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Challenge: Build this i7 machine for less

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July 21, 2009 7:52:28 PM

Okay all you Build-Your-Own-For-Less folks out there... Show me the money. :)  I've been pricing components and I'd like to build a pretty-powerful system and I am unable to build a system with comparable components than Dell can sell me today for $900.

Main Purpose: Graphic Design, Video Rendering, Running Virtual Machines
Primary Hardware Requirements: Intel i7 920, 6GB RAM
Secondary Hardware Requirements: decent graphics to run multiple monitors, I prefer quiet systems over noisy systems

Dell has a Studio XPS Intel i7 920 + 6GB DDR3 + Radeon 4350 + Integrated 7.1 Audio + 500GB HDD for $899.

My research shows that motherboard w/integrated audio ($290 Asus) processor ($280) ram ($110) video card ($100) alone is $800. That's before adding power supply, case, HDD, CD/DVD burner, and OS -- not to mention non-essentials such as keyboard and mouse.

I will admit that I like Dell and I did work for Dell for a while and this is not an ad for Dell but I priced this system today and I can't find a way to build my own for less. In these forums I often see statements along the lines of: "You can always build the same-component system yourself for less." Without additional evidence, I'm not so sure. So what am I failing to see? How can I build this system for less? I am open to suggestions.

July 22, 2009 4:48:26 AM

Intel Core i7 Quad Core Processor Boxed Retail - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Foxconn FlamingBlade GTI LGA1366 ATX X58 - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Windows Vista 64 BIT Home Premium OS SP1 - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Patriot 6GB (3 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1066 - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Hitachi Desktar 500GB SATA 3.0GBs 7200RPM - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

HP DVD Burner / CD Burner - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Sapphire HD4350 512MB GPU - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

DCT Factory Keyboard USB - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Rosewill 3 Button USB 800 DPI Optical Mouse - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

CoolerMaster ExtremePower 550W PSU - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Rosewill ATX R230 Case - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Total - $852.00

Did I miss anything?

Another thing is......you can overclock on this build to get more performance if needed but on the Dell you can't overclock since the BIOS is locked.
July 22, 2009 5:59:49 AM

AKM has arrived at a slightly lower price above. There are three other things you also need to consider.

1. Most of the above parts - all but the mobo, dvd writer, keyboard, and mouse - come with free shipping compared to $40 for the Dell. Most likely another $20-$30 savings to add to the $47 above.

2. If you want to purchase more than the basic system now, any upgrades cost substantially less in build your own.

Take memory. First, when I went online to Dell to find there cost to upgrade, I found the XPS 435 config for $899 – the standard package, but it shows only 3 gigs of memory. To upgrade it to the 6 you show, cost another whopping $150. How did you get the 6GB?

Nevertheless, assuming your number is correct (although I don’t know that is a good assumption) to double the memory to 12GB Dell charges and more astounding $300 – when in the build above you only have to match the memory shown for a mere $83. $300 vs $83

Or say you want to go one step up from the very primitive 4350 video card. The next step Dell offers is the 4670 for a $100 additional charge. At newegg, you can get this ASUS card for $58. Off course you then would not buy the 4350 shown above for $43, so the net increase in cost is $15. $100 vs $15. Off course you could order the system from Dell with the 4350 and throw it away and buy the $58 card from newegg and still save $42 from what you would pay Dell and only have paid $43 more than the system above.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

3. Where the big savings really come though when you want to upgrade later.

Note that no PSU is listed in your configuration. Dell usually does not list one because of its relatively small size which places a severe limit on upgrading the existing system. The spec list for your sytem says it is 475w – which is large for Dell. I am guessing that AKM chose the 550w model because he thought that was appropriate for the system. Looking at what is available only with at least 475w, I would select the OCZ Modstream Pro 500w PSU for $39AR and save another $20 (pushing the totals savings to about $92 still assuming that the 6GB of memory is correct). Oh yes – that is after rebate – getting rebates is one of the things you can do when you build your own. Note that about a week ago I could have purchased the Intel i970 processor on sale at Mircrocenter for only $200 - another $80 savings.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=E...

A strill bigger difference comes when you try to upgrade some parts – especially the video card – and have to purchase a whole new and larger power supply – for instance pay the $59 for the 550w PSU that AKM already included.

It should also be noted that the Dell case, while more stylish - I'll give you that - comes with limits to upgradability. It has only 2 external 5.5" bays, 1 3.5" bay, and only 2 internal 3.2" HD bays, compared to the case AMK selected above with 3,2, and 4 bays respectively - 4 (or 80%) more bays not inconsequential for those using more than 2 hard drives or 3 external devices.

And the real difference comes when you want to go to a new CPU and have to replace mobo and ram. With a homebuild – you can usually do that for about $400 - $500 dollars and reuse your case, psu, operating system, keyboard, and mouse. With a Dell you cannot do those kind of upgrades. So you have to instead spend another $900 for a new system.
$900 vs $500.


So you have to consider a lot more in comparing the cost of a Dell vs. homebuild.

But for starters please explain how you got the 6GB of memory without paying the $150 additional charge shown on the Dell Site.

This link shows the basic configuration for $899 with 3 GB of memory

http://www.dell.com/us/en/home/desktops/desktop-studio-...

And this the upgrade price – if the link works with the way the work the site for customizing: [note that it opens with the first upgrade option - the processor - and you have to click on the memory icon and it will link to that piece in the upgrade window]

http://configure.us.dell.com/dellstore/config.aspx?oc=d...

And by the way - I built my current system and my prior one was a Dell 8400, which I was very happy with. I purchased it new with warranty on eBay for about $300 less than it was selling for on the Dell site.
Related resources
July 22, 2009 6:26:26 AM

Wow. Rockyjohn you have very good reasoning. :D .

+3
July 22, 2009 2:04:08 PM

AKM880 - please accept my deepest appreciation and congratulations on your fine work here. I am very impressed and I thank you for all your time and effort. Well done! I don't see anything missing -- you've covered all the bases. Thank you.

Rockyjohn - you bring up several valid points about the advantages of homebuilding -- reuse of parts rather than repurchasing and overclocking capabilities are especially pertinent.

To answer your specific questions, the Studio XPS (hopefully that link works) I looked at starts with 3GB RAM at $749. Upgrading to 6GB is the $150 increase. I won't get into a back-and-forth about "I will change the rules and my system price is now lower" because I hate when forum posts do that and it doesn't help anyone and people just get ugly. AKM880 met the challenge and beat the price. I stand corrected. But since you did question how I got 6GB for $899 I wanted to explain how. And, you'll see that there is free shipping for that system. But yes, you are correct and I've seen this time and time again: the base price on the Dell system is the best price and you can save money by purchasing the component separately and swapping it out with the base system component. When I purchased my Latitude D600 I purchased it with a CD ROM only and then purchased the CD/DVD-RW separately because the cost of the component was less than the upgrade of the same item. Excellent point on Dell purchasing strategy.

Again, thanks for your help. I have some serious thinking to do about how to proceed but all this information is very helpful.
July 22, 2009 4:00:08 PM

carlcamera said:

To answer your specific questions, the Studio XPS (hopefully that link works) I looked at starts with 3GB RAM at $749. Upgrading to 6GB is the $150 increase.


Yes, I found that link. Sorry for the mixup.

[LATE CORRECTION made on 7/27 - when you pointed out above that I was looking at the wrong configuration - which I was - I did not go back and double check the PSU for the corrected configuration as the others in the sames series that I had looked at both had the 450w PSU. However the correct one actually only has a 360w PSU - more severely restricting the choices for upgrading the video card and increasing the advantage of the alternate system with the 550w or 500w PSUs. I will not try to edit the several places below wherein I repeat my mistake, but will add another note at the bottom for the benefit of those who already read beyond this point.]
July 23, 2009 4:24:24 AM

AKM880 did a nice job in putting together a budget i7 build. No question, I'd take it over the Dell build.

I like how the Dell build doesn't even list the PSU. That's one of the most important components in a system.

I would use the difference in price to upgrade the HD and video card.
July 23, 2009 6:53:58 AM

Yeah, the i7 920 could probably be cheaper if it was bought from Microcenter, I think it was for $199? Anyways the Dell PSU was probably just a 500W or 550W unit.
July 23, 2009 8:54:09 AM

One might think they shoudl have at least a 500w, but no, I checked the system spec and it was only 450w. To their credit, Dell does have a reputation for using fairly sturdy PSUs that people report successfully using in configurations that on paper require a larger unit. The PSU in my Dell Demension 8400 [corrected from 4800 - thanks DellUser1] was made by Delta, who has basically no reputation good or bad that I am aware of with computer folk. But they have been manufacturing batteries and electrical components for major car manufacturers for over 50 years so I think they know what they are doing. And I think Dell wisely knows the importance of PSUs and minimizes having the many problems a poor PSU can cause by speccing (is that a real word?) strong PSUs. Good design + good manufacturer = good product. Just a little smaller than many would like for upgrading. For instance again in my 4800 - I could not go beyond a 6600GT video card and even that was pushing it a little - it required a 350w to 420w power supply.
July 23, 2009 9:00:31 AM

Dell PSU's are high quality units however, my system is OC'd and the 280W PSU is still holding up.
July 23, 2009 9:43:26 PM

^^ W/ what video card?

July 24, 2009 8:06:31 AM

9600GT Overclocked with stock voltages, however I don't think a 9600GT draws alot of power.

July 24, 2009 8:03:49 PM

Ya, it only draws ~190w on load. I don't think it would power anything much bigger.
July 24, 2009 8:42:30 PM

According to these commonly referenced tables:

http://archive.atomicmpc.com.au/forums.asp?s=2&c=7&t=93...

The idle/max 2d/max 3d power requirements for a 9600 GT with 512MB VRAM are:

27W-34W-61W

Where did you get approx 190w?

[Edit note - keep in mind that the recommended PSU size below is for the entire system with the 9600GT installed]

I sure wish nVidia was more forthright in putting forward the basic power usuage of its reference models - and card manufacturers likewise. Out of curiosity I checked the newegg listing for the EVGA 9600 GT and it said a PSU minimun of 300w with 18amps on 12v circuit - then I clicked through to the EVGA site and found PSU power requirements listed at 350w with 20amps on the 12v circuit - then I clicked on the newegg listing for the BFG slightly OC 9600GT (still 512MB VRAM) and it said PSU of 425w with 12v rating of 28a - then I clicked through to the BFG site and at least it reported the same thing.
July 24, 2009 9:28:58 PM

Hehe, I'm cutting it close only 16A on the 12V rail.
July 24, 2009 9:31:07 PM

Here it says 95w
http://ixbtlabs.com/articles3/video/g94-part1.html
and I read an article when I posted the last message that mentioned the card OC'd using ~190w.

That is some serious discrepancy. I've never looked at atomicpc....are they reliable? The charts are a little confusing.
July 24, 2009 11:43:11 PM

I don't know how to reconcile xbitlabs saying 95w max with the listing I posted showing a 61w maximum. That gets back to what I was saying about I wish the players were more forthright - and you can add forthcoming - about power consumption.

Part of it could be measuring different things - the power consumption used "from the wall" if one is focusing on power cost vs. the load placed by the card on the PSU - the difference of course being the PSU efficiency factor which could make the "wall" amount 25% to 30% higher. Or it could be differences in specific cards, overclocking, or come from testing methods and random test variation.

I think the atomic list is generally reliable - I have seen it quoted by other reputable sources - but how reliable I don't know. In this environment I think one should never expect to precisely know their power consumption unless they measure it themselves. Also most don't seem to take into consideration that most PSUs are operate much more efficiently at 40% to 80% of capacity and outside this range the conversion efficiency of the PSU can drop significantly - up to 10-15%. The newer 80% ratings require a wider range, but even they don't require 80% at the two ends.

I think AKM880's situation is a testament to "overbuilt" Dell PSU's - and maybe a little bit of luck. Maybe he is sitting under some huge power lines and his PCU is actually pulling a little more power by inductance from the power lines. AKM - do you feel your life is a little more charged lately? Do you notice a tendency to spark in the morning? Do you wear rubber soled sneakers?
July 24, 2009 11:48:56 PM

Haha, LOL. Well I can't upgrade the PSU (Dell BTX Form Factor), so I guess I'll have to hope it doesn't go BOOM
July 25, 2009 6:26:30 AM

Thanks, but what makes it even worse is that the case is a slimline, even the SeaSonic TFX PSU won't fit. :( 
July 25, 2009 6:55:33 AM

Hmmm, sounds like it's time for some creative mods :)  or a new case.
July 25, 2009 10:56:54 PM

Yeah........but another case won't work. Dell proprietary BTX format. Time to build my own case :p 
July 26, 2009 10:21:34 PM

Kudos to Carl and AKM880.
Carl - looks like you started a thread with a lot of interest based on the number of views.
AKM880 - for the alternative system you designed.

Also, just wanted to let you both know that someone started a thread in Homebuilt asking about the desirability of purchasing a Dell XPS i7 system compared to BYO so I linked in this thread. That thread can be found at:

http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/268819-31-home-build-...
July 26, 2009 10:25:27 PM

rockyjohn said:
One might think they shoudl have at least a 500w, but no, I checked the system spec and it was only 450w. To their credit, Dell does have a reputation for using fairly sturdy PSUs that people report successfully using in configurations that on paper require a larger unit. The PSU in my Dell Demension 4800 was made by Delta, who has basically no reputation good or bad that I am aware of with computer folk. But they have been manufacturing batteries and electrical components for major car manufacturers for over 50 years so I think they know what they are doing. And I think Dell wisely knows the importance of PSUs and minimizes having the many problems a poor PSU can cause by speccing (is that a real word?) strong PSUs. Good design + good manufacturer = good product. Just a little smaller than many would like for upgrading. For instance again in my 4800 - I could not go beyond a 6600GT video card and even that was pushing it a little - it required a 350w to 420w power supply.

I know I'm a little late to the party, oh well. :( 
Delta has a very good reputation in the server world, and now that they provide platforms for units such as the Antec Signature they're gaining a good reputation in the consumer market.
Never heard of a Dimension 4800, do you mean 8400 ? The 350 watt 28 amp psu in mine had no problem running an overclocked 7900 GTO ( to bad the P4 couldn't push it ).
I can't comment on some of the new power supplies ( they're using Hipro's and Liteon's in many machine's ) but the Newton/Delta's could do the job just fine.
July 26, 2009 11:27:28 PM

Yes, 8400, I corrected it above. Thanks.

And regarding Dell PSUs - thank you for reminding me that one has to be careful in applying lessons from the past forward - things change.
July 27, 2009 5:09:03 AM

Another thread raised some questions about purchasing the Dell studio computers that might point out two additional advantages of AKM880's BYO over the Dell studio computers: A larger case and a full ATX mobo (assuming what other poster thought about the Studio's being mATX is correct) that allow for larger graphics cards and more of other components.

Also as a result, I looked more at Dell's full line and they obviously have two separate lines for gaming and Studio or AV work - with a clear differentiation in how they allocate spending to equip the PCs for their respective purposes. As I pointed out, it might not be a good idea - or cost effective - to try to force a studio computer into a gaming one.

Here is that thread:

http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/53590-2-dell-studio-d...

Of course, the originator of this thread, and to that end the responses, were geared towards his stated primary uses of graphic design and video rendering.
July 27, 2009 5:27:32 AM

One more thing to consider when trying to upgrade a Dell is airflow. If the board (mATX or not) has the room to upgrade video cards and such, it further blocks the airflow in the case. Dell's don't usually have the greatest cooling as it is.
July 27, 2009 6:45:55 AM

I posted a correction to my post of 7/22 and am repeating it here so those who have already read beyond that point might still see the correction - a rather significant one for those considering using the Dell for gaming, not so much for those using the Studio configuration for its intended use. Sorry for the error.

[LATE CORRECTION made on 7/27 - when you pointed out above that I was looking at the wrong configuration - which I was - I did not go back and double check the PSU for the corrected configuration as the others in the sames series that I had looked at both had the 450w PSU. However the correct one actually only has a 360w PSU - more severely restricting the choices for upgrading the video card and increasing the advantage of the alternate system with the 550w or 500w PSUs. I will not try to edit the several places below wherein I repeat my mistake, but will add another note at the bottom for the benefit of those who already read beyond this point.]
July 28, 2009 5:53:09 AM

I'm just putting together a tech station as a temporary casae for my Dell c521. Extremely horrible airflow in the orginal slimline case.
July 30, 2009 5:28:12 PM

AKM880 said:
Haha, LOL. Well I can't upgrade the PSU (Dell BTX Form Factor), so I guess I'll have to hope it doesn't go BOOM

uh i think your wrong dude as i upgrade a psu on a e521(normal atx psu) when installing a 9800gt fit just fine but yea btx is lame
July 31, 2009 1:12:38 AM

I have the C521 (Slimline)
July 31, 2009 2:45:16 AM

AKM880 said:
I have the C521 (Slimline)

yea that could be tricky
August 13, 2009 6:45:07 PM

AKM880 said:
Intel Core i7 Quad Core Processor Boxed Retail - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Foxconn FlamingBlade GTI LGA1366 ATX X58 - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Windows Vista 64 BIT Home Premium OS SP1 - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Patriot 6GB (3 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1066 - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Hitachi Desktar 500GB SATA 3.0GBs 7200RPM - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

HP DVD Burner / CD Burner - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Sapphire HD4350 512MB GPU - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

DCT Factory Keyboard USB - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Rosewill 3 Button USB 800 DPI Optical Mouse - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

CoolerMaster ExtremePower 550W PSU - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Rosewill ATX R230 Case - http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

Total - $852.00

Did I miss anything?

Another thing is......you can overclock on this build to get more performance if needed but on the Dell you can't overclock since the BIOS is locked.


Can you recommend a CPU fan for this system? Also, will this memory be ok if the CPU is overclocked to 3.8GHZ?
August 13, 2009 6:58:09 PM

The dark knight is a good cpu cooler. Yes, the RAM is fine for an OC.
August 13, 2009 7:25:10 PM

Is there a specific model for Dark Night or is that the only one?
Was thinking of using this memory instead: OCZ DDR3 1600 tri channel
August 13, 2009 7:30:24 PM

Ok, found it: XIGMATEK Dark Knight-S1283V 120mm Long Life Bearing CPU Cooler
August 13, 2009 7:41:50 PM

I do like the OCZ. If it fits in your budget, it's good quality RAM and is compatible with the build.

Yep, that's the cooler. It's one of the better ones.
August 13, 2009 7:46:58 PM

All that's left is a video card. This is for FSX so either Nvidia 9800 GT or ATI 4870
August 13, 2009 8:03:41 PM

The 4870 is a great card. No question, I'd go with the 4870 over the 9800.
August 16, 2009 1:05:36 AM

Yes, the 4870 should perform better than the 9800 in FSX. If you do decide to go with that Core i7 build, and overclock to 3.8GHz I'd suggest you get a Scythe Mugen 2. Great CPU fan for the price and very effective cooling.

Scythe Mugen 2 120mm CPU Cooler

Also, a better case would probably be a better choice. Something like a Antec 300 would do.

Antec Gamer 300


AKM880 :p 
August 17, 2009 5:59:48 AM

Raptor - what will you be using the computer for?

If primarlily game play, you can maximize performance in your budget range - at least in the range of the designated system - by switching to an AMD II x3 or x4 build and using the savings from CPU and mobo cost to upgrade video card and perhaps CPU. If you browse some of the builds in the Homebuilt forum you will see what I mean.

AKM880 designed his system specifically to beat the Dell challenge - and since it had the i7 CPU his design also had to have it. He was not designing the best graphics system for the money.

Now is you do a lot of video editing and/or rendering - then the i7 might start to make sense.
!