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System Builder Marathon: Price/Performance

System Builder Marathon: Price/Performance
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As we wrap up another system builder marathon, we realize while nothing in life ever seems to work out perfectly; sometimes things work out pretty well.

This marathon was supposed to be published a number of weeks ago – before the new Radeon 4800 series was launched – and therefore we didn’t have the option of selecting ATI’s excellent new cards for our builds. Unfortunately, our intrepid reviewer Thomas Soderstrom had an unlucky break (involving a few bones and some surgery) and was unable to assemble and test one of the systems, forcing us to defer the marathon. It was further delayed when Nvidia and ATI released their new video cards, the reviews of which of course took precedence over our marathon and pushed us back even further.

While the video cards we chose for these systems might not be our first choice if we could do it all over again (considering what’s available), the rebates available on the GeForce 8800 cards are so prevalent that even today a pair of them in SLI would be $100 cheaper than a pair of 4850s, and realistically the prices will likely drop even further. The rest of the builds were spec’d out well enough that these marathon systems are still viable hardware ensembles.

For more information on the components used to build each of the systems we’re comparing, in addition to the overclocked configurations, check out the sub-$1,000 PC, the sub-$2,000 PC, and the sub-$4,000 PC.

Let’s review the benchmarks we’ve used once more, see how everything stacks up, and analyze the price/performance data to see the value each system offers for the dollar.

Benchmarks and Settings
3D-Games
Crysis Version: 1.1
Video Quality 1: High Details No Anti-Aliasing
Video Quality 2: Very High Details, 4x Anti-Aliasing
Benchmark: Benchmark_CPU.bat
Prey Version: 1.3
Video Quality 1: Default (No AA, 8x AF)
Video Quality 2: High Quality, 4x AA
Benchmark: THG-Demo
Supreme Version: 3.220
Commander Video Quality 1: Default
Video Quality 2: High Fidelity, High Shadow, 4x AA
Benchmark: Real 60 Game
Unreal Version: Retail
Tournament 3 Texture Detail: 5
World Detail: 5
Field of View: 100
Benchmark: Botmatch (WAR-Torlan, 12 bots, 1 Minute)
Warhammer Version: 1.6
Mark of Chaos Video Quality:Default (Highest Settings)
Demo: THG Timedemo (1 Minute)
Audio
iTunes 7.2 Version: 7.1.1.5
Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 min
High Quality (160kb/s)
Lame MP3 Version: 3.98 Beta 3 (05-22-2007)
Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 min
wave to MP3
160kb/s
Video
TMPEGEnc Version: 4.2.10.211
4.0 Xpress Import File: Terminator 2 SE DVD (5 Minutes)
Resolution: 720x576 (PAL) 16:9
Audio: Dolby Digital, 48 kHz, 6-Channel, English
Advanced Acoustic Engine MP3 Encoder (160 kb/s)
DivX 6.6 Version: 6.6.1
Profile: Home Theater Profile (720x576)
1-pass, 780 kb/s
Encoding mode: Insane Quality
Enhanced multithreading
XviD 1.1.2 Version: 1.1.2
Target quantizer: 1.00 (maximum quality)
Applications
Adobe Version: 10.0x20070321
Photoshop CS3 Filtering 69 MB TIF Photo
Benchmark: Tom’s Guide-Benchmark V1.0.0.4
Autodesk Version: 9.0
3D Studio Max Rendering One Video Frame
Quality: HTDV 1920x1080 and 1280x720
Grisoft AVG Version: 7.5.467
Anti-Virus Virus Base: 269.6.1/776
Benchmark: Scanning 3.82GB Application Folder
Maxon Version: 10.008
Cinema 4D Resolution: 1280x1024
Benchmark: Rose Drop, 8 bits (50 Frames)
Rarlab Winrar Version 3.70 BETA 8
Compression = Best
Dictionary = 4096 kB
Uncompressed Folder Size: 642 MB
Synthetics
SPECviewperf 9 Version: 9.0.3
PCMark05 Pro Version: 1.1.0
System, CPU and Memory Tests
Windows Media Player 11.0.6000.6324
Windows Media Encoder 9.00.00.2980
Futuremark Version 1.10
3DMark 2006 System Test Only
SiSoftware Version 2008.1.12.30
Sandra XII CPU Test = CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia
Memory Test = Bandwidth Benchmark

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  • 0 Hide
    L1qu1d , July 8, 2008 7:58 AM
    Really shocked at how much of a benefit the 4000$ computer did when Overclocked:| Especially in Crysis, WOW!
  • 3 Hide
    zipz0p , July 8, 2008 9:04 AM
    And yet it's still smashed in bang/buck.

    I like the introduction of the high-resolution gaming bang/buck chart - it's a keeper!
  • 3 Hide
    randomizer , July 8, 2008 11:22 AM
    That extra bang/buck chart was an interesting addition.
  • 1 Hide
    sublifer , July 8, 2008 2:23 PM
    Great charts. Still though... not a whole lot of value since we've gotten new video cards out. I know its unreasonable to expect the entire thing to be redone with the new components, but at the same time, many people (yes, me too....) would like to see how the outlook might change with the new graphics cards. Is there any way you could substitute appropriately (by that I mean cost) in a few of the systems and compare them with the sbm results?

    Thanks again guys!
  • 0 Hide
    gwolfman , July 8, 2008 2:38 PM
    What's interesting is that the $2000 build overclocked was able to return slightly above (or slightly below in hi-res gaming) it's value compared to the original build. That means that ever dollar spent is rewarded back with an equal system performance increase. Very interesting.
  • 1 Hide
    beerzombie , July 8, 2008 3:57 PM
    I think comparing performance/price with overclocked systems when the price of aftermarket cooling solutions are included in the non-overclocked system is a bit misleading. I feel that the reality is that the Sub $4k PC is $256 cheaper when not overclocked, and the sub $2k machine should be $120 cheaper as well as the $1k PC being $26 cheaper. It is just unrealistic to assume someone is watercooling a PC and won't be overclocking it.
  • 0 Hide
    zipz0p , July 8, 2008 4:03 PM
    Interesting point, BeerZombie. I would like to see the price/performance comparisons again taking that into account!
  • 1 Hide
    gaiden , July 8, 2008 4:32 PM
    Interesting, according to the Hi-res bang/buck value overclocking a sub$2000 will increase the value by 26% while sub$1000 o.c. will increase by 36% ! This is a very useful stat indeed and i agree with others that it's a keeper for sure. So in conclusion it makes sense that to get the most out of your config vs $ you spend should be anywhere between the $1000-$2000 with o.c. which probably represents majority of the ppl out there. < (pointless, but nice to hear statement) :) 
  • 1 Hide
    Preclude , July 8, 2008 8:34 PM
    The parts are not relevant. What people are missing here is the overall message. They are trying to visually display the aspects of price to performance in the PC market for custom builds. The data will always be relevant no matter what the hardware goes to. There will always be the "best performing budget rig", the "step up medium high end build" and the "Not really worth the money but if you want it you want it" builds. I'm sure some could argue builds between those, but you will always find that builds fall near one of those general areas.

    TL;DR Thanks Toms, anyone who actually builds systems on a regular basis can appreciate this data.
  • -2 Hide
    Kirth Gersen , July 8, 2008 9:10 PM
    What you can take away from this is that you are very much in the realms of the law of diminishing returns with a $4k system from a gaming perspective. 30FPS is plenty, your eyes can't perceive better, so what is the point of a system which can achieve 80FPS? At least a Ferrari might improve the sex life :) .

    A mid range $2k system has always been my price point. For that you can usually build an overclocked system which hits 30FPS on max graphics.
  • 1 Hide
    randomizer , July 9, 2008 3:33 AM
    Kirth Gersen30FPS is plenty, your eyes can't perceive better, so what is the point of a system which can achieve 80FPS?

    Because at 80FPS your reaction time is alot lower than a slow-as-hell 30FPS. It's fine for RTS though.
  • -1 Hide
    royalcrown , July 9, 2008 5:19 AM
    randomizer, you wanna explain for me how 80 fps drops my reaction time, I am missing something I am sure ?
  • 0 Hide
    royalcrown , July 9, 2008 5:20 AM
    Are you referring to the computer having to wait to sync the calcs and the rendering ?
  • 0 Hide
    randomizer , July 9, 2008 5:31 AM
    Probably used the wrong terminology. 80FPS is much smoother than 30FPS, you also see more frames (which is why it's smoother :p ). Try playing a twitchy game like CS at 30FPS, then play it at 80FPS. It's much easier at 80FPS.
  • 0 Hide
    randomizer , July 9, 2008 5:31 AM
    Actually no, don't play CS, that's a crap game.
  • -1 Hide
    gwolfman , July 9, 2008 2:29 PM
    Are you guys talking 30 FPS min or 30FPS average? There's a difference there! And how fast can a LCD monitor refresh anyways before you see strobing?
  • 2 Hide
    cleeve , July 9, 2008 5:32 PM
    Kirth Gersen30FPS is plenty, your eyes can't perceive better...


    This is incorrect, do some research. Humans can percieve hundredds of FPS.

    30 fps is the MINIMUM for smooth animation, not the maximum.

    Most LCD monitors max out at about 60 Hz, and 60 FPS is the generally accepted standard for very smooth twitch gameplay...
  • 0 Hide
    dark41 , July 11, 2008 5:45 AM
    Preclude... the "Not really worth the money but if you want it you want it" builds.


    The term "diminishing returns" is relative to your computer use. If time is money, and I make a lot of money for my time, the more expensive and twice as fast system pays for itself much faster than the slower systems. For gaming the slower systems are adequate. For many other uses the slower systems are the ones that lose in the price/performance once time is translated into profit.

    The article does a decent job of showing the difference between various uses. But the price/performance grade doesn't take into account what most people who would buy a top end system will do with it, and the amount of work they can get done as opposed to the slower systems. For me, the top end system is the best bang for the buck every time. I can buy a low end system every month with the money I've saved with the high end system. ;) 
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , July 11, 2008 7:48 AM

    I noticed that Tom's choice of PC components is affected largely by overclocking possibilities, I intend to build a PC that costs about, not necessarily sub, $1,000, without overclocking or dual graphics cards, and use Core 2 Duo E8400, what is the appropriate other components for such a system??? Any help would be appreciated.
  • 0 Hide
    ZootyGray , July 11, 2008 5:00 PM
    gaidenInteresting, according to the Hi-res bang/buck value overclocking a sub$2000 will increase the value by 26% while sub$1000 o.c. will increase by 36% ! This is a very useful stat indeed and i agree with others that it's a keeper for sure. So in conclusion it makes sense that to get the most out of your config vs $ you spend should be anywhere between the $1000-$2000 with o.c. which probably represents majority of the ppl out there. < (pointless, but nice to hear statement)


    Not pointless at all - this (to me) is the reason, or the "call", to build-yer-own rather than buy what the big brands, etc are offering. It's also why we do all our research and scrap with each other in these forums. And all that is a search for the real truth about - omg, what's really going on here. :) 

    It's a good point, gaiden.
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