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Value Conclusion

System Builder Marathon, December 2010: $2000 PC
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SSD drives accounted for a noticeable portion of our budget, but the lack of data from our previous build means that their performance advantage will not be charted until our Day 4 value comparison. Combined with “luxuries” like a quiet case and Blu-ray burner, we can expect at least some value penalty using our old scoring method.

Ah, if only we’d checked the drive performance of our previous build before shipping it to the winner…

But, there is one redeeming quality for today’s system, even when we don’t use its superior drive performance to calculate value. GeForce GTX 470 graphics cards beat GeForce GTX 460 cards at higher resolutions, and that’s what the graphics of today’s system were really designed for. While "playable at 1920x1080, max settings" is what we consider to be the minimum requirement for our $2000 PCs, the 2560x1600 resolution is where it truly shines:

The number of pixels in a 2560x1600 display is slightly higher than those of three 1280x1024 displays, so the new $2500 PC could be a good choice for Nvidia Surround gaming.

Lessons Learned?

There are a few ways we could have saved money, but they don’t add up to the $585 difference between our $295 quad-core and an $880 six-core Core i7 model. And chasing better graphics performance probably wouldn’t have done much for our benchmark set either, due to CPU and DRAM bottlenecks that choke the middle resolutions used in our Day 4 system value comparison. Any savings would have thus gone to making this something less than a $2000 PC, such as a super-high-performance $1700 build.

First of all, we had much more cooling than we really required within safe and sane voltage limits of our processor. That means we could have ditched the somewhat-expensive 3400 RPM fan and gone with a half-priced model at 2000-2400 RPM. The quieter fan would have made a less-isolated case more acceptable, saving around $150 with little degradation in system quality.

The GeForce GTX 470 graphics cards only produce an average performance increase at resolutions of 1920x1080 and above, compared to GTX 460s. While 1080p is one of the three resolutions used in our Day 4 system value comparison, the combined difference is probably too small to justify the $120 price difference for two cards. This editor has suggested that an AMD Eyefinity vs. Nvidia Surround System Builder Marathon might be appropriate, but most of us don’t have the three matching displays needed to accomplish these tests.

Finally there’s the problem of memory. This is the first time in recent memory that we’ve ran into a hard memory bottleneck in games, and that snag looks like fodder for a completely separate article. Our only excuse is that the memory we thought we would get would have been good enough, but the simple truth is that being cheap has finally bitten this editor in the buttocks. Newegg’s current offering of 6 GB DDR3-1600 CAS 8 for only $95 makes this system look even worse today than it did on the day it was ordered.

We look forward to your thoughts on how we might be able to save money, improve quality, or enhance value on future $2000 builds.