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Motherboard, Graphics, And Hard Drives

System Builder Marathon: $2,500 Enthusiast PC
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Motherboard: EVGA X58 3X SLI

Our choice for this month’s high-end graphics took precedence over motherboard selection, simply because we’re using 3-way SLI. While most Intel X58 chipset motherboards support 3-way SLI in theory, the EVGA X58 was the only available model with each of its slots in the proper location.

Read Customer Reviews of EVGA's 132-BL-E758-A1 Motherboard


Most competing X58 Express models only have a single space between two of the slots, eliminating any chance of using three double-thick cards. Remaining models such as Asus’ P6T Deluxe and Rampage II Extreme, Biostar’s TpowerX58, and Gigabyte’s EX58-UD5 put the third slot in the lowest position, forcing double-slot cards to hang below the case’s bottom slot. New models such as the Asus P6T6 workstation and DFI’s X58-T3eHS were not yet available when we placed our order.

Sold under part number 132-BL-E758-A1, the X58 3X SLI is the first motherboard EVGA has ever produced. The firm formerly sourced its products from an Nvidia manufacturing partner (Foxconn, Palit, etc.) or, earlier still, from Jetway. But while any manufacturer’s very first product is usually its worst, we had enough faith in EVGA’s high standards and the skills of its recently acquired engineering team that we had to give it this chance. 

But as previously noted, with three double-thick graphics cards going into a standard case, we really had no other choice than to give EVGA this chance.

Graphics: 3x EVGA GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 Superclocked Edition in SLI

The best thing about pre-overclocked graphics cards is that buyers know they will run at least as fast as the company set them or else the company will replace them. With the discounts available at the time we placed our order, EVGA’s Superclocked Edition GTX 260 Core 216 was within $10 of the cheapest model Newegg had in stock. For a 4% difference in price, it’s hard to argue against the performance advantage of cards that are overclocked over 8% at the GPU and 5% at the memory.

Read Customer Reviews of EVGA's GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 Superclocked


The newer Core 216 version of the GTX 260 graphics processor falls between the original GTX 260 and the high-priced GTX 280 in performance, but many readers will still be surprised that we didn’t simply install two GTX 280 cards. EVGA and Nvidia would certainly prefer its buyers to choose two GTX 280s, as the GTX 260 cost nearly as much to produce but is priced far cheaper.

The problem for us is that two GTX 280 graphics cards cost more than three GTX 260s while offering less performance potential. We plan on following up this month’s SBM with a comparison between these two configurations, so you can look forward to this proof of concept.

Hard Drives:  3x Samsung Spinpoint F1 1.0 TB in RAID 5

Our SBMs are certainly performance shootouts, yet the systems we build are designed to represent something readers would use on a daily basis. For example, our overclocks are done at relatively safe voltage levels and our cooling systems are designed for low noise. In a similar manner, a Level Zero array would squeeze out the best performance from our three 1.0 TB Samsung F1 drives, but the associated risk of data loss would have been unappealing for a daily-use machine. We thus chose RAID 5 for its redundancy.

Read Customer Reviews of Samsung's Spinpoint F1 1 TB


Samsung’s SpinPoint F1 series provides a great balance of performance at a very low price, with several variations targeted at different markets. Newegg only had the standard version in stock when we placed our order, but it’s hard to fault a 2 TB RAID 5 array using three 1.0 TB drives for slightly less than $300.

We were a little concerned about CPU overhead when using a software RAID controller, in the form of Intel’s ICH10R southbridge, to calculate parity bits. These concerns were somewhat put to rest as testing revealed average CPU use of only around 4% on a single processing core while the system was re-validating array integrity. The only real question then is whether or not RAID 5 will offer reasonable transfer rates. Our PCMark results will provide at least a partial answer.

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Top Comments
  • 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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