember earlier where I said it looked like getting the HDD out was going to be a ginormous pain in the butt? Well, GUESS WHAT I WAS RIGHT. Of course.

BUT, all that pain paid off, right? Eventually, I got the old Windows to boot in the new machine:

18.jpg

........in safe mode.

:dead:

Yep, that's as far as I got. Nothing I did could would get it to boot to the full "non-safe" desktop without crashing. This was basically a full afternoon & evening's work, and at the end of the night, I looked at it, figured out how many hours of time & agony I could have saved if I'd just installed from scratch in the first place, plonked this spare 80GB SATA drive down on the table next to the thing, and went to bed.

19.jpg


So the next day I did this super-pro install job of the new HDD and fired it up to see if it even worked:

20.jpg
21.jpg
^^ Yep. Don't remember when I put Scientific Linux on there, but apparently I did. AFAIK this HDD came out of a PVR that I found in a dumpster. For those keeping track, I still haven't spent any money on this thing.(*)

(* the FirePro card cost me $5 at FreeGeek, but I bought it for a different purpose which is complete, and am just re-using it here. Everything else so far came from the bin.)
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Re: Red, green, beige, and blue - I build this junk so you don't have to

Postby xjas » 2018-10-24 @ 06:30

Sadly, Scientific Linux got the wipe. Not like I ever used it, was just messing around. Same as now, as a matter of fact.

At this point, I decided to update the BIOS, since it was running a VERY early one and I was going to need something newer eventually. So I bumped it from BIOS 1001, clear up to 5002.

22.jpg

That went fine, as you'd expect.

23.jpg

Since we're installing XP on a SATA system, I actually got to hit F6 to slip in the drivers when prompted. Whee.

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You thought I wasn't going to use that floppy drive didn't you? HAH.

24.jpg

BTW I have it configured to floppy seek on boot, just for that extra bit of retro sound. There's also a REAL PC speaker in there to handle beeping duties, not some piezo junk.

All the drivers are naturally still available from Asus. After going through the usual XP rigamarole of install driver -> reboot -> install driver -> reboot -> install .NET update -> reboot, which I would have had to do ANYWAY even if I'd gotten the old install to boot, so I don't know why I went to so much trouble trying anymore, we have a desktop!

26.jpg
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Re: Red, green, beige, and blue - I build this junk so you don't have to

Postby xjas » 2018-10-24 @ 06:31

All systems nominal!

27.jpg

At this point, some goals for this system were starting to formulate in my mind. Right now it's a VERY basic configuration with parts I had lying around. Underspec'ed RAM (PC2-4200), low-rent CPU, WTF GPU.

What I'm thinking here is to start with a baseline & see how various changes in hardware affect its performance and usability in steps as the build goes along, and eventually end up with a monster that pushes the platform HARD, while spending as little actual money as possible. I would also like to blow my previous P4/DDR1 setup out of the water in all cases, and have it nip at the heels of my Q9300/7GB/GTX750 gaming rig or X5450/8GB/HD4670 workstation. Sounds reasonable, right?

(Sorry for the bold - I decided to replace a heading and bullet list with inline bolded items in the paragraph, because I write scientific papers & making things annoying and hard to read is part of the job.)

One thing that got knocked OUT of consideration is a FreeNAS build - at least not in this case. The more I worked around the cramped and awkward positioning of the drive cages, the less I felt like trying to stuff 4 or 6 drives in there. That will have to be another system for another day.
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Re: Red, green, beige, and blue - I build this junk so you don't have to

Postby xjas » 2018-10-26 @ 09:41

Now that it was up & running I decided to do a little cable management to make it slightly less of a pain to work on. Just slightly.

First off, the HDD grew ears, because it's going in a 5.25" bay. I have a reason for this which will become apparent later.

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Then I applied judicious use of my favorite trick of "coil up & stuff any unused cables into an empty drive bay."

31.jpg

I'm using the space between the HDD and backplate as a cable guide for the 24-pin power cable there. It's actually trapped there as there's not enough room to get it out without yanking the HDD or at least the top three sticks of RAM. There's no way that can come back to bite me in the ass; it's impossible.

I'm fairly happy with how these fan wires ended up turning out. Tidy and controlled:

32.jpg

Incidentally I stuck a second exhaust fan in there. I had two, so why not? I suspect I might want better cooling later. It's still not very loud, even with all fans running at full. Can't complain.

Here's the final result. Not the worst I've seen, not the best either. On the order of the best I've done though.

33.jpg

I'll try to source some shorter SATA cables, although I'd hate to lose the blue. Don't remember where I got those.

BTW that big honking power supply isn't helping anything. It's a "semi"-modular unit, which means it has all the extra expense & complexity of adding modular plugs for some of the cables, but others like the MOLEX chains are still fixed in place and are way too long. Why did they design it this way?? Go full modular or don't bother.

This looks fairly open & free, but keep in mind there's no GPU in the above pic. I'm still using the tiny little FirePro (visible in pic #3) but that's not going to be the final configuration...
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Re: Red, green, beige, and blue - I build this junk so you don't have to

Postby PARKE » 2018-10-28 @ 18:02

Saying hello from a distant relative ;-)
Untitled-1.jpg
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Re: Red, green, beige, and blue - I build this junk so you don't have to

Postby PcBytes » 2018-10-28 @ 20:18

xjas wrote:
15.jpg

^^ Remember that Even Worse Bodge I talked about in the first post? Here you go. Hope I didn’t disappoint.

WHATEVER. It’ll work for now.


You call that an Even Worse Bodge? :lol:

Hold up, I think I still have an PSU that I fixed by ghetto rigging jumpers because half of the traces for the main 220v transistors were gone.
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Re: Red, green, beige, and blue - I build this junk so you don't have to

Postby xjas » 2018-10-29 @ 02:39

PARKE wrote:Saying hello from a distant relative ;-)


Neat! I've seen a couple of these cases out in the wild including a RED model that looks really sharp. I've actually got spare side & front panels for this one, and a nearly-complete second set of drive bay covers. I was thinking of making one typical "modded" set (windows, extra fans, RGB, etc.) and keeping one stock set so I can swap them around. But this project isn't there yet...

PcBytes wrote:You call that an Even Worse Bodge? :lol:

Hold up, I think I still have an PSU that I fixed by ghetto rigging jumpers because half of the traces for the main 220v transistors were gone.


Haha OK, that's fair. :P I try to do things 'properly' when messing with mains power at least. Did you use hot glue tho?

-----

So this thing is built up to a good 'base' spec, all the software is installed, and we're almost ready for the first round of benchmarks. I'm still writing that up, but for now I'd be remiss if I went on without showing off this magnificent overclocking tool from ASUS. Look at it!

aibooster1.jpg

This HAS to be the most ridiculous mid-2000s interface I've ever seen. It looks like a Sonique skin and everything about it is just perfect. Every action plays an obnoxious sound effect, and all the "gauges" update at like 1Hz. Plus,

aibooster2.jpg

...it has a freaking NOS button. NAWZ NAWZ NAWZ NAWZ. Where's my Altezza taillights & neon green seatbelt pads?
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Re: Red, green, beige, and blue - I build this junk so you don't have to

Postby NJRoadfan » 2018-10-29 @ 02:52

What model Gigabyte board was that? I could use another GA-8IPE1000-G!
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Re: Red, green, beige, and blue - I build this junk so you don't have to

Postby xjas » 2018-10-29 @ 04:58

^^ that's exactly what it is. Yours for cost of shipping if you want it. :) PM me on VCF where trading is kosher.
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Re: Red, green, beige, and blue - I build this junk so you don't have to

Postby PcBytes » 2018-10-29 @ 12:09

xjas wrote:Did you use hot glue tho?

Nope.
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Re: Red, green, beige, and blue - I build this junk so you don't have to

Postby fitzpatr » 2018-10-29 @ 22:29

You know, sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who spends ungodly amounts of time trying to fix weird problems. I'm glad it isn't just me!

Also, I have the same cable management technique.
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Re: Red, green, beige, and blue - I build this junk so you don't have to

Postby xjas » 2018-10-30 @ 04:10

fitzpatr wrote:You know, sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who spends ungodly amounts of time trying to fix weird problems. I'm glad it isn't just me!


I tend to create them myself. It's like an "extra challenge mode" for PC building. :P

THAT SAID, I'm having a lot of fun with this build so far. It's really nice to play with hardware at the absolute bottom of its depreciation curve again, rather than cringing at "Rare! Vintage!" stuff on Ebay or endlessly hunting for sale sites. I should have a really nice rig for peanuts when this is done.

----- // -----

I think it's time we got to some BENCHMARKS. First, let's have a look at the testing suite. You might notice there's a lot of stuff on here, mostly because I'm curious and want to get a really good idea how the iterative upgrade process affects results. Usually I just chuck a bunch of hardware at once in and go "yep, that made a difference", rather than trying to do anything systematic.

The usual precession of every 3DMark from 99MAX to 06, Final Reality, and GLExcess are there, of course. I ran a lot of the early ones in both 16- and 32-bit colour which changes the result, sometimes by a lot. Final Reality was run with 44kHz sound mixing because it’s 2018, dammit, we can mix at 44kHz.

For a less-gamey “workstation” benchmark, I tried Cinebench 11.5 (the last one to support XP), both on CPU & GPU. I wanted to do a Blender benchmark (Blenchmark) and SmallPT, but hit a couple fiddly issues getting both to work. I might setup a quick Linux install and go back & do those later.

I threw a few demoscene prods into the mix, all from Farbrausch:

fr-025: the.popular.demo (2003) runs on anything and has a built-in benchmark mode, so in it went.

fr-025.jpg
^^ hell yes.

fr-063: Magellan is a goddamn tour de force from 2010 and was specifically written for multi-processing. The designers “strongly recommend” a quad core and they aren’t kidding. Even very, very good 2010 hardware doesn’t run this at full framerate.

magellan.jpg

Magellan has a built-in counter (press ‘f’). There is a small problem in that this demo just doesn’t run very consistently; the same section can perform wildly differently across multiple runs due to how it processes threads. I take the number of frames showing right as the demo ends and divide it by the runtime (4:10.) This way, the final average only seems to vary by 2-3 FPS unless something catastrophic happens, but do take my numbers with a small grain of salt.

(I also tried recording the average FPS with MSI Afterburner in “benchmark” mode, which gives pretty similar results. I might do that in the future instead since it’s easier.)

Masagin from 2008 splits the difference, and despite the fact that it’s “mostly” “2D”, runs quite a complex graphics engine with heavy use of effects like motion blur. This has no built-in benchmark so I run MSI afterburner on it and note the instantaneous framerate right when the “happy sun” pops on screen:

masagin.jpg
^^ here.

This bit has a ton of stuff being drawn at once, everything moving with motion blur, yet generally yields a stable, measurable result.

Finally, of course I did a bunch of games. I tried for a variety of titles I’m likely to play, spanning literally two decades, and used a few of the same ones from eGPUs the Hipster Way for comparison. (If you don’t like my choices, tough. I’m open to additional suggestions though.)

The GAME lineup is:

WinQuake (software) (1997) (demo1 timedemo)
UT99 (software, 32b) (1999) (cityintro timedemo) - I figured these two were more interesting to run in software rendering as a stress test of single-threaded CPU performance & memory access.

For the rest, I mostly picked a suitably complex-looking spot in a map and observed the framerate with MSI Afterburner or the in-game FPS counter. I tried to make sure the result was as stable as possible.

Serious Sam (2001) (MSI Afterburner)

serious_sam_temple_of_effects.jpg
I chose this spot in the "Technology Test" level, next to the Temple of Effects, looking at the reflective blob thing

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 (2002) (MSI Afterburner)

nfs2002.jpg
Right near the start of Autumn Crossing.
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Re: Red, green, beige, and blue - I build this junk so you don't have to

Postby xjas » 2018-10-30 @ 04:18

UT2004 (Holy Shit!) (2004) (MSI Afterburner)

ut2004-1.jpg
This spot in DM_Junkyard seems to have a lot of complex geometry & map detail, as well as a bunch of effects (lava bloom, lightning, etc.)

Crysis (2007) (ingame counter)

crysis.jpg
^^ you KNEW this was gonna be in here. To be honest, one of the reasons I decided to build this thing is to check this game out & see what all the hype was over.

Prince of Persia (2008) (MSI Afterburner)

prince4.jpg

I just like the view here. BTW I HIGHLY recommend removing your shirt when benchmarking. It's the only way to get good results. The Prince concurs.

prince5.jpg
See?

Need for Speed (2010) (MSI Afterburner)

nfs2010.jpg
Probably the most demanding game in the lot, and many gamers would have been playing on a system like this when it came out. I start in free run mode on the East Gorge Freeway, which puts you down during a rainstorm with a ton of effects going on. The framerate stabilizes pretty well over the stretch between here and the first tunnel.
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Re: Red, green, beige, and blue - I build this junk so you don't have to

Postby xjas » 2018-10-30 @ 04:23

Fez (2012) (MSI Afterburner)

fez.jpg

Futuridium EP (2013) (MSI Afterburner)

futuridium.jpg
You can't stop in Futuridium, so this is a "flying benchmark" over the capital ship in the second level. I take the framerate right around this spot.

FRACT_OSC (2014) (MSI Afterburner)

fract_osc.jpg

Drift Stage (2016) (MSI Afterburner)

drift stage.jpg
I start the race, step on the gas, and see what happens. Unfortunately this game is still in "alpha", and you only get one track, although it's quite playable. The last build is from the end of 2016. I hope they finish it since it's awesome (and I paid real money for early access. :P )

NOTE: all the games were run in 1024x768 with the highest available details (except anti-aliasing in some cases where it defaulted to off.)

Nitronic Rush (2012) and Shovel Knight (2016) are incompatible with MSI Afterburner and had to be dropped. Freedom Planet 1 & 2 (2014, 2017) seems to have Vsync stuck on; even though there’s an option to disable it I couldn’t get it to unlock. On the slowest config they both hit the 60FPS limiter everywhere, so no real point including either.
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Re: Red, green, beige, and blue - I build this junk so you don't have to

Postby xjas » 2018-10-30 @ 04:33

Also, I decided to add heat and noise "benchmarks" to the test, because why not? I actually want to use this thing when it's finished, so it'll be nice to know what kind of 'real-world' effects the upgrades are causing. These measurements aren't overly scientific, so take them with a grain of salt. Here's how I did them:

Heat: I picked a spot right between the CPU, chipset radiator, and RAM, and measure this spot with my IR thermometer. Note that this instrument does NOT measure a pinpoint temp where the laser is, it picks up more of a spread with some divergence. The laser is just a guide.

heat.jpg

Noise: I take a reading on my phone mic from ~40 cm away using "SPL meter" for Android.

noise.jpg

I use this app when chasing reflections in my music studio; it's decently accurate out of the box, but of course there's a lot of variation in any measurement like this. I tried to turn off most ambient noise sources. FWIW my rack mount workstation across the room is louder than this thing as pictured in this spot.
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