Intel Smart Response Technology on Windows 10

Intel’s Smart Response Technology is an interesting way of having the storage of a high capacity hard drive but with (some) of the speed benefits of a SSD.

Basically a small capacity SSD is used as a cache for both reads and writes to the slower hard disk.

I have a 512GB SSD for my system drive and a 2TB storage hard drive. I decided to test out Smart Response Technology (or, ‘SRT’, from now on) on my storage hard drive, even though most uses of SRT are for a system/boot drive (which in my case, is already an SSD).

I purchased a cheap Kingston 120GB V300, which has moderate read speeds but terrible (160MB/s) write speeds – but still faster than a hard drive, particularly at random reads/writes. I switched my BIOS over to RAID mode, opened up Intel’s ‘Rapid Storage Technology’ program on Windows 10, and attempted to add the new SSD as a storage cache.

Unfortunately, I came across an error message that was about as useful as a chocolate teapot:

An unknown error has occurred while an operation was in progress. The operation could not be completed.

Determined as I was, I opened up event viewer to see if there was a more detailed error message:

0: SSI Status: Internal Error
0: RAID Config Status: Illegal Disk Action.
TriggerTransaction operation failed for Trigger: CreateVolume
System.Exception: 0: Trigger create failed in internalIsiVolumeCreate
Error returned by IsiVolumeCreateFromDisks() in PsiData::PsiDataSource::ActionVolumeCreateFromDisks

Again, some critical error without any useful information…

It seemed with some further Googling that in fact SRT does not work with Windows 10, or more precisely, if you are running Windows 10 you can’t create a new SRT volume.

The solution to solve this is actually very simple, though a bit time consuming. You need to install Windows 7, Windows 8/8.1 or Windows Server 2008/2012 as a separate installation, set up the SRT caching from that OS in the RST program, then reboot back into Windows 10. Even though Windows 10 doesn’t support creating new volumes, the RST software recognized that an existing cache disk was setup, and just continued to use it.

I personally installed a fresh copy of Server 2012 R2 onto an old 160GB hard drive, connected via SATA (having unplugged my system SSD, but left the cache SSD and 2TB storage hard drive plugged in). Then I simply installed the latest version of RST, tried to enable the caching as I did before, and this time it worked straight away. After shutting down, unplugging Server 2012, and re-connecting my Windows 10 SSD, it picked it up automatically and just worked.

This method of course only works if you are setting up a cached configuration that is nothing to do with your Windows 10 boot drive. It may be possible to accelerate a Windows 10 boot drive using the same method (i.e. using a different OS to configure the RST software, but pointing it at the Windows 10 install), but I would do this cautiously as you risk breaking something.

The real question here is: why on earth hasn’t Intel fixed this problem in Windows 10 yet?! Win10 has been out for nearly a year now, and Intel still advertises SRT as a feature on their website….

Telefonica Movistar Fiber Optic – 300Mbps

We’ve been waiting well over 10 years for a decent internet connection in Spain. Some of my previous posts dealt with how bad the ADSL was, with speeds no higher than 3Mbps (on a good day), regular dropouts and sky-high latency.

We investigated a whole host of solutions: Fixed wireless, satellite, and more recently 4G. The 4G connection looked promising, but would’ve proved to be very expensive, given the limited data caps available.

Earlier this year, to our massive surprise, Movistar’s online checker showed that all of a sudden we were able to get Fiber Optic (Fibra Óptica) down our very rural road. Whilst the nearby village had fiber installed, I didn’t think they would bother to go into the more rural areas. Apparently I was wrong!

Fiber terminator

Fiber Optic ‘Termination Box’

The Movistar technicians came to install our new service – it took a couple of months from order to delivery, since apparently they needed to run a further cable from one of the junction boxes down the road in order to actually reach our property, which had to be done by a different group of technicians.

The first obvious thing that makes this different from ADSL is you get a new ‘Fiber Optic termination’ box, with the black cable being the Fiber coming into your property directly from outside, and then this will be internally fused to a smaller cable inside which goes to the connector on the lower right side of the box.

The second component, which surprised me slightly, is a sort of ‘ONT’/Fiber modem, which seemingly converts the Fiber Connection into an Ethernet one. 'Fiber Modem' - of sorts

The output from the Ethernet connection cannot be used directly by plugging it into a computer (unless you set it up to connect as a PPPoE connection), since at this point you have not logged onto the network, and thus will not obtain any IP address. I must admit, I did expect that in 2016 they would’ve developed a single box solution (combined Fiber modem and router), but maybe there are technical or cost reasons for not doing this. It does mean however you need an extra power socket, and ethernet cable, as well as the box taking up additional space.

Wireless Router

Wireless Router

The final component is the wireless router, which has a single gigabit WAN port and 4 gigabit LAN ports, as well as power, and a PSTN phone connection – allowing you to connect a telephone into the socket, and it behaves the same as a traditional one delivered over copper wires. You also get a phone number assigned to that port, the same you would get if you had a copper line.

Now, on to the speed testing, as always!

Speedtest - 3rd party 802.11ac router

Speedtest – 3rd party 802.11ac router

This particular test was actually done on my iPhone, since my laptop doesn’t have fast enough wi-fi, and I couldn’t test with ethernet. The download and upload speeds are both in excess of the quoted amounts – a rarity for most internet connections! The latency is also very good, though not perfect. However, this was tested over 802.11ac wifi on a clear 5Ghz channel, using a 3rd party wireless access point. As you’ll see below, the supplied Movistar router leaves a lot to be desired.

Speedtest - Movistar router

Speedtest – Movistar router

Sadly, the supplied Movistar router is really, really bad at wireless. It is a 2.4Ghz only, 2 stream, 802.11n access point. Something you’d expect to find in a cheaper device 5 years ago, and certainly not expected when provided with a fiber optic connection. For many people, this will be their primary wireless router, and the fact it only achieves 1/3rd of the internet connection speed is frankly embarrassing. They could’ve at least offered a dual-band option, or 3 spatial streams, but it seems this router was designed with VDSL speeds in mind rather than fiber. So I strongly recommend obtaining any decent 802.11ac access point and plug it into the ethernet ports, if you want to achieve the maximum speeds. Most modern wi-fi cards, even if they only accept 802.11n, will make use of the additional bandwidth in the 5Ghz spectrum to achieve higher speeds, even if they are only 2×2 MIMO. And modern devices, such as the new iPhones, can easily make use of 802.11ac to achieve the 300Mbps speeds that this internet connection provides.

Overall, however, I am very impressed at the service speeds. And I can now truly say that we are the owners of an ‘ultrafast’ internet connection. Hopefully soon to also be the owners of a Gigaclear connection in the UK – hopefully! More on that once I eventually get it…

Office for Mac 2016 – Software Updates

It seems that the software updates for Office 2016 for Mac are pretty big. Around 500MB per update per application. This means, on average, a 1.5GB download for what essentially should just be bug fixes.

Come on Microsoft, get your act together and start offering in-place updates! Office 2011 did this, downloading 150MB or so per update and then launching an updater to patch the files. It’s totally unnecessary to download the entire Office 2016 suite every time you update it. Not everyone has fast internet, and many people are still on capped data plans.


Virgin Media 330Mbps – Late night Speedtest


Speed test taken much later at night (Albeit over wi-fi! So might actually be higher still)

It is even faster than the speed test that I performed around 5pm (via Ethernet that time).

Goes to show that any future 330Mbps VM product would likely suffer from some degree of peak time congestion, more than their current offerings (which seem very resilient in terms of speeds delivered vs time of day). As I said before, the testing ‘variance’ for ultrafast services increases substantially, since there are many other factors at play here other than the underlying connection speed, such as the router used, browser performance, and testing server bandwidth availability.

Virgin Media trials up to 330Mbps

Stories have been floating around the various ISP news websites recently, with claims that 200 or 300 Mbps services are being tested by Virgin Media on their cable platform.

Weirdly, I appear to be one of those lucky ‘testers’. VM didn’t tell me that they were going to upgrade my connection, it just sort of happened. I was on the 152Mbps package, but now my modem is synced at around 330Mbps down and 16Mbps up:

Modem stats page

Modem stats page

So that’s pretty nice, I now have one of the fastest consumer-level connections in the UK (excluding the small 1Gbps fibre providers). BT’s own FTTH service offers up to 330Mbps also, so it seems Virgin are testing their network to try and provide the same service.

What about speed testing? Plugging in over ethernet, I got the following result at around 5:30pm on a Saturday: - Virgin London Server – Virgin London Server

Not 330Mbps, but I wouldn’t expect that using a test like this. I should’ve attempted to download multiple large files off different servers and then looked at the total amount of traffic going through the ethernet interface, but I didn’t bother.

One thing to note is the upload speed. It’s still fairly slow when compared to BT’s FTTC offering, and slower than many other FTTH packages. This is seemingly a limitation of the cable infrastructure itself, but it might be rectified when EuroDOCSIS 3.1 is rolled out.

I don’t know if I will remain on this new service indefinitely, or if they will remove it when they have finished trialling it. I also question whether anyone really needs a 300Mbps+ connection for a home. With 8 other people using this connection, and monitoring the bandwidth used, we rarely every break above 100Mbps at any one given moment.

Guernsey 4G switched on, much faster than the fastest home broadband

4G in Guernsey has finally arrived, with Sure activating 4G around the island dependent on location.

This is of course great news for Guernsey, finally catching up to the UK when it comes to mobile technologies. What surprised me more, was that the initial speediest’s coming in seem to be faster than the ‘average’ UK 4G connection:


I’m not totally up to speed with the LTE ‘categories’ [The different speeds achievable], but it seems that Sure might be using either twice the radio spectrum/bandwidth than many UK carriers, or that their equipment can use more spatial streams (MIMO) than the ‘standard’ amount. They are offering seemingly the ‘up to’ 100Mbps 150Mbps variant rather than the more standard ‘up to’ 50Mbps (resulting in more usual average’s of 30-40 Mbps). Of course as more user’s download on the 4G network, that headline figure will begin to come down, but it’s a very promising start.

Something which is immediately noticeable though, and definitely ‘on theme’ with this blog, is that 4G in guernsey is now at least twice as fast than the fastest fixed line broadband connection that Sure offers on the island. Also, the upload speeds are at least 4x faster than the fastest VDSL connection.

4G data is also priced pretty reasonably: I assume that 4G will be available on the PAYG mobile broadband SIM’s, for which you can buy 50GB of data for £40. I think this is good value compared to the UK, where for example Three offers 1GB for £10. (Meaning 50GB would cost you the equivalent of £500!)

If you compare this cost to fixed line access, which costs £35pm for the 40Mbps service, you might wonder why even bother with having a broadband connection at all! The only reason you might choose VDSL over 4G is if you want truly unlimited data, which I admit is a pretty big deal for some of us (me included!). However for a lot of people, 50GB per month is probably enough, and if you pay just £25 you get 25GB.

So what am I really saying here? Well, there is a disconnect between Sure’s products. If you want the fastest speeds possible, you need to go the 4G route. Not only that, but if you want 4x the upload speeds, you also need to go the 4G route. Uploading a large video to Youtube? Get the 4G dongle out. Backing up your PC files? Yep, 4G dongle again…

It is really time that Sure re-focused on their fixed line product. You might argue that people don’t really need faster than 40Mbps, but then equally do people really need 80+Mbps on their phones? If anything, faster speeds are going to be more beneficial in the home than when you are mobile. Streaming 4K video, more than 1 user at a time, uploading files, cloud access, etc.

At the very least, Sure could split their current VDSL product: 40/10 for home and 80/20 for ‘Pro’, a bit like BT does in the UK. Whilst line length is still of course an issue (and some homes still don’t even have access to VDSL!), it would at least close some of the gap between the blisteringly fast 4G and somewhat slower ‘Superfast broadband’.

ADSLMax – The travesty of (the lack of) ADSL2+ coverage

I’ll get right to the point.

According to SamKnows, there are 5564 ADSL enabled exchanges in the UK. Only 2762 of them are enabled with BT’s ADSL2+. This means that around half of all UK exchanges have no access to ADSL2+. They are stuck with ADSL1, a technology fast approaching obsolescence. Whilst population coverage of ADSL2+ is around the 90% mark I believe(?), customers living in rural areas already with the least choice and lowest speeds are getting further screwed due to the lack of investment.

Why does ADSL2+ matter? There are a few reasons, listed in this comparison table (note, speeds are BT’s caps, not theoretical maximum):


Of course, many people (including BT of course) would argue “what’s the point” of deploying 100% national ADSL2+ coverage when they are already aiming for 90% VDSL coverage, followed by 95% soon after. The problem lies in the final 5%. 5% of the entire country will have no access to superfast broadband, and not only that but they will almost certainly be stuck with ADSL1.

The primary problem

The primary issue with the outdated ADSLMax product is the diabolically slow and ridiculous upload speed cap. Right now, BT could uncap all existing ADSLMax customers stuck on their ADSL1 only exchanges, probably with just a flick of a computer keyboard. Upload speeds could be increased from the paltry 400 kbps to around 800 kbps, a doubling (still very slow by modern standards, but at least something!) which would result in the internet feeling generally quicker. This is already possible with BT’s ‘premium’ ADSLMax product, but you have to pay an additionally monthly fee (for something which the remaining 90% of the country gets for free), and even more amusingly you can’t get this option with BT retail (Plusnet and A&A are some of the only ISP’s to offer it). All in all, a farcial situation.

In an actual example, loading a single webpage on ADSLMax regularly saturates my upload connection, since TCP requires sending as well as receiving. Even though my download bandwidth isn’t being fully utilised, pages load slowly since the upload bandwidth is being saturated and load requests can’t get through as quickly as they should. Now add in a few additional laptops, tablets and phones on the connection, and latency skyrockets.

A prime example of the upload crisis is having multiple iOS devices upload things to Photostream, as well as use iCloud Backup. I have had to manually create QoS rules in my router to limit the uploads of iOS devices, otherwise they literally crash the internet.

The cheap solution

It’s bad enough not having ADSL2+ available, never mind any form of fibre (and in case you wondered, my cabinet was skipped in the BDUK process, looks like I’m in the final 5%), but to add to further frustration, BT are actively slowing down rural connections that could otherwise make use of higher upload speeds. They don’t even need to upgrade to ADSL2+ equipment (they should’ve done that years ago…) instead, they need to scrap the premium service and give everyone the 800 kbps upload speeds. Whilst not all lines would make use of it, a great number of them would see some benefit. It would be an easy interim measure that could be done with literally no spending required. If it results in some peak-time upload congestion, I can live with that. At least most of the time I would get 2x the upload speed that I currently get.

Long term

The real question is, what of ADSLMax and IPStream? With 1000’s of exchanges still using it, what are BT’s plans for migration? In terms of competition, I assume BT have to continue to offer ADSL in fully FTTC areas since not all providers actually support FTTC yet. What happens when the (now ancient) ADSLMax equipment becomes EoL or just unobtainable? Maybe they still manufacture it now (lol…) but in 5 years time? 10 years? ADSL2+ seems the obvious solution for keeping ADSL around, but VDSL is (rightly) BT’s aim at the moment. The core issue is that VDSL is the not the ‘standard’ service, it is actually marketed as a premium offering. BT still offer plain ADSL from the exchange. In 10 years time will this still be ADSL1, or will ADSL be totally discontinued and FTTC the ‘standard’ broadband offering?

There are many questions and really not many answers. Sadly all the hype is around BDUK and the FTTC rollout, but for those of us still waiting, it just feels as if any existing ADSL infrastructure improvements have been all but abandoned.

Virgin Media: 152 Mbps


I have Virgin Media at my student property. Because it’s shared between 8 people, we decided to go for the fastest package. And it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

I quite like how they provision the service to be faster than what you actually pay for. The cable modem is synced around 168 Mbps, which allows for various overheads, and results in them selling 152. But it’s clear that 160 Mbps is easily attainable, even during the ‘rush hour’ period around 6pm UK time.

Latency is equally impressive, see this ping graph from


The few blips near the end are probably me using Speedtest. Even in the evenings the latency is almost always below 30ms, with an average below 20ms.

The only minor letdown with the service was the supplied wireless router. Even though it was their new 802.11ac one, it lacked effective wireless range, probably due to built-in antenna. I purchased a separate wireless router and put the SuperHub into modem-only mode, which results in far superior wireless coverage. Even though my computer has an 802.11ac card, ac wireless doesn’t work in the 2.4Ghz spectrum, and I can’t use the 5Ghz band since it lacks wall penetration (I get faster wi-fi speeds on 2.4Ghz N rather than 5Ghz, even though 2.4 is very congested).

The best thing, in my opinion, is the price. £39pm may seem steep, but it doesn’t require telephone line rental (around £15 usually). It’s literally a no-brainer to go with Virgin if you don’t require a landline, since BT Infinity is both slower (*apart from upload), more susceptible to line length, requires an 18-month rather than 12-month contract, and is also more expensive once you factor in that line rental.

Fastershire: Andoversford

The Fastershire project is the government subsidised faster broadband rollout for Gloucestershire & Herefordshire.

I decided to do some investigating as to who might be able to receive the new superfast service in and around the Andoversford telephone exchange area. BT Openreach now make cabinet level data publicly accessible on their website, and cabinet information can also be obtained from their DSL checker website. With these 2 sources of information, it is relatively easy to construct this table:


[Disclaimer: Information provided from BT public sources, and could be incorrect!]

Of the 8 cabinets that I could identify (cabinets 2 and 8 either don’t exist or I just couldn’t find them), 4 of them are expected to get upgraded to Superfast. Of the 4 cabinets to be upgraded, 3 of them are in Andoversford itself. The only ‘rural’ cabinet is expected to be in Sevenhampton, which looking at the DSL checker is in dire need of faster broadband access.

Of course, it is extremely ambiguous as to what “Under Review” actually means. On BT’s website, it states that “We’re in your area but we’re still assessing whether or not we can upgrade your cabinet.”

Let me now provide my interpreted translation for that statement: “We have no idea when your cabinet is going to be upgraded. We’ve probably already written it off, but we say it’s still being reviewed in order to keep your hopes up and deter any other non-BT competition.”

There is of course the small chance that some of the Under Review cabs might get upgraded at some point in the future, or even another solution (FTTP?) might be offered. Additionally, ‘Under Review’ could also mean that the original PCP cab was not suitable to be upgraded and they have to do additional works/checks before they can plan to add a DSLAM to it.

It is somewhat of a shame that the most rural, in need areas of the Andoversford exchange are likely to miss out on Superfast access in this current round of funding. Unless ‘Under Review’ means something a lot more positive (which I suspect it doesn’t), properties just scraping 2Mbps are likely to remain at this speed at least for now.

An interesting find, however, is this image:


Yes, that does indeed say “on Exchange Andoversford” at the top there, and yes, it is stating that WBC ADSL2+ is available at this property. I have not found another single address in the Andoversford exchange area that is enabled for ADSL2+ (Up to 17Mbps compared to the older up to 8Mbps service). It is very odd – it could well be an anomaly in the address checker, or on the other hand, it could be a test property that has been enabled, pending the wider rollout of ADSL2+ to the whole exchange. The VDSL Superfast product, as far as I am aware, runs on 21CN (WBC), so it would make sense that the exchange itself is being upgraded too. However, not all VDSL cabs will link to their parent exchanges – sometimes the backhaul is known to route to alternative locations…

Edit: According to, BT are doing works on ‘PCP8’ in Shipton Oliffe. I wasn’t able to locate any properties connected to cabinet 8, so it could be that Shipton Oliffe properties are in fact going to receive FTTC very soon, not sure why the wholesale checker states PCP10 rather than 8 though… Also, this tallies with the fastershire website coverage map, which shows the area around the village as having fibre access by the end of 2014.

New PC build

My old desktop PC has served me well for almost 4 years. However, technology from 4 years ago is now pretty much considered ‘ancient’ (well, not really – but you get my point) and so I decided it was time to build a new one.

I use to select all of the parts for any PC build. They generally offer good prices as well as a wide range of ‘higher end’ components suited towards enthusiast PC builders. I also like the fact that they remove VAT at website source for us Channel Islands customers.

Selecting the parts:

Picking the parts for a build can be quite challenging, with so many different options to choose from. I generally start with the processor and work from there. The most important thing in my opinion is to ensure you buy a processor from the latest generation. There’s not really point in paying money for a CPU that is effectively 1-2 years old already. At the moment, the latest Intel generation is “Haswell” – a 22nm process, and Intel have just recently released a refreshed line of desktop class CPU’s to carry us through until they release the newer 14nm Broadwell chips in 2015.

I normally go to OCUK’s website, select the latest CPU generation, then sort by price. Some CPU generations have much larger price variations between the highest end, and the mid-high end. To me though, with Haswell, the price difference between the top CPU and the mid-end doesn’t seem to be as drastic as previous generations were. With this in mind, I decided to go for the i7-4790k (quad core w/ Hyper Threading), the current top-end chip offered by Intel. It is fairly reasonably priced for their flagship desktop CPU, with a base clock speed of 4.00 Ghz and turbo boost up to 4.40 Ghz. Additionally, this new release was supposed to have better thermal material to allow for superior overclocks – more on that later.

Once I picked the CPU, the next logical step is to choose the motherboard. This can be extremely confusing, with a whole host of different codes (e.g X79, Z87, B75, etc). The first thing is to narrow it down to match the CPU socket – in the case of Haswell, socket 1150. Then, you want to find out which generation (marked by the number code) of motherboard is appropriate to your CPU. The easiest way I have found is to search the socket type on Wikipedia, which usually brings up a table of the different chipsets from best to worst. In my case, I opted for the Z97 chipset, which should also be compatible with Intel’s next generation CPU’s, for better upgradeability.

Finally, it is time to choose the graphics card. This time round, I already had a new card so I didn’t need to buy one for this build. However, if you are buying a new card for a gaming PC, I advise to search for card reviews on the internet and get a really good idea of the state of things before making any purchases – price doesn’t necessarily translate into performance, and sometimes cheaper cards can end up being better or on par with the more expensive ones (e.g. R9 290 vs 780).

There are lots of other components you will need, of course 😉 , but these are probably the most important ones to settle on at first.

Parts List:

Intel Core i7-4790K 4.00GHz (Devil’s Canyon)
Asus Z97 Pro Motherboard
Corsair Vengeance Low Profile 16GB 1600MHz Dual Channel
Corsair AX760i Digital ATX Modular Power Supply
Corsair Hydro H100i Liquid CPU Cooler
Samsung 512GB SSD 850 PRO
Phanteks Enthoo Primo Full Tower Case (White)
Hazro HZ27WD-V2 10-Bit 27″ 1440p LED Monitor

Plus an existing R9 290 graphics card and a 500GB storage HDD.

Build review:

Sadly I didn’t take any pictures during the build, but I will instead try to give a review of how easy each component was to install. The first thing to unwrap is usually the case itself. In my case, the Phanteks Enthoo Primo. It really is massive in size, and far larger than even I was expecting. If you’re used to a large tower, the Primo seems to be even larger! However the size of the case does mean that it comes with plenty of room to work with internally, and some fantastic cable management features that are great for OCD’ers like me. The case is not just tall, but also quite wide – allowing even thick cables to be well hidden behind the motherboard. It’s also clear that this case was built with cooling in mind, there are literally 10’s of locations for fan mounting and I believe at least 8 (single slot) rad mount locations for water-cooling. The overall build quality felt fantastic: everything felt really solid, even the removable side panels didn’t bend when trying to add or remove them. Another feature of the Primo is the PWM fan hub that allows all of the case fans to be controlled from a single fan connector on the motherboard. The PWM hub comes with a 4-pin cable to connect to the motherboard, and the Z97’s fan connectors all seemed to be 4-pin PWM capable. You can connect the PWM hub to a molex connector as well, but this didn’t seem to be necessary if your motherboard can supply enough power on it’s own. My closing thoughts for the Primo are overwhelmingly positive. I don’t think I actually have any complaint about it. Perhaps a slightly better instruction guide could be included, since it wasn’t completely obvious what all the cable connections did at first (e.g. connecting a SATA power cable to the ’12v’ connector so that the lighting works!).

My second component to get out the box was the Asus Z97 Pro motherboard. I decided to install the CPU into the board before mounting it, and at this point I want to point something out that should’ve been obvious but still surprised me nonetheless. I purchased an OEM CPU, which means in practice that it doesn’t come with an included heatsink & fan. However, the CPU was included in a tiny un-sealed cardboard box with just a small piece of foam to protect it (no sealed plastic or even dust cover). I guess that’s what you get for paying less money for the OEM version! It does make you wonder, the chip could’ve been used previously and I wouldn’t know… Just for extra piece of mind, I decided to clean the top of the CPU heat spreader with some solvent cleaner before installing. Now back to the motherboard – you can’t really say much about it to be honest. It felt sturdy. Plenty of SATA ports (all 6G). It had, as far as I could tell, 2 USB3 headers and 2 USB2 headers. It had plenty of fan connectors (CPU, CPU_OPT, and I think 4 chassis fan headers?) all of which seemed to be PWM capable. Now skipping ahead slightly, onto the BIOS software. I’ve always liked ASUS bioses for some reason, probably because I’m just familiar with them. But all of the usual features were there, so I won’t bore you. I did like the new ‘homepage’ which displays the current CPU temps on a graph, as well as fan speeds. A nice addition.

The next component is the Corsair H100i liquid cooler. I’ve never had any sort of water-cooling in a build before, and I’m too nervous to go for a custom water build in case I broke something(!), so buying an integrated water cooler seemed like a logical step. Unfortunately this part of the build was the least satisfying in terms of ease of installation and in some ways, performance. The first step was screwing the radiator onto my case. It turns out that the screws between the case and radiator screw partially into the radiator fins. To me this just seems like slightly sloppy design. Next, you had to install the rear retaining plate on the back of the motherboard. Unfortunately, the Asus Z97 motherboard seems to be thinner than Corsair were expecting and, as a result, there was significant slack between the retaining plate and the motherboard even after tightening the screws fully. Sadly, the H100i comes with no spacing washers for this purpose, and I’m sure the Asus Z97 isn’t some sort of ‘odd one out’ motherboard either. After procuring some washers out of the garage, the retaining plate finally fitted snug against the rear of the motherboard. Next, was to mount the cooler itself. The H100i comes pre-pasted with thermal compound, and I decided to just use that rather than clean and re-apply something different. Installing the cooler itself was relatively easy, it slots over the CPU and you just tighten the screws to secure it onto the backplate protrusions. Finally, screw the fans into place on the radiator. Next I had to connect all of the various cables onto the cooler. There is a SATA power connector cable, a single pin connector that goes onto the CPU fan header, and then a micro-USB socket that talks to the Corsair software. There are also 2 sockets for fan connections – the supplied fans HAVE A COVER PROTECTING THE CONNECTION PINS which you need to slide off. I literally spent 20 minutes searching the internet as to why my fans wouldn’t connect onto the cooler. This is why -_-. The supplied micro-USB cable connects to a motherboard USB header. All seemed to be well. Sadly, after booting windows and installing the software, it couldn’t find the cooler… After literally HOURS of searching corsair’s forums, I came across the reason: Windows 8 has a power saving feature (urgh, typical crap) that disables the USB devices from working properly. You need to do a registry hack to get it to work, unfortunately. This is incredibly shoddy from Corsair and I would’ve expected far better to be honest. On top of that, the supplied software seems somewhat.. basic? Updating the H100i’s firmware is also a hassle – the supplied software doesn’t seem to have an auto-updater (or didn’t, until I downloaded their beta version) and I got a whole host of random error messages during the firmware update process. Also, setting up the fan profiles on the H100i resulted in unexpected behaviour – the profiles basically didn’t work properly so I decided to just stick it in ‘default’ mode which works reasonably. Finally, let’s talk about the fans. Oh dear Corsair, WHYY!? The supplied fans, at least in my case, are NOISY. And I don’t mean loud as in ‘air noise’, but in fact a distinct ‘rattling’ noise that has, on the forums, been likened to an idling tractor! The fans actually rattle. I have never seen a brand new fan make a rattling noise – again, really shoddy, and sort of defeats the point of having water cooling (for quieter fan speeds?). It is definitely the fans, since if you unplug them, the pump seems almost silent. In the future, I might use the Phanteks case fans instead of the corsair ones, though I will likely lose control of them through the Corsair Link software (not a particularly bad thing, might I add…). The performance of the cooler is OK, though I was expecting better temps under load. Then again, the Haswell’s are renowned for bad thermals, and in credit of the H100i the water temp in the loop only increased a few degrees between idle and load (i.e. the IHS of the CPU is likely the limiting factor here).

The other components, such as the RAM and SSD, are harder to review really. Both of them slotted into place easily, and in the case of the SSD it has fantastic performance, as to be expected.

My final component comment is for the Hazro monitor. There are a number of positive and negative things about it. On the positive side, the image quality is in my opinion fantastic. Great, deep colours, good brightness and contrast, and the 1440p resolution is a definite bonus over an existing 1080p monitor. However, there are a number of negatives, the main one being the incredibly poor stand that comes supplied with the monitor. It has zero adjustment whatsoever. Not even a basic tilt function – and this was an issue, since by default the screen was actually ever so slightly angled forward when sitting on a desk – a completely unusable display! I had to prop up the front of the stand with a book… It meant I had to purchase Hazro’s £50 VESA stand, which solves this issue, but at a cost. Additionally, the monitor settings are fiddly to use since they are behind the screen and you can’t see what each button does. Of course, on the positive side, the screen is relatively cheap, considering it is a 1440p IPS panel. And that is pretty much all you get – you are compromising additional features for the panel itself. Having said that, the monitor does come with built in speakers(!?) which seems odd given they spent money on that but not on a basic tilt function.


I am not an experienced Overclocker, and as such I wasn’t expecting too much improvement on the base clock speed of 4Ghz. To me, stability is far more important than getting that last 0.1 Ghz. With the Haswell generation, your only overclock options are adjusting the CPU multiplier and the core voltage (there are probably others, but those are the main ones). The BCLK frequency, which is the equivalent of the old FSB, should be left at 100Mhz. I started with a core voltage of 1.20v and a multiplier of 45x (giving a base clock speed of 4.5Ghz). This resulted in some instability so I upped the volts to 1.25v, which seemed to work perfectly.

In terms of temperatures, overclocking didn’t add that much onto them. Probably because I wasn’t seeking an extreme overclock and my voltage was fairly low by enthusiast standards. Unfortunately I can’t remember the exact load temps with P95 large FFT test (let’s be honest, small FFT is not exactly realistic for most applications), but I think they were all sub 70 degrees under load, which was fine for me.

Closing Thoughts:

I am really happy with my new build. The framerate improvement in a number of CPU limiting games was around 40-50% compared with the i7-930. I am considering getting a second GPU for a crossfire setup, since the 1440p monitor is somewhat taxing on a single card, though prices for the 290 will begin to fall (hopefully) as Litecoiners begin to sell their units.