System Builder Marathon: TH's $2000 Hand-Picked Build

System Builder Marathon, September 2010: The Articles

Here are links to each of the four articles in this month’s System Builder Marathon (we’ll update them as each story is published).

Although the contest giving away our three System Builder Marathon PCs is already over, we're giving away one more machine. This hand-picked setup is the product of Thomas Soderstrom's lessons learned, and is everything we'd want if our own $2000 were on the line. Read the rules and enter to win this configuration through our Google-based entry form!

Day 1: The $2,000 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1,000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $400 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

Editor's Note: The purpose of the System Builder Marathon is extracting maximum value from enthusiast components at a variety of price points. We come together at the end of the series to see whose build exemplified our goal.

This time around, Newegg gave us an opportunity to pick the parts we as editors wanted to see--after the fact. Our follow-up build adds a *lot* of value to the first $2000 build, and we're much happier recommending the components in this story.

Now, here's the cool part: Newegg took all of the parts in our setup, created a Combo deal on its site, and discounted the thing (from $1996 down to $1892). If you're interested in a $2000 build using the parts our editors recommend, here's your chance to grab the same system at a discount. Check out the Tom's Hardware Edition Newegg combo right here.

Introduction

While each of us has our own special definition of what a “high-end” PC needs to include, most of us agree that a $2000 budget allows some basic minimums to be achieved.

Some of your suggestions have included the best possible processor, the fastest graphics card, increased DRAM and storage capacity, SSD drives, storage redundancy, and a full range of media capabilities. After carefully considering each of these suggestions and crossing anything that didn’t benefit our benchmark set from the list, we decided to combine maximum graphics power with superior multithreading in our $2000 System Builder Marathon PC. Yet before we could even build the system, an article on SLI scaling revealed that its graphics cards would be CPU-bottlenecked at the resolutions used for our final value analysis. In case you missed that one, two GeForce GTX 480s are overkill for anything under 2560x1600 (or triple-monitor Surround).

It’s often said that “too many cooks spoil the broth.” But we could only blame ourselves for the poor overall performance that resulted from components that were drastically mismatched to our test suite. Although we wanted to respond to reader requests for a six-core CPU, we certainly didn’t want to spend nearly half of our budget on it.

Prior to that SLI scaling article, we honestly thought that overclocking would allow us to approach our performance goals using a CPU that's better suited to a $1200 workhorse machine.

Our epiphany occurred as we tested the poorly-matched $2000 machine: were we too quick to cross that “too expensive” CPU from our list? We knew that Intel’s Gulftown-based Core i7 processors offered better performance. But they're four times as expensive. Could taking hundreds of dollars away from our graphics budget and applying it towards a much pricier CPU yield even better gaming performance?

Alternative SBM Components
 New/Alternative $2000 PCOriginal $2000 PC
MotherboardGigabyte X58A-UD3R LGA 1366
Intel X58 Express, ICH10R
MSI NF980-G65, Socket AM3
Nvidia nForce 980a SLI
ProcessorIntel Core i7-970
3.2 GHz, Six Physical Cores
12 MB L3 Cache, LGA 1366
AMD Phenom II X6 1055T
2.8 GHz, Six Cores
6 MB L3 Cache, Socket AM3
MemoryMushkin Silverline 998768
3 x 2GB (6 GB Total)
DDR3-1333 CAS 9-9-9-24
G.Skill F3-10666CL9D-8GBRL
2 x 4 GB (8 GB Total)
DDR3-1333 CAS 9-9-9-24
Graphics2 x EVGA 01G-P3-1372-TR
2 x 1GB GDDR5-3800
2 x GF104 GPU at 763 MHz
2 x MSI N480GTX-M2D15-B
2 x 1.5 GB GDDR5-3696
2 x GF100 GPU at 700 MHz
Hard DriveSamsung F3 HD103SJ
1 TB, 7200 RPM
32 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s 
Samsung F3 HD103SJ
1 TB, 7200 RPM
32 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s 
OpticalLite-On iHAS124
24x DVD±R, 48X CD-R
Lite-On iHAS124
24X DVD±R, 48X CD-R
CaseAntec Three Hundred IllusionSilverStone Raven RV02-BW
PowerSeasonic SS-850HT
850 W, 80 PLUS Silver
Cooler Master Silent Pro
RSA00-AMBAJ3-US 1000 W
Modular, 80 PLUS Bronze
CPU CoolerScythe Mugen 2 Rev. B
(SCMG-2100)
Scythe Mugen 2 Rev. B
(SCMG-2100)
Total Cost $1989  $1934


The switch from GeForce GTX 480 to GeForce GTX 460 has a big impact on graphics power. But, in light of the CPU bottlenecks seen previously, will it really hurt gaming performance? Newegg provided two $240 models to replace our out-of-stock $220 cards. However, the price doesn't reflect this, since the upgrade will have little to no impact on our manual overclocking capabilities.

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    Top Comments
  • should have just gone with a i7 920 and stuck a 5970 which would have been cheaper
    16
  • pinkfloydminnesotaA 970 and a drop to 460s? Are you kidding me? How much is newegg dropping in ad revenue for you to help them dump this overpriced stock?
    The 970 was a sub for the 1055T: Please outline a 970 build with GTX 480's for $2000 if you'd like to add credibility to your incredulity. Thanks!

    eyefinityWho wouldn't go with Eyefinity or Nvidia surround with $2k?
    Actually I proposed that for an upcoming SBM, but it couldn't be included this time since the former systems had already been decommissioned for shipment to the contest winners. So, who's up for an ATI EyeFinity/Nvidia Surround SBM?
    12
  • pinkfloydminnesotaA 970 and a drop to 460s? Are you kidding me? How much is newegg dropping in ad revenue for you to help them dump this overpriced stock?


    The story has the numbers to *prove* the improvements made to this build. This is a solid configuration that we have no problem recommending.

    Aside from that, we enjoy the luxury on the editorial side of operating completely separately from sales. In this case, our follow-up system was a good move editorially, and we get to give it away, to boot.

    Best,
    Chris Angelini
    11
  • Other Comments
  • Yay more giveaways!
    2
  • should have just gone with a i7 920 and stuck a 5970 which would have been cheaper
    16
  • I agree, however, this SBM was about 6-core performance.
    With an i7-930, a better heatsink, 2 470s and maybe an extra fan or 2 for the case is in reach.
    2
  • duk3I agree, however, this SBM was about 6-core performance.With an i7-930, a better heatsink, 2 470s and maybe an extra fan or 2 for the case is in reach.
    yes, the i7-930 and a couple 470's would be normal in the SBM $2000 PC.
    5
  • how do I enter for the giveaway?
    0
  • cojjhow do I enter for the giveaway?

    Click the link in the announcement?
    1
  • I guess these were more performance driven choices. I still will miss the case, i'd gladly trade a 920/930 for the SilverStone Raven
    2
  • IzzyCraftI guess these were more performance driven choices. I still will miss the case, i'd gladly trade a 920/930 for the SilverStone Raven
    Quality-wise, the Three Hundred is probably the best case you can get for under $80, but there should have been one more fan in the system given the internally-vented graphics cards the system ended up with. On the other hand, a lot of builders would be more than happy to "settle for" 4GHz at 1.30V, and the CPU will certainly live longer at the lower voltage.
    2
  • i prefer the six core gtx 480 sli rig.
    -7
  • A 970 and a drop to 460s? Are you kidding me? How much is newegg dropping in ad revenue for you to help them dump this overpriced stock?
    -18
  • Who wouldn't go with Eyefinity or Nvidia surround with $2k?
    2
  • pinkfloydminnesotaA 970 and a drop to 460s? Are you kidding me? How much is newegg dropping in ad revenue for you to help them dump this overpriced stock?
    The 970 was a sub for the 1055T: Please outline a 970 build with GTX 480's for $2000 if you'd like to add credibility to your incredulity. Thanks!

    eyefinityWho wouldn't go with Eyefinity or Nvidia surround with $2k?
    Actually I proposed that for an upcoming SBM, but it couldn't be included this time since the former systems had already been decommissioned for shipment to the contest winners. So, who's up for an ATI EyeFinity/Nvidia Surround SBM?
    12
  • pinkfloydminnesotaA 970 and a drop to 460s? Are you kidding me? How much is newegg dropping in ad revenue for you to help them dump this overpriced stock?


    The story has the numbers to *prove* the improvements made to this build. This is a solid configuration that we have no problem recommending.

    Aside from that, we enjoy the luxury on the editorial side of operating completely separately from sales. In this case, our follow-up system was a good move editorially, and we get to give it away, to boot.

    Best,
    Chris Angelini
    11
  • eyefinityWho wouldn't go with Eyefinity or Nvidia surround with $2k?


    Someone not wanting to spend an extra $1000 on monitors.
    3
  • Quote:
    The 970 was a sub for the 1055T: Please outline a 970 build with GTX 480's for $2000 if you'd like to add credibility to your incredulity. Thanks!


    How about bouild with 930 instead and some nice SSD?

    Also I'd rather a case with proper PSU bottom mount, like Cooler Master does.
    -7
  • rrrHow about bouild with 930 instead and some nice SSD?Also I'd rather a case with proper PSU bottom mount, like Cooler Master does.

    1.) The SSD is mentioned in the article. The problem is, it increases only synthetic test scores and the value analysis only uses "real world" benchmarks so it's basically a non-starter.
    2.) The i7-930 is nice, and would normally have been used if this build hadn't been designed as a direct alternative to the former six-core build. It will probably be used next time!
    3.) The Antec Three Hundred is "proper bottom mount", please check the photos!
    1
  • You should include boot times somewhere in performance measurments.
    7
  • feeddagoatYou should include boot times somewhere in performance measurments.


    Appreciate the feedback on this, guys. This is something we'll consider for the next SBM in the planning stages now!
    6
  • TheCapuletYou guys really need to get comfortable with the coolermaster cases. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Prod [...] 6811119233http://www.newegg.com/Product/Prod [...] 6811119215http://www.newegg.com/Product/Prod [...] 6811119228All three of these are far better values than the Antec you keep building in.

    I accidentally clicked the thumbs up icon on your message, and welcome the slamming of this comment as punishment. The case in this article was chosen for its excellent cooling-to-noise ratio, where the cases you picked are noisier and don't cool as well. It's all in the case reviews at this very site, really. None of the cases you picked even support dual front fans, and the original plan was to pair the dual front fans with graphics cards that vented externally.
    3
  • I agree with the previous comments. Why go for a 6-core CPU? Unless you have some very specific requirements, you'd be much better off going with a quad-core and spending the money on an SSD. I guess the whole point of this thing is to be the best "benchmark machine", not necessarily the best bang-for-the-buck in the real world usage.
    0