Re-Introducing the iBUYPOWER Erebus GT

It was only a month-and-a-half ago that we were able to test the iBUYPOWER Erebus GT, a boutique desktop with a custom water-cooling loop at a very compelling price for what you got. Yet in the intervening period the computing landscape has actually changed fairly drastically, with NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 680 coming to market and Intel releasing the Ivy Bridge-based Core i7-3000 series processors. Our previous review unit focused more on value proposition with a single AMD Radeon HD 7970 handling graphics duties, but the one we have on hand today is a true war machine.

We've covered Ivy Bridge extensively up to its launch and exhaustively this week, with a breakdown of the architecture and performance, analysis of its overclocking potential, testing in an HTPC environment, benching the notebook version, and even a vendor discussion and Q&A with ASUS of the Z77 platform that accompanies it. Today we have a firsthand look at how Ivy Bridge is going to handle and overclock in the field courtesy of an updated Erebus GT from iBUYPOWER, along with our first taste of a pair of NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 graphics cards in SLI running on the platform.

There's no question that Intel's made a major achievement with Ivy Bridge: IPC is up, power consumption and die size are down, so that's pretty much win-win for all involved. Yet there's one discipline Sandy Bridge has excelled in that Ivy Bridge has a bit harder of a time with: overclocking.

The Erebus GT system that was equipped with Sandy Bridge was able to hit a 4.6GHz overclock on the Core i7-2700K, while the refreshed system with a Core i7-3770K is only able to go up to 4.4GHz, and we expect this is going to be about as high as Ivy Bridge is going to consistently go. So the question becomes: are the IPC improvements in Ivy Bridge enough to make up for the reduced overclocking headroom? We'll find out in a moment, but first here's the rundown of the updated Erebus GT.

iBUYPOWER Erebus GT Specifications
Chassis iBUYPOWER Custom
Processor Intel Core i7-3770K
(4x3.5GHz + HTT, Turbo to 3.9GHz, 4.4GHz Overclock, 22nm, 8MB L3, 77W)
Motherboard ASUS Sabertooth Z77 (Z77 Chipset)
Memory 4x4GB Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1600 (expandable to 32GB)
Graphics 2x NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 2GB in SLI
2x (1536 CUDA cores, 1006/6008MHz core/RAM, 256-bit memory bus)
Storage Intel 520 120GB SATA 6Gbps SSD (SF-2281)
Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 2TB 7200-RPM SATA 6Gbps HDD
Optical Drive(s) Hitachi-LG BD-ROM/DVD-RAM
Power Supply Corsair AX1200 80 Plus Gold
Networking Intel 82579V Gigabit Ethernet
Audio Realtek ALC892
Speaker, mic/line-in, surround jacks, optical out for 7.1 sound
Front Side Optical drive
SD card reader
2x USB 2.0
2x USB 3.0
Headphone and mic jacks
6-channel fan controller
Top -
Back Side 4x USB 2.0
DisplayPort (IGP)
Optical out
2x eSATA
4x USB 3.0
Speaker, mic/line-in, surround, and optical jacks
4x DVI-D (2x GTX 680)
2x HDMI (2x GTX 680)
2x DisplayPort (2x GTX 680)
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
Extras Card reader
Custom liquid-cooling loop
Custom LED lighting
80 Plus Gold modular PSU
Warranty 3-year parts, lifetime labor and support
Pricing ???

Compared to the last unit we reviewed, we're looking at what theoretically could be a wash in terms of CPU performance (4.6GHz i7-2700K vs. 4.4GHz i7-3770K), but pretty dramatic improvements most everywhere else. The ASUS Sabertooth Z77 leverages the i7-3770K's PCIe 3.0 support along with USB 3.0 connectivity, and it includes Intel's highly desirable gigabit ethernet NIC as opposed to the Realtek controller more commonly found.

The other elephant in the room, or elephants, are the pair of NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680 cards in SLI. NVIDIA got rid of the hot shader clock in Kepler, but in the move to 28nm they also basically tripled the number of CUDA cores from GF100/110. Do some vulgar math and that works out to about 50% more shader power per GPU than the GTX 580, and you get to enjoy NVIDIA's generally excellent SLI support. That said, as has been mentioned before, the GTX 680's memory bandwidth nears 200GB/sec but still doesn't scratch the ~250GB/sec the AMD Radeon HD 7970 offers, and the GTX 680 is also working with a smaller framebuffer with 2GB of GDDR5 instead of the 7970's 3GB. Still, the 680 has been fast enough to be crowned the fastest single-GPU video card available, so theoretically two of them should be screaming fast.

Finally, we have a hefty 1200W, 80 Plus Gold power supply from Corsair, an Intel SSD, and 16GB of Corsair Vengeance DDR3 running at 1600MHz. There's very little to complain about here, the parts employed are top shelf from start to finish.

Application and Futuremark Performance
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  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 27, 2012 - link

    My "still need to find time to play" list right now includes:

    Mass Effect 3
    Witcher 2
    Fallout: New Vegas
    Finish Skyrim
    Finish Batman: Arkham City

    If we go back to include games I really wanted to play but never got around to (and they're now collecting digital dust), add Bioshock 2, both Knights of the Old Republic games (I'm not even remotely interested in the new Star Wars: the Old Republic MMO, though -- not my type of time sink!), and dozens of others I can't think of right now. Thankfully, at least my work allows me the chance to play more games than most! LOL
  • UltimateKitchenUtensil - Saturday, April 28, 2012 - link

    Koolance does offer low-fpi rads (better for low-speed fans, all else being equal), but not in a 3x140mm format -- so if iBUYPOWER uses only Koolance (because they might have a good relationship), they're stuck with the 30 fins per inch rad Koolance has.

    But for flow, that loop won't have a problem, at all -- there are no very restrictive blocks (like those silly motherboard blocks). Rads aren't restrictive, and the Koolance CPU block is a low-restriction component:
    Parallel might gain you a few degrees, but in the grand scheme of things it just won't matter.
  • shin0bi272 - Saturday, April 28, 2012 - link

    thanks for the info. I figured that it would make some difference just by the logic of the water passing over the cpu then hitting the gpu. But the flow rate and temp of the water would obviously play a huge role in the raising of the temp. One other question. Where's the radiator (and its fan) on that system? Make that two questions... what is the tube at the back connected to and why? It looks like theres an expansion slot at the top with a connector going to it then connecting to the cpu and top gpu like theres supposed to be an external radiator or something coming out the back... but when you look at the back pic theres nothing coming out.
  • UltimateKitchenUtensil - Saturday, April 28, 2012 - link

    Actually, the loop goes:
    - Reservoir (in the bottom 5.25" bay)
    - Pump (at the bottom of the case, next to the hard drive bays)
    - GPU blocks, in series
    - 1 x 140 mm Radiator on the back exhaust (that's what the tubes at the back are connected to -- the rad is the black rectangle between the fan and the back wall of the case)
    - CPU block
    - 3 x 140 mm Radiator in the roof, with the three top fans blowing on it.
    - back to the Reservoir.

    The tube that goes to the side of the roof, about half way from the front of the case, is for the Fill port, which is the round thing you see on the left side of the top of the case.
  • UltimateKitchenUtensil - Saturday, April 28, 2012 - link

    And just for fun, if you wanted to build that loop out of Koolance stuff:

    - Reservoir TNK-501 - $80 -
    (there are much cheaper, but less featureful, reservoirs available elsewhere, though)
    - Pump PMP-450 - $77
    (also known as the Laing D5, you can find this pump rebranded by other companies, but $77 is reasonable)
    - GPU blocks VID-NX680 - $130 x 2 -
    - 1 x 140 mm Radiator HX-CU-1401V - $50 -
    - CPU block CPU-370 rev. 1.1 - $80 -
    - 3 x 140 mm Radiator HX-CU-1403V - $75 -

    So main components = $622
    You could save on the reservoir by going with something simpler (which it seems iBUYPOWER did), like this $35 XSPC:

    However, you still need tubing (fairly cheap) and fittings (they get expensive relatively fast.

    You need 2 fittings/component (unless they have built-in barbs, like the pump, or you use something like the tube that's between the GPUs).

    For that system, you'd need something like 11 fittings, at $6.50 ea. for compression fittings:
    + adapters, the fill port, and video card connectors.

    All told, that setup might cost around $750 if you bought the parts at retail.
  • Wreckage - Friday, April 27, 2012 - link

    Ivy bridge and 680's vs Bulldozer CPU and Bulldozer 7970's.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, April 27, 2012 - link

    Why? To see Bulldozer get manhandled? Here are the gaming results at lower detail settings (e.g. to put the strain more on the CPU). These results are pertinent because when you move to SLI or CrossFire, the CPU becomes more limiting than the two GPUs in many games.

    Here's another article that did Bulldozer vs. Nehalem vs. Sandy Bridge all with a single 7970:

    Unfortunately, the best the FX 8150 can do against Nehalem i7-920 and Sandy Bridge i5-2500K with a single 7970 is to match it in some titles, while on average even Nehalem tends to match or slightly exceed Bulldozer. That Sandy Bridge 2500K is 9% faster at 2560x1600 with a single GPU is pretty much all you need to know. Ivy Bridge will be even faster still (unless you're into overclocking, in which case it's pretty much a tie), all while consuming less power.

    Here's another article on the subject, only with 3-way HD 6970 on i7-2600K and FX-8150. Warning: it's not pretty, unless you like Intel.
  • vailr - Friday, April 27, 2012 - link

    The Asus Maximus V Formula Z77 board is due for release within the next 2 weeks or so, and includes a built-in water cooling loop for the power choke heat sinks. Would be interesting to see how water cooling with that board would affect overclockability. Will they (iBUYPOWER) be offering an updated Erebus GT using that Z77 board?
  • UltimateKitchenUtensil - Saturday, April 28, 2012 - link

    It will likely have very little effect -- you can already buy motherboard blocks, but they mostly exist for show -- people just use them because they can.
  • saf227 - Friday, April 27, 2012 - link

    "...a solid value and worthy of enthusiast attention."
    How can you say it's a solid value when you don't tell us a price? You don't even hint at a price (i.e. "Less than $3K").
    So I'm going to ASSUME (since you give me no information to base a reasonable presumption on) that this system costs $25,000. And is therefore a TERRIBLE value.

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