NVIDIA 560 Ti to 750 Ti GPU upgrade makes Core i7 Z68 system quieter, faster, cooler, using half the power
Our family's gZilla gaming system is based on an Intel Core i7 2600K and an ASRock Z68 motherboard, from mid 2011. This system started life hidden in our basement, with 2 video cables running up to the family room's 55" TV one floor above it, and to a 24" monitor next to the TV, where the keyboard and mouse are also situated. This arrangement meant that heat and noise from the PC weren't really an issue. Cloned screens meant spectators in the family room could enjoy watching one of my sons, a Grand Master StarCraft II champion, do his thing. live streamed to the world, but also enjoyed by those in the room, from the comfort of the couch. All good fun. Let's look at the timeline of system changes.
Inside this rig, I had implemented a dual NVIDIA 560 TI in an SLI configuration, and an Intel RST-based RAID0 based on 3 7200rpm drives. This was the only way to affordably have enough storage for numerous games. SSD came later.
The first thing to go away was one of the two 560 Ti cards, since gZilla had enough grunt to play the games it needed to with just one GPU. This reduced the issue with the dreaded NVIDIA "Display driver stopped responding" TDR error, but didn't eliminate it. Eventually, we used this strange work-around, that did it. Phew! Here's some pictures taken right after the 2nd GPU was removed, with RAID0 cabling evident.
The next step to simplification was removal of the heavy array of 3 3.5" drives. It finally made financial sense to go with fewer games, on a single 256GB Samsung 830 Pro SSD. Also made lifting the system considerably easier. Of course, the SSD made the speed so very much better as well.
It was noticed that the PC's overall watt burn with one 560 Ti was still rather high:
BEFORE (One 560 Ti and Core i7 System, booted)
About 250 watts under load, and 120 watts at idle.
GPU exhaust air at 102°F maximum.
3DMark 11 result of P5036.
See also video below. Not great by 2014 standards. And really not suited for the cramped dorm room space it's headed to, where the benefits of greater efficiency would be very noticeable, in the form of greatly reduced fan noise and heat.
So, August of 2014 became the time for a refresh.
First, we plucked anything out that wasn't needed. This meant drive cages, media cables, and other bits and pieces were removed, from that robust and handsome IntelliStation ZPro case. Much better airflow, and less fan cooling needed.
Second, I found some power button, power LED, and HDD activity extension cables that allowed me to adapt the original, proprietary harness to my Z68 mobo's pins. Actually found these locally, with a quick trip to my local Cables & Connectors. Almost too easy.
Third, it was finally time to upgrade from Windows 7 Ultimate to Windows 8.1 Professional. Not so easy. It kept hanging when Windows 8 was trying to discover devices. After about 15 tries with various BIOS settings, I finally went with factory default BIOS settings, and all was well again. Got to Windows 8. Then to Windows 8.1. All good. With 8.1 set to make things look pretty much like Windows 7, of course.
Fourth, it was time to replace the 560 Ti with a new EVGA 750 Ti, specs here, at a cost a mere $139. This meant removing all NVIDIA software, shutting down, then installing the 750Ti drivers that the automatic installer for Windows 8.1 found and downloaded. Stable, no TDR errors (so no work-around needed), and smooth sailing from here forward. Selling the old 560 Ti should cut the cost of this upgrade roughly in half.
Fifth, measured results. Ran 3dMark 11 benchmark about 20% faster. Hooked up a Kill A Watt EZ, and to our delight, power use is now about much less:
AFTER (One 750 Ti and Core i7 System, booted)
About 150 watts under load, and 60 watts at idle.
GPU exhaust air at 82°F maximum.
3DMark 11 result of P6215.*
*Windows 8.1 required an update to a later version of 3DMark 11 from Steam, but that shouldn't affect ability to compare results.
Later retest result here. Under 0.5 watts when suspended. Nice!
Hooked things back up to the TV and monitor, and we were good to go. With a couple of weeks of testing now behind us, and a full Windows Server 2012 R2 Essentials backup, this system is now ready to head off to its new life. In a college dorm.
What gave me the idea for this project? It was Ryan Shrout, back in February 19 2014, on a PC Perspective podcast that discussed his excellent, related article, with incredible before and after results, with this new new Maxwell architecture GPU use from NVIDIA that requires no external power connections, and uses only 60 additional watts, at maximum:
An Upgrade Story: Can the GTX 750 Ti Convert OEMs PCs to Gaming PCs?
This was a completely successful project. Wish I had done this months ago. It's like a whole new beginning. Maybe we now get 2 more years out of this already 3.5 year old system.