System Builder Marathon: The $5,000 Extreme PC

System Builder Marathon, February 2009: 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).

Introduction

The only people who can truly understand the logic behind spending a month’s pay on a computer are those who have actually used such a system. Everyone else seems to think such behavior is silly. Up-and-coming enthusiasts aspire to acquire this level of performance and capability in a gaming machine without spending as much, while ordinary performance fanatics pretend not to care. Then again, stereotypes concerning “overcompensation” were invented out of envy and are projected by those who are afraid to admit that they too would love to own such a machine.

Last month we scaled back our highest-end system to $2,500, opening the configuration to a far larger market that typifies the budget of high-end do-it-yourselfers. But while the $2,500 market is dear to us and certainly worth revisiting, a number of readers wanted to see what kind of dream system we could build if given twice the budget. Rather than choose the entire configuration ourselves, we used your recommendations as guidelines to narrow our choice of parts.

$5,000 Extreme Performance System Components
Component

Model

Price (USD)

CPU

Intel Core i7 Extreme 965

$1,010

CPU Cooler

Cooler Master Aquagate Max

$230

Radiator Upgrade

Swiftech MCR320-QP Quiet Power

$50

Fan Upgrade

3x Scythe S-FLEX SFF21F 120 mm 1,600 RPM

$47

Water Block Upgrade

Swiftech Apogee GTZ with LGA-1366 Bracket

$75

Motherboard

Asus Rampage II Extreme

$400

RAM

Mushkin 998679 DDR3-1600 6.0 GB Kit

$205

Graphics

2x MSI N295GTX-M2D1792 GeForce GTX 295

$1,000

System Hard Drives

2x Intel X25-M 80GB SATA Solid State Disk

$800

2.5" Hard Drive Adapter

SYBA Mobile Rack for 2.5" SATA (2 drives)

$36

Storage Hard Drive

Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 1.5 TB SATA 3.0 Gb/s

$130

Sound

Asus SupremeFX X-Fi Audio Riser Card

0

Network

Integrated Gigabit Networking

0

Case

Cooler Master Cosmos-S RC-1100

$200

Power

Cooler Master Real Power Pro RS-850-EMBA

$180

Optical

LG Blu-ray Burner/HD DVD-ROM GGW-H20LK

$200

Total Price

$4,563


Several readers requested a switch to solid-state disk (SSD) drives, so we included them. Other suggestions, such as a hardware RAID controller card, were swiftly dismissed after the drives we chose consumed the budget. The budget eased when prices dropped after our order was placed, but that’s par for the course in the component market. We even bought a sound card, only to have it priced out of our configuration before we started testing, with later price drops occurring only after the tests were complete.

We have a few more surprises to discuss, so feel free to follow along as we detail the assembly, tuning, and testing of today’s super-high-end system.

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86 comments
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  • xx12amanxx
    Nice article!

    I wish i could own a rig like that,but it would be that or a 383 stroker for the F-body..lol I can dream cant I?
    1
  • Crashman
    xx12amanxxNice article!I wish i could own a rig like that,but it would be that or a 383 stroker for the F-body..lol I can dream cant I?


    383 strokers are for copycats. Basically, too many bad 400 blocks and people found a cheap way to re-use the cranks to make their 350's bigger. If you have THIS kind of money, you'd might as well go BIG BORE too. Maybe a bowtie block? At any rate, you'll win more races with a real 400 (or larger custom size) so long as the block is good.
    1
  • one-shot
    It is interesting to note on Page 14. On the Sandra XII Multimedia test the Core i7 965 @ 4.2GHz scored 486,971, while the i7 920 @ 4.0GHz scored 386,867. The difference was 200MHz and made such a large difference. Did the Intel SSDs influence such a large gain in performance or the DDR3 @ 1800MHz or perhaps a combination of both?
    2
  • Crashman
    Anonymous said:
    It is interesting to note on Page 14. On the Sandra XII Multimedia test the Core i7 965 @ 4.2GHz scored 486,971, while the i7 920 @ 4.0GHz scored 386,867. The difference was 200MHz and made such a large difference. Did the Intel SSDs influence such a large gain in performance or the DDR3 @ 1800MHz or perhaps a combination of both?


    The 965 has a higher-bandwidth QPI link, so it should be good for boosting at least a few synthetic scores.
    3
  • gim159
    BAH!! Why is it always Intel? Only Servers and people that wish they MAC should use Intel stuffs.. Who else is going to use all of it's features? Not gamers, that is for sure!! Like a gamer is going to spend the extra $$ for ECC memory and not spend it on more important stuff like a GC or a great board. That and an economy minded PC buyer will go AMD anytime, more bang for the buck...

    Also, Ati is better a better card, for linking I mean. The support may be crap, but it is usually worth it to get them! 4850 X2, Water cool one and watch the clock go through the roof!
    -24
  • xx12amanxx
    Intel is the fastest thats why...This is supposed to be an uber rig.

    Ya crashman thats the problem i dont have that kind of money..lol A fresh stock rebuild bolt on's and spray will have to hold me off until better times!
    4
  • gim159
    ¿ "Intel is the fastest" ? Amd 2.0 is a 4.0 in the intel world...
    -20
  • JeanLuc
    I would love to seen those Windows boot times with those RAID 0 Intel SDD's!
    6
  • gim159
    Yeah, Optimize the heck out of it and take all of the unnecessary stuff out.. Probably 4 sec boot, Awesome!
    -8
  • Crashman
    xx12amanxxIntel is the fastest thats why...This is supposed to be an uber rig.Ya crashman thats the problem i dont have that kind of money..lol A fresh stock rebuild bolt on's and spray will have to hold me off until better times!


    I spec'd out a friend's 406 C.I. mouse a few years ago and he got through under $4500 with aluminum heads and a roller cam!
    0
  • DjEaZy
    ... maybe build some AMD based systems too, to see, how they stack up against in price/performance... just for tha fun of it...
    2
  • _horse
    Great article!

    HOWEVER, Should have used an Antec1200 for that much coin on the case. I have one at home using water cooling and its so much easier than any other case I've used to date. Cheaper too, in this instance.
    3
  • Crashman
    _horseGreat article!HOWEVER, Should have used an Antec1200 for that much coin on the case. I have one at home using water cooling and its so much easier than any other case I've used to date. Cheaper too, in this instance.


    I've owned both, the Cooler Master is a nicer case. I mean, we're just throwing opinions around now, right?

    But the Cosmos S is far more portable, and it fits the big radiator perfectly. In fact, it's the only stock case to fit that radiator properly.
    4
  • LATTEH
    With a build like that you guys should have tryed to set Crysis with 16 AA!


    well it probably wont be playable but it would just be neat to see.
    0
  • _horse
    CrashmanI've owned both, the Cooler Master is a nicer case. I mean, we're just throwing opinions around now, right?But the Cosmos S is far more portable, and it fits the big radiator perfectly. In fact, it's the only stock case to fit that radiator properly.


    Thats true, but I didnt know we were going for portability here, especially with a liquid cooled system.
    1
  • rodney_ws
    There's no way that sound "card" is up to the level of a $5k rig.
    2
  • jcknouse
    Nice article.

    Question for the writing staff:

    Have you thought about taking all your review statistics, and assembling an "uber system" based on the best parts based on what you have found in your review tests?

    Just curious. I don't remember that ever having been done before here. And for $5,000, you surely could afford to throw together all of the top notch parts into a system for kind of a "what happens when you put all the best parts together" article.

    Now you guys have me itching to build a new system already...and I just built one back in September!! lol
    3
  • jcknouse
    That is a really good question too:

    With the width of the video cards, where would you plug in a soundcard? Does it use the 3rd PCI-E x16 slot?

    Just curious. I've always noticed how the ATX motherboard size standard hasn't shifted to grow with the growth of the size of components, such as video cards and component heatsinks.

    Limited room bites. lol
    1
  • cah027
    Why not 3 liquid cooled 285's. Maybe drop the Blueray and or go down to a 920 in the next one. Keep the SSD's.
    2
  • Crashman
    cah027Why not 3 liquid cooled 285's. Maybe drop the Blueray and or go down to a 920 in the next one. Keep the SSD's.SSD's are fast but the only benchmarks they matter in are the ones that don't count (synthetics)


    SSD's are fast but the only benchmarks they matter in are the ones that don't count (synthetics)
    1