ZaReason's Valta X79
The Mother (Board)
The specifications on the Valta X79 don't specify a brand name for the motherboard, so I won't focus on the name printed on the board, but rather the features it boasts. First off, in order to handle the 3930K second-generation Sandy Bridge i7 CPU, the motherboard has the Intel X79 chipset and LGA-2011 socket. (More on the CPU in a bit.) Adding to the CPU itself, the X79 has:
Three PCI-E 3.0 x16 slots.
Four PCI-E x1 slots.
Four DDR3 Quad-Channel RAM slots.
16GB DDR3 RAM @1600MHz (4x4GB).
Another pleasant surprise was the power supply included with the Valta X79. Because this build included a sizable GPU along with the zippy CPU, ZaReason installed an 850 watt PSU. Although the wattage is about what I'd expect, I was happy to see the power supply was an 80 Plus Gold-rated unit. Often when building a machine for brute horsepower, little thought is given to efficiency. Thankfully, that's not the case here. 80 Plus Gold certification means the power supply is 87% efficient at 20% load, 90% efficient at 50% load, and 87% efficient at 100% load. As it happens, when this system is running full bore with both the GPU and CPU maxed out, it's using almost exactly 425 watts. Whether it was a coincidence or not, it means the PSU was sized exactly right for maximum efficiency. Well played, ZaReason.
Figure 4. The interior is roomy and cabling neat, allowing for maximum airflow.
When 3-D Isn't Enough
The graphics card shipped with my unit specifically was chosen with Bitcoin mining in mind. Thanks to an architecture difference between NVIDIA and ATI GPUs, the higher number of Arithmetic Logic Units (ALUs) in the ATI cards means they perform better watt for watt and dollar for dollar when it comes to the pure brute force needed for Bitcoin mining and password cracking. NVIDIA GPUs aren't subpar, they're just different. They tend to have a more-advanced onboard memory system, making them ideal for different sorts of mathematical calculations. The differences are actually rather fascinating, but because I may be alone in my fascination, I'll just leave it at that. ZaReason happily will ship either an ATI or an NVIDIA graphics card. This review unit has the ATI Radeon HD 6970.
If the ATI 6970 is a Cadillac amongst video cards, the 6-core, second-generation 3930K i7 CPU running at 3.2GHz stock in the Valta X79 is a Ferrari amongst processors. I put the CPU through its paces mining a CPU-based cryptocurrency (Litecoin to be specific), but everything CPU-intensive was just lightning-fast.
It's often difficult to find a day-to-day task that actually puts a
modern CPU to the test. Thankfully, as Linux users, we still compile quite
a bit of our software, and compilation takes CPU. I took it upon myself
to compile a few programs. Granted, none of the programs I compiled were
enormous, but I think it's telling that when I finally typed
I thought there was a dependency that
configure missed. I got
the command prompt back so quickly, that I didn't even consider the
possibility the compilation had completed!
I realize I make it sound like a magical CPU, and you're thinking how adorable that Shawn guy is for being impressed by a fast CPU. The thing is, my personal PC is an AMD 6-core monster overclocked to almost 4GHz. I've compiled the same programs, and I've never been fooled into thinking there was an error when really it just finished that fast. Perhaps it's raw CPU horsepower, or perhaps it's a combination of the CPU plus the quad channel RAM. The bottom line is this CPU is fast!
Linux. 'Nuff said (Figure 5).
Figure 5. No Windows option here (image from http://www.zareason.com).
Seriously though, ZaReason is a company that sells Linux computers. When configuring your system, you get to choose from the most common distributions. By name, they offer all the 'buntus, Debian, Fedora, Linux Mint, no operating system and my favorite, "tell us what kind of Linux you want."
Earl, being a Linux Journal reader himself, knew my feelings regarding Ubuntu's Unity interface. For the review unit, ZaReason installed Ubuntu 11.10, but instead of the default Unity interface, they installed GNOME 3 with extensions to look much like my beloved GNOME 2 (Figure 6). You may think the review unit got special treatment, but Earl actually told me this interface is what they ship to many customers, especially those uncomfortable with Unity.
Figure 6. Look Ma, no dock!
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