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Steam Machine by day, cruncher by night?

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#1
I've been looking for a motherboard and processor to kick off my steambox build, but I've been having difficulty deciding where I'd like to sit for hardware. The games will be newer controller-enabled titles at 1080p, but I won't be expecting MegaUltra graphics quality out of it.
I would like overclocking to be an option whenever possible.

Budget is expressed in price for additional parts. New parts are at cost while using hardware laying around is the value I could sell it at divided by my laziness coefficient (which is currently around 1.75). My current budget is flexible. I'd be comfortable up to about $300-ish, but can likely be convinced otherwise if the return is justifiable. I'll also have a second build coming soon, so the parts list below won't be just sitting around otherwise.

Hardware laying around:
Xigmatek Aquila
Something or other 1TB SATA drive (possibly 3x)
BFG 550/650 watt 80+ Bronze
Seasonic 760 watt 80+ Platinum
2x Radeon HD 5870 2GB
2x Radeon HD 6950 2GB (flashed to 6970, currently in sig rig)
Radeon HD 7870
Phenom II X2 550 (or possibly X6 1100T)
CoolIt Evo II (OEM Corsair H60)
Various watercooling parts, blocks, res, rads, etc

The PII X6 is waiting to be swapped in to a 790FX machine which currently has the PII X2, but can be stolen for the steambox. The 7870 is in the X2 machine and is pretty much just there for folding. Would like to put it to use.

My current build ideas are as follows:

Modesty, ~$150
CPU = Embedded APU? Intel Pentium?
Mobo = UEFI preferred, mini-ITX/uATX, PCI-e 1x or integrated WiFi
GPU = HD 7870
PSU = BFG 650

Modesty would likely focus on just being a steambox. That would mean value for performance, low core count, and high clock speed purely for single-threaded performance, the idea being most games don't take advantage of much more than that. I don't think the CPU would be strong enough to warrant 24/7 crunching, but I'd fire it up during competitions at least. Ability to overclock considered a bonus.
I may use the HD 5870s as long as they idle down to near nothing and fit on the board, the power hit over the 7870 shouldn't be substantial.
Pros: Fast enough for games (I hope), low idle power, low cost


The Fifth Star, $200-300
CPU = AMD FX-6xxx or Intel Core i3
Mobo = UEFI preferred, 2x PCI-e 16x, uATX at most, PCI-e 1x or integrated WiFi
GPU = 2x Radeon HD 5870
PSU = Seasonic 760w

Mostly same as above, except I'd beef up the CPU to make sure it can churn out some nice WCG numbers. I shouldn't be too far away from getting my fifth star on my WCG badge. If it's on 24/7 to crunch, I'd prefer the Seasonic PSU. If I'm going to have the power of the Seasonic PSU, I might as well give it the HD 5870s. This is my most preferred plan at the moment. Also gives the option to buy a second 7870 in the future and churn out
Pros: PPD/watt, PSU power efficiency, hardware value sweet spot


Fury of a Thousand Suns, $???
CPU = AMD FX-6xxx/FX-8xxx or Intel Core i5/i7
Mobo = UEFI preferred, uATX at most, 2x PCI-e
GPU = Radeon 7870 (possibly purchase a second one)
PSU = Seasonic 760w

The least-thought out of the three, this is basically my "I don't care if my steambox is faster than sig-rig and I don't really need to eat. These aren't tears." plan. Make it crunch, make it fold, make it kick butt.
Pros: dat PPD tho, maybe my new therapist will be cute


So, Steam Machine that occasionally crunches, or Crunch Machine that occasionally games?

@thebluebumblebee said to tag @Norton and @newtekie1 for some advice from DCers.
 
Last edited:

Norton

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#2
Well to stick with mini ITX or mATX the AM3+ option is off the table, no mini-ITX for AM3+ and mATX AM3+ boards are budget crap mostly.

What are the preferred spec's from Valve for a Steam box?
 
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#3
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#4
Find the cheapest lga1155 i5 or higher that you can find. Get a cheaper overclockable itx or matx lga1155 motherboard. Overclock. WIN!

On gpu. Steam recommends you don't use amd gpu's yet because amd drivers are a pain on linux. Save yourself some sanity there. One of the folders just tried getting folding to work on amd on linux and it wasn't pretty. Folding can be expensive on power, so maybe don't go all out on the gpu either. A good mid range 600 or 700 series card will do.
 
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#5
Well to stick with mini ITX or mATX the AM3+ option is off the table, no mini-ITX for AM3+ and mATX AM3+ boards are budget crap mostly.

What are the preferred spec's from Valve for a Steam box?
I tend to agree about the AM3 stuff. Unless I go with the X2, I don't think most of those boards are going to have strong VRMs.

Since it's just a PC, most anything goes. Here's the SteamOS recommended hardware:
Processor: Intel or AMD 64-bit capable processor
Memory: 4GB or more RAM
Hard Drive: 500GB or larger disk
Video Card: NVIDIA graphics card (AMD and Intel graphics support coming soon!) (Ed: Actually, it's already here!)
Additional: UEFI boot support, USB port for installation

This board isn't what I would call "crap" per se, as it gives a decent option for ram, but only one PCIe slot, which limits you slightly:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813157323

If you aren't going to do heavy gaming, and mostly crunching, then all you'll really need is this for RAM:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231394

Slap in the 7870, and use your BFG PSU, and that will keep you below your 150 "modest" cap.
A mATX AM3+ board was my original idea too, but I'm shying away from that 760 chipset, no UEFI, limited CPU overclocking potential, and single PCI-e slot. I do have a board for the X2, so it won't go to waste, thankfully. If I didn't, I'd be more concerned about making sure I use it.
Having two PCI-e slots is decently high up on my list of important things to have, but I'm not sure if it's a dealbreaker. If I go for the "Modest" tier, I'll probably end up getting a board like that. Sig-rig has an ASRock board and I quite like it.
That RAM might get by even for heavy gaming, depending on how stripped down Steam's linux is. I might bump up to 8GB, but yeah. Value RAM would be fine.
:toast:
Find the cheapest lga1155 i5 or higher that you can find. Get a cheaper overclockable itx or matx lga1155 motherboard. Overclock. WIN!

On gpu. Steam recommends you don't use amd gpu's yet because amd drivers are a pain on linux. Save yourself some sanity there. One of the folders just tried getting folding to work on amd on linux and it wasn't pretty. Folding can be expensive on power, so maybe don't go all out on the gpu either. A good mid range 600 or 700 series card will do.
By "cheap i5 + overclock", you mean raise FSB? I wouldn't completely hate an i5-4670K if it wasn't for the price. I think everything under that has a locked multi, doesn't it?
I'd prefer not to buy another card, but I agree the 5870s aren't ideal. I'm just using them because they'd be sitting around otherwise. Selling the 5870s and using that money to buy a new card could be an option. Could be a F@H-beneficial option. A 750 Ti looks like it's about $150 which places it (hopefully) in the nearly free category. I'd prefer a second 7870, honestly. Crossfire for when the games kick up, lots PPD when it's idle. I'd consider selling my 6950s as well, but then I'd have to buy GPUs for the main rig and while a 780 Ti/290 wouldn't break the bank, it would seriously maim it. I likely wouldn't have the self-control to get anything else. :p
 
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#6
By "cheap i5 + overclock", you mean raise FSB? I wouldn't completely hate an i5-4670K if it wasn't for the price. I think everything under that has a locked multi, doesn't it?
I'd prefer not to buy another card, but I agree the 5870s aren't ideal. I'm just using them because they'd be sitting around otherwise. Selling the 5870s and using that money to buy a new card could be an option. Could be a F@H-beneficial option. A 750 Ti looks like it's about $150 which places it (hopefully) in the nearly free category. I'd prefer a second 7870, honestly. Crossfire for when the games kick up, lots PPD when it's idle. I'd consider selling my 6950s as well, but then I'd have to buy GPUs for the main rig and while a 780 Ti/290 wouldn't break the bank, it would seriously maim it. I likely wouldn't have the self-control to get anything else. :p
By cheap i5 I mean a used 2500k or better. If you can find one used they are pretty good prices. A 3 year old cpu that performs closely as this years model.

My 750ti's are great. Honestly overperforming on beta's at the moment, but I expect it to come down eventually to just under 7850 performance.
 

Norton

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#7
My suggestion would be to pick up a decent mATX socket 1150 board with crossfire support and a cheap i3 for now and go play ;) You have 5x video cards to mess with in a variety of configurations and you can pick up a better chip later on when folks unload for the next big thing.

My $0.02 ;)
 
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#8
Looking at the hardware you already have:

Buy:
- Used Gigabyte 880GM-USB3 rev.3.1(AM3+ version). If you want something with warranty, http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813128565

I own two 880GM-USB3s and they own, considering that the VRMs aren't sinked. I have a 1090t OCed to 3.8Ghz running 12/7 on one of them. As always, YMMV.
The 78LMT-USB3 is good but not as good. CAUTION, stay away from the 78LMT-S2(P) since those are 3+1 boards, the USB3 version is 4+1.

- 4GB of DDR3-1600 RAM, or spring for DDR3-1866 if price is almost the same. The 880GM-USB3 can run 1866 modules by OCing the bus speed.


Build:
- X6 1100t
-Gigabyte 880GM-USB3 rev.3.1
-4GB of RAM
- HD7870. I have one on my Steambox/HTPC and it's godly. You'd be hard pressed to justify using an Xfire setup for 1080p
- 1TB disk. RAID0? + another disk for Linux+BOINC so that you can maximize your PPD.
-Xigmatek Aquila
- Seasonic 80+platinum (you're going to run it 24/7)
- AIO cooler

Then again, I'm a fan of building rigs out of spare parts so you might want to start fresh. :toast:
 

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#9
I have not been crunching with the AMD side much, but when I did, the performance was not what I hoped. Aside from the monster crunchers I have now, the best performance per watt I've seen has been the i7 3770K, I got a delidded one for $180 around the time they were new, but can't swear to what they go for now. I would recommend at least an i3 or i5 though.
 
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#10
AMD GPUs don't run well in Linux, I've tried several times over almost two years including with Folding@Home several weeks ago. Only NVIDIA has offered me performance comparable to Windows. I could give my new 280X a try, but doubtful things are much better with their drivers.
 
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#11
I have not been crunching with the AMD side much, but when I did, the performance was not what I hoped. Aside from the monster crunchers I have now, the best performance per watt I've seen has been the i7 3770K, I got a delidded one for $180 around the time they were new, but can't swear to what they go for now. I would recommend at least an i3 or i5 though.
My 8350s were getting 6-7K each. After MCM rolled out their PPD plummeted to 3-3.5K. That's why I suspect that MCM uses FPU instructions since the FX modules are 2 integer + 1 FPU
 
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#12
By cheap i5 I mean a used 2500k or better. If you can find one used they are pretty good prices. A 3 year old cpu that performs closely as this years model.

My 750ti's are great. Honestly overperforming on beta's at the moment, but I expect it to come down eventually to just under 7850 performance.
I did a little eBay hunting earlier to get an idea on how much Intel CPUs are going for. What's ballpark for a good second-hand 2500k?
I think I might forgo a GPU and put that money towards the mobo/cpu. GPU prices are still a little high for my tastes.

My suggestion would be to pick up a decent mATX socket 1150 board with crossfire support and a cheap i3 for now and go play ;) You have 5x video cards to mess with in a variety of configurations and you can pick up a better chip later on when folks unload for the next big thing.

My $0.02 ;)
That's what I'm starting to think. Maybe a Z87/Z97 and something nice to play around with? I have a few options for water cooling laying around ranging from quiet to somewhat extreme. The old 2600k looks like it's still going for $200-ish, 2500k for ~$130. I'd have to go 1155 for that, but it doesn't seem completely outside the realm of possibility.

Looking at the hardware you already have:

Buy:
- Used Gigabyte 880GM-USB3 rev.3.1(AM3+ version). If you want something with warranty, http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813128565

I own two 880GM-USB3s and they own, considering that the VRMs aren't sinked. I have a 1090t OCed to 3.8Ghz running 12/7 on one of them. As always, YMMV.
The 78LMT-USB3 is good but not as good. CAUTION, stay away from the 78LMT-S2(P) since those are 3+1 boards, the USB3 version is 4+1.

- 4GB of DDR3-1600 RAM, or spring for DDR3-1866 if price is almost the same. The 880GM-USB3 can run 1866 modules by OCing the bus speed.


Build:
- X6 1100t
-Gigabyte 880GM-USB3 rev.3.1
-4GB of RAM
- HD7870. I have one on my Steambox/HTPC and it's godly. You'd be hard pressed to justify using an Xfire setup for 1080p
- 1TB disk. RAID0? + another disk for Linux+BOINC so that you can maximize your PPD.
-Xigmatek Aquila
- Seasonic 80+platinum (you're going to run it 24/7)
- AIO cooler
Then again, I'm a fan of building rigs out of spare parts so you might want to start fresh. :toast:
I don't mind this being a spare parts build. I originally intended it to be one until I realized the Xigmatek case only fit a mATX board. If I have to get a new board, I figure I might as well try something new, either an APU or something Intel. The X6 will definitely crunch no matter what the outcome of this build is and I'd like to experiment with new things if I can. The X2 will likely crunch as well, except it'll be on an AM2+ board, I think.
If my wallet wins, I'll probably do something similar to what you suggest. I'd like to crossfire just for the awesomeness, the occasional eye-candy in games, and the F@H PPD. Two 7870s should put the perfect load on the PSU for best efficiency too. The wallet will probably win this battle though.

I have not been crunching with the AMD side much, but when I did, the performance was not what I hoped. Aside from the monster crunchers I have now, the best performance per watt I've seen has been the i7 3770K, I got a delidded one for $180 around the time they were new, but can't swear to what they go for now. I would recommend at least an i3 or i5 though.
My 8350 threw down some pretty serious points back on some old WUs, but it's not doing as well on anything these days (similar to TRWOV in the post above). If I find a decently priced 3770K, I might just spring for it. I don't know how I'll feel if it outperforms my main rig though. :cry:
 
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#13
I did a little eBay hunting earlier to get an idea on how much Intel CPUs are going for. What's ballpark for a good second-hand 2500k?

That's what I'm starting to think. Maybe a Z87/Z97 and something nice to play around with? I have a few options for water cooling laying around ranging from quiet to somewhat extreme. The old 2600k looks like it's still going for $200-ish, 2500k for ~$130. I'd have to go 1155 for that, but it doesn't seem completely outside the realm of possibility.
$130 sounds good for a 2500k. I mentioned this route because it has high ppd per $.
 

brandonwh64

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#14
2500K is a good chip for gaming but crunching you will be missing out on the four additional threads that the HT gives the I7. 200$ is an OK price for a 2600K but I sold a 2600K and P67 board a while back for like 230$. 175$ would be the best target price if you can find one and if you do I would just throw it in a stable board with no OCing since you are pulling double duty on this machine. This would give you the benefit of 8 threads and the ability to do heavy gaming.
 
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#16
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#17
Take a look at this
http://www.techpowerup.com/forums/threads/i7-3770k-cpu-240-shipped.202742/
but seeing you budget and options you better just pick up an i5-2500k as you said for 130$ and buy an Z77 motherboard.
I can't lie, it's tempting.

New ASRock Z77M + used i5-2500K comes out to about $220. Another $80-ish for memory and that puts an overclockable Intel right at the high end of the "Fifth Star" tier.

Gunslinger just posted a FS thread, "4790K and 5x G3258's" with some tempting prices (I think). The G3258 plus a good board would likely make a very nice Steambox. It won't be brilliant when it comes to WCG, but it's low-power enough to warrant running F@H. Also has lots of good reports of overclocking.
With a G3258, I'd probably be looking at the ASRock Z97M OC Formula for a total of $271.90 with 2x4GB RAM. Less if I can find used and/or talk down Gunslinger (seems decent though).
I like this right now. Strong base board, good upgrade potential. Any suggestions for a different board? I'm considering the following as alternatives:
ASRock Z97M Pro4
Asus Z97M-PLUS
Gigabyte GA-Z97MX-Gaming 5
..or would a Z87 board be just as good? They don't seem to be cheaper.
 
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#18
$130 sounds good for a 2500k. I mentioned this route because it has high ppd per $.
The 2500k is also ludicrously overclockable. I had mine at 4.9ghz
 
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#19
The 2500k is also ludicrously overclockable. I had mine at 4.9ghz
Mine tops out at 4.8ghz at high volts, so I keep it around 4.4 most of the time. But, as in my first post it is a cheap overclockable cpu that performs fantastic.
 
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#20
I can't lie, it's tempting.
For 55$ it shore seems tempting, and if you get an z97 board now it will let you update to anything else in the future if needed.
The only thing that concerns me is how good it can handle games since I haven't looked at any benchmarks yet.
 
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#21
I can get mine to 4.9, Z77E-ITX :) (TBQH its usually set to stock).


Highly recommend the i5 if you can find one for a good price. Also look for i5-2400.
 
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#22
Also look for i5-2400.
I already offered the OP a i5 2400 and MSI H67 motherboard for around $150. I'm actually leaving here in about 15 mins to go pick it up. If the OP don't want it, I'm sure another cruncher will take it off my hands.
 

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#23
Mine tops out at 4.8ghz at high volts, so I keep it around 4.4 most of the time. But, as in my first post it is a cheap overclockable cpu that performs fantastic.
Im sure i could have squeezed more out of it. I probably could have even got 5.1 or 5.2Ghz, but really what would be the point? I was running 1.38v and the temps were just amazing
 
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#24
Im sure i could have squeezed more out of it. I probably could have even got 5.1 or 5.2Ghz, but really what would be the point? I was running 1.38v and the temps were just amazing
1.38v is really good for that. I needed 1.48v for 4.8ghz. To keep this on topic, this is potentially what the OP could be looking at.
 
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#25
Thought I'd posted this earlier, but I see it's still a draft. I went with one of Gunslinger's Pentiums and Norton had a mini ITX board that had more pros (wireless, right price, low power) than cons (single PCI-e, two DIMM slots, it's red :cry:). More below.

This talk has been steering in to my second build, which currently doesn't have any direction. Might just crunch at the moment, which makes all this CPU talk still quite relevant. BlueBumbleBee said he had some 2600K vs 3???K comparisons from the last WCG challenge that I'm quite interested in.
Anyways, the original message is below.

I think I can get you a i5 2400 with a MSI H67 GD43 motherboard from my local CL for about $150. HMU if you want it. http://norfolk.craigslist.org/sys/4553112187.html
The case only fits a mATX at best, sadly. I am looking at a second build in the not too distant future that would fit it, but we'll see how quickly I can get it going. That build doesn't have any particular purpose at the moment and I'm torn between a few options. Do you think you'll use it yourself or just pass it along?
For 55$ it shore seems tempting, and if you get an z97 board now it will let you update to anything else in the future if needed.
The only thing that concerns me is how good it can handle games since I haven't looked at any benchmarks yet.
I've been talking to Norton about a mini ITX z97 Z87 that it looks like I'm probably going to get (edit: did get). I nabbed one of the Pentiums from Gunslinger after I checked some benchmarks. I saw some reviews on it showing most games ran quite well relative to the modern quad cores. Upgradability is certainly one of the things I like about going this route. The mini ITX's two DDR slots and one PCI-e slot take away a fair amount of expansion options, but the LGA1150 socket should give me a few nice options for CPUs in the future. With hope, it'll hold it's value and can be sold/moved if I find I really need more slots.