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System Builder Marathon, December 2010: Value, Compared

System Builder Marathon, December 2010: Value, Compared
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New benchmarks, new test methods, and new hardware mark exciting updates to this month’s System Builder Marathon. Today, we cover the most exciting part of all: the value competition. Remember, we're giving all three systems away, so enter to win them!

System Builder Marathon, December 2010: 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 check 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

Introduction

Builders with different budgets have different priorities. While a gamer working with a limited amount of spare cash might prefer the most powerful graphics card he can fit into a tight $500 budget, someone with a Benjamin Franklin party in their pants should be able to afford a system that does everything well. Taking the middle ground is more representative of most enthusiasts' minimum performance requirements, and our $1000 system tries to do everything well, while putting game frame rates first. At least, that’s how things normally work out when we build with balance in mind.

SSD drives were one of the most persistent requests for our high-end build, but those offered little performance gain in our traditional benchmark set. That’s a problem for our value comparison, since the scant performance difference could never offset the high price of these parts. Yet, our readers made their voices heard, stating that the gain in responsiveness from a machine that loads programs almost instantly was a necessity at the high-end price point. After much discussion, we struck a deal with a few of our readers, and today we’re adding hard drive performance to the value analysis.

SBM System Comparison
 Current $500 PCCurrent $1000 PCCurrent $2000 PC
MotherboardASRock M3A770DE
AMD 770, SB710
Asus Sabertooth 55i
Intel P55 Express PCH
Gigabyte X58A-UD3R
X58 Express, ICH10R
ProcessorAMD Athlon II X3 445
3.1 GHz Triple-Core
Intel Core i3-550
3.2 GHz Dual-Core
Intel Core i7-950
3.06 GHz Quad-Core
MemoryMushkin 996586 4 GB
DDR3-1333 CAS 9
GeIL GB34GB1333C7DC
DDR3-1333 CAS 7
Mushkin 998586 6 GB
DDR3-1333 CAS 9
GraphicsSparkle SXX460768D5UNM
768 MB GeForce GTX 460 
2 x ECS NBGTX460
1 GB GeForce GTX 460
2 x EVGA 012-P3-1470-AR
1.28 GB GeForce GTX 470
System DriveSamsung F4 HD322GJ/U
320 GB, 7200 RPM HDD
WD WD7501AALS
750 GB, 7200 RPM HDD
2 x A-Data S599
64 GB MLC SSD
Storage DriveUses System DriveUses System DriveSamsung F3 HD103SJ
1 TB, 7200 RPM HDD
OpticalLite-On iHAS 124-04
24x DVD±R, 48x CD-R
LG GH22LS50 DVD-RW
22x DVD±R, 48x CD-R
Lite-On iHBS112 BD-RE
12x BD-R, 16x DVD±R
CaseAntec NSK 4482BNZXT GammaSilverStone Fortress FT02B
PowerAntec EA-380D
380 W, 80 PLUS Bronze
Corsair CMPSU-650TX
650 W, 80 PLUS
SilverStone ST85F-P 850 W
Modular, 80 PLUS Silver
Heat SinkRosewill RCX-ZAIO-92Cooler Master Hyper 212 PlusProlimatech Megahalems Rev.B
CPU FanIncluded with H.S.Included with H.S.Delta AFC1212D-PWM 3400 RPM, 120 mm
Total Price$511 $991 $2,000


Because hard drive tests would represent program launch performance, in addition to Windows load times, we required a system partition at least large enough to hold all of our programs with room to spare. Our $1000 builder considered his SSD options and chose to add a second graphics card instead, taking advantage of the GeForce GTX 460’s amazing SLI scaling in games that would make up ¼ of our total performance score. The questions that remain are whether low-cost SLI or high-priced SSDs will help the $1000 or $2000 systems beat the $500 PC in value.

Let’s find out!

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  • 7 Hide
    Tamz_msc , December 20, 2010 4:17 AM
    This month's 500$ build is of great value for someone on a budget.
  • 0 Hide
    shovenose , December 20, 2010 4:33 AM
    im going to make my mom enter so i can win one :) 
  • 0 Hide
    dEAne , December 20, 2010 4:38 AM
    I will count on that, this is something I can compare with my other build. thanks tom.
  • 4 Hide
    wribbs , December 20, 2010 4:53 AM
    I really enjoy these SBM articles but you need to start putting out these systems/articles faster because by the time you post these configs no one would build them. These "December" systems all use November parts. When you know an important part (CPU/GPU) is going to be replaced by a newer model before the article will post, just wait a few days for it.
    That said, SSD is a great addition as well as some of the other difficult to measure in value parts.
  • -7 Hide
    Anonymous , December 20, 2010 6:30 AM
    Your 'flexible' statistics are a joke! We'd really like the $2000 system to win to so we'll shovel in the hard drive figures with massive over-emphasis... It's bollocks.
  • 2 Hide
    Twoboxer , December 20, 2010 6:39 AM
    I don't understand introducing SSDs into these builds. Buying an SSD is a binary decision: if you want faster load times, you add an SSD . . . if not, you don't.

    These builds are targeted at a fixed budget, and (at the moment, with these budgets) money should never be spent on an SSD at the expense of more cpu or graphics power.

    Dropping SSDs would also stop convoluting the "value" comparison.
  • 5 Hide
    ethaniel , December 20, 2010 7:59 AM
    82% performance at half the cost? 500 USD build for me, thanks. I can add a 100 bucks SSD anytime (and they'll just keep dropping). Newegg has some nice, cheap SSDs out there...
  • 2 Hide
    tapher , December 20, 2010 9:02 AM
    This has been a very informative triple build review, and this article sums up the lessons nicely! The point about the $1000 PC and games being fine with dual cores was gratifying to see echoed in the summation.

    The fact that problems were encountered during the builds, such as the issue with memory, and the issue with the bios; these are important practical lessons that make the articles well worth the time to read.

    Overall, I can't imagine a better choice of builds, nor a better outcome, given Sandy Bridge on the horizon.
  • 3 Hide
    jestersage , December 20, 2010 9:06 AM
    How about timing the marathon differently. It seemas doing it at the end of the quarter isn't such a good idea because of new tech launch schedules this half of the year. Maybe release the article in the middle of every quarter?

    In any case, the $500 build rocks my boat. I just feel it isn't right to saddle the $1000 build with a dual core, hyper-threaded or not. An AMD triple/quad core with bad-@ss cooling (at the same price) might have been better.
  • 3 Hide
    Crashman , December 20, 2010 9:40 AM
    canting_dissentorYour 'flexible' statistics are a joke! We'd really like the $2000 system to win to so we'll shovel in the hard drive figures with massive over-emphasis... It's bollocks.
    d00d, that's what a bunch of readers wanted. We all know that SSDs waste money for most users, but the site was overwhelmed by readers who claimed they couldn't wait for four seconds on a process that should open in three.
  • 1 Hide
    nevertell , December 20, 2010 9:43 AM
    I love how the PC's scale here .
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , December 20, 2010 9:43 AM
    TwoboxerI don't understand introducing SSDs into these builds. Buying an SSD is a binary decision: if you want faster load times, you add an SSD . . . if not, you don't.These builds are targeted at a fixed budget, and (at the moment, with these budgets) money should never be spent on an SSD at the expense of more cpu or graphics power.Dropping SSDs would also stop convoluting the "value" comparison.
    That's exactly what I've been saying for months, but you're going to have to start a war with readers who disagree with you to fix this: It's no longer my fight.
  • 4 Hide
    geok1ng , December 20, 2010 9:57 AM
    The $500 machine was the best on the history of the SBMs; triple core, 4GB memory, great mid-range GPU.

    The $500 value skyrockets when we take the most demanding gaming resolution a budget machine will face on the next two years of life: 1080p. The $500 will be gaming at 1080p without AA for the next years without a problem.
  • 1 Hide
    mrmotion , December 20, 2010 11:08 AM
    Still like the upgrade path of the 1000$ build. Its perfect for someone who wants to throw in a bigger CPU later and double down on performance. I think this months builds highlight the best aspects of all three price ranges. The 500$ has kick butt power for the price. The 1000$ lets you expand while never being left behind. The 2000$ does what it should and owns the competition. Great SBM guys!
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , December 20, 2010 12:10 PM
    canting_dissentor, Twoboxer, mayankleoboy1, Crashman:

    I really don't understand your points of view on the SSD issue. It's WAY overdue on these builds. I'd go so far as to say that you'd be a fool to build a $2000 system without putting an SSD in it. When value is important, it's critical to spend your money on things that actually make a difference to your everyday experience with the system. If a system is already capable of 90FPS in Crysis at 1920x1080 on HQ settings, then what's the point in spending another $200 to push that up to 100FPS? You won't notice the extra 10 frames, just like you won't notice the 50 frame difference between the $500 build and the $2000 build. What you will notice with an SSD is that levels will load in 1/8th the time, and that for every other practical usage scenario (internet, productivity, file copying, booting, program installation etc...) you'll notice a huge difference by spending a few bucks on an SSD.

    It's all about diminishing returns, and that's why it makes sense to put an SSD in the $2000 build, and probably even the $1000 build but not the $500 build.

    You guys are too hung up on maximizing frame rates, even though you don't get anything for it but bragging rights.
  • 3 Hide
    lunyone , December 20, 2010 12:13 PM
    * I agree the $500 build is one of the better ones that have been introduced.
    * I also agree that these should be released in the middle of the quarter, because of the introduction of newer parts.
  • 1 Hide
    ScrewySqrl , December 20, 2010 12:18 PM
    the $500 PC with a $100 A.Data 64 GB SSD is still a fantastic $600 PC.

    as it is, It is probly the best gaming PC for the dollar in this quarter's marathon. Games don't play any fastre on an SD. and you lose a few second in game loads over the SSD. The rest of it is great. It can play any game you throw at it for at least a year or two into the future, which is my criteria for games.
  • 2 Hide
    caamsa , December 20, 2010 12:22 PM
    This is just a guide.....just build whatever type of machine you want to. I would say that within an individuals budget it is best to spend the most on the core parts of your system like the cpu, gpu, memory, mb psu....etc in that order if you are looking at a gaming machine. I worry less about the case since that sits under my desk. As long as it has decent air flow that is all you really need to worry about.
  • 2 Hide
    accolite , December 20, 2010 12:34 PM
    Quote:
    I don't understand introducing SSDs into these builds. Buying an SSD is a binary decision: if you want faster load times, you add an SSD . . . if not, you don't.

    These builds are targeted at a fixed budget, and (at the moment, with these budgets) money should never be spent on an SSD at the expense of more cpu or graphics power.

    Dropping SSDs would also stop convoluting the "value" comparison.


    The $2000 pc is about performance, and SSD load times are performance enhancement,
    Is it not faster? it's only load times, yeah but it's faster!
  • 2 Hide
    pauldh , December 20, 2010 12:35 PM
    canting_dissentorYour 'flexible' statistics are a joke! We'd really like the $2000 system to win to so we'll shovel in the hard drive figures with massive over-emphasis... It's bollocks.

    Just to be clear, this weighting wasn't an afterthought. Tweaking the value equation was a team discussion that took place prior to ordering components, so no data was in place to pre-select a winner. Something needed to be done to demonstrate the benefits of (the often requested) SSDs.

    The problem (and your outrage) likely stems from the limitation we faced of using theoretical performance from a synthetic rather than an implementation measuring real-world benefits. Just remember, the SBMs are a work in progress, directed by reader feedback. We appreciate and encourage constructive discussions that can better the series.
    =)
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