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Here are links to each of the three articles in this month’s System Builder Marathon (we’ll update them as each story is published).
Ed.—You’ll notice that we have once again paired up with NewEgg to deliver this month’s System Builder Marathon. It’s an arrangement that gives us access to the latest retail components, ideally delivering an experience more representative of what our readers would go through, and eliminating the uncertainty that goes along with engineering/cherry-picked samples.
It’s also the reason we don’t have an ultra high-end build this month. Knowing that Core i7 would be out by the time we published, we couldn’t recommend another Core 2 Extreme-based machine. And retail availability of i7s and X58-components was too close this time around. You can expect next month’s series to pick up with the more expensive build, though.
In October, we squeezed an impressive amount of performance out of $500, but also felt a number of key potential upgrades were just out of reach. This month, the budget for the entry-level system has been raised from $500 to $625, which allows for all those previously mentioned upgrades—and even a few additional ones. Was this extra amount enough to build a noticeably better and more powerful system ?
Once again, to squeeze the most performance out of our limited budget, we did not choose components for their out-of-the-box performance, but rather for their reliability and potential to reach a high, stable overclock. The overall level of performance achieved this way would be untouchable in a stock-clocked system of equal price, and in some applications, almost any price, as we’ll see from the benchmarks. AMD fans may once again not be happy with the choices, but be sure to check the overclocking details before deciding if we made the right choices or not. With that said, let’s take a look at the components selected for this month’s entry-level system.
|CPU||Intel Pentium E5200 2.5 GHz||84|
|CPU Cooler||Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro||27|
|RAM||PNY XLR8 4GB (2 x 2 GB) DDR2-800 (PC2 6400)||60|
|Graphics||Sapphire 100245L Radeon HD 4850 512 MB||160|
|Hard Drives||Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST3500320AS 500 GB 7200 RPM 32 MB||70|
|Sound||Integrated HD Audio||0|
|Network||Integrated Gigabit Networking||0|
|Case||Antec Three Hundred||50|
|Power||Antec NeoPower 650 650 W ATX12V||75|
|Optical||LITE-ON 20X DVD±R SATA Model iHAS120-04||23|
The first thing you may notice is that the system looks to be over budget. The explanation is that we did not include the $30 Antec Case/PSU combo savings in the above chart, as it has since expired for this particular PSU. The actual system cost as it sat in the NewEgg cart on order day was $624. And while we do not factor in mail-in rebates into our pricing, many readers have commented that they do just that, so we’ll mention that the above system had $55 in rebates at the time, which adds up to a $569 system after all rebate checks are received.
We originally planned to rely on combo deals to meet the budget, but that idea quickly changed for this system as many selections went out of stock before the total System Builder Marathon order was placed. As bargain hunters know, the best deals often sell out, which is exactly what happened in this case. Our original Radeon HD 4850 was the reference design HIS for $155, with a $30 rebate on top of that, making it by far the cheapest HD4850 at the time. NewEgg customers noticed this and grabbed theirs before we could snag it.
The original power supply we selected was the Antec EarthWatts 500 W, which was an outstanding value at $50, or $30 after combo savings, and again this bargain sold out. An EarthWatts 430 W would have been enough to power this system, but priced at $60, it would still have pushed us over budget without making another sacrifice elsewhere. Rather than cheap-out on the power supply, we went with the NeoPower 650 W, which was an absolute steal at $45 with the case combo.
As a matter of fact, this writer couldn’t pass up paying only $85 shipped for a quality case and a PSU capable of running an SLI/CrossFire system or the mighty HD 4870 X2, and I ordered the same NewEgg combo just a couple days earlier.
A memory price increase on order day foiled our last attempt to hit budget, but luckily the PNY XLR8 high-performance memory that was originally picked came back in stock that same morning. In the end, the final outcome was getting the original desired system with an even better PSU and a dual-slot HD4850, but to meet budget it became a necessity to factor in the actual order-day cost, which includes the combo savings for the case and power supply.
Keep in mind that by the time you read this, pricing and availability will likely have changed once again. As this article was written, many of these components dropped in price, including the Sapphire dual-slot HD 4850 that is now $150, or $130 after rebate. On the other hand, our power supply not only disappeared from the combo deals, but also went up in price to $120. But the same case with the NeoPower 500 W is now a $90 bundle, making the cost of this exact system with just the new power supply $602, or $567 after rebates. It’s now time to take a closer look at each of the components used in the November $625 PC.