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Value Conclusion

System Builder Marathon, March 2011: Value Compared
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Drive performance plays a big role in our average performance calculations, even when minimized to only 10% of the overall value, thanks to the huge advantage of the $2000 machine's twin SSDs. This technology isn’t even an option for the $500 PC, since an SSD large enough to hold our benchmark suite costs around $160. Using a smaller Windows-only SSD to represent the load-time improvements of all programs would be cheating. The $1000 PC could have used a single SSD to get at least half of the $2000 machine’s drive performance, but that addition would have forced compromises in other parts of the machine. These “real world” builds still require at least a few hundred megabytes of HDD storage to hold the files that accumulate during real-world use.

Reducing the drive performance portion of our overall performance score from 25% (December’s SBM) to the current 10% puts our “bang for the buck” chart back in its expected order. The $500 build comes out on top, with a 15% value improvement when overclocked, and the $1000 PC languishes in the middle.

Topping our value charts, the question remains of whether or not the $500 PC is suitable to performance users. The answer is, unfortunately, no. Gamers are forced to sacrifice either quality or resolution to get playable frames above 1280x1024 consistently, and its target resolution was only 1680x1050 from the outset. Things didn’t look much better in applications, as those who use their computers as home workstations must wait at least twice as long for this machine to complete a task compared to the $2000 PC.

The best compromise for those who cannot afford the $2000 build but still want adequate performance is the $1000 build. It’s a perfectly capable gamer at 1920x1080, and has at least 2/3 the program performance of its double-priced competitor. Expanding its budget by another $140 would have even allowed the addition of an 80 GB SSD, and that might have even been enough for the system to overtake its cheaper rival in the value chart.

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