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Can Core i5-2400 Justify Its Higher Cost?

System Builder Marathon, Dec. 2011: $600 Gaming PC
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We’ll summarize performance and efficiency using September’s stock $500 system as a base.

Performance Summary

Upgrading to a Core i5-2400 paid off with a clean sweep in performance. That’s right: the current PC won in every single gaming, encoding, and productivity test from our System Builder Marathon suite.

Efficiency

Of course, the current PC dominates in efficiency by delivering greater performance throughout the entire test suite as it draws far less power at both idle and load.

Value

We would hope that the extra money spent on a higher-end CPU would justify itself with performance to match. However, an extra $70 expense is significant enough to warrant a comparison based on bang for the buck. We’ll handicap the current rig by using overall system cost, meaning that, in order to win, the December PC needs to make up for mark-ups on the hard drive and video card, as well as the additional cost of a more feature-rich motherboard.

Based on average performance, our best overclocking efforts back in September are only able to match the value of this quarter's $600 machine at its stock settings. Once we factor in the added performance attributable to overclocking its graphics card and lower memory latency, the current PC has a clear value lead.

Conclusion

Intel's Core-i5 2400 really is that good. Despite our H61 motherboard pairing, which completely neuters overclocking, the December $600 Gaming PC is able to address the major compromises we were forced to make with the past two $500 machines. Beating the prior system in every single performance test, offering outstanding efficiency, and even delivering more overall value at a higher cost is a pretty impressive list of accomplishments we credit to the pricier processor.

Conversely, the December rig isn't the right choice for everyone. After all, it costs quite a bit more than our previous effort. When it comes to cranking up the eye candy at the highest quality settings, a single mid-range graphics card is the biggest performance inhibitor, not the CPU. For many folks, the best native 1920x1080 gaming experience may be all that matters. Stepping down to a more affordable Sandy Bridge-based Pentium or Core i3-2100 would  facilitate a GeForce GTX 560 Ti or Radeon HD 6950 at the same budget level. And once we step back down to sub-$125 processors, the AMD FX-4100 and older Athlon/Phenom II offerings are also viable options.

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