Vic B’Stard’s State of Play: a post-christmas PC upgrade

Vic B'Stard
New year, new PC

Well I’m back again after the Christmas break and some much-needed rest. The last six months has been a roller coaster ride that saw me moving across the Tasman, from New Zealand to Australia, and yet again just before Christmas to a leafy suburb of Sydney.

I’ve also introduced myself to the local video game publishing circuit, resulting in copious preview invites and being inundated with game review opportunities, which have been published on the Game Console pages of, and the pages of this site.

I’ve spent the holiday mopping up the likes of Assassin’s Creed 3 and Far Cry 3, as well as enjoying the budget delights of Valve’s annual Christmas Steam sale. I’ve also started the transition of Vic B’Stard’s State of Play from the NZ focused to the more global You can reach the site using either URL, but expect the a bit of re-branding in the future.


riders of doom
More Trials!

Right at the moment I’m playing through the latest Trials Evolution DLC, Riders of Doom which adds more crazy 2.5D motorcross tracks and activities to the hit Xbox Live Arcade game, this time with an end of the world theme. I’m enjoying it so much that I went and brought the Game’s previous DLC, Origin of Pain. If you’ve not picked up Trials Evolution yet, do it now.

I’m also working on a few articles that I promised folks last year and never got to finish. I need to get some more time on Hitman Absolution for an in-depth review for as well as a report on the EA Asia Pacific Showcase that I attended at the end of last year. I’ve yet to post Grant’s excellent Far Cry 3 review that I’ve been sitting on for a few weeks now (sorry Grant).

I’m using this traditionally slow post-Christmas period to carry out a much-needed MAJOR upgrade to my PC. I’ve been running my Core 2 Quad-based Q9450 with 4 gigs of memory for about five years now. Despite my XFX nForce based board stating an 8GB capacity, the manufacturers obviously thought nobody would try to actually do it; no one has ever managed to successfully fully populate it up to 8GB! A few years ago I filled the PC with 3 EVGA GTX285OCs in SLI. The system suffered after an nVidia driver update leaving the machine a little unstable (even with a 1500w PSU I think the four HDDs and the 3 video cards draw too much power sometimes). The Windows Vista installation is also pretty mangled due to one too many registry defrags (thanks Austlogics…).

For the upgrade I’m keeping my awesome Coolermaster Sniper case, my Thermaltake Toughpower 1500w PSU and my trusty Asus DVD-RW (a Blu-ray upgrade with be forthcoming). I’m also shoveling in my 3 GTX285s as a stop-gap until I’ve the funds for a GTX680 in a few months time.

Intel’s i7 3820 LGA 2011- A much needed upgrade!

There was a time when I pretty much continuously upgraded my PC, with me at least once a year swapping out components. Now, with kids, I just don’t have the time to mess about like that; so I have to think ahead. The Q9450 has served me well and, with the GXT285s (despite their quirks), I’m still able to run the latest games at a pretty decent frame rate. For more serious applications, such as 3D rendering, the Q9540 CPU and 4Gb of memory are a bit of a problem. The Dell laptop that I’m typing this on has a i7 and 8GB of DDR3. Whilst the mobile nVidia GPU lets it down a bit when it comes to games, the laptop is a better 3D renderer than my desktop behemoth. And that is never right.

Looking to the future, I chose to base my new system on an i7 3820 CPU, one of Intel’s new Sandy Bridge-E LGA2011 CPUs. The CPU is not at fast as the top-end of the previous generation of i7 CPUs, but it does give me a foot in the door to access the new Intel X79-based motherboards and a future upgrade route to the six core i7s. Also, the X79 boards guarantee at least 3-way SLI to accommodate my existing GTX285s.

For motherboards it was a toss up between the MSI X79A-GD45(8D), offering great value for money or the GA-X79-UP4 from Gigabyte, a manufacturer that I am more familiar with. In the end Gigabyte won with their 4-way SLI capable mobo which can take up to 64GB of DDR3 RAM.

gigabyte mobo
The packed to the gills GA-X79-UP4!

Over the years I’ve have varying degrees of success when I comes to picking RAM. I’m not a rabid overclocker, but I like to tinker a bit. At the end of the day I do prefer stable system rather than an  overclocked machine running on a wing and a prayer. I just don’t have the time to dick about any more, which is a shame, but there you go. As I mentioned before, my existing system is limited to 4GB of memory, despite my best efforts to put another 4Gb in it. This time I’m not going to mess about, going for 32GB straight away; which should be more than enough for the next five years! Again, in the interest of minimising the amount of mess around, I’m going for a set of Corsair modules (previously I’d have bulked at paying top-dollar for Corsair modules).

The grungy-looking Corsair Vengeance memory modules!
The grungy-looking Corsair Vengeance memory modules!

The Gigabyte memory compatablity list for the GA-X79-UP4 is a bit limited and the board doesn’t show up on the Corsair memory configuration webpage. A quick visit to the Corsair forum confirmed that  a 32GB (4x8GB) set of 1600MHz DDR3 CL9 Vengeance Performance Quad Channel Memory (CMZ32GX3M4A1600C9) would do the job.

As great as 32GB of memory will be for my more serious apps, I did forget that Windows 7 Home Premium is only good for up to 16GB; requiring a swift purchase of the more manly Windows 7 Professional.

I’ve had a 120GB Intel SSD sitting around for a couple of months, originally intending to use it on my existing system, onto which I’m going to install the operating system (Windows 7 Home 64-bit) and a few applications (MS Office, Vue 11 Infinite and the Adobe Creative Suite). Everything else is going on a new 2TB Western Digital Green HDD and my existing 1TB HDD. I’ll be retiring my existing 600GB and a 500Gb drives.

The Corsair H60. A a PC: madness I say!
The Corsair H60. A radiator…in a PC: madness I say!

What I did forget when budgeting for the system is a CPU cooler (especially important as the LGA2011 CPUs don’t come with a fan in the box, not that I’d ever recommend using a stock Intel CPU cooler). With a budget already pushed to the max, I first went for the reasonable cooling ability of an Artic Freezer 30i CO, 2011 coolers being few and far between in the local market.

The problem with the Artic Freezer 30i CO is that it is huge, it’s installation blocking half the memory slots (not that much of a problem) as well as the top PCI express slot which is not good. Whilst I managed to squeeze a board in there as a stop-gap, it is hard up to the plaster shroud of the cooler’s fan housing. Gigabyte’s GA-X79-UD4 is a packed out mobo with everything squeezed up to accommodate 8 DDR3 slots and the 4-way SLI (the location of the lowest PCI slot practically making 4-way SLI out of reach for those of us with the PSU as the bottom of the case). Figuring that I’d have issues with just about every half-decent air-cooled CPU fan I’ve gone for a Corsair H60 water cooled solution. We’ll see how that goes!

That’s all until next time!