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CPU, Motherboard, And RAM

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

CPU: AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition

AMD unlocks the multipliers “upward” on its Black Edition processors to ease overclocking, typically charging little for the convenience. On the other hand, its Black Edition label is usually applied to high-end models and there is a small price penalty for better-rated stock speeds.

Read Customer Reviews of AMD's Phenom II X4 955

Available for less than $200 (in spite of its upper-range 3.2 GHz clock speed), the Phenom II X4 955 ties 6MB L3 cache to its 4 x 512KB L2 cache to keep each of its four cores busy whenever it encounters a properly multi-threaded and difficult task. We’re already completely familiar with its overclocking potential and hope to reach even greater speeds with improved cooling.

Motherboard: MSI 790FX-GD70

While motherboard recommendations often reflect brand preference, our greatest concerns were performance, overclocking capability, and support for up to four double-slot graphics cards. Thus, we went straight to our reviews and found that the one model that could meet every requirement is MSI's 790FX-GD70.

Read Customer Reviews of MSI's 790FX-GD70

The 790FX-GD70 finished very close to the top in CPU overclocking and had the highest stable memory speed with four modules installed.

DRAM: Two Crucial CT2KIT25664BA1339 4GB Memory Kits

Memory is another area where we weren’t going to let personal bias stand in the way of picking the best components for the money. Crucial’s CT25664BA1339 modules took the win in our 6GB Triple-Channel Value Competition and are also available in these part number CT2KIT25664BA1339 4GB dual-channel kits.

Read Customer Reviews of Crucial's CT2KIT25664BA1339 4GB Kit

Rated at a mediocre DDR3-1333 CAS 9, we’ve already proven these capable of operating at DDR3-1600 using reduced 8-7-7-18 timings, and extreme overclockers will find data rates exceeding DDR3-1866 within easy reach on some platforms. Two dual-channel kits provide the 8GB total capacity many readers expect in a $2,500 dual-channel machine.

Our previous tests of Crucial's modestly-rated parts revealed two other brands with extremely similar timing capabilities across multiple speeds, which is a fairly positive indicator that the three brands all used the same ICs. Of those, the model with the biggest heat spreaders (applied loosely with double-sided tape) had the highest speed rating but achieved the lowest overclock, while these lower-rated "bare" DIMMS took the lead. Today we hope to prove that memory quality--rather than high voltage and fancy sinks--can be a great path towards ultimate performance.

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