System Builder Marathon: Performance And Value Compared

System Builder Marathon, May 2009: The Articles

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


Following up on the portable desktop theme so often suggested for our System Builder Marathons (SBM), this month’s builds all used space-saving Micro-ATX motherboards. Our $600 PC follows the originally-suggested cube design perfectly, while the taller case of the $2,500 machine stays within 2% of the cube design’s volume by being much narrower. Measuring 25% larger than even the $2,500 PC, our $1,250 system attempts to prove the frivolity of tiny cases by applying ATX tower design to the Micro-ATX format.

The largest case in this month’s comparison has room for additional hardware, but budget constraints meant the extra space would be used for nothing more than a larger CPU cooler. Please note that while the $2,500 system’s price list below is based on the Silverstone SG04-H case (recommended for its portability-enhancing carrying handle), that enclosure being out of stock led us to substitute the SG03 shown above.

System Builder Marathon Components

$625 PC

$1,250 PC

$2,500 PC


Intel Pentium E5200

Intel Core i7 920

Intel Core i7 920

CPU Cooler

Intel boxed cooler

Xigmatek Dark Knight S1283

Intel boxed cooler


ASRock G41M-LE

DFI LANParty Jr X58-T3H6

DFI LANParty Jr X58-T3H6


G.Skill F2-6400CL4D-4GBHK
DDR2-800 4.0 GB (2.0 GB x2)

G.Skill 10666CL7T-6GBPK
DDR3-1333 6.0 GB (2 GB x3)

Mushkin 998679 DDR3-1600
6.0 GB (2.0 GB x3)


XFX GeForce GTX 260-216

2 x BFG GeForce GTX 260 OC

2 x EVGA GeForce GTX 295

Hard Drive

Seagate 7200.12 500 GB

WD Caviar Black 640 GB

2 x Western Digital RE3 500 GB


Integrated HD Audio

Integrated HD Audio

Integrated HD Audio


Integrated Gigabit LAN

Integrated Gigabit LAN

Integrated Gigabit LAN


SilverStone Sugo SG01-BF

SilverStone TJ08-B

SilverStone SG04B-H*


OCZ Fatal1ty OCZ550FTY

PC Power & Cooling S75QB

Corsair CMPSU-1000HX





Total Price




The enormous CPU cooler is sure to give the mid-priced system a huge overclocking lead over its high-priced competitor, while the cheapest system relies on its low-wattage processor to keep overclocked temperatures down. With overclocking a big part of today’s value assessment, will the smaller systems remain competitive?

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  • blibba
    Something clearly went wrong in that $2500 system - maybe throttling due to heat?

    On dropping it next time, I don't see that fixing everything, as numerous other reviews all over the internet clearly show it as the best solution about (with the possible exception of GTX285 3 way SLI). Have a look at this, though:
  • nui_deas
    I cannot imageine how they can have made something so mundane for this much money. I expected dual ssd's at the very least and a decent sound card to take the sound load from the CPU.

    It is amazing that in these times of dual or more cores that software is not more threaded and less dependent on the clock speed of one core. It would be interesting to make it a bit more real world by having perhaps some other things running in parrallel as a test, virus scan and some music perhaps?