System Builder Marathon: Performance & Value

System Builder Marathon, November 2008 : The Articles

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).

Taking Feedback Into Consideration

One of the most commonly brought-up reader comments in past System Builder Marathons was that our fixed price structures often guided the mid-budget builder to choose a few parts that exceeded an ideal “enthusiast-level” price/performance ratio, while limiting the low-cost gaming system builder to parts that were simply too cheap to offer an ideal entry-level price/performance ratio. The value of both systems was handicapped by component prices that were outside what many readers thought would be normal for the intended market.

A large amount of feedback resulted in our selection of new pricing guidelines for both systems. Increasing our low-cost gaming PC budget to $625 allowed us to eliminate the under-performing graphics card and processor found in the previous $500 machine. Decreasing the mid-priced enthusiast build to $1,250 compelled us to ditch the controversial quad-core processor and over-sized liquid cooling system found in the previous $1,500 build. As a result, the newly-chosen dual-core processor is better-optimized for gaming than professional-level applications. Here’s a recap of each system’s components and the overclock settings used to achieve even more performance value.

November System Builder Marathon Component Details
Component $1,250 PC $625 PC
CPU Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 3.16 GHz
Overclocked to 4.25 GHz, FSB-1792
Intel Pentium E5200 2.50 GHz
Overclocked to 4.00 GHz, FSB-1336
CPU Cooler Xigmatek HDT-S1283 Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro
Motherboard DFI Lanparty DK X38-T2R Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3L
RAM 4.0 GB PNY XLR8 PC2-6400 CAS 4
Overclocked to DDR2-896 CAS 5
4.0 GB PNY XLR8 PC2-6400 CAS 4
Clocked at DDR2-802 CAS 4
Graphics Powercolor Radeon 4870 X2 2048MB
Overclocked to 777 MHz GPU, GDDR5-3800
Sapphire 100245L Radeon HD 4850 512MB
Overclocked to 700 MHz GPU, GDDR3-2340
Hard Drives WD Caviar Black WD6401AALS
640 GB, 7200 RPM, 32MB Cache
Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST3500320AS
500GB, 7200 RPM, 32MB Cache
Sound Integrated 8-Channel HD Audio Integrated 8-Channel HD Audio
Network Integrated Gigabit Networking Integrated Gigabit Networking
Case Antec Three Hundred Antec Three Hundred
Power Antec NeoPower 650W Antec NeoPower 650W
Optical LITE-ON 20X DVD±R SATA Model iHAS120-04 LITE-ON 20X DVD±R SATA Model iHAS120-04
Total Price $1,250 $654

Vanishing discounts bumped up the price of our $625 PC after its components were ordered, but we did receive everything within budget from NewEgg. In the longer term, all of these pieces will fall in price, almost guaranteeing a total build price under what we originally forecast the machines to cost.

A closer look at each system’s performance will help us gauge the effectiveness of our new budget limits in increasing value, while comparing the two new systems to each other will help us to define situations where the new enthusiast build might actually be worth twice as much as the new budget system.

For those of you who’ve read this far through the series, today is when we’ll present comparison’s to last month’s System Builder Marathon builds as well.

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  • namelessted
    So is there not going to be a high end build somewhere around $2000? Because I am looking forward to that one as usual.
  • Crashman
    NamelessTedSo is there not going to be a high end build somewhere around $2000? Because I am looking forward to that one as usual.

    It was explained in the Day 1 article but should have been mentioned at the lead of this one, that Core i7 wasn't ready when the site placed its order. And to build a high-end Core 2 machine after Core i7 was available was not a viable option. Since the site couldn't get a retail Core i7 on time, the high-end build was scrapped.
  • namelessted
    @Crashman, that makes sense, I guess i missed that in the Day 1 article. Man, I really wish I could have seen the comparison with the Core i7 and 6GB of DDR3 RAM. I guess I will have to wait until next month.
  • Crashman
    I'm just glad it was the first question asked, so the answer could be right at the top. Otherwise it might have been asked a few hundred more times, rather than a few more times.
  • slomo4sho
    Surprisingly, there was a 1:1 relationship between performance and price when comparing last months $500 build and this months $625 build. You got about a 25% performance boost with an increase in cost by 25%.

    Thanks for the write-up. I look forward to seeing both a AMD and Intel build for the lowest price point builds in the upcoming months hopefully :)
  • zodiacfml
    i think the pentium dual core and athlon x2 systems are quite the lowest price points...anything lower will be single core systems.
    i should have got the pentium dual core for the same price of an amd.
    i was focusing too much on core2duos and thought they were too expensive compared to athlon x2's.
    my x2 5000 runs at 3.1 GHz compared to pentium dual cores running at 4.2GHz with 2MB of L2 cache, 1MB more than the x2.
    ultimately, pentium dual cores are core2duo's with less cache. :)
  • Huttfuzz
    Excellent articles as usual. I wish my e8400 was as responsive to
  • Teruo
    Sorry to bring up the highend system again, but I really do what to see Quadcore Q9300 to be OC because I'm planning to get a Q9300 budget around $1400. Would the setting of the $1250 replace with Q9300 would have a good increase in gaming performance or they will be similar which is not worth the CPU upgrade?
  • Shadow703793
    @Teruo: Quads won't help gaming as most games arn't optimised for quads. However games like FSX will benefit from a quad as that game is more CPU bound than GPU.
  • Onus
    This whole series made a lot more sense than those from past months. Nothing in any of the builds was hopelessly out of balance or an unlikely choice for people actually building a system.
  • Anonymous
    I would really like to see a higher end build that consistently exceeds the "value" of the $500 system. The $625 build came close, but is it possible to get a higher percentage gain in performance than you spend for parts?
  • zodiacfml
    i don't think there is, unless you can live at an amd processor and 780G motherboard.
  • micles5
    i want to see $625 pc benchmarks with 4870 graphic card. i think there is no point to spend twice more when you can spend $50 more and get 25 percent more performance. My Pc 6320 2.8 ghz, 6gb, 4870 oc to 790 gpu 1100 ram. everything max on 1920x1080. people think please.
  • cleeve
    micles5My Pc 6320 2.8 ghz, 6gb, 4870 oc to 790 gpu 1100 ram. everything max on 1920x1080. people think please.

    'everything' but Crysis, right? ;)
  • Portall
    but COD, but FarCry, but Fallout... :)
  • habib2005
    Where is AMD ?
    I wish to see intel vs amd in price and performance comparisons .
  • cleeve
    habib2005Where is AMD ?I wish to see intel vs amd in price and performance comparisons .

    Unfortunately, AMD can't touch Intel when it comes to overclocking, and that's a big part of the System Builder Marathons.

    We'll see what the Phenom IIs bring to the table, tho. I'd love to see AMD supply a good price/performing overclocker again.
  • Tindytim
    It wi be extremely interesting to see how much "bang for the buck' a Core i7 system will have.

    this stupid text field glitch. Is it going to be fixed?
  • afrobacon
    I agree, making a $625 AMD system just for comparison reasons could be extremely useful.
  • cobra420
    i would still like to see some amd stuff in here .