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Benchmark Results: Synthetics

System Builder Marathon: Performance And Value Compared
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3DMark shows nearly-perfect scaling for the graphics systems of each machine. Because it was the last graphics benchmark tested without any change in software, the $2,500 machine’s huge win here helps to prove the legitimacy of its configuration, in spite of losses in a few games.

PCMark has both graphics and hard drive test components, favoring the $2,500 machine’s quad-GPU graphics and Level 0 hard drive arrays.

Sandra's Arithmetic and Multimedia benchmarks show “how it’s done” in overclocking: start with a roomier case, add an oversized CPU cooler, and crank up the BIOS settings.

The $2,500 PC uses faster memory to boost its Sandra bandwidth score, while the $625 system is handicapped by Intel’s previous front side bus (FSB) technology.

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  • 3 Hide
    IzzyCraft , May 28, 2009 6:32 AM
    Watt consumption on the 2.5k build is scary i wouldn't make that build just out of fear of my electric bill :)  ofc if i'm slapping down just 2.5k on the computer nothing on things like monitors maybe i could afford the $400 dollar electric bill a month i'd imaged.
  • 0 Hide
    IronRyan21 , May 28, 2009 6:43 AM
    Quote:
    Thus, while some users will demand that we put the most powerful graphics solution in our most powerful system, this author is seriously considering dropping it from our next SBM. Your thoughts are welcome.


    Yeah, I wonder if this is a fluke? or reality with these kind of expensive builds. This article really opens my eyes to how powerful any1 can make a budget gamer pc really perform. I still wouldnt mind winnng the 2,500 build. I'll just get a new case and pop on a real cpu cooler.
  • 2 Hide
    Proximon , May 28, 2009 6:46 AM
    Noted :)  With the clear performance superiority I can no longer complain about the cramped space of the $1300 build. Can I still worry about longevity? I'd like to know the PSU exhaust temps on these guys too. I know there have been a lot of complaints about the choices in this series, but we've explored some new territory and it's been a good ride.
  • 3 Hide
    Crashman , May 28, 2009 6:55 AM
    IronRyan21Yeah, I wonder if this is a fluke? or reality with these kind of expensive builds. This article really opens my eyes to how powerful any1 can make a budget gamer pc really perform. I still wouldnt mind winnng the 2,500 build. I'll just get a new case and pop on a real cpu cooler.


    It really looks like a bunch of graphics tests were CPU bound with the $2500 PC, and you see that start to go away at higher resolutions and graphics details. But if the competition doesn't include 2560x1600, it seems almost pointless to build for that resolution.

    The worst part is that the bulk of improvements to the $2500 PC are the graphics, and the bigger power supply needed for those graphics cards.

    Other losses for the $2500 PC were caused by its lack of overclocking capability. The two problems there are a case with limitted space around the CPU, and a CPU cooler that was too small. Also, the power supply pulls against the CPU fan, but replacing it with a straight-through flow power supply eliminates most of the ventilation around the CPU socket.

    What we really learned here is that, lacking any special cooler to get the heat away from the CPU area, the case was too small for the CPU. We thought it would be "barely big enough" for that CPU and had already accepted that going small would limit overclocking capability.

    One might also learn from this is that comparing a mid-sized Micro ATX mini-tower ($1300 PC) and a small Micro ATX micro tower ($2500 PC) is apples-to-oranges. Tom's already knew that, but its builders weren't going to fight over it.
  • 2 Hide
    SpadeM , May 28, 2009 6:58 AM
    Well the core i7 does live up to it's name and price tag, it sure is a true quadcore, with a memory controller, etc ... but with it's performance per clock similar to that of a wolfdale chip (see itunes) I must give credit to Intel and it's marketing department. They do a better job selling similar performance with the past generation, for top dollar, then Steve Jobs selling iphones. The moral of the article in my opinion is:

    1. DON'T buy or USE an i7 or high end graphics in a SFF case unless u plan ahead and check clearance issues with your components so u won't have to chop and mutilate your newly bought case. (That is not case modding)
    2. If u're poor, great news! Buy a Q9550 and you'll have the same performance in most applications as a i7 for less $
    3. The AMD issue ... u know, who cares anyways. At the end of the day this SBM is a guide of some sorts, we can choose to pay attention to it or not if we consider we know what's best. Even if Intel paid bribes to Tom's or didn't, who cares, even a trained monkey can compare benchmark scores from other sites and see the truth for themselves.

    Cudos for this months SBM, it was interesting. My only suggestion is ... if u want to include case modding, start with a cheap ass case and a low priced computer.
  • -1 Hide
    presidenteody , May 28, 2009 6:59 AM
    Blue river all the way, down with the green field?
  • -1 Hide
    Crashman , May 28, 2009 7:25 AM
    SpadeMWell the core i7 does live up to it's name and price tag, it sure is a true quadcore, with a memory controller, etc ... but with it's performance per clock similar to that of a wolfdale chip (see itunes) I must give credit to Intel and it's marketing department. They do a better job selling similar performance with the past generation, for top dollar, then Steve Jobs selling iphones. The moral of the article in my opinion is:1. DON'T buy or USE an i7 or high end graphics in a SFF case unless u plan ahead and check clearance issues with your components so u won't have to chop and mutilate your newly bought case. (That is not case modding)2. If u're poor, great news! Buy a Q9550 and you'll have the same performance in most applications as a i7 for less $3. The AMD issue ... u know, who cares anyways. At the end of the day this SBM is a guide of some sorts, we can choose to pay attention to it or not if we consider we know what's best. Even if Intel paid bribes to Tom's or didn't, who cares, even a trained monkey can compare benchmark scores from other sites and see the truth for themselves.Cudos for this months SBM, it was interesting. My only suggestion is ... if u want to include case modding, start with a cheap ass case and a low priced computer.


    Ah, you make it sound so simple, but here's an SFF PC with Core i7 and high-end graphics that works well:

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/overclocking-guide-part-1,1379.html

    It was even retested with a GTX 295 at the end, just to make sure it would support it.

    Of course, that's because SFF systems have special CPU coolers that increase airflow while ridding the system of that hot pocket of air that normally surrounds the CPU.

    So, SFF supports Core i7 and high-end graphics better than Micro ATX based mini-pc's.
  • 6 Hide
    DjEaZy , May 28, 2009 7:50 AM
    ... the 2,5k system seems to be a waste of money... not just, that there is no big difference in performance from 1,25k system, but the cost of ownership... the electrical bill must be sky high...
  • 5 Hide
    Sihastru , May 28, 2009 7:55 AM
    "...we were shocked to find that the $2,500 system’s case didn’t provide enough ventilation..."

    How can you be shocked? You have the PSU blocking the air from a boxed cooler. Not to mention FOUR GT200's spilling most of the hot air inside the case. There are ventilation holes, but this doesn't mean all the air escapes through them. It's like a nuclear reactor on meltdown sequence. ;) 
  • 0 Hide
    anamaniac , May 28, 2009 7:57 AM
    Thanks for the read Tom.

    I think a i7 will still work in a SFF, but a dual-slot card(s) may not.
    A single gtx 195 may have been suited better. Though possibly 2x 285 may have done better, allowing budget for water cooling also to compensate for the lack of space for a CPU cooler.

    That c2d build looks mighty tempting, it really blazed through for something portable.
  • 2 Hide
    andy_mcp1 , May 28, 2009 8:25 AM
    I have the SG03 case and the setup in this SBM could have been a lot better. Most people don’t have 30" monitors and therefore do not require two GTX 295's (pointless) the money should have been better spent on a 120 custom water-cooling kits. There is pliant of room for this (I should know, I have that setup!). This would also allow for a smaller PSU (650W) for only having the one gfx card.

    The other point is that the SG03 allows you to orientate the psu so that the fan is on the inside next to the CPU or reversed, pointing out of the case taking air from the side grill. Now Toms should know that their orientation would create a low pressure in their config with a cpu cooler working blowing in the opposite direction, the psu should have been reversed for this instance. It is only applicable (psu fan pointing in towards the cpu) if you are using water-cooling, acts as an extract! Seriously Toms should try the test again with the psu orientated the other way with the fan pointing out of the case and see what difference it makes.

    Extra note, there is plenty room for a zalman CNPS8700 or equivalent.
  • -1 Hide
    Crashman , May 28, 2009 8:28 AM
    sihastru"...we were shocked to find that the $2,500 system’s case didn’t provide enough ventilation..."How can you be shocked? You have the PSU blocking the air from a boxed cooler. Not to mention FOUR GT200's spilling most of the hot air inside the case. There are ventilation holes, but this doesn't mean all the air escapes through them. It's like a nuclear reactor on meltdown sequence.


    You misquoted the article.

    Everyone expected the system to function at stock speed. Yet the CPU core voltage had to be turned down to run it at stock speed.

    Stock speed. That's the shock. That's what your quote would have read if you really wanted to play it straight.

    You can go on about graphics, but graphics wasn't a major factor in CPU temperature because the entire side panel is ventilated and the remaining heat goes out the back vents of the cards. The power supply actually acts as a heat damn to prevent any of the graphics card heat from moving up into the CPU area.

    And the power supply's intake fan removes hot air from around the CPU area.

    So, if the graphics cards weren't causing the CPU heat issue, and the power supply removes more heat than it puts into the case, what could the cause be? How about the fact that the CPU fan simply isn't fast enough to fight the power supply fan for air?

    Those Core i7 920 and 940 coolers have a very weak fan. Please try not to deceive everyone next time by misquoting articles.
  • 0 Hide
    Sihastru , May 28, 2009 8:29 AM
    It's true that not all people have 30" monitors, but trust me, once you go 30", you never look back. And it is not pointless. It's like heaven in 2HD++.
  • -1 Hide
    Crashman , May 28, 2009 8:32 AM
    anamaniacThanks for the read Tom.I think a i7 will still work in a SFF, but a dual-slot card(s) may not.A single gtx 195 may have been suited better. Though possibly 2x 285 may have done better, allowing budget for water cooling also to compensate for the lack of space for a CPU cooler.That c2d build looks mighty tempting, it really blazed through for something portable.


    Core i7 does work for SFF:

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/shuttle-sx58h7-sff,2282.html

    Unfortunately none of this month's systems were SFF, because all of them were Micro ATX form factor. Unlike SFF, which has a special cooling aparatus to expell CPU heat from the case, the Micro ATX cube and micro-tower leave the stock CPU cooler recycling its own heat.

    Dual-slot cards are fine, take a closer look at the pictures and see how they don't heat the upper portion of the case significanty.
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , May 28, 2009 8:35 AM
    andy_mcp1I have the SG03 case and the setup in this SBM could have been a lot better. Most people don’t have 30" monitors and therefore do not require two GTX 295's (pointless) the money should have been better spent on a 120 custom water-cooling kits. There is pliant of room for this (I should know, I have that setup!). This would also allow for a smaller PSU (650W) for only having the one gfx card. The other point is that the SG03 allows you to orientate the psu so that the fan is on the inside next to the CPU or reversed, pointing out of the case taking air from the side grill. Now Toms should know that their orientation would create a low pressure in their config with a cpu cooler working blowing in the opposite direction, the psu should have been reversed for this instance. It is only applicable (psu fan pointing in towards the cpu) if you are using water-cooling, acts as an extract! Seriously Toms should try the test again with the psu orientated the other way with the fan pointing out of the case and see what difference it makes. Extra note, there is plenty room for a zalman CNPS8700 or equivalent.


    The CNPS8700 would have been considered if the version Newegg sold fit any of the LGA-1366 Micro ATX motherboards in the Newegg catalog.

    Thanks for the suggestion!
  • 0 Hide
    Sihastru , May 28, 2009 9:05 AM
    @Crashman: I'm not trying to deceive anyone. I'm just expressing my opinion. True in a less then cordial way, sorry for that. Here is the explanation:

    The case is not exactly ATX spec. ATX spec dictates (for ATX and mATX) that the PSU is the topmost component in the system. Intel validates the cooling solutions for ATX compliant cases. Not to mention that it is build just to keep the CPU in spec temperature wise (meaning rather hot). The PSU fan creates a low pressure vacuum. The higher the load, the lower the pressure. So the Intel fan has less and less air to work with as the system load gets higher. Since under these two components you have two hot air producing elements, most of the air the Intel fan has to work with is in fact hot air, that usually rises towards the top of the case. Hot low pressure air is what the cooler has to work with. No matter how fast it spins, it struggles for fresh air. I think that better results can be achieved with the PSU fan oriented towards the case side panel.

    You have a 1000W+ power usage. You have to agree that that's insanely high for a small case.

    I love the idea of small cases. But sometimes they just don't work very well. You are asking a little too much from this particular case.

    It's not your fault. It's Intel's fault for providing such simple cooling solutions. If they would bundle the extreme versions cooler in all the boxed versions of the CPU, life would be a lot better for many of us.
  • -1 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , May 28, 2009 9:10 AM
    page 2 - prices - all wrong. looks like the ones from the last smb - 625 - 1250 - 5000 and not 600 -1300 - 2500
  • -1 Hide
    Crashman , May 28, 2009 9:16 AM
    sihastru@Crashman: I'm not trying to deceive anyone. I'm just expressing my opinion. True in a less then cordial way, sorry for that. Here is the explanation:The case is not exactly ATX spec. ATX spec dictates (for ATX and mATX) that the PSU is the topmost component in the system. Intel validates the cooling solutions for ATX compliant cases. Not to mention that it is build just to keep the CPU in spec temperature wise (meaning rather hot). The PSU fan creates a low pressure vacuum. The higher the load, the lower the pressure. So the Intel fan has less and less air to work with as the system load gets higher. Since under these two components you have two hot air producing elements, most of the air the Intel fan has to work with is in fact hot air, that usually rises towards the top of the case. Hot low pressure air is what the cooler has to work with. No matter how fast it spins, it struggles for fresh air. I think that better results can be achieved with the PSU fan oriented towards the case side panel.You have a 1000W+ power usage. You have to agree that that's insanely high for a small case.I love the idea of small cases. But sometimes they just don't work very well. You are asking a little too much from this particular case.It's not your fault. It's Intel's fault for providing such simple cooling solutions. If they would bundle the extreme versions cooler in all the boxed versions of the CPU, life would be a lot better for many of us.


    I have a strong feeling the copper 965 cooler would have done a better job. I'm still concerned about the fact that there isn't really much exhaust in the case, which was the reason for that type of power supply and orientation. Other than the CNPS8700, I was also looking at some more traditional low profile coolers and considering reversing the fan so that the CPU heat would be blown into the PSU.

    Silverstone advises you can do that with the Nitrogon sink if you mount it fanless. But the spacing between the Nitrogon and PSU fan is so distant and off-center that Core 2 Duo overclockers are still complaing of extremely high temperatures. The $600 system has the same layout around the CPU fan yet it didn't have that problem using its stock cooler.

    So, the options are to reverse the power supply and eliminate most of the exhaust effect, to use a low profile sink with a more powerful fan and enough distance from the power supply to create a flow split, or to use a low-profile cooler with its fan reversed.

    The add-in crossflow blower is barely strong enough to cool the VRM heat pipe. But if you use it, you don't need as much flow from the CPU fan to cool the VRM and Northbridge. So that might eliminate the need for a downdraft CPU cooler and make the fan reversal, to updraft CPU cooler, a valid option.
  • -1 Hide
    Crashman , May 28, 2009 9:30 AM
    neiroatopelccpage 2 - prices - all wrong. looks like the ones from the last smb - 625 - 1250 - 5000 and not 600 -1300 - 2500


    Those are the budget prices. The $1250 PC went over budget, but the $625 PC was under budget, all in an effort to bring readers the best value. Actual prices were used in value calculations, and that's why you see descriptions like "$1250+" and "sub-$625" in the article.

    Edit: I see the "+" has been removed from $1250+ and the "sub-" has been removed from sub-$625 PC descriptions, by another editor. Sacrificing a little accuracy to improve style perhaps.
  • 4 Hide
    obarthelemy , May 28, 2009 9:35 AM
    Thanks for an insightful article. What I'm getting out of it:
    - the $2.500 system does not make sense. A bit better performance, a lot worse price/perf and efficiency.
    - the $1.250 does make sense
    - the $600 system will probably be challenged if I want to play on a 1920x1200 LCD, especially since LCDs don't downscale nicely.

    I'd love to see an AMD wariant next time, if only to avoid all the fanbois QQ posts... and also becasue I'm a bit of an AMD fanboi myself.
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