System Builder Marathon: Performance & Value

System Builder Marathon, October 2008 : 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).

The biggest change to this month’s System Builder Marathon was that we purchased all of our components one online vendor—NewEgg, as mentioned in the very first piece. Purchasing retail parts ensures that everything in our build is available on the open market, and that overclockers could have a realistic expectation of achieving similar performance gains. But perhaps the most important reason for buying our parts was to eliminate delays that typically accompany public relations department inquiries. Everything we ordered was in stock and speedy shipping reduced the possibility that any component we chose would be outdated by the time this project was published.

Of course, large projects are rarely completed without overcoming unexpected obstacles. After a small data entry error caused our account to be frozen, it took several days to figure out which parts of the order had been shipped, which parts had been canceled, and which parts were still pending approval. We were then faced with selecting substitutes for components that were no longer in stock and again waiting for shipping. The good news is that even while this series uses a six-week-old shopping list, technology has changed so little during that time that every one of our builds is still completely up-to-date, even if some of the exact models are no longer available from our friends at NewEgg. Let’s take a closer look.

October System Builder Marathon Component Details
Component $4,500 PC $1,500 PC $500 PC
CPU Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650 (3.00 GHz)
Overclocked to 4.14 GHz, FSB-1840
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 2.40 GHz
Overclocked to 3.46 GHz, FSB-1536
Intel Pentium E2180 (2.00 GHz)
Overclocked to 3.20 GHz, FSB-1600
CPU Cooler Zalman LQ1000 Integrated Swiftech H20-220 Apex GT Cooler Master Hyper TX2
Motherboard Asus P5E3 Premium WiFi-AP DFI Lanparty DK X38-T2RB Gigabyte GA-EP35-DS3L
RAM 4x 2GB OCZ PC3-12800 Platinum Edition
Underclocked to DDR3-1533, CAS 8
2x 2 GB Patriot Viper PC2-6400 CAS 4
Underclocked to DDR2-768 CAS 5
2x 1 GB Wintec AMPO PC2-6400 CAS 5
at DDR2-800 CAS 5 (Stock)
Graphics 2x MSI HD 4870 X2 CrossfireX
Overclocked to 782 MHz GPU, GDDR5-3600
2x ASUS Radeon 4850 TOP Crossfire
Overclocked to 700 MHz GPU, GDDR3-2140
PNY GeForce 8800 GT 512 MB
Overclocked to 738 MHz GPU, GDDR3-2106
Hard Drives 4x 1.0 TB Samsung
Spinpoint F1 (RAID0)
2x 500 GB Seagate
Barracuda 7200.10 (RAID 0)
Seagate Barracuda 7200.10
ST3400620AS 400 GB
Sound Asus Xonar DX 7.1ch Audio Card Integrated Integrated 8-Channel HD Audio
Network Integrated Gigabit Networking Integrated Gigabit Networking Integrated Gigabit Networking
Case Zalman Z-Machine LQ1000 CoolerMaster Cosmos 1000 Antec NSK4480B
Power Corsair CMPSU-1000HX 1000W CORSAIR CMPSU-750TX 750 W Earthwatts 380 W Included w/Case
Optical LG GGW-H20L BD-RE/HDDVD-ROM LITE-ON iHAS120-04 DVD±RW LITE-ON iHAS120-04 DVD±RW
Total Price $4,500 $1,482 $499

Like so many custom-ordered “boutique builder” systems, each of our System Builder Marathon machines uses overclocking to maximize performance and value. Even the least of these builds reached a CPU clock speed of 3.2 GHz CPU, a fact that will certainly make it difficult for many builders to justify a more expensive configuration. Yet all the overclocking in the world isn’t enough to impress buyers who really need one of the higher-priced configurations .

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  • slomo4sho
    Looking forward to the side by side Intel vs AMD build-offs for the $500 bracket(hopefully you start doing this)

    Also, in future write ups, can you please provide power consumption charts?
    3
  • cangelini
    Slomo4shOLooking forward to the side by side Intel vs AMD build-offs for the $500 bracket(hopefully you start doing this)Also, in future write ups, can you please provide power consumption charts?


    Slo,
    I'll toss the idea around with our authors. Don't see it being a problem--just have to get everyone outfit with the same equipment and methodology. Thanks for the suggestions!
    4
  • dangerous_23
    what about a $750 or $1000 machine - is this not a more realistic price point for most people?
    5
  • zodiacfml
    based on these systems, a person should have an idea to build his 750 or $1000 dollar machines.
    i like most the $500 machine,the best value,simplicity and efficiency,
    only upgrading it to a quad core because i encode HD videos to H264 while surfing the net or watching a video.
    only games crysis and supreme c. required more than 3Ghz so a quad is not a big loss to duals in gaming.
    0
  • dangerous_23
    id very much like to see the benchmarks from a machine costing somewhere between the $500 and $1500 builds
    i bet it would hit the sweet spot!
    0
  • boostercorp
    hi tom's could you tell me where you got the
    Quote:
    2x 20 GB Patriot Viper PC2-6400 CAS 4
    ram ?
    I could use some more then my 8gb i've got now. ;) :p
    0
  • cangelini
    boostercorphi tom's could you tell me where you got the


    You missed it! That was our limited-time $500 super-computer build. ;-)
    0
  • slomo4sho
    And you stuck it in the $1500 machine? I knew you were holding out on that $500 build! :P
    0
  • dirtmountain
    I really enjoy these System Builder Marathons, yeah i'd pick some different components and price brackets, but great stuff anyways. Going with Newegg as a sponsor is a great idea and i sure hope you continue it in the future for other SBM articles. Having a quality retailer like Newegg supply easily available components should really cut down on the logistics of doing these builds and hopefully they can come a bit more often. I'd like to see other SBM brackets e.g. $600 AMD vs. Intel build. Budget quad core builds - AMD 9950 vs. Q6600. Bracket $750 $1,500 $3,000 builds. How about a reader suggested build? Post a bracket, have folks post suggested builds and pick one or a combination of ideas and have your guys put one together. Any way, great job by the staff, good information, brilliant sponsorship by Newegg and a hell of a lot of fun to read, good job.
    1
  • neiroatopelcc
    I'd suggest you upgrade your next $500 build to $650! or lower the $1500 to $1100 or so.
    According to a newsletter I received 4 days ago from one of the leading danish retailers, A basic pc costs $350, a basic gaming pc costs $600, and a 'good' (in their terms) gaming system costs $1000 - they're not selling any base pc with better graphics than an 4850, but it still means that they consider the $1000 to be the mainstream, and $600 to be lowend. Ofcourse the actual component price will be lower, but it's not going to be 25% lower.
    1
  • Onus
    I like these too, especially the bottom-dollar build which is probably easiest to tweak to improve a specific area.
    0
  • luciiacob
    Nice! Congrats on these four articles!

    I read all four of them and I must say I've learned a lot. Although the builds were clearly game-orientated the benchmarks covered a wide range of classical applications used today by most of us, besides games. The synthetic benchmark though don't really help much and, personally, I'd prefer if they would've been replaced with power consumption charts.

    Also, in future System Build Marathons, why not build 2 systems in the mid-range price (1200$-1500$), one of which would be game-orientated (dual-core processor+high end graphics card) and the other application-orientated (> 4 GHz overclocked new quad-core processor+mid range graphics card) ? I'm not suggesting to do the same thing for more than one price range because the work would be collosal.

    Keep up the good work!
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  • neiroatopelcc
    luciiacobNice! Congrats on these four articles!I read all four of them and I must say I've learned a lot. Although the builds were clearly game-orientated the benchmarks covered a wide range of classical applications used today by most of us, besides games. The synthetic benchmark though don't really help much and, personally, I'd prefer if they would've been replaced with power consumption charts.Also, in future System Build Marathons, why not build 2 systems in the mid-range price (1200$-1500$), one of which would be game-orientated (dual-core processor+high end graphics card) and the other application-orientated (> 4 GHz overclocked new quad-core processor+mid range graphics card) ? I'm not suggesting to do the same thing for more than one price range because the work would be collosal.Keep up the good work!

    Adding power consumption fine - relevant for some people. But don't cut the synthetics ! They may not be relevant for building a pc, but they are relevant for seeing how the old rig at home stacks up. So you know if your 1½ year old $800 rig is still adequate, or if you should build a new $500 rig.
    0
  • tomasf
    I´d like to see some other game benchmarks besides crysis. lets face it, not every one likes that game an there are some newer games that don´t need that kind of power. some racing games wold be nice.

    BTW. great systems. the $500 its awesome
    0
  • luciiacob
    neiroatopelcc

    True! Synthetics do help when it comes to that comparison. I didn't think of it. Sorry.

    On the other hand, I honestly believe that no 800$ 1½ years old rig can stand up to a today's 500$ rig (so...no need for a synthetic benchmark when it comes to this decision :) ). That's because prices drop at half after 1 year and today's overclocking capabilities are way better that 2 years go. Also, bear in mind that applications and games also need newer technologies to be supported by the hardware, not just higher frequencies and capacities.

    Also, are you really going to spend 500$ on a new rig if you've spent 800$ 1½ years ago? Since my first Pentium 1 PC, about 10 years ago, I've always doubled the amount of money that I spend on a new PC every two or three years.
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  • Unolocogringo
    Go Crashman !!!! It is good to see someone doing these types of articles. Instead of the fluff advertising articles we normally get.
    0
  • neiroatopelcc
    luciiacobTrue! Synthetics do help when it comes to that comparison. I didn't think of it. Sorry.

    On the other hand, I honestly believe that no 800$ 1½ years old rig can stand up to a today's 500$ rig (so...no need for a synthetic benchmark when it comes to this decision ). That's because prices drop at half after 1 year and today's overclocking capabilities are way better that 2 years go. Also, bear in mind that applications and games also need newer technologies to be supported by the hardware, not just higher frequencies and capacities.

    Also, are you really going to spend 500$ on a new rig if you've spent 800$ 1½ years ago? Since my first Pentium 1 PC, about 10 years ago, I've always doubled the amount of money that I spend on a new PC every two or three years.

    Just under years ago I built an intel system for a friend. It had a ga-965p-ds4 board and an e6400 cpu. That cpu still today runs at 3,4ghz - that's more than the e2180 used here. More cache on the new models doesn't make that much of a difference really, so the old $800 mashine would stand up, if just the graphics would be upgraded. Now his mashine sported an all new 8800gtx back then, but we could've gone with a 7950 back then and compared that to the 8800gt now. Anyhow, my $800 was more of a theoretical number than a real one. Just meant to say that synthetics are key for comparison between their build and ours.

    As for your upgrade strategy - sounds sensible, but I've only started from scratch twice in my life. When going from my p200 to an athlon 1000 back in 2001 or so, and when I changed from my athlon 2100 to a northwood 2.8 - and I only started over because poor inhouse electrics had broken pretty much all hardware in the old one.
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  • sublifer
    You left out the stock scores in the charts :( That was a valuable piece as a lot of people like to see what they can get for their money by overclocking and seeing if it makes it to that next tier. e.g.
    ($1500pc overclocked) = ($4500pc stock)

    Is there anyway you can add it to your charts there?

    Thanks!
    4
  • slomo4sho
    Another topic for a article: Eco-friendly system. I want to see how low powered a system can be without loosing much performance.
    0
  • Pei-chen
    neiroatopelccJust under years ago I built an intel system for a friend. It had a ga-965p-ds4 board and an e6400 cpu. That cpu still today runs at 3,4ghz - that's more than the e2180 used here. More cache on the new models doesn't make that much of a difference really, so the old $800 mashine would stand up, if just the graphics would be upgraded. Now his mashine sported an all new 8800gtx back then, but we could've gone with a 7950 back then and compared that to the 8800gt now. Anyhow, my $800 was more of a theoretical number than a real one. Just meant to say that synthetics are key for comparison between their build and ours.

    As for your upgrade strategy - sounds sensible, but I've only started from scratch twice in my life. When going from my p200 to an athlon 1000 back in 2001 or so, and when I changed from my athlon 2100 to a northwood 2.8 - and I only started over because poor inhouse electrics had broken pretty much all hardware in the old one.

    Wow, freaky. I built my current system in Q1 2007 with an E6400, P965, 7950GT and overclock to 3.4GHz @ 1.45v but step back to 2.56GHz @ 1.1v. Two weeks ago I replaced the 7950 with a 9800GT (8800GT refresh) and gaming performance more than doubled.

    And yes, you’re right. My $1000 system still beats the value build.
    1