• Anatomy of a Z77 Computer - Professionally Built for Flight Simulation


    Gaiiden

    Review by Doug Horton.

     

    My good friend Howard, who’d been a flight simmer for over twenty years, took a break for a couple of years, and when he rejoined the hobby a few months ago, he recognized that his dedicated flight simulation computer was quite outdated, with several out of date components, as well as a few software issues, including:

    • Processor – dual core operating at 2.4 GHz
    • Motherboard – older processor socket, unable to host newer processors
    • Memory – older DDR2 operating at 800 MHz – about half speed of newer memory
    • Graphics card – five year old technology, limited to DirectX 10 and two monitors per card
    • Flight Simulator X Acceleration installed, but with very large accumulation of add-on aircraft and scenery files – very slow to load
    • FSX configuration file – tweaked with many questionable parameter changes
    • Older version of X-Plane installed, with interest in updating to version 10
    • FSX displayed on three monitors, connected to the graphics card with older, analog technology

    Based on review of his older system, Howard asked me for recommendations on what components he should choose in a new system. Among other recommendations, I suggested he purchase a motherboard with a Z77 chipset; an Intel i7-3770K (unlocked) processor; faster memory; and a newer graphics card that can host up to three or four monitors, with lots of room for expansion in technology utilization, such as DirectX 11 capability.

     

    I volunteered to help select and help build the new system, though Howard chose to order a new computer from Jetline Systems, which offered a model with most of the components I’d recommended. Importantly, Jetline would also test the system and save BIOS profiles for overclocking the processor up to 4.5 GHz.

     

    As Howard was placing his order, I was curious to learn more about Jetline, and I was also interested in the components of their product and what performance it would offer. The result was that Jetline provided a nearly identical sample computer for my review. The only difference was that the sample computer was furnished with a solid state drive, loaded with the Windows 7 operating system, as well as Flight Simulator X Acceleration, whereas Howard’s new computer was built with a large hard drive that’s cached with a small solid state drive, using Intel’s Smart Resource Technology that’s built into the motherboard – a subject for another article.

     

    Jetline Systems was founded in late 2006, coincident with the release of Flight Simulator X, by a veteran U.S. Air Force flight engineer. The founder’s vision was to create a high performance PC company that would directly support the flight simulation pilot community, building computers based on research, benchmark testing, and accumulated knowledge of what hardware is really best for “top of the line” flight simulation computers.

     

    Computer Components

     

    Following is a discussion of the components selected for the sample Jetline computer system. Note that Jetline customarily offers three incremental grades of computers, with several options for each product. The sample computer represents their mid-priced system with typical options installed.

     

    Case: CM Storm Scout 2. According to manufacturer Coolermaster, the Scout 2 case, called an “enclosure” on their website, provides refinements on the design of its predecessor. Case features include:

    • Innovative, ergonomic, steel reinforced 3-way carrying handle, bolted to support beams of case structure
    • Dual external USB 3.0 support for faster file transfer and high current smart phone or tablet charging (~0.9A)
    • Supports up to three optical drives, seven hard drives, and two solid state drives
    • Supports up to nine fans, including dual 120mm fans on the acrylic side panel window – furnished with two front case fans and one rear fan – all 120 mm
    • Top panel LED switch to control red LED lights of both front fans
    • Supports installation of large, high-end graphics cards, by removing one of the two hard drive cages
    • Slide out dust filters, to help protect power supply unit

    T_CM%20Storm%20Scout%202.jpg

    Coolermaster Storm Scout 2 mid-tower case, showing two optional red LED fans installed on side panel under acrylic window

     

    The case includes several options for wire routing, which were well used by the system builder to provide a very accessible, uncluttered installation of all components. For a price of about $80 US at time of writing, this case is quite impressive. My only wish would have been for the use of quick latching/unlatching hardware for the side panels, instead of using two customary thumb screws for each side panel.

     

    Motherboard: ASUS P8Z77-V Pro. Jetline Systems selected this motherboard because it facilitates easy overclocking of the i7-3770K and similar “unlocked” Intel processors. Here are some of the impressive features of this motherboard:

     

    T_ASUSBoard2.jpg
    ASUS P8Z77-V Pro motherboard

     

    More detailed information about the features of this motherboard can be found at: http://www.asus.com/Motherboards/P8Z77V_PRO/

     

    Intel® Z77 Express Chipset

    This single-chipset design supports socket LGA1155 Intel 3rd generation Intel Core processors and 2nd generation Core i7/i5/i3/Pentium /Celeron processors. It offers improved performance by utilizing serial point-to-point links, allowing increased bandwidth and stability. The Z77 chipset provides multiple USB 3.0 ports for faster data retrieval speed, and users can also enable the iGPU function, which allows users to enjoy the Intel processor’s integrated graphics capability.
     

    Dual Intelligent Processors 3 with SMART DIGI+ Power Control.

    ASUS’s Dual Intelligent Processors 3 system includes twin onboard chips: the TurboV Processing Unit (TPU) and the Energy Processing Unit (EPU).
     

    SMART DIGI+ Power Control

    This feature includes multiple digital voltage controllers, which provide for precise tuning of the voltage and wattage of the CPU, memory, and other components. There are 16 phases of power control, which take turns providing power, leading to cooler operation and longer life of the controllers. DIGI+ is controlled in the BIOS for performance optimization and selectable CPU wattage levels, which offer easy power control and better power savings. This feature is also linked to ASUS’s user-friendly AI Suite II utility.
     

    Wi-Fi GO!

    This feature adds wireless communications to the motherboard, including wireless media streaming and remote desktop operation. With the included software loaded on the computer, the included external antenna, and related apps, the system can be controlled from tablets and smart phones.
     

    Fan Xpert 2 - Customizable Fan Controls

    This feature includes a Fan Auto Tuning Mode, which scans the characteristics of each fan, with automatic fan speed detection, allowing custom speed settings of each fan, to provide the desired balance of cooling performance and low noise.
     

    Fan Xpert 2 also includes an RPM Fixed Mode for users who wish to reduce noise levels with specific fan speed control, reacting to system loads for even greater control.
     

    USB 3.0 Boost - Faster USB 3.0 Transmission with UASP

    The ASUS USB 3.0 Boost technology supports USB Attached SCSI Protocol (UASP), which is the latest USB 3.0 standard. ASUS software automatically accelerates, up to 170% according to ASUS, the data speeds for compatible USB 3.0 peripherals, without user interaction.
     

    Quad-GPU SLI and Quad-GPU/3-Way CrossFireX Support

    The P8Z77-V PRO features the user’s choice of either SLI™ or CrossFireX configuration to host two graphics cards, each of which can contain up to two GPUs.
     

    UEFI BIOS

    This feature provides the first mouse-controlled graphical BIOS designed with basic and advanced interfaces.
     

    The BIOS also natively supports hard drives larger than 2.2TB in 64-bit operating systems.

    As an upgrade, the BIOS includes an F12 command for taking screen images of the current BIOS screen, for sharing and troubleshooting, and an F3 command for displaying most accessed BIOS information.

     

    T_BIOSinterface.jpg

    UEFI BIOS, which show the EZ Mode interface when it first opens

     

    LucidLogix Virtu MVP

    This included software program boosts graphics capability by enabling the sharing of resources of the user’s discrete graphic card, if used, with the processor’s graphics resources. The software also dynamically assigns tasks to the best available graphics resource, based on power, performance, and system load.
     

    AI Suite II and TurboV EVO

    These software resources allow users to adjust frequencies, voltages, and other parameters, or utilize the Auto Tuning feature to automatically and easily overclock the system by making real-time adjustments.

     

    This motherboard is quite easy to understand, to insert components, and to run “out of the box.” The included tools were designed to use the UEFI BIOS for manual overclocking of the processor from the default performance of 3.5 to 3.9 GHz, up to 4.5 GHz in the sample system, or even higher. An as a state of the art product, the motherboard includes multiple USB 3.0 and SATA 6.0 GB/second connections.

     

    More detailed information can be found about the features of this motherboard.

     

    Processor: Intel Core i7-3770K. This mid-priced 4/8 core processor is extremely popular because it’s unlocked and relatively tolerant of overclocking. It has a default frequency of 3.5 GHz, turbo boosts to 3.9 GHz, and is routinely overclocked (on a per processor basis) to about 4.5 GHz or even higher. It also includes a graphics processing capability, so in many applications (not including flight simulation), it can be used without an add-in graphics card. With a graphics card added, and furnished software, the card and the processor can share the graphics processing load. This processor is being succeeded by the i7-4770K model, which I have not yet tested, but based on very similar specifications, including the range of default speeds, I would expect the i7-4770K to perform about the same as the i7-3770K with FSX and Prepar3D.

     

    T_i7-3770K-Box3.jpg

    Retail package for i7-3770K processor and included cooler

     

    Processor Cooler: Zalman LQ-310. This sealed-loop liquid CPU cooler works with processors that use the following motherboard socket configurations: Intel sockets 1150, 1155, 1156, 2011, and 1366; and AMD sockets AM2, AM2+, AM3, AM3+, and FM1 and FM2. This cooler and nearly identical Antec model 620 both have their radiators and pumps made by Asetek and then branded for Zalman and Antec, so the performance is likely the same if the identically specified fans are used. Here are highlights of the cooler’s principal features:

    • Built-in pump in low profile water block
    • Designed to be an ultra quiet and highly efficient water block
    • Minimized tube connections provided to reduce restrictions on coolant flow
    • Water block includes micro fins and copper base for better heat transfer from processor
    • High durability tubing, to ensure safety after long term use – no leaks
    • Ultra quiet 120mm fan and aluminum radiator, to minimize noise and maximize cooling performance
    • Mounts with included rear case fan, and an optional second, external rear fan can be added.
    • Eco-friendly glycol-based coolant with corrosion inhibitor added to prevent metal corrosion

    T_ZalmanLQ310.jpg

    Zalman LQ310 liquid CPU cooler, shown without cooing fan

     

    Memory: Kingston Hyper Beast 2 x 4 GB DDR3 1866 GHz. These memory DIMMs reflect the continuing industry production of ever faster memory with stable prices or falling prices that are lower than a few years ago. This product features a dynamic heat spreader to maximize thermal dissipation for increased reliability, and it’s includes a matching black printed circuit board. Kingston suggests that this product will “aggressively enhance any enthusiast’s system with the highest performance hardware and coolest in complementary design.” At time of writing, it was XMP-certified to work with third-generation Intel Core i5 and i7 processors and the latest AMD performance and gaming processors. It’s available in dual and quad channel kits, 8GB to 64GB capacity, speeds up to 2400MHz, and a lifetime warranty.

     

    T_KingstonHyperBeast.jpg

    Kinston Hyper Beast memory – 2 x 4 GB capacity

     

    Graphics Cards: EVGA GTX 660 Ti. An NVIDIA 600 series card was selected because the most cards in this series can operate up to four monitors, provided they are connected first to the two DVI connectors, next, to the HDMI connector, and fourth, to the DisplayPort connector. In testing, we connected three high-qualify 40” Samsung 1920 x 1080 LCD/LED television receivers, used as monitors, to this card. We chose the mid-priced GTX 660 Ti as an experiment, recognizing that if the three monitors had higher resolutions, such as 2540 x 1600 each, as found on most 30” monitors, for example, we might have moved toward a GTX 670 or 680 card. To compare, we also tested the system with an EVGA GTX 680 card. In both cases, with moderately high display configuration settings, we achieved very playable framerates.

     

    T_EVGA-660Ti.jpg

    EVGA offers eight versions of the GTX 660 Ti card.

     

    Solid State Drive: Samsung 840 Series 250 GB. This brand was chosen based on Jetline’s experience with the long-term reliability of SSDs. There is a Pro version of this SSD that has a faster Write speed, though it costs more. For gaming, the Write speed seems less important than the Read speed, which is the same for both versions of this SSD. The choice of size is based on the computer being dedicated to flight simulation with installation of FSX, Prepar3D, and X-Plane 10, plus a few add-ons, in addition to the Windows 7 Home Premium operating system and a handful of common utilities.

     

    Previous testing has confirmed that with FSX and Prepar3D, there is no framerate performance benefit from SSDs, but there is a convenience factor in having Windows and programs load faster, and there’s presumed improvement in reliability of SSDs compared to hard drives. If more storage would be needed, a hard drive or another SSD could easily be added.

     

    T_Samsung840SSD.jpg

    Retail package for Samsung 840 series 250 GB solid state drive

     

    Drive Dock: Rosewill RX-C202 3.5" SATA Trayless Hot Swap Mobile Rack. For ease of testing multiple solid state drives, Jetline furnished the sample system with an inexpensive (~$25 US) docking accessory, which can hold two 2.5” hard or solid state drives, mounted in an external 3.5” drive bay.

     

    T_Rosewill%20Dual%20Dock.jpg

    Rosewill dual “hot swap” mobile rack (dock)

     

    Power Supply Unit: PC Power & Cooling Silencer Mk II 750 Watt. This unit will easily accommodate the selected components, and it has high efficiency, with a Silver energy efficiency rating of 88%. It’s not modular, in terms of cables and connectors, but the system builder routed the cables in use with cable ties, and the unused cable ends were pushed into the lowest, vacant hard dive bay. It’s a very clean installation, with no obstructions to component access or cooling air flow.

     

    T_Silencer%20MKII%20750W.jpg

    PC Power & Cooling Silencer Mk II 750 Watt Power Supply

     

    Summary

     

    I was impressed with everything about Jetline’s professionally built mid-priced computer for flight simulation. I liked the choice of components, quality workmanship of the build, and the neat and orderly cable routing.

     

    The case design is quite handy in terms of size, weight, and accessibility, and the 3-way handle has been convenient for moving the computer several times during testing.

     

    Test Results

     

    In a follow-up article, we’ll look at test results from benchmarking FSX performance with the sample computer, including some surprising discoveries related to computer BIOS and FSX display settings, as related to framerate performance.

     

    Author’s Disclaimer: Jetline Systems is a supporting advertiser on AVSIM Online and provided the sample computer system that was used for this review. Neither the author nor other AVSIM staff has a financial interest in Jetline Systems.



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