With all of the products that make their way through the lab here at TweakTown, an intense amount of work goes into keeping our hardware and operating systems up to date to present our readers with the most accurate information possible.
In the last few months, I have begun to retire my aging x58 system that I used for network testing and started validation using my recently acquired x79. In addition to this in the last few weeks we swapped out our Z77 UP5 TH for a shiny GIGABYTE Z97 UD7 TH. Swapping out our Z77 to the latest mainstream Z97 chipset should present to many changes other than we will have the ability to test Thunderbolt 2 devices in Windows along with what we have been doing with OS X and the MacBook Pro.
As you can see in the image above, the Z97X UD7 TH is part of the Ultra Durable series of motherboards from GIGABYTE. This board carries a copper/gold color scheme and a black PCB. With this new motherboard we gained a single SATAe port along with six SATA 6Gb/s ports allowing us to do four drive RAID reviews.
The rear I/O of the UD7 TH is stacked with all kind of goodies. As you can see we have six USB 3.0 ports, though only the two stacked above the Thunderbolt port are derived straight from the chipset without a hub between, finally and most notable are the dual Thunderbolt 2 ports powered by the Intel L5520 and the main reason we went for this upgrade.
With the introduction of the new X99 platform from Intel, the X79 counterpart has started to become quite easy to get your hands-on for a great price. While the chips can still demand a good price tag that may change as more combos hit forums in for sale threads. I was able to pick up this ASUS Rampage IV Gene relatively cheap and after fixing a single bent pin I was able to fire the system up with a 8-core 16 thread Xeon and begin stability testing.
Above you can see the board as I received it apart from the CPU of course. The ASUS Rampage IV Gene is really one of the best overclocking mATX boards for x79, and even though we will not being doing any of that with our Xeon onboard I like to have the option there if ever needed. Apart from the great BIOS options the IV Gene gives us dual PCIe x16 slots with an additional x8 slot.
Above, we have two of the NICs used in testing networking gear. The 6 port HotLava sits underneath the very fast ASUS PCE-AC68
Next up, we have the Seagate 600 Pro SSDs. These are 200GB variants i have had around for quite awhile and decided to use them as OS drives for the new builds.
In order to run more VMs, we had to do some upgrading to our memory we were going to install on the x79. As you can see we have six 8GB sticks of ADATA 1333 for that.
The Z97 test system uses my all time favorite memory sticks, Dominator Platinum 2800MHz and even though we dont run it at peak speeds it sure looks good in the test system.
About a year ago, I bit the bullet and grabbed a Qnix 2710LED Evolution II. The resolution upgrade was fantastic but I quickly found that these monitors need GPU power to push that resolution. To combat that situation I grabbed a GTX 780,770 and 760 for the test systems although the 760 ended up in my wife's rig rather quick.
The most important part of any test system, whether its an enthusiast grade x79 or x99 or a consumer platform like our Z97, is the power supply. Over the years i have had quite a few power supplies, some that were great and some that were.......not so great. The Thermaltake Toughpower is one lineup I have had great success with and hence why all of my machines are powered by them. As you can see we have a great range of Toughpowers in house, from the original 1200w beast down to the latest Toughpower DPS-G 1050 watt.
That pretty much does it for the hardware bits we will be using for the time being, though I do see a third machine in the near future. Of course, we wont be running these systems with your run of the mill air cooling solutions, in fact in part two of this blog series we will look at setting these machines up on test benches and getting them watercooled, something I have been wanting to do for quite some time. Until next time