One of my favourite experiments with low-end Hardware was using a modded Socket 771 Xeon from China in a Socket 775 motherboard (with ancient DDR2 RAM) to play games like Overwatch or Crysis.
However, CPU intensive games like EA's Star Wars Battlefront 2 suffered from heavy stuttering that made it impossible to play effectively.
Overclocking is the answer, but there was one issue.
The Xeon X5460 has an alarming TDP of 120 W and a Tcase of 63°C, so the small air cooler I was using was already having difficulty keeping up with the CPU's requirements.
Thankfully, the last few years have seen a dramatic increase in options for CPU water-cooling. All-in-One solutions have become particularly popular and after getting my hands on an imported unit from Chinese brand BJK that supports the 775 socket I could not resist the opportunity to test it and see how far could the X5460 could go.
Once properly installed (and I will admit, I got it on the wrong orientation the first time) it was time to start changing values and testing.
During my experiment I used CPUID-Hardware Monitor to keep an eye on the maximum temperature reached, CPU-Z to verify the clock speed and core voltage and OCCT to stress test the CPU for stability.
In general terms, Overclocking is a balancing act of core voltage, clock speed and temperature. The ideal objective is to find the lowest voltage and highest frequency combination that does not crash the PC or overheat the CPU. For my specific setup, the best I could get was 3.753 GHz at 1.248 volts. Any lower voltage and the PC would bluescreen when stress testing, any higher frequency and the test would stop due to overheating.
The specifications for this CPU have a maximum temperature of 63ºC. Stress testing can push it to 80ºC, but our current cooling should keep it close to the spec while gaming. So, how does it perform?
EA's Star Wars Battlefront 2
EA's Star Wars Battlefront 2 is a great place to start due to the high CPU requirements of the Frostbite engine. On default clock speed (and all the settings to the lowest) the game suffered frequent stuttering that made it impossible to play.
After overclocking, the situation changes. The game suffers some stuttering when loading some new area for the first time (which can also be blamed on the DDR2 ram) but after it is done it performs at 60 FPS or better. Not bad at all!
Weird CPU optimization makes this game a bit unpredictable on old or low-end processors. However, the overclocked Xeon was able to maintain close to 60 FPS in most instances, only dropping in certain combat situations or poorly optimized areas.
This game shares the same engine as Battlefront 2 but tends to have even higher CPU requirements.
This was evident from testing. While the game managed to maintain playable framerates in general certain scenes (explosions, tanks, intense combat) could cause drops under 30 FPS.
So, with adequate cooling, this modded 2007 CPU is able to smoothly play some heavy recent game releases and can almost manage some of CPU-heaviest action titles I know of.
Is this cost-effective? Once you start investing in water cooling it might be time to seriously considering gaming on hardware that was released in the last decade. However, if you are stuck making the best out of outdated hardware all-in-one water coolers are an interesting investment. Since they often support a large variety of CPUs you will likely be able to reuse them when you decide to upgrade other components.
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