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System Builder Marathon, May '09: $1,300 Enthusiast PC

What can we conclude from this exercise in building a portable $1,300 enthusiast Micro-ATX system?

First of all, we’ve learned that fitting a high-performance PC into a Micro-ATX box will take a bit more planning and forethought than most enthusiasts are likely used to putting in. Our usual method of choosing the best components for the money and then throwing them together might work well when dealing with full-sized ATX systems, but in this case, the small and airflow-limited case wasn’t nearly as forgiving, causing a lot more heat than we anticipated.

I will note that when we were considering components to include, I did wonder if a no-compromise Micro-ATX gaming system geared for overclocking might be better served with a simple water-cooling setup like the H20-120, which would remove CPU heat inside the case almost entirely and expel it out of a rear-mounted radiator. This is something I would definitely consider in the future if building this type of system again.

Having said that, we still built a first-rate Micro-ATX system that is portable and powerful enough to handle demanding games at 1920x1200 at default clock speeds for $1,300. It includes Intel’s newest CPU technology, 6 GB of triple-channel RAM, and two GeForce GTX 260 cards in SLI. This system is no slouch and cuts through our new gaming benchmarks like a hot knife through butter.

Sure, the $2,500 Micro-ATX system as built by Thomas Soderstrom will likely beat it in games. But will the benefits be worth the extra money? Stay tuned for the final comparison article to find out.

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