System Builder Marathon: The $4,500 Super PC

System Builder Marathon, October 2008 : The Articles

Here are links to each each of the four articles in this month’s System Builder Marathon (we’ll update them as each story is published).

  • Day 1 : The $4,500 Super PC
  • Day 2 : The $1,500 Mainstream PC
  • Day 3 : The $500 Gaming PC
  • Day 4 : Performance And Value, Dissected

We’re certain a few readers will ask why we even bothered to set a budget for such an expensive system. If a buyer has $4,500 to spend on a PC, why not just go all the way and say the sky’s the limit ? The answer is really quite simple : going “all the way” wouldn’t give us much of a performance advantage and setting a ceiling on the price allows us to chose parts that still have some value.

Today’s system sets the high-mark by which our thriftier System Builder Marathon machines will be compared, but it could also be easily compared to the $6,000 gaming machines from boutique builders such as Falcon Northwest. Of course, we didn’t base our selections on those of any other builder, so here’s a quick look at how we spent our money :

$4,500 Ultimate-Performance System Components
Component Model Price (USD)
CPU Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650 550
CPU Cooler Zalman LQ1000 Integrated 0
Motherboard Asus P5E3 Premium WiFi-AP 320
RAM 2x OCZ PC3-12800 Platinum Edition OCZ3P16004GK (8.0 GB) 640
Graphics 2x MSI HD 4870 X2 (R4870X2-T2D2G-OC ) 1,120
Hard Drives 4x Samsung Spinpoint F1 1.0 TB 480
Sound Asus Xonar DX PCI Express 90
Network Integrated Gigabit Networking 0
Case Zalman Z-Machine LQ1000 800
Power Corsair HX1000W Modular 260
Total Price $4,500

Similarities to components of the Falcon Northwest system we tested a couple of weeks ago reflect well on Falcon’s choices, since we picked our configuration far in advance of receiving Falcon’s sample. A closer look will show a few other advantages of our selections.

Falcon, of course, had to include an OEM-licensed operating system ($140 value) and warranty, while we reused our old retail OS and had to provide our own support. Buyers who have the time and skill to build and service their own machines will appreciate the idea of money better spent, and probably already own all the software they want. Anyone who thinks we should have added the cost of software to our price list must remember that a build is a combination of hardware, not software, and that buyers are welcome to choose any number of operating systems and productivity suites. On the other hand, anyone comparing our total component cost to the price of a custom-built machine must also account for the software selected.

Ed.—You’ll notice that we’ve taken a slightly different angle for this System Builder Marathon, other than the new price targets. We’ve also teamed up with NewEgg in order to get unfettered access to whichever hardware components we deem best for our three builds—something that’s not always possible when dealing with the manufacturers themselves. In the pages that follow, you’ll see our pieces of choice with links to the corresponding NewEgg customer reviews, which should complement our own evaluations of the hardware.

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  • Anonymous
    I probably would have run with a couple of SSD drives in raid 1 and a couple of 1TB drives seperate. SSD for programmes and TB drives for storage, unless you're video editing then you don't need the extra performance of a Raid config for storage, surely?
  • waxdart
    That much money and crysis still runs like a dog?
    If I was paying that much I'd want the frame rate to be in the 100s+
  • rtfm
    you paid $800 on a case?!?
  • bobwya
    Yeh this might have lead to more interesting results:
    but I guess you guys need the NewEgg sponsorship money... At least the holes will be alignment... Would be nice to see some more interesting stuff though!! :lol:

    I do think it's a bit poor using/recommending a case which is so badly built that the motherboard can't line up with rear slots. Since you know about the problem why keep bashing yourself over the head with the issue. Looks like that case has too much intake capacity and not enough exhaust capacity to match...

    I think it's time to start thinking about putting in an 64Gb SLC SSD as a boot drive:
    Who cares about masses of storage when you can just plug in extra storage at a later date. For $4500 the main concern is performance, performance, performance!!
    Also for the home builder off-line eSATA backup is more reliable than RAID drives. No UPS and powerfailure = potentially hosed drives.

  • Anonymous
    # Day 2: The $1,500 Mainstream PC
    # Day 3: The $500 Gaming PC

    Hardly seems sensible: $500 mainstream and $1,500 for gaming makes more sense in my eyes... Also, why are you using $ prices on GBP or EUR would seem more appropriate.

    Nonetheless I'm looking forward to seeing the other builds and how they fare in comparison. I figure the $1,500 system will have the best price-performance ratio :)
  • fruees
    I think that this content is available worldwide, it just says on your browser.

    Waxdart I agree - wtf this £2500 pc is supposed to be high end even though it gets maimed by a year-old game at high settings! If they knew they were going to test on Crysis why didn't they make an Sli config???

    A far more interesting review would have been based on "can we make a build that outperforms on all games for $4..." or "trying to get a proportional price/performance ratio compared to good $2000 rig"

    This just seems like Newegg have given them a bunch of store credit to play around with.

    Not all criticism though - well written as always, and some useful guidance for someone wanting to build a high-end rig!
  • Anonymous
    "The answer is really quite simple: going “all the way” wouldn’t give us much of a performance advantage and setting a ceiling on the price allows us to chose parts that still have some value."

    it seems you went all the way with the £400 case
  • Anonymous
    Surely it would be better to get 2 Quad Core Processors and a cheaper case.

    Then maybe go further and have more graphics cards.
  • Anonymous
    why not an i7 processor??? that would beat the crap out of any game...

    and yea 800 dollar case WTF?