System Builder Marathon: Performance and Value

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).

The biggest change to this month’s System Builder Marathon was that we purchased all of our components one online vendor—NewEgg, as mentioned in the very first piece. Purchasing retail parts ensures that everything in our build is available on the open market, and that overclockers could have a realistic expectation of achieving similar performance gains. But perhaps the most important reason for buying our parts was to eliminate delays that typically accompany public relations department inquiries. Everything we ordered was in stock and speedy shipping reduced the possibility that any component we chose would be outdated by the time this project was published.

Of course, large projects are rarely completed without overcoming unexpected obstacles. After a small data entry error caused our account to be frozen, it took several days to figure out which parts of the order had been shipped, which parts had been canceled, and which parts were still pending approval. We were then faced with selecting substitutes for components that were no longer in stock and again waiting for shipping. The good news is that even while this series uses a six-week-old shopping list, technology has changed so little during that time that every one of our builds is still completely up-to-date, even if some of the exact models are no longer available from our friends at NewEgg. Let’s take a closer look.

October System Builder Marathon Component Details
Component $4,500 PC $1,500 PC $500 PC
CPU Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650 (3.00 GHz)
Overclocked to 4.14 GHz, FSB-1840
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 2.40 GHz
Overclocked to 3.46 GHz, FSB-1536
Intel Pentium E2180 (2.00 GHz)
Overclocked to 3.20 GHz, FSB-1600
CPU Cooler Zalman LQ1000 Integrated Swiftech H20-220 Apex GT Cooler Master Hyper TX2
Motherboard Asus P5E3 Premium WiFi-AP DFI Lanparty DK X38-T2RB Gigabyte GA-EP35-DS3L
RAM 4x 2GB OCZ PC3-12800 Platinum Edition
Underclocked to DDR3-1533, CAS 8
2x 20 GB Patriot Viper PC2-6400 CAS 4
Underclocked to DDR2-768 CAS 5
2x 1 GB Wintec AMPO PC2-6400 CAS 5
at DDR2-800 CAS 5 (Stock)
Graphics 2x MSI HD 4870 X2 CrossfireX
Overclocked to 782 MHz GPU, GDDR5-3600
2x ASUS Radeon 4850 TOP Crossfire
Overclocked to 700 MHz GPU, GDDR3-2140
PNY GeForce 8800 GT 512 MB
Overclocked to 738 MHz GPU, GDDR3-2106
Hard Drives 4x 1.0 TB Samsung
Spinpoint F1 (RAID0)
2x 500 GB Seagate
Barracuda 7200.10 (RAID 0)
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10
ST3400620AS 400 GB
Sound Asus Xonar DX 7.1ch Audio Card Integrated Integrated 8-Channel HD Audio
Network Integrated Gigabit Networking Integrated Gigabit Networking Integrated Gigabit Networking
Case Zalman Z-Machine LQ1000 CoolerMaster Cosmos 1000 Antec NSK4480B
Power Corsair CMPSU-1000HX 1000W CORSAIR CMPSU-750TX 750 W Earthwatts 380 W Included w/Case
Total Price $4,500 $1,482 $499

Like so many custom-ordered “boutique builder” systems, each of our System Builder Marathon machines uses overclocking to maximize performance and value. Even the least of these builds reached a CPU clock speed of 3.2 GHz CPU, a fact that will certainly make it difficult for many builders to justify a more expensive configuration. Yet all the overclocking in the world isn’t enough to impress buyers who really need one of the higher-priced configurations .

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  • waxdart
    >>mixing and matching components could offer even better value when the system is designed to fulfill a single role.

    Then please, go build that one and tell me about it.

    >>In the end, figuring out how much performance you really need may prove to be more difficult than finding the parts to achieve required performance levels.

    I know it hard – tell me how!

    What about - Is a "Games PC" the best PC?

    How well does a "games PC" cope with the other bench marks and real world applications and should you be trying other things before spending $$$$ on a graphics card. Obviously yes; but I want 60 fps 1980p in Crysis mediums/high detail on a budget.

    Fastest expensive - Crysis PC - without/ withOC
    Fastest cheapest - Crysis PC - without/ withOC
    Fastest mix of the above.
  • sckoobs
    Good & interesting article but It's a little disappointing that only the highest detail settings were used on the game benchmarking.

    I'm looking at this article from the point of view of what I have to buy to achieve the frame rates in the benchmarks, but I don't necessarily want to play Crysis at the highest detail settings - I'd rather play at a more consistent frame rate. So, it would have been nice to see what the various bits of hardware are capable of at decreased detail levels.
  • Anonymous
    i need a pc on a budget really bad, but the $500 pc has everything i need except the motherboard, i need an SLI mobo cos when my pc starts to struggle grphically i just add new graphics card, so could anyone suggest one thats about the same price but with SLI if here are any.