Inside the Top Dawg PCs
The recent Top Dawg Challenge has been over for a while; all the prizes donated by BFG have been delivered, and preparations for the next Challenge are already underway. So what did it take to come out on top? Let's take a look inside the machines that won each of the three prize categories: Stock, Overclocked Intel, and Overclocked AMD. We'll get a glimpse of the builders, as well, and see if they can give us some inside tips on how to build a Top Dawg. You can see a summary table of the winning entries below.
About the Winners
Shogan's computer building process started with reading, reading, and more reading. Then he starts asking questions, both at the Pit and other performance-oriented sites. Then, in his own words, "Once I have an idea of what will be the latest, fastest, best computer around I order the parts. Then I find out what I should have bought." Shogan runs overclocked on a regular basis, but doesn’t run the computer 24/7.
Like Shogan, IntelGuy is also self-taught in computers. And also like Shogan, IG's process for planning a new build begins with research. He will read as many reviews from as many different sources as he can find, and then goes off in search of comments from people that actually own and use the component in question. He also likes to squeeze every drop of performance out of his equipment before moving on, which means that he is rarely the first one with any new technology.
SIK_L_CELL's method for computer building can be summed up in nine words: "Always looking for the next 'best thing'." He runs his computer overclocked at 275x11 (3025 MHz) whenever it is on, and has the philosophy that his computer has to be in a box and be capable of everyday computing. Stability and lack of video corruption are of primary importance, and to this end, he will raise (overclock) everything in the computer as high as it will go, and then back off a bit for stability and to "clean things up."
About the Machines
The Fastest Stock Computer is built around an AMD FX55 processor mounted in a Microstar International motherboard that was chosen for its dual channel and RAID capabilities. The nVidia RAID array is striped across four Western Digital 74GB Raptor hard drives. The memory is OCZ PC4200 EL, and the cooling is courtesy of VapoChill LS. No custom computer is complete without a killer graphics card, and this one sports an nVidia gForce 6800 Ultra.
The Fastest Intel OC starts with a Pentium 4 3.2 GHz Extreme Edition processor mounted in an Asus P4C800-E Deluxe motherboard, an accomplished veteran for overclocking. Two Western Digital 74GB Raptors are striped with an Intel RAID 0 controller, and the graphics are pumped out of an Ati Radeon X800XT PE. OCZ PC3700 memory was selected for the Intel rig because of its overclocking ability and excellent timings. And like the other two Top Dawg Challenge winners, this one is cooled by a VapoChill LS.
The Fastest AMD OC also uses the FX55 processor, and the MSI Neo2 Platinum motherboard. The RAID 0 array uses the vNidia RAID utility and is striped across three drives: two 120GB Sata Maxtors and an 80GB Western Digital IDE. The memory selected is Gskill PC4400LE, the fastest memory speed of the three machines, running in dual channel. The video card is a custom work in its own right, having been modified to produce higher voltages on both the GPU and memory chips. It has its own water-cooling system and is capable of producing world class benchmarking scores. And to complement the water-cooling on the graphics card, the CPU is cooled by, of course, a VapoChill LS.
Technology Marches On
There seems to be ample evidence that to build a Top Dawg computer, you're going to have to use the latest components. But the good news is that these products usually have substantial price drops after they have been on the market for a while. And the technological advances do find their way into the "value line" items in a relatively short time. Case in point, 8MB caches on hard drives have become pretty much the standard, up from 2MB. And almost every enthusiast motherboard now comes with dual channel memory support and an onboard RAID controller, items that had to be sought out not very long ago.
Or there is always the option of buying used parts from those who are constantly upgrading. As a matter of fact, none of the three Top Dawg winners still exist in the configuration they used to win their respective divisions. Shogan and SIK_L_CELL have moved on to SLI rigs and IntelGuy is collecting the parts for a 1066FSB, PCI-e, DDR2 computer. We'll see you at the next Top Dawg Challenge!