System Builder Marathon, Sept. 2010: Value Compared

Value Conclusion

The big questions for today’s system value comparison were whether the cheapest system could perform at minimally-acceptable levels, and whether the most expensive system’s low-cost six-core processor would beat the mid-priced system’s quad-core chip.

While widely-varied results prevent us from drawing broad conclusions, we can at least see that the $400 system completed every task. Built-in patience training is a feature, not a flaw.

Games further defined “acceptability” for the cheapest system, since it obviously wasn’t designed to support high resolutions and high details simultaneously. Half of our games played so slowly at 1280x1024 that we’re inclined to recommend 720p instead. Lower detail settings are another option you can use to increase frame rates, but many users would rather look at a slightly-pixelated image than one that lacks detail. Most of us could probably live with the $400 PC if money were extremely tight.

With the cheapest PC judged “barely acceptable,” let’s see how the others stand up to its value.

Overclocking adds 24% to the $400 system’s value, but it also brings the $1000 system up to 91% of the cheaper-rival’s base value. As fans of both efficiency and performance, our choice would probably be the mid-priced PC, despite the lower-cost build’s value lead.

Handicapped by its CPU in most games and several applications, our $2000 system falls to the bottom of the value chart. Though the Phenom II X6 doesn’t offer enough performance to justify the system’s costly graphics array, it does provide a big performance boost in the few applications that are designed to exploit threading. Thus, anyone whose applications benefit from this particular processor will find far better value using lower-priced graphics, and anyone who really wants to spend $2000 on a “do-everything” PC should pair that less expensive graphics card with a more powerful CPU.

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    Top Comments
  • avatar_raq
    TheCapulet it's just plain unbelievable that the builder didn't do his homework.

    If you read the article thoroughly you would know the reasons behind the CPU choice! And Thomas was honest about the results and he clearly said 'we failed'. Besides it IS nice to see someone try that and inform us so that we don't repeat the same, or similar, mistakes!


    TheCapulet This will be the first month that people sign up hoping to win the 1k machine instead of the 2k.

    Free is always good! For me, I wish I win the $2000 build, simply because the 2 gfx cards alone worth almost as the mid-priced build ($920 vs $1000)!
    22
  • stm1185
    Yeah the $2000 system did not make much sense. Only spending 10% of your build money on the CPU seems wrong. The two GTX480s and Nvidia mobo was bizarre. I guess they felt they had to throw the AMD CPU guys a bone. The lack of a solid state drive in a $2000 build was also odd to me. Which could be explained if your going after raw gaming power, where they did with the dual 480s, but then they gimped it with that AMD cpu. Why pair dual GTX 480s with a Phenom Hexacore; which are subpar for anything that uses 4 threads or less. For the same $2000, I think you would get a much better system with a core i7 950, 6gb of ddr3 1600, a 120gb SSD, and 2 GTX 460 1gb.
    21
  • cknobman
    I hope I win the 2000 build!!! Worst high performance build yet on Toms but best situation for whoever wins it.

    Strip out the power hungry 480's and sell them for a grand and buy a 5850 or 460 for 300 bucks.

    Brand new system and $700 in my pocket, what can be better than that!!!!!!!!
    16
  • Other Comments
  • karma831
    oops double post...

    Anyways, I didn't really like the builds this SBM but I learned quite a bit. Thanks for the great read.
    6
  • stm1185
    Yeah the $2000 system did not make much sense. Only spending 10% of your build money on the CPU seems wrong. The two GTX480s and Nvidia mobo was bizarre. I guess they felt they had to throw the AMD CPU guys a bone. The lack of a solid state drive in a $2000 build was also odd to me. Which could be explained if your going after raw gaming power, where they did with the dual 480s, but then they gimped it with that AMD cpu. Why pair dual GTX 480s with a Phenom Hexacore; which are subpar for anything that uses 4 threads or less. For the same $2000, I think you would get a much better system with a core i7 950, 6gb of ddr3 1600, a 120gb SSD, and 2 GTX 460 1gb.
    21
  • HibyPrime
    I usually skip over the power and efficiency pages of the high-end SBM build, because the power usage is mostly irrelevant for such a high-end build... but when I saw it in the efficiency comparison...

    ONE KILOWATT? seriously!?
    5
  • Crashman
    stm1185For the same $2000, I think you would get a much better system with a core i7 950, 6gb of ddr3 1600, a 120gb SSD, and 2 GTX 460 1gb.
    -1 for the SSD comments since these have always hurt the system's overall score in the benchmark-based value analysis.
    0
  • avatar_raq
    One of the odd things encountered in the $2000 build is the results of Dirt2. This game bears the AMD logo, and in one benchmark the intel system scored almost double!! OMG!! AMD guys really need to do something about their CPUs and their relations to game developers.
    -5
  • Anonymous
    SLI does not seems to work in AMD system or it is throttling.
    -4
  • Crashman
    MayPSLI does not seems to work in AMD system or it is throttling.
    The CPU is throttling the rest of the system. Most of the benchmarks show a CPU-capped pattern.
    9
  • Anonymous
    I'd like to have seen CS5 tests rather than CS4, considering you're using a Win 7 x64 build.
    8
  • Anonymous
    "The CPU is throttling the rest of the system. Most of the benchmarks show a CPU-capped pattern."

    There is noway i5 can be twice as fast as x6. Simply no way. Something is wrong. Unless there is an artificial limitation in the SLI board to prevent it running faster than that. Even 5670 is closer to SLI 480. Simply Dirt2 benchmark is wrong. And I sense SLI is not working. Better to try with Cross Fire setup.
    7
  • avatar_raq
    TheCapulet it's just plain unbelievable that the builder didn't do his homework.

    If you read the article thoroughly you would know the reasons behind the CPU choice! And Thomas was honest about the results and he clearly said 'we failed'. Besides it IS nice to see someone try that and inform us so that we don't repeat the same, or similar, mistakes!


    TheCapulet This will be the first month that people sign up hoping to win the 1k machine instead of the 2k.

    Free is always good! For me, I wish I win the $2000 build, simply because the 2 gfx cards alone worth almost as the mid-priced build ($920 vs $1000)!
    22
  • SpadeM
    I do understand that the staff hears what the community has to say about how the next builds should look like, but really, if you spend money on 2 x 480 and you know beforehand that the performance will be limited by your choice of cpu (since benchmarks of it existed before the build was done)then it's up to you to make that weird combination work. I know, the standard cooling on the mobo wasn't great so NB overclocking was out of the question, but still an after market cooler, a simple fan pointed at the chipset could have made a difference. Just to build a 2000$ system to see it fail isn't being responsible with your money and doesn't make any sense (maybe in the "we told you it would kind of way"). As for the rest, i only have one question ... what were the bios settings for the SpeedStep and C1E on the intel side .. since the x6 had it's C&Q disabled.

    All in all this was the most ... weird .. SBM to date.
    PS: kudos to Paul Henningsen, his build/review takes the cake this round.
    0
  • sincreator
    In Dirt 2 I get the same results, and I only have 1 HD5870. My 1090T is clocked at 4.2ghz and I have the NB/HT OC'ed as well. 2x GTX480 should of been alot faster, at least thats what I would of thought. At 1920x1080 and above with anti alising I thought the load was more on the GPU/GPUs. Something seems strange to me. What happens when you use one card? Do the FPS stay the same at 2560x1600 with AA also? I'm just curious, that's all. The FPS didn't even go up when you lowered the resolution. Weird stuff for sure.
    6
  • SSBrando
    Why didn't they bump up the Six core Phenom to it's big brother. you get 400 more MHz and an unlocked multiplier. I looked it up on newegg and they could have stayed in the $2000 limit. There's my two cents.
    2
  • IWC Member 23495867
    Can't say that I'm surprised with the results. Thanks again Tom for another SBM!
    0
  • Mottamort
    Wow. a few months ago I built a +-$400 equivalent budget-gaming box for someone and I used exactly the same stuff....scary
    1
  • cknobman
    I hope I win the 2000 build!!! Worst high performance build yet on Toms but best situation for whoever wins it.

    Strip out the power hungry 480's and sell them for a grand and buy a 5850 or 460 for 300 bucks.

    Brand new system and $700 in my pocket, what can be better than that!!!!!!!!
    16
  • Peciura
    THG have test results tat nVidia graphic cards are sensitive to CPU computation power (unlike Radeon). In fact AMD 6 core CPU is of very limited use (if any). General rule is : if you on tight budget buy AMD system if you need high end computer stick to Intel and nVidia.

    It would be very interesting to have a tool to compare any 2-3years old SBM systems among themselves with current newegg prices. This way it would be clear that any SBM system is just part of bigger picture and is not necessarily the best choice for the money.
    3
  • Jzcaesar
    Hmm, wow, to think about a month ago I thought all games were GPU limited. This certainly opens my eyes.
    3
  • plznote
    cknobmanI hope I win the 2000 build!!! Worst high performance build yet on Toms but best situation for whoever wins it. Strip out the power hungry 480's and sell them for a grand and buy a 5850 or 460 for 300 bucks.Brand new system and $700 in my pocket, what can be better than that!!!!!!!!


    That was a unit line in WarCraft 3!!
    -5
  • Onus
    This was a very interesting SBM series, with lessons to be learned at each price point. Knowing what NOT to do can be as useful as knowing what TO do. I'd love to win any of them, with these results:
    1. $2K PC: I'd remove and sell the two GPUs (my games don't need them), and add a single GTX460 or HD5850 and a SSD. Would become my primary system.
    2. $1K PC: I'd just add a SSD. Would also become my primary system.
    3. $400 PC: I'd toss the junk PSU and install a 380W Earthwatts, and probably add a quiet after-market CPU HSF. I'd probably swap the GPU for my HD4850, add a second larger HDD, then it would become a Christmas gift for my sister's family.
    5