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System Builder Marathon: Day One

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May 8, 2007 2:41:39 PM

Over the next three days, we'll select components for, build and test low, medium and high cost PC systems. Today's system comes in at $525.
May 8, 2007 4:05:45 PM

If they add one AGP system to the test, this will answer , a lot of questions like :

Is good to upgrade to a budget pci-x system, or buy a new AGP card. ?
May 8, 2007 4:08:18 PM

We won't be adding an AGP system to the tests. If you're putting together a new system, it really wouldn't make sense to go AGP at this point.

As far as upgrading your AGP card in an existing system, we've already compared AGP to PCIe cards. The difference in performance is essentially nonexistant.
Related resources
May 8, 2007 4:22:59 PM

Good article though man. Solid component choices IMO. Even w/ the core2 stomping on the x2 I still think it is a viable budget system that would give the owner good service. Looking forward to seeing the "real world" diffs between the 3 systems. :) 

rock on man.
May 8, 2007 4:34:23 PM

False/Misleading info on that PSU. The 12 volt rails do not have 36 AMPs of power available. More like 25-26.

After all, to calculate watts you multiply the volts times the amps. 36x12 = 432 Watts. The PSU in this article is a 400 watt PSU with 450 watt Peak. I would be weary powering an 8800 GTX with any bit of overclocking at all.

Just something I think you guys should change/make more clear. It is a good PSU (I have it), but don't mislead people to think they have 36 amps worth of 12v

Good article, nonetheless.
May 8, 2007 4:37:58 PM

Why in the article do you talk about the 'Fortron Source AX450-PN Power Supply', yet in the components list you give us the 'Aero Cool Zerodba 620W Crossfire/SLI ready'?

On the whole a good article, though. A cost table would be useful, however, as I am not clear on if Windows was included in the price, or a monitor, or what-not. I had some of the same decisions to make when I built my new rig (see sig) a couple of months ago.
May 8, 2007 4:38:36 PM

I've been thinkin of upgrading on a budget and I was gonna get a am2 3800 and only 1 gig of ram. Nice to see I've got it right!
Dunno about the case though i'm sure you can get cheaper cases that look ok, I was looking at one the other day for £25 with a 25inch side fan! and from customer reviews it seemed pretty good, it looked ok too was all black.
May 8, 2007 4:40:11 PM

Nice article...budget stuff is cool.....in regards to gaming I imagne a single core cpu of the same speed would have fared just as well in the benchmarks. But hey why buy a single core when the dual core is so cheap.
May 8, 2007 4:44:07 PM

The power supply is still enough to support most cards out there, and in time we will probably see cards that have the same power as the 8800, but consume less power.
May 8, 2007 4:45:09 PM

Not just a gaming system though. This is an all-round system, so dual core will help.

I'm trying to see if I can bench the low-cost system with an 8800 GTX to compare in the final article. Purely from a gamer's perspective, I'm interested in seeing if it can take on the much more expensive mid-range system...
May 8, 2007 4:46:42 PM

Thanks, I'll pass that info about the PSU on to the web guys, it should be the fortron PSU.

The article mentions the cost doesn't include the monitor or OS (or the benchmarking software) :) 
May 8, 2007 4:48:52 PM

Quote:
False/Misleading info on that PSU. The 12 volt rails do not have 36 AMPs of power available. More like 25-26.


You're right about that, I knew better and I had thought I corrected that line - or reworded it at least. Nice catch.
May 8, 2007 4:57:01 PM

while yes there is a diff between peak and nominal loads, the specs on it are listed as dual 12v rails w/ 18 amps. Yes, that is peak but that is what the manufacturer rates it as. I do not think it was "false" info, just not "all" of the info for n00bs. :)  Most ppl that are reading it know that ALL psu's are rated on a peak level and only some include nominal ratings.

Regardless, yours is a good point that you would not sustain that peak for very long, but still... kinda nit-picky about whether it clarifies that the listing of the specs are peak or not don't you think? ;) 

Not arguing against you, just countering the point with logical moderation. :p 
May 8, 2007 4:58:07 PM

Quote:
False/Misleading info on that PSU. The 12 volt rails do not have 36 AMPs of power available. More like 25-26.


You're right about that, I knew better and I had thought I corrected that line - or reworded it at least. Nice catch.

Thats cool. A newb like me would take that info and run with it though. I don't doubt that the PSU could power a non-overclocked GTX system, but it would be pushing it.

You guys should most definitely include a cost table. Also, they have that ampx RAM in dual channel for $50 on the egg, that could increase the performance and bring the price down a little.

I really do love these articles, really helpful for the budget builder without a lot of time to research parts.
May 8, 2007 5:02:36 PM

Overall, a very solid budget build. Personally I'd spend just a bit more money on a better PSU and consider it an excellent investment on the system.

ONLY thing I'd change without a doubt would be the case to a Coolermaster 534......better layout, rotate hard drive, airflow.....and for the same price! I honestly don't know why people persist in pushing the Centurion 5, it's clearly bested by the 534, and costs the same :roll:


Other than that, well done! Great article for newbies or budget-conscious builders.
May 8, 2007 5:03:57 PM

Quote:
while yes there is a diff between peak and nominal loads, the specs on it are listed as dual 12v rails w/ 18 amps. :p 


Ever under peak load, I do not think it would be capable of providing 36 amps. Most (quality) 450watt PSUs have about 300 watts available for the 12v rail which is only 25 amps. 25 and 36 are pretty far apart.

It is kind of nit picky, but I think it is important. Most people think that by combining the amps on each 12v rail that you get your total available amps... which is incorrect.
May 8, 2007 5:08:27 PM

agreed.

was only pointing out how those numbers came up. You are right though. :) 
May 8, 2007 5:12:43 PM

Quote:
Also, they have that ampx RAM in dual channel for $50 on the egg, that could increase the performance and bring the price down a little.


I personally like the ram they chose better if only that the upgrade path is better with 1-gig sticks rather than 512 sticks. I assume the dual channel for that price is 2x512... if it was 2x1024 then by all means get it! ;)  With 1 gig sticks you can get another later on and have 2 gigs w/o scrapping your existing 512 sticks.

But for total cost vs. immediate performance your dual 512s are better.
May 8, 2007 5:20:21 PM

For what they built for the money, it's a solid system.
May 8, 2007 5:48:06 PM

I wonder what the price points for the mid and high end are. I spent about $1270 on a new rig a few months ago, but went ahead and ordered more parts this week. I'll try overclocking it in a bit. So, here's what $1450 got me:

- Gigabyte DQ6
- 2x1GB OCZ 1066 (and 2x1GB G.Skill 800, I'll ebay one of them, price includes the OCZ)
- Core2 Duo E4300 with Tuniq Tower
- 8800GTS 320MB
- Coolmax 600W
- Antec P180B
- 4x320GB Seagate 7200.10 (2 RAID10 partitions [XP/Vista] and 1 RAID5 [large files])
- LiteOn LH-201AS 20x DVD burner SATA

I'd like to think, once overclocked (I've seen it load XP at 3.0GHz on an overheating Northbridge), it would be firmly in the high end.

Of course, today, I'd have saved $50 on the CPU, but would probably go for the E4400, and $60 on the 800MHz RAM and $40 on the 1066MHz RAM. Atleast the other stuff didn't change price.

I hope they don't do something like use an $800+ Core 2 Quad CPU in the high end. Though high end, it's a sure way to make the bang per buck go through the floor.
May 8, 2007 6:15:34 PM

while your system is nice, w/o the massive storage your budget would be much lower. You would probably be under $1k. Looking at the cpu and videocard I would think high-end might be a stretch for gaming. My guess would be that your storage, while certainly freakin' sweet would not be taken into account much if you ran the benches they are running here. (or at least it would not move the rank much)

Don't get me wrong, I like the system. Would be very nice indeed.

Personally I put budget systems at ~$500, midrange ~$800 and high-end at $1500+. This is for the same components that they list, (single hard drive, video, cpu, mobo etc) with the addition of a dedicated soundcard and speakers. (and what about keyboard/mouse? ;)  ) No monitor, os or anything else.

Specializing a system within those levels for file serving, video editing, CAD work is going to raise that systems budget and perform better on that discipline, but not necessarily change the "performance bracket" overall. Sometimes it might... IMO the cpu, ram, videocard and mobo are the big factors for bracketing.

Naturally, OC'ing is not in this thought process...

Just my 2 bits, take it for what its worth. 8)
May 8, 2007 6:19:24 PM

Good article, thoroughly appropriate choices. Having a reference point for the benches would have been nice, but I guess it can wait for the other articles.
May 8, 2007 6:20:06 PM

I'm happy with the Fortron, I think it'd scale well from the 3800+/7600 GT combo to a faster CPU/videocard with little problem.

As far as the case, yeah. I even mentioned in the article that's more of a subjective style choice than anything else. Everyone's going to have their own take on what a good case is, some will like cheesy plastic alien looking things, and others won't be satisfied unless it's all aluminum. :) 
May 8, 2007 6:24:09 PM

I just wanted to say to everybody - thanks for the kind words.

I thought we were going to be crucified for some of the choices Thomas (Crashman) & myself made for this build, but everyone's being very respectful and pleasant. Looks like we didn't have much to worry about.

Then again, as the price gets higher in the midrange and high end segments, people's opinons on our choice of hardware might polarize. We'll see what the next few days has to offer. :) 
May 8, 2007 7:07:08 PM

A nice article and a nice solid budget build. I built my mom a machine a couple months ago and although I went with a 939 platform, the parts are near identical and it performs admirably.

Quote:
ONLY thing I'd change without a doubt would be the case to a Coolermaster 534......better layout, rotate hard drive, airflow.....and for the same price! I honestly don't know why people persist in pushing the Centurion 5, it's clearly bested by the 534, and costs the same :roll:


The 534 is a nice case, but it needs to be about 3 cm wider. With rotated SATA HDD's, the case has inadequate clearance for the plastic ends of most SATA cables. :? I had to rob my DFI lanparty board of 2 cables that had extremely short plugs so that the drives could be plugged in.
May 8, 2007 7:22:52 PM

Quote:
As far as the case, yeah. I even mentioned in the article that's more of a subjective style choice than anything else. Everyone's going to have their own take on what a good case is, some will like cheesy plastic alien looking things, and others won't be satisfied unless it's all aluminum. :) 


I certainly agree with you about choosing a case, it's more often than not a matter of personnel preferences but there is a few basics that should at least be there IMHO. Fan wise, I think a 120mm in front and one in the back should be the minimum. Even though we are not talking OCing here, a good case ventilation is still important. Other than that, anything goes as long as you have enough space for you hardware.
May 8, 2007 8:15:02 PM

Heh... This is a great idea, because I would bet that most people build on a budget w/these price points.

As for the person who mentioned dual channel... I was thinking that as well, except for the fact that the board does not allow for dual channel. If you could get a board that would, however, it would be a very cheap upgrade for better performance.

The only thing that I don't like about this system is that there is about 0 headroom for upgrades. Personally, when I build on a budget I like to think that at least some of the parts can be reused mostly because I know that the next time I build will probably also be on a budget, and/or I look to build on a budget that can slowly be upgraded (memory, vid card, etc).


I do think it's funny that you said the centurion tho.. lol. I've suggested that tower to a LOT of people that I've built a budget list for recently.
May 8, 2007 9:02:43 PM

Quote:
Not just a gaming system though. This is an all-round system, so dual core will help.

I'm trying to see if I can bench the low-cost system with an 8800 GTX to compare in the final article. Purely from a gamer's perspective, I'm interested in seeing if it can take on the much more expensive mid-range system...



Looking foward to the next installment. Us budget gamers are always looking for that sweet spot in regards to price/performance. :wink:
May 8, 2007 9:08:43 PM

Quote:

The only thing that I don't like about this system is that there is about 0 headroom for upgrades.


Please explain... I'm not sure what you mean, Dude.

The CPU is a 3800+ and can be upgraded to the top-of-the-line M2 CPUs like the 6000+. That's alot of CPU headroom.

Same with the videocard... it's a PCIe slot, you could go 8800 GTX if you wanted. Granted, you might need a better power supply for that...

Everything else can be upgraded, too... drives, etc. What isn't upgradable?


That board supports dual channel memory from the specs I've seen. Is there an issue with the board?
May 8, 2007 9:26:34 PM

The benchmark results are very encouraging for me. My old MB recently died and I needed a replacement. Now I have a VERY tight budget and I wanted to upgrade to dual-core.

My old system: HP - with upgrades.
MSI Motherboard - MS-6577 (lacks AGP) - Socket 478
512MB 184pin DDR RAM (2x 256MB)
Intel Celeron @ 2.93GHz.
GeForce 5200FX

Now I know it was an ancient system but it served me very well and even allowed most games at decent frames.

My current build is near identical to the editor's except I used a 1GB Dual-Channel RAM kit (same stuff as in article except its 2x 512MB) a ECS Motherboard and I switched out the gfx card for the X1650 XT. Oh and I am going to load Vista Home Premium on this machine. I already have a 21" LCD, soundcard, speakers, keyboard, mouse and DVD burner.

I am looking forward to getting all my new stuff tomorrow and I am hoping it performs well... and I can't wait to seriously play Oblivion. I am just wondering how the benchmark would fair with no AA? I would like to play it at 1280x1024 on medium settings with no AA or AF. Anyone have input relating to this?
May 8, 2007 9:28:53 PM

An X1650 XT is probably the best bang for your buck when it comes to Oblivion.

It'll get about 25 fps where the 7600 GT gets 15. Oblivion likes Ati cards...

We actually chose the X1650 XT for the low-cost PC but we had an issue. Still don't know if it was a bad card, or if the card didn't like the MSI mobo... so we used a 7600 GT we had lying around. :) 
May 8, 2007 9:31:14 PM

Not bad. I also noticed the PSU mix ups (wrong 12v amperage and wrong PSU in the table).

You spent WAAAAAY too much on case + PSU for a not-overclocked "budget" rig. You should be lookin for either <$20 cases and buying a new PSU or cases that come with decent PSUs. Really shouldn't cost over $80.

You might want to bench the difference between single channel and dual channel ram and revisit that decision. You can get 2x1gb of DDR2-667 for not much more than $70 and in dual channel they should provide better performance in almost all situations having more bandwidth, comparable latency, and 2x as much RAM.

Also, this might be a bad time to do this review. Prices aren't stable. When you do the final comparison article be sure to re-evaluate the cost of each system and mention that prices aren't stable and some of the lower-cost alternatives for those that don't know.
May 8, 2007 10:12:54 PM

Ahhhhh ... expensive isn't always better .... :D  build smart
May 8, 2007 10:19:51 PM

Quote:
You spent WAAAAAY too much on case + PSU for a not-overclocked "budget" rig. You should be lookin for either <$20 cases and buying a new PSU or cases that come with decent PSUs. Really shouldn't cost over $80.


dunno man, IMO they could have spent more on the psu. This is just me, they did mention NOT to skimp on the psu and I agree with them totally on this aspect. It is the one component inside a case that is replaced the least, lasts the longest and can cause the most problems when it is a cheap one. I have had more issues that are traced to psu failure, and any time that has happened it was a cheap psu. My current one is as cheap as I would ever go, and even this moment I regret going that cheap. (no problems, but it nags at me, am gonna upgrade it here soon)

A cheap psu can even cause premature component failure elsewhere with "dirty" power or improper/fluctuating specs. Really, I think they hit a good balance...

...again, that is just me. :p 
May 8, 2007 10:25:24 PM

Yep, sojrner's spot on the money. Frankly, I no longer recommend anybody get a case that comes with a PSU at all unless the included PSU is a decent name brand/has proven itself through testing.

Too many crap bundled PSUs out there causing too much crashing. Just because it's budget doesn't mean that instability is OK.
May 8, 2007 10:46:56 PM

“First, let's consider the price: when we checked, a retail Athlon X2 3800+ CPU was a mere $82. The cheapest we could find on the Core2 Duo side of things was the e4300 for $125. Do the math and you can see that's over a 40% price difference…”

1. $125 - $82 = $43 / $125 = 0.344 or a 34.4% price difference not a 40%+ price difference.

2. I have found the e4300 for as low as $114.50 at newegg* which is only a 28.4% price difference.

3. Is the e4300 28% better than the 3800+? I don’t have the benches to answer that question but throw in lower power consumption, superior overclocking and upgradability and that extra $32.50 seems totally justified.


* http://www.newegg.com/product/product.asp?item=N82E1681...
May 8, 2007 10:58:01 PM

I like the Centurion. I got one for the system I just built. One thing not mentioned that is pretty critical, especially when using a couple larger hard drives; A cooling fan for the hard drives in the front of the case. It's just an 80mm hole which is not great but I mounted an Antec fan with a thermistor which I taped to one of the hard drives, so it blows harder when the drive gets hot. I have had a couple hard drives go bad so I understand that having cool hard drives is not an option.
Otherwise, a nice system!

Roach
May 8, 2007 11:01:36 PM

It's actually somewhat similar to my build.


Newegg prices
Shipping added onto prices.


X2 3600+ processor 65nm $69
2gb PC-6400 Wintec AmpX $95
Sapphire 1950GT $129
Centurion 5 Case $55
Western Digitial Caviar $66
Biostar T-Force 550 Motherboard $76
Sony 18x DVD recorder $35

I reused an Antec TP2 550w PSU, but I'd say about $50 on a PSU.

~575$
May 8, 2007 11:05:18 PM

I'm surprised it took this long to have somebody say that you should have used the intel chip. For a comparable chip, why not choose the cheaper one? The power consumption argument isn't a good one since some benches show that AMD chips, while having a higher peak wattage, are less power hungry in most situations. And of course, as mentioned in the article, motherboards are cheaper for AM2 than 775.

Oh and BTW, I have seen 3800s for cheaper than $82 as well. In fact, right now they are $80 on newegg:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...
May 8, 2007 11:10:04 PM

I agree on the cost question between an AMD MB & chip and an Intel. However, at this point one should definitely go with Core duo when possible. Another $50-100 and they could OC like crazy and get waaay more performance.
May 8, 2007 11:29:26 PM

Quote:
“First, let's consider the price: when we checked, a retail Athlon X2 3800+ CPU was a mere $82. The cheapest we could find on the Core2 Duo side of things was the e4300 for $125. Do the math and you can see that's over a 40% price difference…”

1. $125 - $82 = $43 / $125 = 0.344 or a 34.4% price difference not a 40%+ price difference.

2. I have found the e4300 for as low as $114.50 at newegg* which is only a 28.4% price difference.

3. Is the e4300 28% better than the 3800+? I don’t have the benches to answer that question but throw in lower power consumption, superior overclocking and upgradability and that extra $32.50 seems totally justified.


* http://www.newegg.com/product/product.asp?item=N82E1681...


um, 125 is 52% more than 82. And 82 * 1.28 is only 104.96 (not 114.5). All you did was express the difference a ratio of the larger number to make it seem smaller. And since the question was plainly stated as ~"how much more would we have to spend to get C2D?" they expressed it the right way. learn2math fanboi. Also, the prices are dropping on BOTH chips. Next time check your math and use updated statistics for BOTH datapoints.

Not to mention they also clearly stated that it didn't matter how much more powerful a C2D would be, it's more expensive and this is a budget rig build (they actually said it like many many times). And you conveniently forgot about motherboard and PSU cost which probably would have gone up for a C2D OCing rig.
May 8, 2007 11:41:11 PM

Damn, you caught my math abuse! Good job.
May 9, 2007 1:33:25 AM

I'd like to express a newb wish for TG articles: please give more coverage for the HTPC side of things. Except for a recent article about a rather high end HTPC your emphasis is mostly on gaming. I'd like to see benchmarks/discussion on how various video sources such as standard DVDs and HD stuff show on a 1080p TV display, which video cards have HDMI outputs, how expandable is what you build for adding stuff like Blu-ray drives. Since this is a rapidly evolving area it would be nice to have more coverage of the current state and about what to anticipate in the near future.

Thanks, Zach.
May 9, 2007 2:32:49 AM

Ouch. Pretty sad that I spent almost 3 times as much ($1400) on my own homebuilt w/ somewhat comparable hardware only 6 months ago...

C2D 6600
asus p5b-e mobo
7600GT
300GB western digital
2 gb G-skillz RAM


Understandably a more powerful system, but not THAT much more powerful... at least not $900 worth...

I guess thems the breaks in the PC world...
May 9, 2007 3:13:56 AM

I built mine (see sig) for about $1650 Including tax and shipping.
May 9, 2007 4:20:03 AM

Quote:
I'd like to express a newb wish for TG articles: please give more coverage for the HTPC side of things. Except for a recent article about a rather high end HTPC your emphasis is mostly on gaming. I'd like to see benchmarks/discussion on how various video sources such as standard DVDs and HD stuff show on a 1080p TV display, which video cards have HDMI outputs, how expandable is what you build for adding stuff like Blu-ray drives. Since this is a rapidly evolving area it would be nice to have more coverage of the current state and about what to anticipate in the near future.

Thanks, Zach.



I would like to second this motion (from a not so "newb"). There is definately more to cover when looking at the gaming side. And I'm sure some of the HTPC concepts are much more subjective than gaming (FPS is easy to quantitatively measure, color reproduction is more difficult), but I've seen info that says a 4400+ is about the minimum recommended for smooth playback of Bluray. In a year, everything out there will have no problem playing a Bluray disc - but how would this system fair? Could it be upgraded with a drive a few years from now without having to replace the bulk of the system? Granted, this system doesn't have a Bluray disc player (and probably won't, ever, since it's a budget system), but it's more of the concept of application. The HTPC's article Zach mentioned were all well over $2000. That was a decent article, but considering this system was $550, did the extra $2000 really get you that much more capabilities? A HTPC will cost a little more, and this is the budget system (maybe the mid level will have more relevant HTPC info?), but I guess we're just asking you to keep that aspect of buiilds in mind. What about a HTPC on a budget article? Now that's something I would be very interested in!

After all that, I would also like to say that this was a very good article overall and applaud your choices, especially the "hard" ones where it's so easy to just say "get the better one".
May 9, 2007 7:16:51 AM

Quote:
I just wanted to say to everybody - thanks for the kind words.

I thought we were going to be crucified for some of the choices Thomas (Crashman) & myself made for this build, but everyone's being very respectful and pleasant. Looks like we didn't have much to worry about.

Then again, as the price gets higher in the midrange and high end segments, people's opinons on our choice of hardware might polarize. We'll see what the next few days has to offer. :) 
Nice article, really. You clearly took into account a lot of what you anticipated the criticism would be, and explained clearly why you made the decisions you did -- single channel ram, psu, AMD vs. Intel. Good article.

I'd just like to add that for the 7600GT setup you could really get by on a $44 400W Sparkle/FSP or even a $32 350W Sparkle/FSP. They're high quality and they're adequate for that system. Yes, they're less scalable and the 400W might not run a 8800GTX. But for a lot of people on a budget, that's not an issue.
May 9, 2007 7:23:38 AM

At times you can find Antec Sonata II cases for $50 after rebate (CompUSA for example). That comes with a decent brand 450W PSU (Antec SP-450). Should help lower the price.

Personally I'm not very ecstatic about the Smart Power series from Antec. I've had an SP-450 (coming with the Sonata II) and SP-500 silently die on me after ~8 months of service. Now running with the RMA-d SP-500. This is on my wife's computer, which stays on (and idle) for much longer.

I have very pleasant experience with Fortron power supplies though. I have FSP550 on my computer and no issues with it whatsoever for now 3 and a half years. Much quieter than the Antec-s too... (Yes, I do need to upgrade soon...)
May 9, 2007 9:36:16 AM

Quote:

Personally I'm not very ecstatic about the Smart Power series from Antec. I've had an SP-450 (coming with the Sonata II) and SP-500 silently die on me after ~8 months of service. Now running with the RMA-d SP-500. This is on my wife's computer, which stays on (and idle) for much longer.


I'll have to agree on the Antec PS. I built computers for my sisters while visiting with them last summer and used the Sonata case with 450W Antec PS's. They both died within a couple weeks of each other. One sis took her computer to a pro to fix, the other shipped hers back to me. I got a replacement under warranty and shipped it back to her but it only lasted a few minutes before blowing again. This time she took hers to a pro and they put another brand in and it's been OK since. I have also personally had one go low-volt on me (the 12v rail was only giving 10.3v) and another blow. No more for me.

Roach
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