System Builder Marathon: Sub-$4000 PC


The three big "improvements" for this month’s sub-$4,000 build are faster hard drives, faster memory, and larger graphics cards. Yet few benchmarks showed any significant gains for the new parts, and all of these “big gains” were only found in synthetic testing. So what’s the problem?

SBM High June

Back in March we knew that the 9800 GX2 graphics cards, when paired in SLI mode, had some performance problems. We decided that they simply weren’t worth the added expense. Some readers screamed, but we knew we’d made the right decision.

Since that time NVidia has worked hard to further enhance its drivers for the “Four Way SLI” configuration resulting from two dual-processor 9800 GX2 cards sharing the load. With a little hope and a lot of pressure, we decided it was finally time to try this option, but today’s gaming tests only showed that our previous assertions were still valid.

Our biggest problem with the results isn’t that the 9800 GX2’s cost more than the 8800 GTX, but that the 8800 GTX prices have fallen far enough in recent weeks that we could have bought three cards and still remained within budget. Our earlier 3-way SLI experiment proved that three 8800 GTX cards are a superior gaming solution compared to a pair of 9800 GX2 units, and we’re embarrassed that we even wasted the resources on two dual-GPU cards.

It’s a shame that the new GTX 280 graphics cards weren’t ready when we began testing, but at least we can look to early benchmarks and see that these new cards also have a long road ahead before they can be perfected. A pair of GTX 280’s would have also broken our budget, and procuring these in May would have been impossible.

One thing we are ready to reconsider is our choice of case. While we’re perfectly pleased with the performance, sturdiness, and style of the Temjin TJ09, we understand that many readers need a system that’s somewhat more portable. Because of this, we look forward to reader comments concerning the possible substitution of Cooler Master’s Cosmos S for future builds.

A few readers will be disappointed that we didn’t plumb the motherboard into our water cooling loop. But we already needed an additional fan to cool the memory and other motherboard components, and the fan we chose also kept the Northbridge suitably cool. Also on our minds was the inconvenience of a Northbridge water block that isn’t easily removable, and a liquid cooling system that requires its removal during the filling/air removal process. Air cooling, when adequate, became our best option.

This month’s sub-$4,000 system wasn’t perfect, but we have higher hopes for tomorrow’s sub-$2,000 build. We’ll follow that with a sub-$1,000 system on Friday, an begin next week with our overclocking comparison. Next Tuesday we’ll conclude with a value analysis of all three systems.

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  • LePhuronn
    And I think this shows perfectly the problem with the "must have the biggest and best" mentality of today's consumer - just because it's out doesn't mean it's ready.

    If I were building a system right now I'd probably go for a pair of 8800GTXs knowing that when I needed to upgrade my graphics again I can stick a 3rd in.

    Of course, without the endlessly-pocketed show-off consumer, we'd never get refinement and improvement of such products so we sensible types can benefit 6 months down the line.