Our Final Intel Z97 Build with Broadwell - Z97's Last Hurrah

the-hardware Back in 2012 we built a custom mini-ITX gaming PC that featured an Intel Ivy Bridge processor, Intel Z77 motherboard, NVIDIA Kepler GPU, SuperSpeed USB 3.0 and water cooling. The original build cost on our system in 2012 was $2600, so it was a high-end build using some of the best components available at the time. After that build article was done we used it for a gaming PC for a short time and then pulled out the video card to save power and have been using it for an office PC ever since. A quick look at CrystalDiskInfo shows that we've racked up nearly 16,000 hours and have written 230 Terabytes of data to the original Kingston HyperX 5K 480GB SSD. More impressive is the fact that the Kingston HyperX 5K SSD shows that it still has 100% of its life left! In fact, not one component we selected and used in the build has failed in the 3+ years that the system has been in service! hyperx5k lifespan Despite the system still performing exceptionally well we have been wanting to update it now that faster more power efficient processors are available. The Intel Core i7-3770K 'Ivy Bridge' quad-core processor is still a very capable CPU today, but it does show signs of weakness in certain tasks and one of those is 4K video playback. This is because the Z77 platform doesn't even support 4K video output with integrated graphics. Our Intel Z77 board supports HDMI and DVI with max. resolution of 1920 x 1200 and then DisplayPort with a max. resolution of 2560 x 1600 @ 60 Hz.  The new Intel Z97 boards do support 4K video output and that is a must as we move to 4K displays in the office. The Intel Core i7-5775C 'Broadwell' quad-core processor has the most powerful integrated graphics solution ever released by Intel for the desktop market, so it will be interesting to see how4K video performs on the new platform. We've also been wanting to move away from SATA and 2.5" notebook drive form factor and  embrace PCIe express and the M.2 form factor for faster, smaller and cable free storage. The Corsair AX650 power supply was one of the very few 80 PLUS Gold certified power supplies available in 2012, but here in 2015 you can find some companies offering more efficient 650W 80 PLUS Platinum power supplies. CPU Cooling technologies have also advanced since 2012 as Asetek and others have released a new generation of cooling technologies. Then to top it all off  you have new SuperSpeed+ USB 3.1 devices that are just now trickling into the market and we want to have a system that supports the latest features. While some hardware components have seen advancements over the years there are other areas that haven't really advanced. We still love the Cubitek Mini ICE ITX Case, but unfortunately the company went belly up in 2013. The market has been flooded with Mini ITX cases since 2012, but they've gotten larger and we don't want a bulky case for a Mini ITX build. DDR3 memory kits also haven't changed much since 2012. The Intel Broadwell processor supports DDR3L (Low Voltage 1.35V memory), but we checked with Kingston, Corsair and others and they only make DDR3L memory for desktop platforms that runs at up to 1600MHz. You can't get an enthusiast 16GB (2x8GB) DDR3L memory kit from any company at 1.35V that is running at 1866MHz or higher, so we just kept the kit we had. By re-using the case, peripherals, secondary storage drive, operating system and memory kit we were able to help keep the 'update' costs down. So, what did we end up going with? 2015 Broadwell Build The 2015 update of our 'Dream Mini ITX Build' runs just under $1330 shipped for all the parts. Not a low budget update by any means, but toss in a case and memory kit and you can easily duplicate the core system build here for $1500. We know that Intel Skylake and a whole new platform is due out next month, but the Intel Core i7-5775C processor should have all the Skylake processors beat when it comes to integrated graphics performance. That is because the Intel Core i7-5775C processor has 128MB of eDRAM and Intel Iris Pro Graphics 6200 with 48 execution units. The Intel Core i7-3770K processor has no eDRAM and Intel HD Graphics 4000 with just 16 execution units. Let's take a closer look at the components we picked and then move along to the build and finally the performance numbers!

Intel Broadwell Processor and Intel Z97 Board Selections

Processor: Intel Core i7-5775C  Intel Core i7-5775C Processor Intel 6th Gen Core processor 'Skylake' are in production and coming out real soon here in the second half of 2015. Intel 5th Gen Core processor 'Broadwell' was announced in June 2015, but retail boxed processors have yet to make it to market due to "supply tightness due to strong demand" and Intel "expects additional volume to be available as Q3 progresses" according to Intel Public Relations. Amazon has the Intel Core i7-5775C 'Broadwell' processor available to pre-order with an estimated in-stock date of August 14, 2015. If the Intel Skylake processors are announced the first week of August at Gamescom like they are expected to be there is a chance that you'll be able to buy a 6th Gen processor before a 5th Gen processor, which is something we've never seen happen before. Our Intel Core i7-5775C processor review showed that the Intel Broadwell microarchitecture has some strengths (graphics performance, eDRAM and 14nm process), but lackluster overall CPU performance gains over 4th Gen Core processors (Haswell) and a steep price tag have really discouraged the enthusiast community. To update our 'Dream Mini ITX' build from 2012 we wanted to go with the latest processor and since we will be running integrated graphics we actually look forward to the performance gains to be had in the graphics department. One of the joys of a 'Dream PC' is that there are no price limits! Intel Z97 Mini ITX Motherboard: ASUS Maximus VII Impact ASUS Maximus VII Impact Picking an Intel Z97 Mini ITX motherboard for our PC was pretty simple. The ASUS Maximus VII Impact is the only Intel Z97 Mini ITX motherboard on the market that has an M.2 PCI Express Gen 3.0 x4 slot for 32 Gb/s of storage goodness (when the M.2 slot it used the boards single PCIe x16 slot operates in x8 mode), Intel I218V Gigabit LAN and Realtek ALC1150 8-Channel HD Audio (SupremeFX  Impact II). This motherboard also packs ATX-level power thanks to the riser board located at the edge of the board, so you basically end up with a mini ITX board without having to sacrifice any key ATX components. This board is also part of the ROG series, so you know the UEFI BIOS will have all the overclocking and features that enthusiasts love. When we reviewed this motherboard back in 2014 we found it to be an excellent board and it continues to be our number one choice for a high-end Intel Z97 mini ITX board nearly a year after being released! At $219.99 this tiny mini ITX board has a high price tag, but it comes with pretty much every feature you'd want on an Intel Z97 board with the exception of SuperSpeed+ USB 3.1 support. ASUS Maximus VII Impact IO Panel SuperSpeed+ USB 3.1 Add-In Card: ASUS USB 3.1 Type-A 2-Port Card ASUS USB 3.1 TYPE-A CARD We wanted to support SuperSpeed USB 3.1, so we will be using an ASUS Dual Type-A USB 3.1 PCIe Add-In Card in order to support the latest USB 3.1 specification. ASUS also sells a USB 3.1 card that has a single Type-C port on it, but there isn't an add-in card available that has both Type-A and Type-C ports on it. This sucks as you'll need to pick one form factor or the other for the time being, but it should be doable. The ASUS Dual Type-A USB 3.1 PCIe Add-In Card isn't exactly inexpensive at $38.15, but we want the latest and greatest USB ports. We figured that since we wouldn't be running a discrete graphics card that this will put the  open PCIe x16  slot to good use!

M.2 PCIe SSD, CPU Water Cooler and 80 Plus Platinum PSU

M.2 PCIe SSD: Kingston HyperX Predator 480GB PCIe SSD  HyperX Predator PCIe SSD Our original Kingston HyperX 5K 480GB SSD that we used for our mini ITX build served us well, but the 512 MB/s sequential read and 302 MB/s sequential write speeds as well as the 28 MB/s random 4K read and 19 MB/s random 4K write speeds really aren't that impressive these days. We wanted something faster and we wanted to use the M.2 PCIe slot on the ASUS Maximus VII Impact motherboard. The HyperX Predator 480GB M.2 PCIe SSD (review) is the fastest readily available consumer M.2 PCIe drive on the market with sequential read/write speeds of 1400/1000 MB/s. That should more than double the performance of our old 2.5" SSD and give us that extra snap we are looking for on application load times! We also know that Kingston will release firmware updates if they are needed and fully back this drive with a 3-year warranty if something should go wrong. There are other faster M.2 PCIe SSDs on the market(Samsung SM951), but they are OEM only and installation can be a bit tricky. At $475.48 shipped the HyperX Predator 480 GB PCIe Gen2.0 x 4 card isn't necessarily inexpensive, but it is the safe play and one we are happy to take thanks to our experience with the original HyperX SATA III  SSD!  We also opted for the model with the PCIe add-in card as you never know what you'll do with this drive years down the road. CPU Water Cooler: NZXT Kraken X41 140mm All-In-One NZXT X41 Back in 2012 when we built our original mini ITX Dream PC there wasn't a 140mm All-In-One CPU liquid cooler available on the market. We had to call up our friends over at MAINGEAR to help with our build and they graciously offered to send over one of their custom made CoolIT Eco II 140mm coolers that they normally use in their F131 custom gaming PCs for our project. The good news is that 140mm All-In-One CPU Coolers have finally come to the retail market thanks to companies like NZXT. The NZXT Kraken X41 CPU Cooler was the ideal choice for our build as it's using the latest Asetek Gen 4 technology. It should also give us better cooling performance as the Kraken X41 has a 36mm thick radiator versus the 27mm thick radiator that we were previously using. Other key features include the fact that the NZXT Kraken X41 is the world's first variable speed liquid cooler, comes with a pressure optimized FXV2 PWM fan and backed by a 6-year warranty! All those features make the $108.99 price tag feel like a bargain. 80 Plus Platinum PSU: EVGA SuperNOVA 650 P2 EVGA SuperNOVA 220-P2-0650-X1 When it comes to the power supply we wanted to go with a fully modular unit that had the highest efficiency and was no more than 165mm in length since we were putting this PSU in a mini ITX case. The voluntary 80 PLUS certification program is a great way for consumers to pick out a power supply that has the efficiency levels they are looking for. We highly suggest taking a look at the 80 PLUS site when picking out a power supply to see how it tested!
80 Plus test type 115V internal non-redundant 230V internal redundant
Percentage of rated load 10% 20% 50% 100% 10% 20% 50% 100%
80 Plus 80% 80% 80%
80 Plus Bronze 82% 85% 82% 81% 85% 81%
80 Plus Silver 85% 88% 85% 85% 89% 85%
80 Plus Gold 87% 90% 87% 88% 92% 88%
80 Plus Platinum 90% 92% 89% 90% 94% 91%
80 Plus Titanium 90% 92% 94% 90% 90% 94% 96% 91%
There are a handful of 80 PLUS Titanium models listed (94% efficient at 50% load) in the 500-650W power range that we wanted, but good luck finding a retailer stocking China Great Wall GW-EPS550DA (94+), Enhance Electonics ATX-1850 or CFS Sales KRPW-TI700W/94+ power supplies here in the United States. While there are 26 80 PLUS Titanium power supplies on the market this very second it will be nearly impossible to find a low Watt model that is fully modular and available to purchase. The good news is that there are 353 80 PLUS Platinum power supplies (92% efficient at 50% load) on the market and companies like EVGA just announced new lower Wattage 80 PLUS Platinum models. We ended up selecting the EVGA SuperNOVA 650 P2 for our build as we know the SuperNOVA P2 series is superb and it fit perfectly with our desire to build the most efficient machine possible without sacrificing quality. With 54.1 Amps on the single +12V, 92% efficiancy at 50% load, a silent fan at modest load levels (EVGA ECO) and a 10-year warranty made this fully modular power supply the best choice from our perspective. The EVGA SuperNOVA 650 P2 runs $119.99 shipped shipped on Amazon, but there is a 10% promotion right now that brings the price down to $108.00 and that is a fair price for a high-end PSU with all the bells and whistles you'd want in your system. EVGA SuperNOVA 220-P2-0650-X1 PSU

Surgery For The Mini ITX PC

Since the original build article featured step by step installation procedures we are just going to give you a really high level look at how everything went into the system. asus maximus vii impact z97 This first shot might not look like we did anything, but the Intel Core i7-5775C processor has been seated and secured in the LGA1150 socket and the HyperX Predator 480GB M.2 PCIe SSD has been placed in the M.2 slot that is inside the ASUS MPCIE COMBO IV riser housing. The M.2 card simply slides into the house and is held in place by just the pressure of the metal pins in the M.2 slot! Z97 Board Installed Installing the ASUS Maximus VII Impact motherboard and the NZXT Kraken X41 liquid CPU cooler can be tricky as there really isn't much space to work inside a true Mini ITX case. We had no issues getting the board in, but we discovered that the radiator used on the NZXT Kraken X41 is not only thicker, but also longer than the previous 140mm radiator on the CoolIT ECO II 140. The slime optical Blu-Ray SATA drive was able to be connected, but the AFT Pro-37U media card reader was unable to be connected as the pair of USB 3.0 Type B cables were just to bulky to be routed around the new cooler. We might go back to the CoolIT ECO II 140 if we miss it too much! Broadwell System Built The final step is installing the power supply and we flipped it 180 degrees this time to see how it impacts board temperatures. We have all the needed power cables for the ASUS Maximus VII Impact motherboard and then SATA and 4-pin molex cables being used, so it was extremely tough to shoehorn everything in the chassis and make it look presentable!

Some Quick Ivy Bridge Versus Broadwell Benchmarks

system-score Our old Intel Ivy Bridge platform scored a 6.5 base score in the Windows Experience Index in Windows 7 and the lowest score was the Graphics component in the test. windows-score   On the new Intel Broadwell platform we scored a 7.4 base score thanks to the improved Graphics performance in Broadwell. None of the other subscores changed. 3dmark-3770k We ran 3DMark Sky Diver on both systems and got an overall score of 2,266 on the Intel Core i7-3770K system with a graphics score of 1,966 and a Physics score of 10,201. 3dmark-5775c On the new Intel Core i7-5775C system we scored 6,670 on Sky Diver with a graphics sub-score of 6,243 and an overall physics score of 10,968. As you can see the Broadwell system with Intel Iris Pro Graphics 6200 is getting the bulk of the performance gains from improved graphics. aida64-3770k Here are the results from the Core i7-3770K system. As you can see we were getting around 27,000 to 28,000 MB/s speeds and had a latency of 47.1 ns. aida64-broadwell The latest version of AIDA64 is not optimized for Broadwell and a warning pops up stating this as soon as the benchmark completes. The read/write/copy benchmarks are all higher than Ivy Bridge, but the latency is much higher at 59.6 ns. Both systems were tested with the same exact memory kit! 4k-handbrake We next wanted to run 4K (3840x2160) video editing tests, so we downloaded HandBrake 0.10.2 and converted our 5.00GB 4K MOV clip from our GoPro camera to an MP4. handbrake-results   The Intel Broadwell platform had a 15.8% higher average frame rate and we were able to complete the workload just over six minutes faster! mediashow-quicksync2 Next we used that same 4K 5.00GB movie clip and used CyberLink MediaEspresso 7 with Intel QuickSync video enabled (hardware encoding and decoding) to convert the file to the Apple iPhone 6 Plus with the better quality profile. mediaexpresso7 When Intel QuickSync video is used you'll see a massive 38% reduction in conversion time from our Intel Ivy Bridge platform and the new Intel Broadwell platform! If you are running software that uses Intel QuickSync, you should see nice performance gains over older processors! cdm Testing a 3-year old Kingston HyperX 5K 480GB SATA SSD versus a brand new HyperX Predator 480GB M.2 PCIe SSD that just had Windows 7 and our base applications installed on it for a week feels wrong, but it shows real world performance on systems that have been used. The sequential and random write performance saw the largest performance increases, but most all of the read tests also improved. We were a bit shocked to see the 4K QD32 test actually lower on the new drive, but we ran the benchmark multiple times and the results were constant. cdm-new Here is a look at the performance on the HyperX Predator 480GB M.2 PCIe SSD right after we installed Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit and all 251 Windows Updates that are needed! Most of these performance numbers are higher than our week old drive numbers shown above and we are showing this to show the difference between a 'fresh' and 'used' SSD. gigabit-lan We ran a quick Gigabit LAN test to set out the performance on new Intel I218V controller and was happy to see we were hitting 112.3 MB/s on our office network that uses Netgear switches. Not bad considering the theoretical limit of a Gigabit network is 125 MB/s and we all know theoretical speed limits are seldom actually obtained in the real world due to network overhead. Let's take a look at Power Consumption and Tempeartures!

Broadwell Power & Temperatures

power-consumption One of the reasons we updated our Ivy Bridge system to Broadwell was to get better efficiency at idle and light workloads, so we were hopeful that we'd see some power savings. With the system turned off and just plugged into the wall we found the new Broadwell platform consumed 1.4W of power while the old Ivy Bridge system used 0.8W of power. We are off to a bad start! With the  systems up and at idle with two displays plugged into each board we found the Intel Core i7-5775C Broadwell platform used 39 Watts of power versus 53 Watts on the Intel Core i7-3770K Ivy Bridge processor. This is a 26% reduction in idle power and is exactly what we were looking for! At load the 5775C and Z97 platform used 143 Watts, which is more than the 125 Watts of power used on the 3770K and Z77 platform. idle-temp The CPU Temperature at an idle was a very respectable 27C with the case doors on and in a room that was 24C. We were a little concerned due to the fact that the airflow isn't the greatest, but the idle temperatures on the Intel Core i7-5775C Broadwell 14nm processor were impressive thanks to the NZXT Kraken X41. prime-load When running Prime 95 64-bit we had the CPU loaded up at 100% and the temperature peaked at 70C, but was often at around 68-69C and there was no thermal throttling! recovery-temp Recovery time was pretty unreal as we went from 70C to 31C in under 10 seconds! We are using the pre-applied thermal paste on the NZXT Kraken X41 CPU cooler and will later try changing that out with other thermal material and to ensure that CPU cooler is fully seated as we didn't expect to see a ~40C temperature drop that quickly!

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

Intel announced a pair of socketed desktop Broadwell processors on June 2, 2015 and getting your hands on the nearly two month old processor is still next to impossible. Amazon shows an in-stock date of August 16th for the Intel Core i7-5775C processor that we used today for this piece.  Unfortunately that date is after the rumored launch date for Intel 6th Generation Skylake processor and the new Z170 platform. Most hardcore enthusiasts are waiting for Skylake as they want the latest processor and new 100-series chipset board with the new CPU socket and DDR4 memory support. The fact that you'll likely be able to buy a Skylake processor on Amazon or Newegg before Broadwell is very unusual, but Broadwell was badly delayed. If you happen to find a Broadwell processor in the months ahead for a good price it might make for an interesting build. We wanted to update a PC with integrated graphics and we think the Broadwell processor gave us a nice little performance boost over the Ivy Bridge processor that we were using. We got a much faster feeling system thanks to recent advances in storage drives and ended up with a better overall system. The processor improvements are welcomed, but so is the improved audio, power efficiency, USB 3.1 ports, Intel I218V Gigabit LAN and so on. We are happy with the overall system build, but we did run into one minor Windows 7 sleep issue and have let Intel and ASUS know about it. Chances are they'll be able to release another UEFI/BIOS update and fix the issue! 2015 Broadwell Build   The 2015 update of our 'Dream Mini ITX Build' runs just under $1330 shipped for all the parts. After you add in a case a DDR3 memory kit you should be able to duplicate the core system build here for $1500. This will likely be our final article on Broadwell as we will shift our focus to Skylake from this point on. If you have any Broadwell questions be sure to ask and we'll try to answer them for you. Intel Broadwell Coverage on Legit Reviews: