System Builder Marathon, Dec. 2011: $2400 Performance PC

Motherboard, CPU, And RAM

Motherboard: MSI Z68A-GD55 (G3)

Overclocking is the biggest performance upgrade any builder can add to a PC, even though it comes at some risk. Our previous $2000 machine used a motherboard that had been awarded for its low-cost overclocking capability, yet our retail sample overheated when it was pushed past 1.35 V. In the famous words of a not-so-famous politician, “Oops.”

Read Customer Reviews of MSI's Z68A-GD55 (G3)

We were hoping to come back with the runner up from one of our previous motherboard round-ups to see if it would out-overclock the former winner in a real-world test. While MSI’s Z68A-GD55 was no longer available in its original form, the G3 version was priced only $10 higher.

Both versions include heat sinks on all CPU voltage regulator phases, and the extra $10 gets buyers a set of third-generation PCIe switches to keep their next-generation processors and graphics cards working at peak performance. That last part assumes that, between now and launch day, Intel won’t make its Ivy Bridge-based processors incompatible with existing platforms.

Processor: Intel Core i7-2600K

We ordered our System Builder Marathon machines prior to Intel’s Sandy Bridge-E launch, secure in the knowledge that at least the flagship would cost more than our $2400 budget could bear. Chris Angelini’s recent Core i7-3930K review did little to change that opinion, since such a small upgrade to our desktop-oriented benchmarks would have taken hundreds of dollars away from other components.

Read Customer Reviews of Intel's Core i7-2600K

That left Intel’s Core i7-2600K and Core i5-2500K as the only choices for top performance (Ed.: assuming the -2700K wasn't worth the increase either, right?). We’re counting on this processor’s legendary overclocking capability to push its value, even though the added benefit Hyper-Threading alone is somewhat questionable.

RAM: Corsair CMZ8GX3M2A1600C8R

Also known as Vengeance DDR3-1600 CAS 8, this is the same memory that won our recent 8 GB value-oriented round-up.

Read Customer Reviews of Corsair's CMZ8GX3M2A1600C8R Memory Kit

Differences between AMD and Intel memory controllers mean that we won’t see the exact results from that round-up, but we’re still certain this memory will give us excellent timings at low cost.

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  • HEXiT
    gotta say im a little surprised you didnt go for the 2011 socket and the new i7 for such a pricey setup...
    im pretty sure if you had re-jigged the numbers a little you could have squeezed this in instead of the i5 based architecture of the 1155 sockets.
  • HEXiT
    not being sarcastic m8, its just when it comes to the high end builds , toms usually shows off the latest tech... as you have with the water cooling. but i would have liked to have seen the new cpu's at work productivity wise with a decent gfx card... its a nice build but just not the build i was hoping to see this month...
  • damian86
    I think the only reason they installed a i7 instead of an i5 is because it's supposed to be a performance pc(not only for gaming) which is where the i7 scores a bit more, so it deserves the pole. I agree with you that they could have ordered a better gfx set (imo a nice evga hydro/or phantom edition)+ I would have tried a Gigabyte or Asus MB,I quite like the msi though.
  • lkuzmanov
    Price/performance wise a pair of Gigabyte 6950 1gb OC absolutely murders GTX 580 SLI.
    They're roughly two times cheaper, quiet and cool, require less power (another saving) and would've avoided this water cooling misunderstanding at the same time allowing for a better MoBo, a better fitting top-mounted H100 and perhaps a cache SSD or a better case.
  • damian86
    I would like to see why you think 2 6950s would murder 2 580s..
  • lkuzmanov
    @damian86 "Price/performance wise"... If you refer to Anand's Bench:

    FPS FPS (OC) Price FPS/Price FPS/Price (OC)
    2384.60 2647.15 1030.00 2.32 2.57
    2081.60 2263.74 480.00 4.34 4.72

    I've addded the OC figures assuming perfect scaling with the OC for both the PNY 580's used here and 2 x GIGABYTE's GV-R695OC-1GD.

    Things may change slightly if you only consider 2560 or 1920, remove the CPU limited titles from Anand's selection, plus the individually more powerful 580's may (or may not) provide better smoothness at higher resolutions (see micro-stuttering), but you see what I mean, I'm sure. Total Load Power under Furmark is 850 vs 510, so you can save some cash on the PSU or move up in quality.

    In the meantime I noticed they've already added a pair of 1Gb 6950's to their Enthusiast build, so I see what they've done now...