System Builder Marathon, Sept. 2010: $2000 Performance PC


Determined to fit a six-core processor into this month’s $2000 PC with no sacrifice in GPU muscle, we tried AMD’s Phenom II X6 1055T…and failed. Even at 4 GHz, the system couldn’t keep up with June’s Core i7 quad-core chip, a system that was also “handicapped” by its lower-priced graphics cards.

What did we learn from all this? Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so quick to cross Intel’s $900 Core i7-970 from our list. After all, it could have fit within budget, had we economized in a few other places.

A $900 processor would have required around $40 more for the motherboard, and leaving out a graphics card would have still left us $214 over budget. Yet we could have easily saved $60 by using a 6 GB triple-channel kit on that board, rather than this system’s 8 GB dual-channel kit. Reduced cooling needs could have allowed a $100 savings on the case, while lower power consumption would have allowed another $65 savings. That $1989 alternative build would have still fit within today's budget and boosted program performance significantly, without wasting half of our GPU power to CPU-based frame rate bottlenecks. It’s too bad we didn’t know the CPU limitation would be so severe prior to our recent evaluation.

The phrase “Hindsight is 20/20” has been repeated so often, and for so long, that nobody knows its origins with any certainty. What we do know for sure is that two GeForce GTX 480 graphics cards are a poor value choice for a benchmark comparison at resolutions below 2560x1600. But even if we had advanced knowledge of today’s results, we still wouldn’t have chosen a single GeForce GTX 480/Core i7-970 alternative. The reason, of course, is that we already knew that two GeForce GTX 460 graphics cards outperform a single GeForce GTX 480 for the same price, in spite of CPU limitations.

Had it been complemented by dual GeForce GTX 460s, the Core i7-based $1989 alternative would have likely placed far better in our upcoming value comparison by generating far higher benchmark results. We know that many readers would complain about that configuration’s lack of 3-way SLI upgrade capabilities, but this builder does like winning on occasion. Our apologies to the AMD faithful for the misuse of a high-value product in a high-performance machine. The 1055T's price is telling. It's really a mainstream part, after all.