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Conclusion

System Builder Marathon: $2,500 Enthusiast PC
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Thanks to Core i7 architecture, our new $2,500 PC lead a significant number of benchmarks, often by a large margin. Yet the Core i7 performance advantage has never been universal, and one place where we hadn’t previously seen significant gains is in gaming. For that, we relied on the value of recent Core 216 version GTX 260 graphics cards in 3-way SLI. 

Grouping our benchmarks together allows for an easier evaluation of overall performance gains or, in some cases, losses.  Because so much of our budget went into the graphics cards, let’s start with games.

For each game we averaged the performance across all settings and resolutions of 1280x1024, 1680x1050, and 1920x1200 pixels. Two reasons for leaving the 2560x1600 results out of our averages are that most $2,500 PC buyers aren’t interested in purchasing a $1,000 display and that these are the results we’ll use later for comparing the less expensive systems that weren’t tested at our highest resolution. Anyone who really wants to use a 2560x1600 pixel resolution for their own games should look at our individual results, rather than at the summary chart below.

The 3-way SLI setup gave us huge performance gains in World In Conflict and Crysis, but we’re guessing the new $2,500 PC’s win in Unreal Tournament 3 was probably due to the new processor architecture and memory interface. Supreme Commander dogged the new system, and anyone who really wants to see smooth screen play in this title would be better off using an AMD graphics solution.

Video encoding applications often put heavy favor on a fast memory interface, and the Core i7 of today’s $2,500 build wipes the floor with the Core 2 Quad of our former $4,500 build. Audio encoding is a completely different matter, which almost exactly reflects the clock speed differences where the Core 2 Quad started out at a higher frequency and overclocked farther as well.

It’s unfortunate that the 64-bit OS of October’s $4,500 build didn’t support our custom-written benchmark applications, because this limits performance comparisons between these systems to a single benchmark. 3D Studio Max loved the new system’s Core i7 architecture.

Combining each of our benchmark suites by application type will provide an even broader perspective of each system’s performance profile.

Our $2,500 build’s Core i7 architecture proved itself a true workhorse in productivity, while its 3-way SLI graphics had a good overall effect on gaming. A combined 48% performance lead in a far-cheaper system is certain to have an overwhelming influence in value.

Anyone who copied our $4,500 system in October could rightly be angry or even depressed upon viewing the performance advances that have taken place since. Our new $2,500 system was faster overall and provided three times the value of its October predecessor.

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  • 16 Hide
    gwellin , December 31, 2008 1:06 PM
    thomasxstewartfINAL lASLTY, yOU mENTION oCTOBERS 64 BIT TEST & recent PREVIOUS LOW COST & MID TESTS WHERE 32 BIT uLTIMATE, YET THIS TEST HAS NO MENTION OF O/S AT ALL. ITS XP RIGHT, TOM FOOLERY AGAIN, COMPARING ENTIRELY DIFFERNT SYSTEMS. BEST ULTIMATE WILL SCORE IS 13,000 VANTAGE HERE, YET ULTIMATE 64 HAS PRODUCED 38,000 3D VANTAGE BY REPUTABLE WEBSITE. SO GO FIGURE, BEFORE YOU WASTE $3,000.00SignedHYSICIAN THOMAS STEWART von DRASHEK M.D.


    Why do people type this crap. Do you not actually read what you type when you type it. "i tHINK tHIS iS rEALLY cOOL". WTF really. Do us a huge favor and don't type like a retard, infact just don't post anymore.
  • 14 Hide
    Anonymous , December 31, 2008 1:18 PM
    why not spend the extra $$$ on more RAM on 64 bit Vista?
  • 13 Hide
    inveriti , December 31, 2008 1:18 PM
    It seems like Tom's doesn't read their own reviews... In their own GPU chart, they never recommend a 3x SLi system, and not without reason. The last card only gives a third of its on-paper output. Also, why the hell get 3 TB of storage? Do you plan on pirating that many DVD's or burning that much money on them? And only 3 GB of RAM? No, sorry, you're dropping the ball on this one. NO "enthusiast" would sacrifice a solid 6 GB of good RAM in Vista for a uselss hard drive and ostentatious third video card.

    Follow your own recommendations, guys. Get an ATI 4870 x2, put the money into better RAM and cooling, then use what's left to get a pair of Raptor hard drives as workhorses and a 1 or 1.5 TB hard drive for media storage if you want to use all your $2500.
Other Comments
  • -1 Hide
    tipmen , December 31, 2008 9:08 AM
    First
    LG GGC-H20LK 6X Blu-Ray/HD DVD-ROM, 16X DVD±RW for $23??? you mean 223?
  • 0 Hide
    douglesso , December 31, 2008 9:10 AM
    Thanks for the fantastic information and detailed analysis. I just ordered the same motherboard and video card last week for my new build. Glad to see that holding out for the i7 was a worthwhile wait.
  • 0 Hide
    tipmen , December 31, 2008 9:12 AM
    Sorry couldn't read my comment but nice blbuild by the way nice to see this. Hlaf the price and more performance.
  • -3 Hide
    Anonymous , December 31, 2008 10:02 AM
    Total price is off. Should be something like 2,447 and not 2,247
  • 0 Hide
    kelfen , December 31, 2008 10:17 AM
    except the cpu is fine because of oc
  • -6 Hide
    kelfen , December 31, 2008 10:26 AM
    antec twelve hundred
  • 5 Hide
    dieseldre2k , December 31, 2008 11:12 AM
    appreciate the article but i would drop the third HD (keep the other 2 in RAID) and use the extra money to get 6 gigs of ram instead. i'd also be wary of the scaling on 3 video cards but i dont know enough about that, plus i'm sure u guys were trying to use up all $2,500.
  • 0 Hide
    jcknouse , December 31, 2008 12:14 PM
    I didn't see it right off. might have missed it.

    I saw where u said that you reached limits at 75F/23.9C room temps. However, what was the CPU temp after running full load with your air cooling solution?

    I am curious, because I think I put too much thermal paste on my AMD Phenom 9850 install cause it runs up around 60C when i go 100% load. I hate going anything over that, so i haven't OCed it.

    Would love to hear what you guys at Tom's consider "acceptable" full load max temp for the CPU, and how you base that temp level. Manufacturer specs? Personal experience? A little of both?

    Thanks in advance
  • -1 Hide
    Sparky4688 , December 31, 2008 12:22 PM
    Great review.

    The December $1250 system performs very close within 2-3 seconds for Audio/Video editing and Applications and in several cases performs better. For non-gamers the December $1250 is a better value.

    I built a $1250 system based on the November E8500 chip and now wished I had waited for the i7 as it performs 100-150% better for Audio/Video editing and Applications....
  • 2 Hide
    Sparky4688 , December 31, 2008 12:26 PM
    jcknouseI didn't see it right off. might have missed it.I saw where u said that you reached limits at 75F/23.9C room temps. However, what was the CPU temp after running full load with your air cooling solution?I am curious, because I think I put too much thermal paste on my AMD Phenom 9850 install cause it runs up around 60C when i go 100% load. I hate going anything over that, so i haven't OCed it.Would love to hear what you guys at Tom's consider "acceptable" full load max temp for the CPU, and how you base that temp level. Manufacturer specs? Personal experience? A little of both?Thanks in advance



    Guide for thermal paste is to to use a razor's edge at a nearly flat angle to very thinly, evenly, and smoothly cover the entire CPU heat sink. Too much paste can have an adverse effect as you noted.
  • 2 Hide
    MJRSnyder , December 31, 2008 12:37 PM
    Drop one of the hard drives and bluray drive and get 2 4870x2s and it would have destroyed
  • -1 Hide
    bourgeoisdude , December 31, 2008 12:55 PM
    TW2007 said: "Total price is off. Should be something like 2,447 and not 2,247"

    No, it's correct. They specifically mentioned that the price of the components went down nearly 10% since they purchased the system.

    Ph0X said: "There's 3SLI GTX260, 3 x 1TB, Bluray WRITER!, but it doesn't even have 6gb ram!!?"

    6GB of RAM is unusable in a 32-bit operating system, and it is not a Blu-Ray writer, it's a READER with DVD/CD writing capabilities. Your comment was probably voted down for these reasons.

    dieseldre2k wrote: "appreciate the article but i would drop the third HD (keep the other 2 in RAID) and use the extra money to get 6 gigs of ram instead."

    Again, 6 Gigs of RAM would have been a complete waste of money in a 32-bit build. I for one am glad they are finally benching a RAID 5 in here because I have been weighing getting a RAID 5 build for some time but have been dissuaded because of the lack of testing/interest by other gamers. I don't want to pay $2500 for a system that dies withen weeks because I just happened to be in that 3% that get a hard drive that fails withen the first year. Honestly, I'll bet that RAID 0 vs. RAID 5 performance isn't a big deal and would really like to see a RAID 0 in the next build to compare this one with.
  • 0 Hide
    cah027 , December 31, 2008 1:01 PM
    Oh Crap ! I just ordered the UD5 MB and one 260/216 with the intension of gradually adding additional 260's over time. Looks like I am limited to 2way SLI.. oh well.. Maybe I will just step up to a x2 card.... I mostly wanted the i7 for encoding and light gaming so I should be ok.. Glad to see the encoding benches look so good !
  • 16 Hide
    gwellin , December 31, 2008 1:06 PM
    thomasxstewartfINAL lASLTY, yOU mENTION oCTOBERS 64 BIT TEST & recent PREVIOUS LOW COST & MID TESTS WHERE 32 BIT uLTIMATE, YET THIS TEST HAS NO MENTION OF O/S AT ALL. ITS XP RIGHT, TOM FOOLERY AGAIN, COMPARING ENTIRELY DIFFERNT SYSTEMS. BEST ULTIMATE WILL SCORE IS 13,000 VANTAGE HERE, YET ULTIMATE 64 HAS PRODUCED 38,000 3D VANTAGE BY REPUTABLE WEBSITE. SO GO FIGURE, BEFORE YOU WASTE $3,000.00SignedHYSICIAN THOMAS STEWART von DRASHEK M.D.


    Why do people type this crap. Do you not actually read what you type when you type it. "i tHINK tHIS iS rEALLY cOOL". WTF really. Do us a huge favor and don't type like a retard, infact just don't post anymore.
  • 13 Hide
    inveriti , December 31, 2008 1:18 PM
    It seems like Tom's doesn't read their own reviews... In their own GPU chart, they never recommend a 3x SLi system, and not without reason. The last card only gives a third of its on-paper output. Also, why the hell get 3 TB of storage? Do you plan on pirating that many DVD's or burning that much money on them? And only 3 GB of RAM? No, sorry, you're dropping the ball on this one. NO "enthusiast" would sacrifice a solid 6 GB of good RAM in Vista for a uselss hard drive and ostentatious third video card.

    Follow your own recommendations, guys. Get an ATI 4870 x2, put the money into better RAM and cooling, then use what's left to get a pair of Raptor hard drives as workhorses and a 1 or 1.5 TB hard drive for media storage if you want to use all your $2500.
  • 14 Hide
    Anonymous , December 31, 2008 1:18 PM
    why not spend the extra $$$ on more RAM on 64 bit Vista?
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