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CPU, Memory, And Drives

System Builder Marathon, May '09: $2,500 Performance PC

CPU: Intel Core i7-920

With a wide pricing spread between the three available LGA-1366 processors, a $2,500 budget limited this system to the least-expensive Core i7-920. There isn’t much to gain from moving to the Core i7-940, although the copper cooler of the costly Core i7 Extreme Edition 965 would have been handy.

Read Customer Reviews of Intel's Core i7-920

We were hoping for a D0 revision core, but instead received this late-production C0 stepping retail sample. Newegg doesn’t designate the stepping revision.

The limited space between the motherboard and power supply of our cube-shaped case severely restricted our cooling options. Silverstone sells a Nitrogon cooler that fits without any fan, but even users of otherwise cool-running Core 2 processors have expressed concern about insufficient cooling when using the power supply's intake fan to move air past Silverstone's sink. We were stuck with the stock Intel Core i7-920 boxed aluminum cooler, longing for the copper cooler of Intel's more expensive Core i7 EE-965.

RAM: Mushkin Enhanced 998679 6.0 GB DDR3-1600

Mushkin’s 998679 6.0 GB triple-channel kit first got our attention as a mid-priced product with high-end DDR3-1600 CAS 7-8-7-20 timings in January’s high-end memory comparison. The price has dropped by around 50% since then, making it a top-choice moderate-budget kit.

Read Customer Reviews of Mushkin's Enhanced 998679 6GB Kit

While the former modules had reached impressive clock speeds, constant changes in IC availability has put these more recent samples in the 1,800 MHz class. Rather than fight for the highest possible clock speed, we instead chose to seek better-than-rated timings in today’s overclocking tests.

HDD: 2 x Western Digital RE3 500 GB in Level 0

Since a RAID controller’s striping mode doesn’t actually live up to the redundancy part of the RAID name, our performance-only array is better described as Level 0. Level 0 makes two drives parallel for up to twice the peak throughput, while the RAID controller is responsible for splitting data into packets across the drives (writes) and combining it (reads).

A single solid-state drive (SSD) might have been chosen if this were a “gaming only” system, but our SBM builds balance gaming performance and multi-tasking capabilities. Thus, we really needed a terabyte of storage to assure that an average enthusiast won’t run out of space while working with high-definition video files and super-large photo albums.

Read Customer Reviews of Western Digital's RE3 500 GB

Western Digital’s WD50002ABYS drives provide several RAID-oriented features that likely have little benefit in a simple two-drive Level 0 array. On the other hand, these RAID Edition 3 family drives still offer the same performance improvements found in the company’s most recent Black Edition desktop drives, are further validated for 24/7 operation, and include an enhanced five-year warranty.

Because so large a Level 0 array can put months or years of data at some risk, we suggest connecting this system to a storage solution and scheduling data backups once a day

Optical: LC GGC-H20LK Blu-ray Disk/HD-DVD ROM with DVD±R/RW

The Blu-ray disk format is expected to take off eventually and we’d hate to see anyone who can afford a $2,500 system get left behind. LG’s combo drive adds HD-DVD to its read capabilities, allowing buyers to purchase heavily-discounted movies in the dead format.

Read Customer Reviews of LG's GGC-H20LK Blu-ray Drive

Nearly everyone needs CD or DVD write capabilities, so LG tossed those in as well. The GGC-H20LK won’t break any burn-speed records at its 16x DVD±R rating, but it gets the job done without requiring a second drive that our compact case wouldn’t support.

Newegg packed our drive with the Tom Clancy aerial warfare game H.A.W.X by Ubisoft.

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