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System Builder Marathon, June 2010: $1,000 Enthusiast PC

With a $500 budget deficit, our goal was to build a system that could keep up to the stock $1,500 build when overclocked. How did we fare? Let's have a look at the aggregate performance data:

With game performance within 5% and application performance within 10% of the stock $1,500 machine, we'll call the overclocked $1,000 system a success.

Frankly, we're very surprised that a couple of Radeon HD 5830s with a slight overclock could perform so close to a couple of Radeon HD 5850s in the gaming arena. To put things into perspective, this is only 1920x1080 game data. At 2560x1600, the Radeon HD 5850s fares much better compared to the Radeon HD 5830s. We also did leave the S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat performance out of this chart because the result was bugged, and we're not sure if the graphics cards, drivers, or any number of other factors were the culprit. With Radeon HD 5830 prices dropping, these cards might take the place of the venerable Radeon HD 4890 sooner than we expected. As it stands, in every game we tested except S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat, the $1,000 system was capable of playable 1920x1080 performance, even when AA was enabled.

When it comes to application performance, our overclocked and core-unlocked Phenom II X3 720 did have a hard time keeping up with the stock Core i7-920. But a 10% average performance spread isn't bad considering that the Core i7 CPU costs about three times as much as the Phenom II.

Of course, the Core i7-920 can be overclocked too, and when it is, this CPU becomes a devastating force, as our benchmarks show. But with a $500 spread, we think the $1,000 system performed about as well as we could have expected it to in comparison to the Core i7-920 platform.

We look forward to our next SBM, where we plan to build a counterpoint $1,000 system. Instead of spending the lion's share of the budget on a dual graphics card setup, we'll invest a little more in the CPU and platform. This change might make for a more livable system, but we're interested in seeing how large the performance differences are, especially in games..

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