System Builder Marathon, Sept. 2010: Value Compared

Test Setup And Benchmarks

September 2010 SBM Test Configurations
 $400 PC$1000 PC$2000 PC
Motherboard
(Overclock)
ASRock M3A770DE
Chipset: AMD 770/SB710
O/C to 214 MHz Ref. Clk.
Asus P7P55D-E LX
Chipset: Intel P55 Express
O/C to 178 MHz BCLK
MSI NF980-G65
Nvidia nForce 980a SLI
O/C to 188 MHz Ref. Clk.
Processor
(Overclock)
AMD Athlon II X3 440
3.0 GHz, Three Cores
O/C at X4 to 3.2 GHz, 1.3 V
Intel Core i5-750
2.66 GHz, Four Cores
O/C to 3.75 GHz at 1.36 V
AMD Phenom II X6 1055T
2.8 GHz, Six Cores
O/C to 4.0 GHz at 1.43 V
Memory
(Overclock)
2 GB Crucial DDR3-1333
CL 9-9-9-24, O/C at 1.65 V
to DDR3-1426, CL 8-8-8-24
4 GB Crucial DDR3-1333
CL 9-9-9-24, U/C at 1.50 V
to DDR3-1070, CL 8-8-8-22
8 GB G.Skill DDR3-1333
CL 9-9-9-24, O/C at 1.65 V
to DDR3-1533, CL 7-7-6-20
Graphics
(Overclock)
PowerColor Radeon HD 5670
775 MHz GPU,  GDDR5-4000
O/C to 850MHz, GDDR5-4200
MSI GeForce GTX 470
607 MHz GPU, GDDR5-3348
O/C to 690 MHz, GDDR5-3380
2 x MSI GeForce GTX 480
700 MHz GPU, GDDR5-3696
O/C to 816 MHz, GDDR5-4132
Hard DriveWestern Digital WD2500AAJS
250 GB, 7200 RPM
8 MB Cache,  SATA 3Gb/s
Western Digital WD36401AALS
640 GB, 7200 RPM
32 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s
Samsung F3 HD103SJ
1 TB, 7200 RPM
32 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s
OpticalSamsung SH-S223C
22x DVD±R, 48X CD-R
Lite-On iHAS124
24x DVD±R, 48X CD-R
Lite-On iHAS124
24x DVD±R, 48X CD-R
CaseRosewill BlackboneAntec Three HundredSilverStone Raven RV02-BW
PowerCooler Master Ext. Pwr. Plus
RS-500-PCAR-A3-US
500 W, ~70% Efficiency
Corsair CMPSU-650TX
650 W, 80 PLUS Standard
Cooler Master Silent Pro
RSA00-AMBAJ3-US 1000W
Modular, 80 PLUS Bronze
CPU CoolerAMD boxed heatsink & fanCooler Master Hyper TX3
(RR-910-HTX3-G1)
Scythe Mugen 2 Rev. B
(SCMG-2100)
Software
OSMicrosoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64
GraphicsAMD Catalyst 10.7Nvidia GeForce 258.96Nvidia GeForce 258.96
ChipsetAMD Ver. 8.631_W7_logo
Intel INF 9.1.2.1007Nvidia MCP 8.15.11.9038


A big, inexpensive cooler helps the $2000 PC reach 4.00 GHz, while the $400 PC gets its 200 MHz overclock from a stock cooler. Mid-sized cooling limits the $1000 build to a still-respectable 3.75 GHz.

Memory overclocking is a completely different story. Knowing that most 1.50 V memory will tolerate a 10% voltage increase for several years, the $2000 system was pushed to DDR3-1533 CAS 7, in spite of difficulties that often accompany high-density chips. Mid-priced system builder Don Woligroski forgot that his value award-winning RAM actually runs cooler when overclocked than many 1.65 V-rated modules based on the same Micron D9KPT chips, an omission that negated its enormous overclocking potential. Budget builder Paul Henningsen had better luck with the single-sided version of the same memory, though his DDR3-1426 CAS 8 results are likely limited by the memory controller of his low-cost CPU.

Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2Campaign, Act III, Second Sun (45 sec. FRAPS)
Test Set 1: Highest Settings, No AA
Test Set 2: Highest Settings, 4x AA
CrysisPatch 1.2.1, DirectX 10, 64-bit executable, benchmark tool
Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA
Test Set 2: Very High Quality, 8x AA
DiRT 2Run with -benchmark example_benchmark.xml
Test Set 1: High Quality Preset, No AA
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset, 8x AA
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call Of PripyatCall Of Pripyat Benchmark version
Test Set 1: High Preset, DX11 EFDL, No AA
Test Set 2: Ultra Preset, DX11 EFDL, 4x MSAA
Audio/Video Encoding
iTunesVersion:9.0.2.25 x64
Audio CD (Terminator II SE), 53 minutes
Default format AAC
HandBrake 0.9.4Version 0.9.4, convert first .vob file from The Last Samurai (1.0GB) to .mp4, High Profile
TMPGEnc 4.0 XPressVersion: 4.7.3.292
Import File: Terminator 2 SE DVD (5 Minutes)
Resolution: 720x576 (PAL) 16:9
DivX Codec 6.9.1Encoding mode: Insane Quality
Enhanced multithreading enabled using SSE4
Quarter-pixel search
Xvid 1.2.2Display encoding status = off
MainConcept Reference 1.6.1MPEG2 to MPEG2 (H.264), MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG2), Audio: MPEG2 (44.1 KHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kb/s), Mode: PAL (25 FPS)
Productivity
Adobe Photoshop CS4Version: 11.0 x64, Filter 15.7MB TIF Image
Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Autodesk 3ds Max 2010Version: 11.0 x64, Rendering Dragon Image at 1920x1080 (HDTV)
Grisoft AVG Anti-Virus 9.0Version: 9.0.663, Virus base: 270.14.1/2407, Benchmark: Scan 334MB Folder of ZIP/RAR compressed files
WinRAR 3.90Version x64 3.90, Dictionary = 4,096 KB, Benchmark: THG-Workload (334MB)
7-ZipVersion 4.65: Format=Zip, Compression=Ultra, Method=Deflate, Dictionary Size=32KB, Word Size=128, Threads=8
Benchmark: THG-Workload (334MB)
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark VantageVersion: 1.0.1, GPU and CPU scores
PCMark VantageVersion: 1.0.1.0 x64, System, Productivity, Hard Disk Drive benchmarks
SiSoftware Sandra 2010Version 2010.1.16.11, CPU Test = CPU Arithmetic / MultiMedia, Memory Test = Bandwidth Benchmark
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81 comments
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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