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System Builder Marathon, March 2012: System Value Compared

System Builder Marathon, March 2012: System Value Compared
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System Builder Marathon, March 2012: The Articles

Here are links to each of the five articles in this quarter’s System Builder Marathon (we’ll update them as each story is published). And remember, these systems are all being given away at the end of the marathon, including the Bonus Customer Choice PC, which we picked out using the highest-rated components in Newegg's feedback system.

To enter the giveaway, please fill out this SurveyGizmo form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: The $650 Gaming PC
Day 2: The $1250 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $2600 Performance PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected
Day 5: Bonus Newegg Customer Choice PC

Introduction

Without the benefit of an unlimited budget, improving performance in one area typically means making a sacrifice somewhere else. Recent changes to our benchmark suite slightly deemphasize the importance of beefy graphics at the high-end, since CPU bottlenecks hamper some of its games. On the other hand, Paul, the guy building our entry-level machine, usually can’t afford a fast enough graphics card to see those CPU bottlenecks. Those concepts drive this quarter's cheapest and most expensive systems in opposite directions. I dropped SLI from my $2600 machine, while Paul gave up a capable Core i5 processor from his $650 contender.

More controversial were the choices made by Don, who picked parts for our $1250 PC. He went with the same high-end graphics card as me in an attempt to match the expensive machine in at least the gaming segment of our metrics. Knowing that his affordable quad-core CPU couldn't stand up to my Sandy Bridge-E-based Core i7-3930K in the content creation apps, Don made his stand where he knew he stood a chance. Frequency (rather than core count) determines where most games run into a bottleneck, so Don pinned his hopes on topping-out Turbo Boost technology, since his Core i5-2400 is one of those "partially-unlocked" models.

So, we end up with two purpose-built gaming machines taking on a fully-loaded $2600 heavyweight in the productivity and content creation suites. That's definitely not going to be a fair fight. But you could also look at this match-up as one feature-oriented (overpriced) behemoth taking on two budget-oriented game systems in a battle for the best value. That may be equally unfair. We’ll do our best to present both sides of the performance/value debate, though.

Q1, 2012: System Builder Marathon PC Components
  $2600 Perfomance PC  $1300 Enthusiast PC  $650 Gaming PC 
ProcessorIntel Core i7-3930K
3.2GHz Hexa-Core
Intel Core i5-2400
3.10 GHz Quad-Core
Intel Core i3-2120
3.3 GHz Dual-Core
MotherboardAsus P9X79 Pro
LGA 2011, Intel X79 Express
ASRock P67 Pro3 SE
LGA 1155, Intel P67 Express
Gigabyte H61MA-D3V
LGA 1155, Intel H61 Express
GraphicsMSI R7970-2PMD3GD5/OC
Radeon HD 7970 3 GB O/C
PowerColor AX7970 3GBD5
Radeon HD 7970 3 GB
XFX HD-395X-ZNFC
Radeon HD 6950 1 GB
MemoryG.Skill F3-1600C9Q-16GAB
16 GB (4 x 4 GB) DDR3-1600
Mushkin Enhanced 996981
8 GB (2 x 4 GB ) DDR3-1600
Team Elite TED34096M1333C9DC
4 GB (2 x 2 GB) DDR3-1333
System DriveMushkin MKNSSDCR240GB-DX
240 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD
Crucial m4 CT064M4SSD2
64 GB SATA 6Gb/s SSD
Seagate ST500DM002
0.5 TB 7200 RPM HDD
Storage DriveSeagate ST1500DL003
1.5 TB, 5900 RPM HDD
Hitachi HDS721075DLE630
0.75 TB 7200 RPM HDD
Uses System Drive
OpticalPioneer BDR-206DBKS 12x BD-RSamsung TS-H353C 16x DVD-ROMLG GH22NS90B 22x DVD±R
CaseAntec P280 Case w/Rosewill FansApevia X-Trooper JuniorRosewill FBM-01
PowerSeasonic Platinum-860
860 W, 80 PLUS Platinum
Corsair CMPSU-650TXV2
650 W, 80 PLUS Bronze
Rosewill  Green RG630-S12
630 W, 80 PLUS
Heat SinkZalman CNPS12XCooler Master Hyper TX3Intel Boxed Cooler
 Total Cost $2541 $1263 $649


Notice that the title for each build refers to its budget limit, not its actual cost. Two days ago, we saw Don call his configuration the $1250 build, though he did have another $50 available to him. Amounts left unspent simply contribute to each PC’s price-per-performance calculations.

Display 65 Comments.
Top Comments
  • 21 Hide
    Crashman , March 29, 2012 5:22 AM
    iamauserTranslation: we don't actually stand behind any of these builds as being worthwhile to emulate.
    The $650 and $2600 PC builders loved their machines, it's just hard to recommend either of those to "everyone" or even "most people" since most of the readers really want $800-1200 machines.
  • 20 Hide
    sonexpc , March 29, 2012 4:40 AM
    Looks like $650 PC can do almost everything smoothly ! Even most of the game can get over 40fps...
    which is not bad... for Just $650 ...So the first piority for gaming PC is still the Video card!
  • 19 Hide
    Crashman , March 29, 2012 6:10 AM
    MMO fanIt's hard to recomend them because they just are not real good for the large outlay of cash as in the money could have been spent on better parts but instead was spent on "balancing" and pleasing the TH memebers.
    I'll explain this the way I did in your other $2600 PC comments. You're simply wrong. I can't help you understand why someone would want a PC that performs well in multiple areas. I can't help you understand why someone would want their PC to be quiet. I can't help you to understand why someone would want their PC to store more applications on the faster device. I can't help you to understand these things because you have already rejected them. Your prejudice excludes any "balanced" analysis.

    But at least you're fairly nice about it.
Other Comments
  • 20 Hide
    sonexpc , March 29, 2012 4:40 AM
    Looks like $650 PC can do almost everything smoothly ! Even most of the game can get over 40fps...
    which is not bad... for Just $650 ...So the first piority for gaming PC is still the Video card!
  • -9 Hide
    MMO Fan , March 29, 2012 4:47 AM
    nobody needs a $600 cpu
  • 0 Hide
    shoot you , March 29, 2012 4:49 AM
    I always love seeing the System builder articles (even though I cant build one myself for now hahahaha).

    Great as always. It sad that the Nvidia GTX 680 has yet to be considered due to availability and pricing issues hehehehe.

  • 21 Hide
    Crashman , March 29, 2012 5:22 AM
    iamauserTranslation: we don't actually stand behind any of these builds as being worthwhile to emulate.
    The $650 and $2600 PC builders loved their machines, it's just hard to recommend either of those to "everyone" or even "most people" since most of the readers really want $800-1200 machines.
  • 9 Hide
    Wave Fusion , March 29, 2012 5:30 AM
    I'd love to build a PC with a beefy GPU someday.
    But coming from a notebook background, I more or less have to start from scratch.

    I can use my old mouse, and my TV as a monitor. But on top of the estimated build costs listed, I also need the OS, keyboard, and likely other misc. odds and ends.

    $200 ($100 OEM) for Windows 7 is brutal.

    I also don't want to waste time on a desktop that only has a GPU advantage over the notebook.
    Desktop upgrades over even a mobile i7 is still pricey.

    Since I know my 2720QM uses the same die as desktops; it'd be swell if I could just yank it out; plug it in a desktop board and call it a 2600k. In a desktop it wouldn't have to stay in a 45W TDP

    But.. *sigh*.. the parts are locked, the sockets don't match; and a real life desktop carbon copy of my notebook is out of my budget atm.
    --
    If I could find a way to attach a 7870 to my notebook motherboard, I wouldn't have a problem with the frankenstein-ish creation.

    The 6670 just doesn't cut it sometimes
  • 19 Hide
    Crashman , March 29, 2012 6:10 AM
    MMO fanIt's hard to recomend them because they just are not real good for the large outlay of cash as in the money could have been spent on better parts but instead was spent on "balancing" and pleasing the TH memebers.
    I'll explain this the way I did in your other $2600 PC comments. You're simply wrong. I can't help you understand why someone would want a PC that performs well in multiple areas. I can't help you understand why someone would want their PC to be quiet. I can't help you to understand why someone would want their PC to store more applications on the faster device. I can't help you to understand these things because you have already rejected them. Your prejudice excludes any "balanced" analysis.

    But at least you're fairly nice about it.
  • 14 Hide
    InsaneScientist , March 29, 2012 6:48 AM
    Quote:
    Any Desktop CPU this side of C2Duo will substancially out perform any Laptop CPU


    You sure about that? That's a quad core Sandy Bridge CPU that can turbo up to 3.0GHz on all 4 cores...
    It's roughly equivalent to the desktop i5 2300, a chip that stomps nearly everything available for socket 1156 (Excepting only the highest end Lynnfields) and even half of the lineup for 1366, let alone any older stuff.

    Also, keep in mind that there is at least one cheap desktop CPU being sold today that a C2Duo will outperform.
    The Celeron G440 is a 1.6GHz (ouch), single core (double ouch) Sandy Bridge derived chip.
    My aging laptop's T7500 would eat that thing for lunch.


    While desktop chips are certainly more powerful than laptop chips on average, saying that they are all better is a bit disingenuous. ;) 
  • 3 Hide
    quixoticism , March 29, 2012 7:04 AM
    Since the $1300 and $2600 systems have (essentially) the same video card spending the extra $600 on the cpu does absolutely nothing for gaming that is perceptively noticeable. When gpu bound they performed almost identically, with the $1300 O/C winning out with the better overclock.
    When not graphics bound both cpus deliver framerates well above smooth(70+) in every title.

    I was quite impressed with how much faster those 6 cores proved to be in the productivity segment. It's too bad we probably won't see 6 cores on the 1155 socket.
  • 9 Hide
    Crashman , March 29, 2012 7:16 AM
    MMO fan7970 is more than "well" it is the best of the best and Fractal Design Define R3 is $100 or some $30 less than the P280 and performance better these two points I made are just for starters. If you will I could go on and build a far better machine for $2600 but you seem to think this TH $2600 "performance" build is the best when it is far from it.
    You got me there, the Define R3 has similar performance for $30 less money and I chose the P280 instead. Perhaps USB 3.0 had something to do with it, or that I wanted a case with front panel ports accessible from the front. Or maybe I just thought it was too fat. Hmmm. But yeh, if I wanted to compromise on features and have a fatter case I could have saved $30.

    And Fractal does have good quality, I've nothing against the company. We even used them in a couple of our past builds and look forward to working with them on an upcoming story.
  • 0 Hide
    agnickolov , March 29, 2012 7:19 AM
    If I were to build a $2600 machine for gaming, I'd go with i7 2700K and Z68 and use the saved cash for a second video card. 2x Radeon 7950 would certainly outperform a single Radeon 7970. And now we also "have" the option of GeForce GTX 680 (sans that little availability nuisance...).
  • 6 Hide
    Darkerson , March 29, 2012 7:22 AM
    I know Id be pretty happy with any of those. Thanks for the comparisons and the builds in general.
  • 2 Hide
    weatherdude , March 29, 2012 8:12 AM
    Minor typo in the "Benchmark And Overclock Settings" page. In the $1300 Enthusiast PC column it says it uses a Powercolor Radeon HD 6970 for it's graphics. It should be the Radeon HD 7970 right? Yeah yeah I know, minor details that don't bother anybody but me.

    Anyways it's always fun to experiment in the SBM. Nice to see that gamble with the GPU in the $1300 payoff in gaming. Good stuff all around here. That chipset driver on the X79 though is somewhat worrying. Does it affect all SSD's? Although it doesn't affect me since the LGA 2011 platform is way out of my league...
  • 2 Hide
    ashven23 , March 29, 2012 8:15 AM
    Thanks for doing something different, Don. Continue the good work!
    I think that the $2600 build is a really intelligent and elegant solution, and furthermore, I think we should be all looking forward to June build with hopefully Ivy Bridge and more 28nm solutions at better prices!!
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , March 29, 2012 8:17 AM
    weatherdudeMinor typo in the "Benchmark And Overclock Settings" page. In the $1300 Enthusiast PC column it says it uses a Powercolor Radeon HD 6970 for it's graphics. It should be the Radeon HD 7970 right?
    Fixed, thanks!
  • 7 Hide
    de5_Roy , March 29, 2012 9:20 AM
    good builds, nice articles as usual.
    i think i am the only one who's a bit bored because of the absence of an amd cpu in one of the builds. last quarter was very interesting with the $1200 pc's performance. i actually liked how the current $1250 pc's i5 2400 (4 core) kept up with last quarter's fx 6100 (6 cores) in productivity and apps and outperformed it despite it's hardware issues.
    this quarter it's just intel vs intel vs intel. cpus are less priority in gaming but higher priority in productivity and performance in apps which $1200 and $2500~ builds seem to focus on. i am just nitpicking because i don't find anything wrong with any of the builds. i am more or less okay with the part choices except the asrock p67 motherboard.
    i found the comments various people made on gtx 680 hilarious.
  • 1 Hide
    SpadeM , March 29, 2012 9:26 AM
    Even though I don't agree with every choice of components or how they're put to use (maybe a ramdisk for the 2600$ could have been fun to create) I do believe that no reader expects the builders to be all knowing and impartial when they pick their parts. We all have different esthetic tastes and prioritize functionality points on a case by case situation. That being said, looking forward to the next SBM, hope you guys deliver something crazy and don't play it safe :) 
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