Just about anyone can put together a solid computer using a decent midtower and the right parts. What we don't see as often is just how fast a computer can be assembled in a small form factor. More and more, too, the term "fast" isn't an all-encompassing one; as the GPU becomes increasingly important, the definition gets foggier and foggier. Today, all of these considerations collide as we test two top end configurations from Puget Systems against each other.

On the outside it looks we have two systems assembled in Antec's ISK-110 enclosure, but on the inside, we have a showdown between Intel and AMD's best and brightest at 65 watts. The more cynical (and admittedly informed) reader may already have an idea of where this is going, but there are definitely some surprises in store.

The Antec ISK-110 is a mini-ITX enclosure with exactly enough space for the motherboard, CPU, memory, and two 2.5" drives located on the opposite side of the chassis, underneath the motherboard tray. There's no space inside for a power supply, and indeed each enclosure comes with the necessary tools to mount it to a monitor's VESA mount, effectively hiding the entire system. As a result, the ISK-110 employs an 80-watt external power supply—good for saving space, bad for driving powerful hardware. Puget Systems faced a very real limit as to how much power could be crammed inside this chassis, but we felt like it would be a good opportunity to see just how powerful a system could be built in it...from both AMD and Intel.

In an effort to keep things fair, Puget Systems tried to use as many of the same components as they possibly could between the two builds. In practice things didn't quite work out that way, as you'll see later.

In the Blue Corner...

Expectations for our Intel-based system are set appropriately; Intel's been leading AMD in terms of CPU performance-per-watt for quite some time now and there's no reason to expect anything to change here, especially with the bulk of the Llano desktop chips sporting 100W TDPs that remove them from contention for this build. Here's what we're testing in the Intel configuration:

Puget Systems Echo I (Intel Edition) Specifications
Chassis Antec ISK-110 VESA
Processor Intel Core i7-2600S
(4x2.8GHz + HTT, Turbo to 3.8GHz, 32nm, 8MB L3, 65W)
Motherboard ASUS P8H67-I Deluxe Rev. 3.0
Memory 2x8GB Patriot DDR3-1333 SO-DIMM
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 2000
(6 EUs, 850-1350MHz)
Hard Drive(s) Intel 520 240GB SATA 6Gbps SSD
Western Digital Scorpio Blue 1TB 5200 RPM SATA 3Gbps HDD
Optical Drive(s) -
Power Supply 80W external
Networking Realtek PCIe Gigabit Ethernet
Atheros AR9285 b/g/n Mini-PCIe Wireless LAN
Bluetooth v2.1+EDR
Audio Realtek ALC892
Speaker, mic, and line-in jacks, optical S/PDIF
Front Side 2x USB 2.0
Headphone and mic jacks
Top -
Back Side 4x USB 2.0
2x USB 3.0
Optical out
Speaker, mic, and line-in jacks
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
Extras SSD
Warranty 1-year parts, lifetime labor and support
Pricing Starts at $852
Priced as configured: $1,756

First of all, Puget Systems opted to equip their Intel version of the Echo I (the Echo II line can handle higher TDPs and includes an optical drive, but in a slightly bigger chassis) with the fastest CPU that Intel offers at a 65W TDP: the Core i7-2600S. The i7-2600S is able to turbo up to as fast as the regular 95W i7-2600 can on three cores, two cores, or even just one core, but on all four it peaks at 2.9GHz. For all intents and purposes, that's not a huge hit in exchange for being able to fit inside the power envelope this enclosure's power supply requires.

That's a lot of heatsink for a small chassis!

Where things do get a little bit dicier with the i7-2600S is the integrated graphics processor: the i7-2600S uses Intel's cut-down HD 2000 graphics that sports half the shader cores the HD 3000 does. This is actually a small change of pace for us; the HD 2000 is actually fairly rarefied in review systems we test, as on the notebook side [nearly—mobile Celeron and Pentium have lesser GPUs] every CPU's IGP has all twelve shaders, while the desktops we test almost never run the IGP.

Instead of full length DIMMs, the ASUS P8H67-I Deluxe uses a pair of SO-DIMM slots that admittedly prevent our comparison from being completely fair. Keeping with maximizing these configurations, Puget Systems filled both slots with 8GB DDR3-1333 SO-DIMMs from Patriot. The PCIe x16 slot is left unoccupied (and there's really no room for a GPU in this chassis), while the board's wireless duties are handled by an Atheros AR9285 controller.

Finally, storage is handled by an Intel 520 series SSD with a 240GB capacity as the system drive, while a slow 1TB Western Digital Scorpio Blue running at just 5,200 RPM handles mass storage. You can actually configure the system with a 750GB Scorpio Black for a bit less money, and that drive runs at the full 7,200 RPM, making it potentially a more ideal choice unless you absolutely must have the extra space.

And in the Green Corner...
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  • sabot00 - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    A trip to the Wikipedia page for Llano

    Shows that the A6-3500 is FAR, FAR from the best AMD has in the 65 W space.

    The A6-3600 and A6-3620 deliver 4 cores at 2.1 and 2.2GHz (another whole core compared to the 3500)

    Meanwhile, in the A8 it gets worse, the A8-3800 and 3820 deliver 4 cores at 2.4 and 2.5GHz WHILE ALSO giving the HD6550D (400 SP's, 80 more than the 3500).

    Leaving AMD 1 core, 400 MHz, and 80 SP's down just feels wrong.
  • HW_mee - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    1. This is Anandtech, what did you expect?

    2. Puget only sells the AMD system with an A4-3400 and the A6-3500.
    Anandtech can only review pre-assembled systems as the systems are sold, the fact that Anandtech cares to compare such vastly different system is a different debate.
  • Arnulf - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    Fine, but it woudl make sense to cobble together their own setup using the best components that still fit same thermal envelope (afteralkl a user might decide to upgrade !). This means fastest 65W APU and fastest memory that is supported by that CPU.
  • HW_mee - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    1st, let me mention that I love prebuild reviews, even when I don't have a chance of buying the reviewed system, but I find that this review is lacking or a bit odd.

    2nd, Adding a DIY system would be as awkward as the existing comparison, 1750$ prebuild Intel system vs 1400$ prebuild AMD system vs. DIY system with 65 watt CPU system?

    I think Dustin has held a good scope by only looking at the top offerings for the Puget Systems Echo an he is very balanced in his praise of both systems.
    Unfortunately I see no reason to compare performance of these systems, AMD will get a beating on the CPU side, again, and Intels horrible IGP is absent from half the test, again.

    3rd, I have not read other Puget system reviews on anand, but I would have preferred the review had an extra page dedicated to the systems and reseller.
    A large markup is mentioned, but an example of how cheap a DIY person can make it is not shown.
    Build quality, noise, temperature etc. is leisurely mentioned but never with anything really tangible.
    I could go on :-/
  • silverblue - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    Yes, but there's time and there's money. In any case, judging by the power usage of the A6-3500 I think it's fair to assume that you can use one of the more powerful variants and still not get anywhere near the 100W ceiling (though I suppose, with the 3850, it'd get close - but we ARE talking the differences mentioned by sabot00 above plus the 157MHz higher GPU clock).
  • djfourmoney - Thursday, April 12, 2012 - link

    Read the reviews of the 3650 and you'll find under load (just the APU) it will exceed 100W. Under "Normal" use, however it might not see that.

    I don't think that would have helped much. I still don't understand if memory is so important to AMD's performance that they didn't put it inside their systems.

    I smell something, as I said Tom's already did a test of several sticks of memory for APU's
  • djfourmoney - Thursday, April 12, 2012 - link

    Only problem is finding a A6-3800 which is the Quad Core 65W. Missing Remote tested one, but I can't seem to find one here or in Europe and I haven't tried Asia yet.

    I already bought an A6-3500 though and since its an HTPC, it will be more than fine with 1600 speed memory and SSD like featured though smaller (64GB), so maybe with a slight OC and OC the memory I can smoke the benchmarks set here.

    There is an A6-3860 which is the revision of the Quad Core but it seems those have all gone to OEM's now.

    Guess this fight will continue when Trinity comes out and hopefully a low TDP Quad Core will be widely available.
  • Hrel - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    If you guys read the entire article not only would you see some of what you've said here IN the article; but you would know WHY they tested the way they did.
  • Dustin Sklavos - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    This is a tired argument and something I've gotten really sick of seeing since I started writing here nearly two years ago. It's very easy to cry foul and scream bias without reading the entire article or thinking about why the material might seem the way it is.

    I will say this once to get it out of my system: nobody here is on anyone's payroll. There is no collective site bias. We report what we find. If you feel otherwise, so be it, but I was an AnandTech reader long before I started writing here and I can tell you I wouldn't have stuck around if things weren't honest.
  • MonkeyPaw - Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - link

    I found the article valuable for what it was. Thanks.

    It was a shame they shipped the Llano build with DDR3 1333. As an owner of the A3850, even the jump to 1600 provides a fairly noticeable jump in gaming performance. Did the motherboard allow you to bump up the memory frequency? If not, I guess a decent option would be to get this system with the least amount of RAM possible and then buy 8GB of 1600 for $40 and install it yourself. :)

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