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System Builder Marathon, March 2011: Value Compared

System Builder Marathon, March 2011: Value Compared
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System Builder Marathon, March 2011: The Articles

Here are links to each of the four articles in this month’s System Builder Marathon (we’ll update them as each story is published). And remember, these systems are all being given away at the end of the marathon.

To enter the giveaway, please fill out this Google form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: The $2,000 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1,000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $500 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected
Day 5: Tom's Hand-Picked SuperCombo

Introduction

I find it almost ironic that folks who use the value label in talking about their most affordable finds will then go on to talk about the value of their most expensive purchases. The true meaning of value varies between all of us, so long as the product we're talking about does its job the way we want it to. Any product that doesn’t perform adequately then becomes worthless.

Putting aside those qualitative assessments, value can also be determined mathematically by comparing performance to price. The numeric “bang-for-the-buck” result is an easy tool for picking winners, but doesn’t do a good enough job explaining whether the winning product can sufficiently fill the buyer’s needs. A perfect comparison would discuss numeric expressions of performance-value, as well as the suitability of each system for specific tasks.

System Builder Marathon Components
 $550 PC$1000 PC$2000 PC
MotherboardASRock M3A770DE
Socket AM3, AMD 770/SB710
ARock P67 Extreme4
LGA 1155, Intel P67 Express
Asus P8P67 WS Revolution
LGA 1155, Intel P67 Express
ProcessorAMD Phenom II X4 925 2.8GHz
Quad-Core, 6MB Cache
Intel Core i5-2500K 3.30 GHz
Quad-Core, 6 MB Cache
Intel Core i7-2600K 3.40 GHz
Quad-Core, HT, 8 MB Cache
MemoryG.Skill F3-10666CL9D-4GBNS
DDR3-1333 C9, 2GB x2 (4GB)
G.Skill F3-10666CL7D-4GBRH
DDR3-1333 C7, 2GB x2 (4GB)
G.Skill F3-12800CL8D-8GBXM
DDR3-1600 C8, 4GB x2 (8GB)
GraphicsSapphire 100315L
Radeon HD 6850 1GB
Gigabyte GV-R695D5-2GD-B
Radeon HD 6950 2GB
2x XFX HD-695A-CNFC
Radeon HD 6950 2GB, XFire
System DriveSamsung F4 HD322GJ/U 320GB
7200 RPM, 16MB Cache
Samsung F3 HD103SJ 1.0 TB
7200 RPM, 32MB Cache
2x A-Data S599 SSD, Striped
64 GB x2 (128 GB Combined)
Storage DriveUses System DriveUses System DriveSamsung F3 HD103SJ 1.0 TB
7200 RPM, 32MB Cache
OpticalLite-On iHAS 124-04
24X DVD±R, 48X CD-R
Asus DRW-24B1ST
24X DVD±R, 48X CD-R
Lite-On iHBS212 BD-RE
12X BD-R, 16X DVD±R
CaseXigmatek ASGARD IIIn-Win AndroidAntec Three Hundred Illusion
PowerAntec EA380D 380W
ATX12V v2.3, 80-Plus Bronze
Corsair CMPSU-650TX 650W
ATX12V v2.2, 80 PLUS
Seasonic SS-850HT 850W
ATX12V v2.31, 80 PLUS Silver
Heat SinkAMD Boxed CoolerCooler Master Hyper 212 PlusScythe Mugen 2 Rev. B
(SCMG-2100)
 Total Price
$527$977$1975


The cheapest PC in today’s comparison is already equipped with a high-performance graphics card and, as always, will receive the same level of overclocking attention as its high-priced competitors. The real question, then, is how far up the performance ladder the $550 PC can climb, and whether the superior components in the $1000 and $2000 builds will allow them to double and quadruple the less-expensive machine's performance?

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  • 1 Hide
    tapher , March 29, 2011 4:34 AM
    A $500 build, together with a Sony FW900 or equivalent monitor, could be had for under $800 total. Wow!
  • 4 Hide
    hmp_goose , March 29, 2011 4:46 AM
    Did you just say "$300 monitor on a $500 box"? Really?
  • 0 Hide
    qwertymac93 , March 29, 2011 5:10 AM
    hmp_gooseDid you just say "$300 monitor on a $500 box"? Really?


    how much is a good surround sound system?
    how much is a blu-ray player?
    I rest my case.
  • 2 Hide
    jsowoc , March 29, 2011 5:37 AM
    What if you scaled down from 100% as opposed to up from 100%? If the 2kOC machine had 100 in each category, the SSD would be "naturally" toned down. The $500 machine would be at ~40% for gaming, A/V and productivity, and ~10% for storage.

    Taking a simple average you'd get that the $500 machine is typically about 30% the speed of the $2000 OC machine. An SSD does improve the day-to-day performance of a computer significantly.
  • 4 Hide
    Ragnar-Kon , March 29, 2011 5:40 AM
    Being the poor college student I am, the blue bar is my favorite. And that O/C'd $1000 build is looking pretty good in my book. I've built AMD systems since the Athlon XP days because the price/performance ratio of Intel chips just wasn't worth it to me. But, I shall have to take a close look at the Intel i5 for my next build.

    qwertymac93how much is a good surround sound system?how much is a blu-ray player?I rest my case.

    1) Surround sound system = not worth it.
    2) Blu-ray player = Definitely not worth it.
    3) $300 monitor = not worth it.

    Of course, this could be the my inner poor college student talking. I'm sure for some people it is worth it.
  • 4 Hide
    sudeshc , March 29, 2011 7:17 AM
    you can get good LED monitor of decent size in under $100 and that would be perfect for $500 build.
  • 3 Hide
    Luay , March 29, 2011 8:19 AM
    A job well done Tom! Thankyou.
    The $500 AMD machine underperformed in the CPU department. I think the Intel i3 2120 paired with a H61 motherboard would have been the better choice.
    $1,000 rig was near perfection.
    $2,000 rig suffered from CPU bottlenecks at resolutions lower than 2560x1600 so it should be paired with at least $600 worth of display(s).
  • 4 Hide
    Dyers Eve , March 29, 2011 8:20 AM
    Well I think we are all thinking the same thing and that is holy jebus SSDs are awesome. 60GB SSDs are at around $120 now so maybe in a year the $500 builds will get an SSD.

    Your second to last paragraph needlessly bashes the $500 system. So a cheap build is bad for a user that only wants performance? Well, duh.

    Your $500 build was titled as a gaming PC and now that only counts for 30% of average performance. Mixing all of the stats into one performance bar is useless to everyone. Keep the gamer/av/production separate as that is more useful.
  • 2 Hide
    scootermg , March 29, 2011 12:07 PM
    If you wanted to alter these PCs from "Gamers Rig" to "Programmers Rig" (ie. capable of running several virtual machines, with Ubuntu 64 as host). What would you alter?

    I was thinking of taking the $2K model and
    -- doubling up the RAM from 8 to 16
    -- cutting from 2 SSD to 1
    -- downgrading the graphics card, to I don't know what
    -- deleting the CPU cooler.. I will not be over-clocking
    -- leaving the rest as is

    I propose downgrading the 2K PC vice upgrading the 1K because I feel ASUS/INTEL/Ubuntu64 combo is better for virtualization than AROCK/INTEL.

    Maybe the 1K PC can do it also.
  • 2 Hide
    lamorpa , March 29, 2011 12:36 PM
    In the conclusion:
    Quote:
    the $2000 machines twin SSDs

    the $2000 machine[missing single quote for possessive]s twin SSDs
  • 2 Hide
    burnley14 , March 29, 2011 1:08 PM
    Wow, AMD chips are just getting murdered these days. Hopefully they can pull something out of their hat here soon.
  • 3 Hide
    cknobman , March 29, 2011 1:15 PM
    First of all great series Toms. This is one of the most well rounded marathons I have ever seen. In fact the OC 2000 build almost approaches a %100 value and this is the first time I have ever seen the high end build not get obliterated in value.

    Second:
    Quote:
    Ed.: or drop it altogether in favor of Crysis 2

    I LOL'd at this. No disrespect but why in the h3ll would you replace the original PC dx10 Crysis with the dumbed down console port dx9 Crysis 2?

    Anyways I would be proud to own any of these systems.

    I hate to say it(as an AMD stock holder) but the performance gap is so large on AMD procs vs. Intel procs it wont be long before it will be hard to justify using AMD in even the budget builds.
  • 5 Hide
    amk09 , March 29, 2011 1:41 PM
    cknobman.I hate to say it(as an AMD stock holder) but the performance gap is so large on AMD procs vs. Intel procs it wont be long before it will be hard to justify using AMD in even the budget builds.


    Sooooo many people hating on AMD when they really should be appreciating that they are still(just barely) managing to keep up with intel.

    Obviously Intel is several generations ahead of AMD, and performance and prices show. That being said, AMD released the Phenom II x4 chips back in JANUARY OF 2009(THATS ALMOST 2008 PEOPLE!!!) and they are STILL chugging along, at a VERY affordable price. You guys can't possibly expect chips from early 09 to compete with chips in 2011 can you? People need to appreciate the fact that because of AMD you can build a pretty god damn solid gaming computer with $500 worth of parts.

    Anyways, bulldozer is coming out this summer, and IM FUCKING PUMPED, because its going to AWESOME. Can't wait for the $200 bulldozer quad-cores that can keep up with(and beat?) $300 i7's.
  • 3 Hide
    cknobman , March 29, 2011 1:54 PM
    @amk09

    Im not hating, but I am living in reality. Im pumped about bulldozer as well, just wish it didnt take so fracking long to get here.

    I need an infusion in my stock prices damnit!!!!!!
  • -1 Hide
    scook9 , March 29, 2011 2:07 PM
    amk09Sooooo many people hating on AMD when they really should be appreciating that they are still(just barely) managing to keep up with intel. Obviously Intel is several generations ahead of AMD, and performance and prices show. That being said, AMD released the Phenom II x4 chips back in JANUARY OF 2009(THATS ALMOST 2008 PEOPLE!!!) and they are STILL chugging along, at a VERY affordable price. You guys can't possibly expect chips from early 09 to compete with chips in 2011 can you? People need to appreciate the fact that because of AMD you can build a pretty god damn solid gaming computer with $500 worth of parts. Anyways, bulldozer is coming out this summer, and IM FUCKING PUMPED, because its going to AWESOME. Can't wait for the $200 bulldozer quad-cores that can keep up with(and beat?) $300 i7's.

    And when Phenom II x4 was released it was still slower than Intels already year old Core 2 Quads....they are just behind....that is why the newest AMD stuff is still slower than the original i7 stuff that is now over 2 years old

    cknobmanFirst of all great series Toms. This is one of the most well rounded marathons I have ever seen. In fact the OC 2000 build almost approaches a %100 value and this is the first time I have ever seen the high end build not get obliterated in value. Second: I LOL'd at this. No disrespect but why in the h3ll would you replace the original PC dx10 Crysis with the dumbed down console port dx9 Crysis 2?Anyways I would be proud to own any of these systems.I hate to say it(as an AMD stock holder) but the performance gap is so large on AMD procs vs. Intel procs it wont be long before it will be hard to justify using AMD in even the budget builds.

    Crysis 2 in a benchmark suite would be fine.....as long as you still have the original in there as well. I still use Crysis Benches when making GPU decisions as it is one of the few games I play that is still in benchmark suites

    Ragnar-KonBeing the poor college student I am, the blue bar is my favorite. And that O/C'd $1000 build is looking pretty good in my book. I've built AMD systems since the Athlon XP days because the price/performance ratio of Intel chips just wasn't worth it to me. But, I shall have to take a close look at the Intel i5 for my next build.1) Surround sound system = not worth it.2) Blu-ray player = Definitely not worth it.3) $300 monitor = not worth it.Of course, this could be the my inner poor college student talking. I'm sure for some people it is worth it.

    I had surround sound ($200), blu-ray ($180) in my PC, and 2 24" monitors ($450 each) in college.....they are all easily worth it if you can afford them after paying the bills (bills still come first of course)
  • 3 Hide
    zooted , March 29, 2011 2:07 PM
    cknobman@amk09Im not hating, but I am living in reality. Im pumped about bulldozer as well, just wish it didnt take so fracking long to get here.I need an infusion in my stock prices damnit!!!!!!

    Luckily AMD is still going strong in the gpu department, and soon netbooks will be shipped with fusion chips.
  • 1 Hide
    lutris , March 29, 2011 2:20 PM
    Interesting to see how the gaming performance scaled across the three machines; double your cost for root two times as much performance.

    It's a great time to be a skinflint gamer; my current box was $400 for a new CPU, GPU, motherboard, and RAM and I'm delighted with it. I tend to wait for games to drop in price before buying so this rig plays everything I've tried at 1920x1200 on full settings. It cost about as much as a new 360 with a full set of controllers.

    I'd love to see a retrospective analysis over the last few years of system builds, compare the value in buying a cheap system and upgrading twice as often versus spending twice as much and waiting longer.
  • 3 Hide
    landos , March 29, 2011 2:53 PM
    Tom & Co.,
    I posted this in the $1000 build article, and was suggested to post it here so it could get disseminated to the rest the team. I was wondering if next time (I've been told it's too late for this time around) if in addition to the heat & Temps section, if we could get a noise comparison? Especially with the dual 6850s requiring a manual fan adjustment to cool them, how much of a hit did you have to take on the ears? My gaming rig and productivity machines are in the same room as my wife's silent netbook, and I know how fans can skyrocket in the noise dept from 60% to 100%. Anyways, great article and thanks for the continued excellence
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , March 29, 2011 3:37 PM
    I agree with Dyers Eve that the $550 "gaming" PC shouldn't have non-gaming scores considered when looking at its overall value; if intended to be a general purpose PC, different component choices would probably have been made. For those willing to turn down some eye candy, and simply enjoy the gameplay, it looks from the benchmarks as though even a lesser GPU could have produced playable frame rates.
    Still, this isn't a be-all, end-all analysis, just like any other build article. It adds more data to the "index;" I think we can all see how we might change any of these to make them better for a specific purpose.
    In any case, I've entered, and wouldn't mind winning any of these:
    $550 PC: Would go to my father, although possibly with a lesser GPU, as he doesn't play demanding games.
    $1000 PC: Built in an Enermax Hoplite, this would become my new primary PC. I'd add a SSD to it and possibly use a Seasonic X-560 for efficiency.
    $2000 PC: I'd pull one GPU and add a 500+GB HDD, build this in the Hoplite, and it would become my primary; likely also with the X-560.

  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , March 29, 2011 4:59 PM
    lamorpaIn the conclusion:the $2000 machine[missing single quote for possessive]s twin SSDs
    I think that's called an apostrophe:) 
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