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System Builder Marathon, Dec. 2009: $1,300 Enthusiast PC

Let's start with the gaming results. These results are taken from the highest-detail 1920x1200 data across all of our game benches--we left out the low-resolution stuff because this system justifies at least a 1920x1200 monitor.

Here we really see what the four Radeon HD 4850s in our previous SBM system can do. Only a month ago, these cards were going for $100 each, making the entire graphics card subsystem worth about $400. While the Radeon HD 4850s have all but dried up now, compare this to the new system's two-card Radeon HD 5850 setup, which costs at least $620. More importantly, look to the previous system's total cost of $1,265, which undercuts our new system's final price by almost $100. While it's true that prices have gone up a bit in the past couple months, an all-AMD system can make a great case for a dedicated gaming machine. If we had charted the ultra-high 2560x1600 resolution instead, the quad-CrossFire machine would have fared even better.

Of course, the new Core i5 system is a much easier system with which to live, considering that its assembly is simpler and it has a much lower power-usage footprint. The new Radeon HD 5850s offer DirectX 11 functionality that the previous system could not offer, and the Core i5 does considerably better when overclocked—and that's not even considering the Core i5's advantage when we leave the gaming arena (more on that below).

But with the $1,250 AMD system's proven high-resolution gaming prowess, we have to wonder what four of the new Radeon HD 5750s could do in quad-CrossFire. And with a price tag as low as $480, this configuration also undercuts a pair of 5850s by a significant amount. To do this on a budget, you'd have to go with an AMD platform since Intel's Core i5 won't handle four graphics cards with its 16 lanes of integrated PCI Express. That means AMD's 790FX chipset would be the order of the day for a budget-oriented quad-CrossFire system, delivering four PCIe graphics slots with eight lanes each.

However, once we turn our eyes away from gaming, the Core i5-750 really struts its stuff. Applications tended to take advantage of the Nehalem-based Lynnfield architecture, and the new $1,300 system certainly looks better from a productivity standpoint. By all counts, the new Core i5 machine is better all-around than the gaming-oriented AMD box that we built last time.

How good does the $1,300 Core i5-based system look when compared to Thomas Soderstrom's new $2,500 Intel build? And how will Paul Henningsen's budget system deliver when compared to the $1,300 system? We will sort it all out in the SBM conclusion article to show you just how far your money will get you with these builds.

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