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System Builder Marathon: $2,500 Enthusiast PC

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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