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System Builder Marathon, March 2010: $3,000 Extreme PC

System Builder Marathon, March 2010: $3,000 Extreme PC
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System Builder Marathon, March 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). And remember, these systems are all being given away at the end of the marathon.

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

Day 1: The $3,000 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1,500 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $750 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

Introduction

Everyone hates the idea of putting a bunch of money into a system, only to find its components are middle-rung six months later. But that’s the harsh reality of the high-end market. Offended by that loss in value, many builders toss around terms like “future proof” when they're looking for components that will support the latest hardware trends perpetually. And yet, the harshest reality might be that most IHVs can only look forward to a single generation. The best we can hope for is a system that can be upgraded using near-term technologies over the course of several years, so that’s where we’ve started today.

Followers of our System Builder Marathon (and those who help us make these decisions with their participation in the comments section) will notice several additions and subtractions from this month’s build. First up was a long-overdue increase in budget from $2,500 to $3,000 that finally addresses last summer’s component price escalation.

No longer must we choose between solid-state drives (SSDs) or liquid cooling, as this month’s budget allows us to use both. Redundant storage, on the other hand, was nixed due to reader disagreement over various backup methods, though we intentionally left enough money in the budget to add a second storage drive, if that's the direction you choose to take with your own build.

$3,000 Performance PC Component Prices
MotherboardGigabyte GA-X58A-UD7
Chipset: Intel X58 Express
 $350
ProcessorIntel Core i7-920 2.66 GHz
4 Cores, 8MB L3 Cache
 $289
MemoryCrucial 6GB DDR3-1333 Triple-Channel Kit
3 x 2GB (6GB Total), CAS 9-9-9-28
 $165
GraphicsPowerColor LCS AX5970
2GB GDDR5-4200
Radeon HD 5970 Dual GPUs at 750 MHz
 $830
System
Hard Drives
2 x Crucial CT64M225 SSD (RAID 0)
64GB x2 (128GB Total), SATA 3.0 Gb/s
 $380
HDD
Accessory
SNT-SATA2221B Hot-Swappable
2x 2.5" Mobile Rack
 $ 22
Storage
Hard Drive
Western Digital Caviar Black WD1001FALS
1TB, 7,200 RPM, 32MB Cache, SATA 3.0 Gb/s 
 $100
OpticalLite-On DH-4B1S-08 SATA Blu-ray Burner
4X BD-R, 2X BD-RE, 12X DVD±R, 4X BD-ROM
 $190
CaseCooler Master Cosmos-S RC-1100-KKN1-GP $170
PowerSilverStone ST1000-P 1,000W Modular
ATX12V 2.2, EPS12V 2.91, 80-Plus Silver
 $200
CPU CoolerSwiftech H20-220 Ultima XT Liquid Kit
2x 120mm Radiator
 $230
 Total Current Cost$2,926


Because we treated the $3,000 budget as an absolute limit rather than a target, our highest-priced system remains under-budget, despite minor increases that occurred after placing our order.

Now that we’ve introduced the system, let’s consider how each of these components fits into our plans for a forward-looking, high-performance PC.

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Top Comments
  • 25 Hide
    Crashman , March 16, 2010 6:42 AM
    zoemayneMore than 64GB is gonna be needed for multiple games and good apps... those ssd's can only handle 5 games max.


    You're repeatedly ignoring that it's 128GB, not 64GB, because the article repeatedly states that the drives are striped (Level 0) by the RAID controller. And there's a terabyte of added storage on top of that for stuff that isn't programs.
  • 13 Hide
    sid1712 , March 16, 2010 6:50 AM
    I couldn't have made it better. Amazing rig for a 3k budget.
  • 12 Hide
    Crashman , March 16, 2010 8:19 AM
    Quote:
    Nice as it is, my only complaint is that...
    Overclocked 5970 + i7 on a single 120.2?
    ARE YOU MAD!


    Well, the explanation is in the conclusion, the builder wanted redundant storage instead of the big radiator but chose neither, leaving enough room in the budget for anyone who wanted to copy the build to make their own upgrade choice.

    But what's not in the budget is that the water was never hot, it was barely warm. The problem with running the CPU at 100% load and the GPU at 100% load is that the water temperature went up by around 10 degrees...we're talking about going from the 30's to the 40's here at full load. The article points to the GPU cooler as a likely flow restriction so I have three solutions:

    Solution 1: Add 1/2" by 3/8" adapter T's and cool the chipset block, parallel to the GPU block. That would allow some of the water to bypass the GPU cooler, which is OK since the GPU was always cold. But 1/2" by 3/8" T's are hard to find outside of a hardware store, and Newegg certainly doesn't have them.

    Solution 2: Switch to a 3-fan radiator. A 4-fan unit won't fit nicely into that case, and making an ugly system wasn't considered a solution.

    Solution 3: Add a second liquid-cooled 5970 parallel to the first. Get twice the GPU power and completely unblock the lines in the process. The GPUs would run slightly hotter when each gets only half the water, but at least the CPU block's flow won't be restricted. And...since it's probably adding another 10 degrees to the coolant...stick the three-fan radiator in there as well. For FOUR grand you could have a KILLER system!

    OK, so solution 1 is the cheapest, but you have to admit solution 3 is tempting...
Other Comments
  • 25 Hide
    Crashman , March 16, 2010 6:42 AM
    zoemayneMore than 64GB is gonna be needed for multiple games and good apps... those ssd's can only handle 5 games max.


    You're repeatedly ignoring that it's 128GB, not 64GB, because the article repeatedly states that the drives are striped (Level 0) by the RAID controller. And there's a terabyte of added storage on top of that for stuff that isn't programs.
  • 13 Hide
    sid1712 , March 16, 2010 6:50 AM
    I couldn't have made it better. Amazing rig for a 3k budget.
  • 6 Hide
    Onyx2291 , March 16, 2010 7:04 AM
    Nice fail there Zoe.

    This thing is a beast.
  • 4 Hide
    anamaniac , March 16, 2010 7:14 AM
    Nice as it is, my only complaint is that...
    Overclocked 5970 + i7 on a single 120.2?
    ARE YOU MAD!
    Likely.

    Well, I personally would have dropped something else and gone for a 120.3 or 140.3 radiator. =D
    Hell, maybe even a 140.4 radiator, but then again, I like my system to run chilly and silent. It's also be very difficult to mount a 140.4 I assume. Maybe I could jack a radiator form work, I think it's about 1 metre by 3 metres by half a metre. Granted, it's for industrial use, but just for one day, please boss please?

    Good results on the i7 though. Decently low voltage and still managed to reach 4.3GHz. My i7 is a lemon. It makes me sad. =(
    Also an impressive overclock for a 5970.

    At this kind of power, you should be testing multi monitor resolutions. I have a 5770 and I run 7 megapixels, you use a 5970 and only run 4 megapixels.

    Looking forward tho the $1,500 build. See how my build compares to one six months older on a similar budget (and cry).
  • 12 Hide
    Crashman , March 16, 2010 8:19 AM
    Quote:
    Nice as it is, my only complaint is that...
    Overclocked 5970 + i7 on a single 120.2?
    ARE YOU MAD!


    Well, the explanation is in the conclusion, the builder wanted redundant storage instead of the big radiator but chose neither, leaving enough room in the budget for anyone who wanted to copy the build to make their own upgrade choice.

    But what's not in the budget is that the water was never hot, it was barely warm. The problem with running the CPU at 100% load and the GPU at 100% load is that the water temperature went up by around 10 degrees...we're talking about going from the 30's to the 40's here at full load. The article points to the GPU cooler as a likely flow restriction so I have three solutions:

    Solution 1: Add 1/2" by 3/8" adapter T's and cool the chipset block, parallel to the GPU block. That would allow some of the water to bypass the GPU cooler, which is OK since the GPU was always cold. But 1/2" by 3/8" T's are hard to find outside of a hardware store, and Newegg certainly doesn't have them.

    Solution 2: Switch to a 3-fan radiator. A 4-fan unit won't fit nicely into that case, and making an ugly system wasn't considered a solution.

    Solution 3: Add a second liquid-cooled 5970 parallel to the first. Get twice the GPU power and completely unblock the lines in the process. The GPUs would run slightly hotter when each gets only half the water, but at least the CPU block's flow won't be restricted. And...since it's probably adding another 10 degrees to the coolant...stick the three-fan radiator in there as well. For FOUR grand you could have a KILLER system!

    OK, so solution 1 is the cheapest, but you have to admit solution 3 is tempting...
  • 0 Hide
    Sihastru , March 16, 2010 8:50 AM
    I kinda like it. Dramatic power increase for the overclocked components. But also dramatic performance increase.

    Another solution to the constricted water flow would be to change the block on the 5970.

    This build gets one and a half thumbs up from me, not that anyone cares...
  • 8 Hide
    tecmo34 , March 16, 2010 9:23 AM
    Only changes I would've recommended is...

    Storage HDD: Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB - $90
    RAM: G.SKILL PI Series 6GB (3 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 - $180

    Those would still get you in at $3,000 provide an increase in performance with the Cas7 DDR3 1600 RAM and a faster hard drive (well, if you really need faster with two SSD in RAID0 :D  ).
  • 4 Hide
    JeanLuc , March 16, 2010 9:56 AM
    I don't know why someone marked down tecmo34 comments, if you going to mark down a comment at least have the good curtsey and explain why you disagree (unless it's blindingly obvious like the post left by tacoslave).

    I too would have used the Samsung Spinpoint F3 1Tb it's been reviewed countless times and benchmarked against all the competition and wins every time.
  • 2 Hide
    cscott_it , March 16, 2010 10:19 AM
    So....You guys planning on giving this beauty away?

    Seriously though, great review. It makes me seriously consider switching to water.
  • -2 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , March 16, 2010 11:34 AM
    Will the prices continue to rise, will they level off, or will they decrease this Summer?
  • -6 Hide
    teslaxero , March 16, 2010 12:38 PM
    Here is what I would like to see...

    Swap the case for a goliath sized Antec 1200, add another 5970 and a seperate water cooler 120.3 for the pair. Now the CPU and GPU's have a water supply independant from each other. Overclock that monster!
  • 2 Hide
    jeverson , March 16, 2010 12:41 PM
    The only thing I would have changed would be the case to a COOLER MASTER CM690 II Advanced. It already includes a mount for 2 SSD drives and can accommodate 2 radiators internally. Aside from that, very nice build and I look forward to a chance to win it... ;) 
  • -1 Hide
    banthracis , March 16, 2010 12:52 PM
    teslaxeroHere is what I would like to see...Swap the case for a goliath sized Antec 1200, add another 5970 and a seperate water cooler 120.3 for the pair. Now the CPU and GPU's have a water supply independant from each other. Overclock that monster!


    There is a $3000 budget limit you know. Curious as to why you guys didn't go with the Vertex LE for the SSD. Granted it's only 100gb and was $400, but it's a very large boost in performance, putting even the Intel X25 G2 drives to shame.
  • 0 Hide
    blackened144 , March 16, 2010 1:31 PM
    banthracisThere is a $3000 budget limit you know. Curious as to why you guys didn't go with the Vertex LE for the SSD. Granted it's only 100gb and was $400, but it's a very large boost in performance, putting even the Intel X25 G2 drives to shame.

    Those SandForce powered drives have amazing performence.. But that drive alone is nothing compared to the 64bg drives in raid0.. Plus you get an extra 28gb with the 2x64gb setup..
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 16, 2010 1:52 PM
    What's the boot time???
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