ASUS includes several utilities for tweaking and monitoring your system. Figure 2 shows its AI Booster interface. This includes a "NOS" injector, which is the safest way to mildly overclock your CPU and memory voltages. ASUS also has an SLI toggle utility (see Figure 3) that lets you choose between one or two cards on-the-fly. Note that you still need to set the SLI preferences in the system BIOS, as well as in the NVIDIA settings panel.
Benchmarking is an art. It is difficult to get accurate benchmarks, due to variability in methods and controversy from OEMs on the best way to measure. For this article, we are using a combination of tools. Sandra from SiSoftware is an excellent utility for stress testing CPU, memory, and more.
Using Sandra, we will be comparing our system to older machines like the P4 3.0 GHz machine we built two years ago in this article series. We will also be comparing it to the fastest reference system included in Sandra at the time of this writing. Such an ideal system might cost three times as much as the one we are building; so if we get close on our budget, we are doing well.
But for video game benchmarking, Sandra can’t help. You need to use a real 3D game. Unfortunately, Quake 4 has no official time demos out at this point. Perhaps this was an intentional move by the company to cover up something; after all, Quake 4 did win the "worst frame rate of the year" award for 2005 games.
We will us a popular, homebrew time demo for Quake 4. Extract it to your Quake4/q4base/demos directory (if you don’t have that directory, then create it). Next, start Q4 and type playNetTimeDemo "ggl-timedemo.netdemo" in the console.
If you don’t have Quake 4 or if you want to test your system before buying it, then try the AquaMark benchmark. Unfortunately, the company is out of business, but its product still works great. You can easily Google it to find mirrors. AquaMark is a freeware, Direct X 9.0 benchmarking suite that uses a true 3D gaming engine.
For graphics card overclocking, we used the freeware utility nVHardPage SE (Build 3). This unlocks several features in the NVIDIA nForce drivers, and allows you to overclock the card without having to change registry settings and more. The NVIDIA overclocking community is a bustling world of hacks and freeware tools. It will keep your excitement level up for a long time to come.