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Value Conclusion

System Builder Marathon, Sept. 2010: Value Compared
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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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