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Value Conclusion

System Builder Marathon, December 2010: Value, Compared
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While all of this month’s systems performed admirably in our traditional benchmark suite, adding hard drive test to our average performance score threw the summary charts into a completely different direction. Accounting for a mere ¼ of the benchmark average, an enormous 894% hard drive performance lead for the SSD-equipped $2000 PC nearly doubles its performance rating. Will that be enough to overtake the $500 system in value?

Including drive performance in today’s performance charts allowed the $2000 PC to win by a landslide. Readers who don’t place much emphasis on hard drive performance (including program launch time and Windows startup) will like to know that dropping that data from our performance average would have dropped the overclocked $2000 system’s performance rating to 202%, resulting in a value rating of only 101%. On the other hand, $220 of that system’s total budget was spent on those SSDs, and using the remaining “storage drive” as a system drive would have boosted the lower value rating from 101% to 114%. Similar money could have been saved on the $2000 system by using a mid-market case, CPU fan, and optical drive, and that looks like a better deal to us.

Any $500 build is sure to suffer at the hands of an SSD-equipped machine, so long as drive performance makes up ¼ of our overall performance score. A $1000 budget could have opened up a few low-capacity SSD options, but benchmarking drives that are too small to qualify as system drives would have been a form of cheating (Ed.: not so much cheating as showing you performance without the capacity to be realistic in day-to-day use). We wanted our HDD performance tests to represent programs, not just Windows startup, because most enthusiasts don’t restart their systems often enough to make an OS-only SSD worthwhile. That means having a system partition that’s at least 100 GB plus breathing room, with realistic consideration going to drives rated at 120 GB or more.

Upgrading to a “big enough” SSD would have forced the $1000 machine’s builder to drop one of his graphics cards, ignore the SLI scaling of those parts, and take a big hit in the game benchmarks that also make up ¼ of the system’s average performance score. Let’s see how it stands up to the $2000 system in high-end gaming value.

GeForce GTX 460s are fairly solid performers, even when compared to GTX 470s, yet the price difference is huge. Saving even more money on a dual-core processor gives the $1000 machine even better value, since most games can’t utilize more than two execution cores. If gaming is what you really want, load times don’t mean much to you, and you like the performance seen in the $1000 build’s debut, this is probably the machine for you.

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