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Core i7 Christmas '08 Graphics Performance

Building our new test rigs

We started thinking about upgrading our graphics card test systems to Intel's Core i7 processors long before Nvidia announced that it would open up SLI for Intel's X58 chipset but that news made it even more of an immediate concern.

In the months following Nvidia's announcement, we looked at a number of X58 motherboards in the hope to determine what the best motherboard would be to satisfy all of our requirements within a reasonable timeframe. There were really only two contenders for this role based on the early testing we had done – they were MSI's Eclipse SLI and the Asus P6T Deluxe.

The Asus P6T Deluxe really caught our eyes because it was the first board that we found was really ready for the prime time, but its lack of support for 3-way SLI and triple card CrossFire was a major downside for us.

That may seem a little strange because we would only be testing such configurations on rare occasions; however, it would mean completely re-running all of our tests on another motherboard in order to make a completely direct comparison across the range of configurations we would be testing. That negated the benefit of having a rock solid board like the P6T.

Core i7 Christmas '08 Graphics Performance Building our new rigs
Just one of our Core i7 test systems

And so we ended up waiting for MSI to iron out the problems on its Eclipse SLI motherboard. We opted for this board not only because is it a high-end motherboard designed for the hardcore gamer and budding overclocker, but because it also includes support for 3-way SLI and triple card CrossFire as well – a big bonus for us.

MSI kitted us out with not one, but three Eclipse SLI motherboards, enabling us to really bash out results in record time when the going got tough. Typically, we only have a couple of graphics systems running at any one time, as that is more than enough to handle the general flow of graphics card reviews on bit-tech.

Core i7 Christmas '08 Graphics Performance Building our new rigs Core i7 Christmas '08 Graphics Performance Building our new rigs
Click to enlarge

However, when we're testing a brand new architecture, completely re-testing everything or introducing new games, the additional bandwidth greatly reduces the number of hours required to get our numbers run. Generally speaking, it's not the man hours we have available that usually limit us when it comes to benchmarking graphics cards as a lot of our tests are automated these days; instead, it's literally the number of hours in a day that holds us back.

There's more to a system than a motherboard though and we have to extend our thanks to Corsair and Intel for helping us out with additional components to make up the rest of our core test platform. Corsair supplied us with 12GB of DDR3 1,333MHz CAS9 memory (two 6GB kits), while Intel helped us out with a couple of Core i7 940 processors, which we'll be overclocking pretty heavily as you'll see on our test setup page.