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System Builder Marathon, June 2011: Alternative $2000 PC

System Builder Marathon, June 2011: Alternative $2000 PC
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System Builder Marathon, June 2011: The Articles

Here are links to each of the five 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 fill out this Google form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: The $2000 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $500 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected
Day 5: Tom's Hand-Picked SuperCombo

Introduction

Our most recent System Builder Marathons have included a fourth PC. The first three are generally the product of reader feedback from one quarter to the next. We came up with the Day 5 SuperCombo to give one builder (Ed.: It has always been Thomas' $2000 build, so far) the opportunity to hand-pick the parts he'd want in his own machine.

This time, we didn't plan on following through. When asked what I'd improve on the original $2000 build, I told Chris that I wouldn't change anything; for the first time in a while, there would be no fourth machine. But after the feedback started coming in from Day 1, we couldn't help but place a rush order to Newegg for the parts for another machine with a couple of superficial tweaks based on the feedback.

And after all, we were still itching for one more opportunity to give away hardware to our readers. If you haven't yet entered this quarter's giveaway, look up at the top of the page and be sure you do.

Aside from our inability to ship prizes internationally (thank the IRS for that), the second-most frequent complaint we read was more of a division between readers of various aesthetic tastes. While some liked the $2000 PC’s simple and clean appearance, others thought its case was overpriced for such a plain black box. The most recommended replacement part was Cooler Master’s HAF X.

Case performance comes down to two things: cooling and noise. An exceptionally cool-running case could help overclocking, and thereby allow improved system performance. Yet, variability in the manufacturing of other components could have an even larger impact on temperatures and overclocking, so for today’s article we retained the exact motherboard, CPU, memory, and CPU cooler from our original build. The winner of the fourth machine will get all of the same parts, though.

$2000 PC Components
MotherboardASRock Z68 Extreme4: LGA 1155, Intel Z68 Express $190
Graphics2 x MSI R6970-2PM2D2GD5: Radeon HD 6970 2 GB, CrossFire $680
ProcessorIntel Core i7-2600K: 3.4GHz-3.8GHz, 8 MB  Shared L3 Cache $315
MemoryG.Skill F3-12800CL8D-8GBXM: DDR3-1600 C8, 4 GB x2 (8 GB) $75
System Drive2 x A-Data S599 64GB, SATA 3Gb/s SSD $240
Storage DriveSamsung F3 HD103SJ 1 TB, 7200 RPM HDD $55
OpticalLG WH12LS30 BD-RE: 12x BD-R, 16x DVD±R $95
CaseCooler Master HAF X RC-942-KKN1 $190
PowerSeasonic SS-850HT: 850 W, ATX12V v2.31, 80 PLUS Silver $125
Heat SinkXigmatek Gaia SD1283 $30
  Total Cost  $1,995


Note that we also updated the optical drive, due to the original build’s drive being discontinued. A reduction in memory price makes the case primary in total system cost difference.

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Top Comments
  • 15 Hide
    cmcghee358 , June 27, 2011 5:37 AM
    After building a nice rig for the last 2 years or so, I really want my next rig to look really classy. It's the difference between a Honda Civic with Cold Cathode lighting, and an Audi with a massive V8 under the hood. I'm looking forward to moving on to the Audi.

    Also yes, for the love of God, will you people please understand that these aren't gaming PCs? That's why there are so many non-gaming related benchmarks. Please see beyond your own needs.

    The 1st thing I ask a potential customer is "What do you use it for?" If they say "Surfing the internet, and doing Office" I recommend an inexpensive build with Linux as an operating system. If they say gaming I recommend an appropriate build with Windows 7(Just because I hate all the tweaking Wine takes in order to work) But I hope that highlights that EVERYONE has different needs.
  • 11 Hide
    whysobluepandabear , June 27, 2011 9:07 AM
    This is the same system, with a different case. I would HARDLY constitute this as an "Alternative" build.


    Do you want a case that looks like The Death Star


    Or do you want a case that looks like you collect Picasso?



    At least change the GPU or CPU if you're going to re-brand it as an "Alternative" build.



    Yeah, I know people are going to flame me and say something like "Well, different case means different build BRO!".
Other Comments
  • 2 Hide
    amk09 , June 27, 2011 4:14 AM
    Yea the Haf X is beastly to say the least.
  • -7 Hide
    ChiefTexas_82 , June 27, 2011 4:54 AM
    At least it doesn't look like a regular office PC. I thought the LL in the previous $2000 looked too 'professional' for a gaming PC.
  • 6 Hide
    Crashman , June 27, 2011 4:59 AM
    ChiefTexas_82At least it doesn't look like a regular office PC. I thought the LL in the previous $2000 looked too 'professional' for a gaming PC.
    That's because it wasn't a gaming PC. Were it a gaming PC it would have lacked the 1TB storage drive and BD-R, had a Core i5 rather than Core i7, had 4GB rather than 8GB RAM, and would have put the money saved towards even faster graphics.
  • 4 Hide
    SpadeM , June 27, 2011 5:35 AM
    ChiefTexas_82At least it doesn't look like a regular office PC. I thought the LL in the previous $2000 looked too 'professional' for a gaming PC.


    Well you can always bling a case up if you're so inclined but it's more difficult to un-bling one. All in all a very tame SBM this quarter, do hope u guys do something unnecessary cool next round :) . BTW anything new and exciting coming up this week in the articles?
  • 15 Hide
    cmcghee358 , June 27, 2011 5:37 AM
    After building a nice rig for the last 2 years or so, I really want my next rig to look really classy. It's the difference between a Honda Civic with Cold Cathode lighting, and an Audi with a massive V8 under the hood. I'm looking forward to moving on to the Audi.

    Also yes, for the love of God, will you people please understand that these aren't gaming PCs? That's why there are so many non-gaming related benchmarks. Please see beyond your own needs.

    The 1st thing I ask a potential customer is "What do you use it for?" If they say "Surfing the internet, and doing Office" I recommend an inexpensive build with Linux as an operating system. If they say gaming I recommend an appropriate build with Windows 7(Just because I hate all the tweaking Wine takes in order to work) But I hope that highlights that EVERYONE has different needs.
  • 2 Hide
    yukijin , June 27, 2011 5:40 AM
    CrashmanThat's because it wasn't a gaming PC. Were it a gaming PC it would have lacked the 1TB storage drive and BD-R, had a Core i5 rather than Core i7, had 4GB rather than 8GB RAM, and would have put the money saved towards even faster graphics.

    with the money saved from such changes, you can afford TWO GTX 580's!
  • 4 Hide
    compton , June 27, 2011 5:45 AM
    That's the great thing about cases: there's one out there for everyone and every purpose.

    The last case I bought was a Lian Li PC A05NB. It's definitely different, pretty much unique, and looks classy. I tossed a piano black Samsung BD drive with a mirrored tray facade and it's got the understated style that fits in everywhere. I say right on to any case that gets tossed in to an SBM. I bet no one complains about the enclosure when they win the rig.
  • -4 Hide
    sparky2010 , June 27, 2011 6:26 AM
    these pc's are great.. but there's one thing missing.. if these are intended to be 'gaming' pc's, then the sound must be upgraded too.. it's not just about the graphics.. putting in a good sound card will increase the quality of the sound, and make games more enjoyable! it reall does make a difference.. so what i'd do in this case is change the 6970's to 6950's (since in crossfire, the difference won't be that great, at least at 1080p) and then get a good sound card, like an Asus Xonar or Sound Blaster X - Fi.. at least, that's what i already did and it's really great!! with a 7.1 sound system, games like Mass Effect become MUCH better... :D 
  • -6 Hide
    wrazor , June 27, 2011 6:38 AM
    I was wondering if toms have a 570 GTX 2.5gb evga card review in the making. They are going for 400$ each, so replacing the 2600k here with 2500k would have covered that cost. I am very much interested(and i think many more do too)to see how these 2.5gb cards would fare in sli and stuff. 6970 killers? I think so.
  • 1 Hide
    kovaxo , June 27, 2011 7:31 AM
    That this one is perfect , although i don't like the motherboard , but its a great build still
  • 1 Hide
    flong , June 27, 2011 7:49 AM
    It is interesting that so many of the HAF X features were not used or were dismissed as not important. You did not compare ease of build for example.

    I am not sure why the CPU cooling of the HAF X was not more efficient and it is very competitive in CPU cooling in reviews. It appears that there must be a lack of air flow over the CPU in the design. Curiously though, with the HAF X you would probably have a better CPU cooler than the $30 low-end cooler that is used in this review. Pair the HAF X with a Noctua NH-D14 and you would have the best of all worlds as it is the most efficient case made for cooling the GPUs even beating the top rated Silverstone Fortress.

    Just because you do not use the hot-swap bays, tooless access and other features doesn't mean that they should not be included in the overall value comparison of the two. For example, what if you could OC the GPUs, then it would become very important which case cools the GPU well.

    It is somewhat disappointing to see that the HAF X could only essentially tie the Lian Li in CPU cooling seeing that includes larger fans and more fans. I have seen this trait in other HAF X reviews.

    Also, considering the openness of the HAF X case, it is possible that the change (increase) in noise was due not to the HAF X having more fans, but that the 6970 GPU fans were more audible in the HAF X than the closed Lian Li. The 6970 is not the most quiet GPU and there are two in this build. But the openess of the HAF X is why it is one of the best cooling cases in existence and the Fortress fans are also very audible (because it is a top venting case).

    I do like the conservative looks of the Lian Li better.
  • 6 Hide
    Anonymous , June 27, 2011 7:53 AM
    Yes, sadly, unneeded appendages and simulated armour cladding are what "turns the crank" of some of the younger readers.

    Happily, for the rest of us the Bard's eternal ode is, as always, applicable, "Brevity is wit."
  • 0 Hide
    eddieroolz , June 27, 2011 7:57 AM
    If I had a choice, I'd take the simpler and cleaner case of the Lian-Li. However, workarounds forced by that case means I'm unlikely to choose any of these two if I had a choice. Instead, I think I'll spring for the case in the $1000 build.
  • -6 Hide
    flong , June 27, 2011 7:59 AM
    Considering that many 2600K and 2500K systems are being overclocked near or above the 6 GHZ mark where CPU cooling does become an issue, it would be interesting to see you use a better CPU cooler and push the limits of your CPU OC. I have read two professional Z68 reviews where the overclock was above 6 GHZ on the 2600K
  • 9 Hide
    Crashman , June 27, 2011 8:15 AM
    flongConsidering that many 2600K and 2500K systems are being overclocked near or above the 6 GHZ mark where CPU cooling does become an issue, it would be interesting to see you use a better CPU cooler and push the limits of your CPU OC. I have read two professional Z68 reviews where the overclock was above 6 GHZ on the 2600K
    These systems are built for RELIABLE performance. That means no high voltages. You're only going to get 5.00 GHz or more at excessive voltage levels, and the only way a CPU can live at those voltage levels for a reasonable length of time is if you alter its molecular structure by freezing it.

    Tom's Harware isn't going to add below-ambient cooling to a SBM PC. And since liquid cooling is always above ambient, the "best" cooler that could be used is not cold enough to justify the voltage increase.
  • -6 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , June 27, 2011 8:49 AM
    In my opinion you should spend $500 on SSD instead of doubling the graphics. I'm aware that this would make a negative impact on benchmark scores, and therefore you wouldn't do it. But in the real world, a 128GB system drive just isn't big enough.
    I've got a crucial C300 128GB drive in my company laptop, and I constantly have to delete stuff to retain the 20GB free space margin I'm aiming for. And I'm even using a 750GB (momentus in icybox) usb drive for storage.

    Basicly, got for a 200+ drive or don't go SSD at all in the real world.
    I mean really. I bought two 60GB quantum fireballs in early 2001, so clearly two 64GB ssd's in stripe ain't going to cut it 10 years later....
  • 11 Hide
    whysobluepandabear , June 27, 2011 9:07 AM
    This is the same system, with a different case. I would HARDLY constitute this as an "Alternative" build.


    Do you want a case that looks like The Death Star


    Or do you want a case that looks like you collect Picasso?



    At least change the GPU or CPU if you're going to re-brand it as an "Alternative" build.



    Yeah, I know people are going to flame me and say something like "Well, different case means different build BRO!".
  • -1 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , June 27, 2011 9:08 AM
    CrashmanThat's because it wasn't a gaming PC. Were it a gaming PC it would have lacked the 1TB storage drive and BD-R, had a Core i5 rather than Core i7, had 4GB rather than 8GB RAM, and would have put the money saved towards even faster graphics.

    A gaming pc these days NEEDS 6GB memory at a very minimum. You instantly feel the difference, especially if you're the sort that tabs out of the game to read up tactics, or see who's talking on vent or whatever.

    ps. of the cases in the roundup my absolute favorite by far was the lian li. It's classy and simple.
  • 1 Hide
    joshyboy82 , June 27, 2011 10:44 AM
    I like the Silverstone FTO2 case as an alternative build case. Mobo rotated, noise dampening material inside, Fan location, professional exterior. Supposedly superior layout. Are you guys ever going to give liquid cooled cpus a try? What about the closed systems that have become so popular lately? How about a review on those?
  • 3 Hide
    burnley14 , June 27, 2011 10:56 AM
    To each his own, but I liked the classy first case more. This one looks bulky and cheap. And the difference in cooling is nearly negligible.
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