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Conclusion

System Builder Marathon: Sub-$4000 PC
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The three big "improvements" for this month’s sub-$4,000 build are faster hard drives, faster memory, and larger graphics cards. Yet few benchmarks showed any significant gains for the new parts, and all of these “big gains” were only found in synthetic testing. So what’s the problem?

SBM High June

Back in March we knew that the 9800 GX2 graphics cards, when paired in SLI mode, had some performance problems. We decided that they simply weren’t worth the added expense. Some readers screamed, but we knew we’d made the right decision.

Since that time NVidia has worked hard to further enhance its drivers for the “Four Way SLI” configuration resulting from two dual-processor 9800 GX2 cards sharing the load. With a little hope and a lot of pressure, we decided it was finally time to try this option, but today’s gaming tests only showed that our previous assertions were still valid.

Our biggest problem with the results isn’t that the 9800 GX2’s cost more than the 8800 GTX, but that the 8800 GTX prices have fallen far enough in recent weeks that we could have bought three cards and still remained within budget. Our earlier 3-way SLI experiment proved that three 8800 GTX cards are a superior gaming solution compared to a pair of 9800 GX2 units, and we’re embarrassed that we even wasted the resources on two dual-GPU cards.

It’s a shame that the new GTX 280 graphics cards weren’t ready when we began testing, but at least we can look to early benchmarks and see that these new cards also have a long road ahead before they can be perfected. A pair of GTX 280’s would have also broken our budget, and procuring these in May would have been impossible.

One thing we are ready to reconsider is our choice of case. While we’re perfectly pleased with the performance, sturdiness, and style of the Temjin TJ09, we understand that many readers need a system that’s somewhat more portable. Because of this, we look forward to reader comments concerning the possible substitution of Cooler Master’s Cosmos S for future builds.

A few readers will be disappointed that we didn’t plumb the motherboard into our water cooling loop. But we already needed an additional fan to cool the memory and other motherboard components, and the fan we chose also kept the Northbridge suitably cool. Also on our minds was the inconvenience of a Northbridge water block that isn’t easily removable, and a liquid cooling system that requires its removal during the filling/air removal process. Air cooling, when adequate, became our best option.

This month’s sub-$4,000 system wasn’t perfect, but we have higher hopes for Friday’s sub-$2,000 build. We’ll follow that with a sub-$1,000 system on Monday, and publish our overclocking comparison on Tuesday, concluding on Wednesday with a value (price/performance) analysis of all three systems.

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  • 0 Hide
    L1qu1d , June 23, 2008 5:17 PM
    Good Article, i'd still like to see more current generation games, such as COD4, Bioshock, Grid, Gears of Ware etc, I mean prey is a very old game and warhammer meh...

    Either way very well explained article, but for some1 like me the 8800 Ultras still sell for around 500$ here, and 3 of them would set me back 1500, while the GX2s 1000-1200:p 
  • 0 Hide
    Waspy , June 23, 2008 5:22 PM
    Liquid, what was their old rig? Wasn't it 2x 8800GTXes? That pretty much squarely beat 2x 9800GX2s? So you don't need 3, only 2!

    Also, good point, they need to benchmark games like GRID and Age of Conan as well!
  • 2 Hide
    Waspy , June 23, 2008 5:23 PM
    Ahhh too bad about the videocard choice here. I would have liked to see a 2x GTX260 rig...I think that'll be the next power-gamer's rig without dropping the extra $500 on the 2x GTX280 and the extra $300 on a 1wK PSU...although I'm sure this 850W could handle it. I'm going to be running GTX260s on a 750W quality PSU...I predict absolutely no problems.
  • 0 Hide
    mr roboto , June 23, 2008 5:26 PM
    Yes good article but I have to echo the exact sentiment from above. Prey is a fun game but it was never really the system killer to begin with. Some shader intensive games would be nice too.

    I think Nvidia is going to discontinue the 8800GTX\Ultras real soon here. Right now on Newegg.com they don't have any of either card. Over the last few weeks they've been sporadic as far as being in stock. I would consider adding another 8800GTX to my rig but like L1qu!d said they're still pretty expensive. The lowest price I've seen for the 8800GTX's is around $350. If I could find one for $250-$300 range it would be worth it.
  • 0 Hide
    L1qu1d , June 23, 2008 5:33 PM
    Yeah because I kno in certain games tri and quad scale better. Age of Conan, COD4 are some examples:) 
  • -1 Hide
    mr roboto , June 23, 2008 5:39 PM
    WaspyI think that'll be the next power-gamer's rig without dropping the extra $500 on the 2x GTX280 and the extra $300 on a 1wK PSU...although I'm sure this 850W could handle it. I'm going to be running GTX260s on a 750W quality PSU...I predict absolutely no problems.


    Are you high? 2 GTX's on an 850w or even a 1KW PSU? With all the other peripherals installed, no way. Asus's new top of the line ARES rig uses 2 1KW PSU's for three GTX 280's. So GTX 260 SLI rig will need a minimum 1KW.
  • 0 Hide
    neodude007 , June 23, 2008 5:45 PM
    Nice article guys. Its funny that a $1,200 could beat that $4,000 rig in a lot of games/benchies. My E8400 @ 3.8GHz and SLI 8800GT get around 18,000 3dMark06
    Can't wait to see how the other test builds are going to perform.
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , June 23, 2008 6:12 PM
    Quote:
    Nice article guys. Its funny that a $1,200 could beat that $4,000 rig in a lot of games/benchies. My E8400 @ 3.8GHz and SLI 8800GT get around 18,000 3dMark06
    Can't wait to see how the other test builds are going to perform.


    Of course it beats it in some things, it's overclocked. All the systems will get overclocked on Monday.
  • 0 Hide
    Waspy , June 23, 2008 6:14 PM
    Mr RobotoAre you high? 2 GTX's on an 850w or even a 1KW PSU? With all the other peripherals installed, no way. Asus's new top of the line AREShttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ares rig uses 2 1KW PSU's for three GTX 280's. So GTX 260 SLI rig will need a minimum 1KW.


    Well I was using an instanced case...I'm not going to be running mad-donkey peripherals. Plan is 4 HDDs, 1 DVD burner, 2x GTX260, E8400, bunch of fans and LEDs but those are tiny draws.

    Dude anyways, no, 1kW is overkill. Look at this build! A quality 850W for a water-cooling rig with a QX9650 and 2x 9800GX2s! The GTX260 draws like 10W or more LESS than the 9800GX2, plus I won't be running a quad core OR water cooling. 750W is completely sound. My plan is for this rig to last me until Nehalem so I don't think I'll be going quad core on it etc.
  • -2 Hide
    The_Blood_Raven , June 23, 2008 6:45 PM
    I am shocked, I must give Tom's a hand for this build it was well thought out and they picked the right parts. Only thing I do not like is the TJ09 case, that case does not cooler very well, an Antec 900 beats it with all fans on low, sad. They need to drop the TJ09, I had one and returned it, because it's cooling performance was not great, for a $4k gaming rig you need GREAT cooling. The Cosmos S is not much better, but there are so many other cases on the market that could fit that cooling system in that are a lot better and much cheaper. Oh well, besides the case GOOD JOB THW!
  • 0 Hide
    gm0n3y , June 23, 2008 6:52 PM
    The comments about the game choices are valid, but I think they try to stay with the same games for as long as possible to allow for direct comparison against previous tests. So they only get updated ever 18 months or so.
  • 0 Hide
    r0b0tc0rpse , June 23, 2008 7:00 PM
    The_Blood_RavenI am shocked, I must give Tom's a hand for this build it was well thought out and they picked the right parts. Only thing I do not like is the TJ09 case, that case does not cooler very well, an Antec 900 beats it with all fans on low, sad. They need to drop the TJ09, I had one and returned it, because it's cooling performance was not great, for a $4k gaming rig you need GREAT cooling. The Cosmos S is not much better, but there are so many other cases on the market that could fit that cooling system in that are a lot better and much cheaper. Oh well, besides the case GOOD JOB THW!


    My TJ09 cools fine. Front and rear fans are weak, replaced with scythe's and its fine. If you need more video card cooling, add a side window with a 120 MM fan hole. ran 2.6-2.8 ghz @ 22*C ~31-35 under load, 3.6 GHZ on air @ 32* c / 42 c * under load
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , June 23, 2008 7:21 PM
    The_Blood_RavenI am shocked, I must give Tom's a hand for this build it was well thought out and they picked the right parts. Only thing I do not like is the TJ09 case, that case does not cooler very well, an Antec 900 beats it with all fans on low, sad. They need to drop the TJ09, I had one and returned it, because it's cooling performance was not great, for a $4k gaming rig you need GREAT cooling. The Cosmos S is not much better, but there are so many other cases on the market that could fit that cooling system in that are a lot better and much cheaper. Oh well, besides the case GOOD JOB THW!


    The Antec Nine Hundred was considered last year and rejected because it couldn't support as many radiators. The TJ09 has enough airflow that a single internal fan over the RAM can cool the RAM, chipset, and VRM. This wouldn't be true if the case was hot internally.
  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , June 23, 2008 7:38 PM
    Just a note from the staff:

    We're currenty updating our entire games suite, it won't be ready for this system builder marathon but it'll be up & running soon.
  • -5 Hide
    cruiseoveride , June 23, 2008 8:25 PM
    This is so stupid, 4 grand for what? a year later its a typewriter,

    A ps3 costs, umm...~$500 ? and will last 5 years or more, and 5 years later it will still play the games as well as it did today.

    While this overgrown typewriter will be sold on ebay for junk.
  • 0 Hide
    razor512 , June 23, 2008 8:53 PM
    for the price, it is only a little bit faster than a PC thats half the cost

    it is not worth it,

    SLI it the worst bottleneck on earth

    2 cards = twice the price for only a 10-20% performance boost
  • 0 Hide
    clay12340 , June 23, 2008 8:59 PM
    Quote:
    This is so stupid, 4 grand for what? a year later its a typewriter,

    A ps3 costs, umm...~$500 ? and will last 5 years or more, and 5 years later it will still play the games as well as it did today.

    While this overgrown typewriter will be sold on ebay for junk.


    Yeah spending $500 is a great investment for both of the games worth playing on a PS3 ... Buy a Wii for half as much and give yourself some options. Buy an Xbox 360 and have even more options.

    Aside from that your comment is still dumb. It is an article about building a PC system on a $4k budget. It has nothing to do with value or comparison to consoles.
  • 1 Hide
    warezme , June 23, 2008 9:11 PM
    $4K budget??? thats like a $500,000 sports car budget..., hmm, should I get the Murcielago or Porsche Carrera GT..., what a challenge
  • 1 Hide
    vonbose , June 23, 2008 10:00 PM
    Could you actually even spend $4000 on an AMD system?

    For all the hype, $4,000 is an insane amount of money to spend on a PC. I'd like to see an AMD spider set-up with quad 4870's (when they come out) vs. these machines. I bet you could build two machines for $4,000 and realistically play all of the same games at simiar settings.
  • 0 Hide
    mr roboto , June 23, 2008 10:01 PM
    cleeveJust a note from the staff:We're currenty updating our entire games suite, it won't be ready for this system builder marathon but it'll be up & running soon.


    Good job. It's very much appreciated.
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