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Motherboard, CPU, And RAM

System Builder Marathon, Dec. 2009: $2,500 Performance PC

Motherboard: Gigaybte P55-UD4P

The ability to support two high-performance graphics cards at adequate bandwidth, plus a top-overclocking Nehalem-based processor, was the primary concern we had for our motherboard selection. Because so much money had been spent on graphics, we also wanted a bargain price. Recently awarded for its excellent value, Gigabyte’s P55-UD4P fit the build perfectly.

Read Customer Reviews of Gigabyte's GA-P55-UD4P

At $170, the P55-UD4P is one of the least-expensive motherboards to support both high-amperage CPU overclocks and automatic pathway switching for two PCI Express (PCIe) graphics cards. While the extra PCIe pathways of an X58-based solution might have proven slightly better from a performance standpoint, the higher price of entry would have killed our budget.

CPU: Intel Core i7-860

Lacking any stock-speed performance benefits compared to its Bloomfield-based predecessors, our experience has shown that Lynnfield-based processors are still slightly better for overclocking and usually run a little cooler. Overclocking at a reduced cost is key to our final value analysis, so the only remaining question was “which one?”

Read Customer Reviews of Intel's Core i7-860

At around half the price of Intel’s 2.93 GHz Core i7-870, the i7-860 provides most of the clock speed and, hopefully, most of the overclocking capability of its high-priced sibling. For an extra $80 compared to the 2.66 GHz i5-750, the i7-860 benefits from a higher 2.80 GHz base clock, a higher five-bin maximum Intel Turbo Boost multiplier increase, and an increase to eight virtual cores via Hyper-Threading that can help keep the execution pipeline full. Comparing price to potential performance makes the Core i7-860 appear to be the best-value product to fit within our $2,500 budget.

DRAM: Two Crucial CT2KIT25664BA1339 4GB Memory Kits

The most highly awarded memory we’ve ever used, Crucial’s DDR3-1333 CAS 9 consistently impresses us with a low price and superb overclocking capabilities even after testing several kits, usually purchased from Newegg.

Read Customer Reviews of Crucial's CT2KIT25664BA1339 Kit

Most builders would expect us to use so-called “high-end” memory in a $2,500 machine, but our budget would have limited us to 4.0GB of the expensive stuff. Crucial’s low-cost kits get us close to the high rated speeds of high-priced parts while leaving enough room to expand our configuration to an impressive 8.0GB.

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