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System Builder Marathon, Dec. 2009: System Value Compared

System Builder Marathon, Dec. 2009: System Value Compared
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System Builder Marathon, December 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). And remember, these systems are all being given away at the end of the marathon.

To enter the giveaway, please check out this Google form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: The $2,500 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1,300 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $700 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

This month’s System Builder Marathon was full of surprises, the biggest being that our stock-cooled $1,300 build overclocked far easier than its big-air $2,500 competitor. But overclocking capacity is never guaranteed, and our final results reflect real-world challenges that every builder must face.

In the face of recent memory price surges and a shortage of high-end graphics processors, it was hardly surprising that prices on many of our components went up almost immediately after clicking the “buy” button at Newegg. The day our order was placed, the $700 build was within 1% of its target price, while the $2,500 PC actually came in under budget. Yet, we’re forced to use current pricing (or most-recent pricing for deactivated parts) in today’s value comparison with hopes that recent price increases won’t completely dismantle the efforts put forth by each builder to achieve the greatest “bang for the buck.”

Unlike September’s gaming-system shootout, today’s machines are designed to provide as much performance as possible across a wide variety of uses, while staying within certain budget limits. We have, like most readers, broken the budget on rare occasions where a little extra money would yield significant gains. But like most readers, we're still faced with the realities that our money supply is far from endless. Here’s a quick run-down of the parts we chose several weeks ago and the final cost at most-recent prices:

December 2009 System Builder Marathon Component Prices
 $700 PC$1,300 PC$2,500 PC
MotherboardDFI BI P45-T2RS
LGA 775, P45/ICH10R
Gigabyte P55-UD4P
LGA 1156, P55 PCH
Gigabyte P55-UD4P
LGA 1156, P55 PCH
ProcessorIntel Pentium E5300
2.60 GHz Dual-Core
Intel Core i5-750
2.66 GHz Quad-Core
Intel Core i7-860
2.80 GHz Quad-Core
MemoryCorsair DDR2-800
CAS 5.0 2 x 2GB, 4GB Total Memory  
A-Data DDR3-1333
CAS 8.0, 2 x 2GB, 4GB Total Memory
2 x Crucial DDR3-1333
CAS 9.0, 4GB Kits, 8GB Total Memory
Graphics2 x XFX HD 4870
HD-487A-YWFC
512MB GDDR5-3600
2 x XFX HD 5850
HD-585A-ZNBC
1GB GDDR5-4000
2 x Diamond HD 5870
5870PE51G
1GB GDDR5-4800
Hard DrivesSamsung Spinpoint F3
500GB HD502HJ
WD Caviar Black
640GB WD6401AALS
2 x WD Caviar Black
2.0TB WD2001FASS
OpticalSamsung SH-S223C
22x DVD±R 48x CD-R
16x DVD-ROM
Samsung SH-S223C
22x DVD±R 48x CD-R
16x DVD-ROM
LG WH08LS20 BD-RE
8x BD-R, 2x BD-RE,
16x DVD±R
CaseAntec Two HundredNZXT M59Lian-Li LanCool PC-K7B
PowerAntec EarthWatts
650W Non-Modular
80-Plus Standard
Corsair CMPSU-750TX
750W Non-Modular
80-Plus Standard
Corsair CMPSU-850HX
850W Semi-Modular
80-Plus Gold Certified
CPU CoolerXigmatek HDT-SD964Intel Core i5 Standard
(Included w/CPU)
Xigmatek HDT-S1284EE
Crossbow ACK-15363
Cooler + Bracket Kit
Current Price
$735 $1,464 $2,585


Stuck with last-year’s mainstream technology, the $700 configuration looks almost like a lamb before wolves. Yet, all three builders managed to find graphics-boosting CrossFire technology within or near their budgets, so perhaps the least of these will still be fast enough to at least meet our gaming needs? As other questions, such as the potentially close performance of the two costlier system’s processors lay heavily on our minds, we’re ready to examine our performance comparison charts.

Display 86 Comments.
  • 6 Hide
    DarkMantle , December 25, 2009 5:34 AM
    Great conclusion Thomas, good System Building Marathon overall. My only wish is to see something with an AMD processor next time, specially on the market segment where they shine.
  • 8 Hide
    shubham1401 , December 25, 2009 6:02 AM
    I am really impressed by the performance of $1300 PC.

    It came so close to the $2500 PC without breaking the bank.
    Simply awesome!!
  • 8 Hide
    noob2222 , December 25, 2009 7:07 AM
    typo on the last page, overclocked $650, not sure if that was the value used in the chart, might check that also.
  • 2 Hide
    ibnsina , December 25, 2009 7:13 AM
    Good conclusions..

    This article can get more interesting if you add previous [September’s ] systems data to the charts.
  • 6 Hide
    erdinger , December 25, 2009 7:45 AM
    Yes the previous systems would have been really nice to compare, espacially in the conclusion.
  • 6 Hide
    Crashman , December 25, 2009 8:04 AM
    ibnsinaGood conclusions..This article can get more interesting if you add previous [September’s ] systems data to the charts.


    Sorry, but that wouldn't be fair. First of all, September's systems used different benchmarks, settings, and OS. Second, September's systems used both AMD graphics that pre-date these, plus AMD processors, and people would have used the older graphics as an excuse to beat up on the CPU. AMD fans would have gone nuts as well, claiming the authors were trying to use the superior graphics of this SBM to skew readers against AMD. Tom's isn't interested in publishing invalid results or creating fake controversy.
  • 5 Hide
    Crashman , December 25, 2009 8:14 AM
    psycho sykesA question..Does those come with Windows 7 installed? Or they won't be real 700-1300-2500 machines.. Right?!


    Windows 7 was only installed for the benchmark analysis. For anyone who would like to copy one of the builds and still stay on budget, Ubuntu is suggested.
  • 0 Hide
    kick_pixels , December 25, 2009 9:30 AM
    Crashman
    [/quote]First of all, September's systems used different benchmarks. AMD fans would have gone nuts as well[/quote]

    If you compare the benchmarks, is more or less identical with 1-2 minor differences. What’s wrong with idea of comparing different configurations? I don’t agree with the thought of AMD fans getting upset about it, to contrary they will be happy about gaining new knowledge.
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , December 25, 2009 11:24 AM
    First of all, Merry Christmas everyone!
    Second of all, congratulations to Don. His tweaking contributed heavily to the superiority of the $1300 machine. The $700 machine pulled up lame when not gaming, and the $2500 machine was crippled by inadequate cooling.
    If I win the big guy, I'll put it in my CM-RC690 and see how it does. The little guy will get my Q9450, but Don's build just needs a better cooler.
    Nice series.
  • 3 Hide
    Niva , December 25, 2009 4:18 PM
    Merry xmas to the staff and thanks for writing these articles at an otherwise slow time of the year due to holidays. I've enjoyed reading them.
  • 2 Hide
    notty22 , December 25, 2009 4:23 PM
    I enjoyed the whole series. Popular hardware in different configurations, always interesting to read the results.
    I notice a lot of game players ask "will a cpu like the AMD 620 4x2.6 bottleneck a crossfire system of ie 5750,4850,5770". And the answer is evident in these benchmark results. YES, even the i5750 system with turbo liked o/c. All fps were very good except maybe the 700 dollar system at stock levels, but they all showed improvement with o/c. In these tests the o/c includes gpu o/c as well. It was bugging me, the 700 dollar system, using 2 4870's. I've been following prices diligently and I thought that was unrealistic, $250. I had suspicions that you snuck them in to make sure you beat the Sept system with 4850's. But a quick look this morning showed a Diamond 4870 for 129.99
    http://www.zipzoomfly.com/jsp/ProductDetail.jsp?ProductCode=10010069&prodlist=froogle
    Thats a great deal to build on.
  • 2 Hide
    Gryphyn , December 25, 2009 5:08 PM
    Love this series. Always a great read.
  • -3 Hide
    kick_pixels , December 25, 2009 5:42 PM
    Crashman "Windows 7 was only installed for the benchmark analysis. For anyone who would like to copy one of the builds and still stay on budget, Ubuntu is suggested."

    How many of those popular games will run on Ubuntu?
  • -1 Hide
    doron , December 25, 2009 5:45 PM
    I'm still upset about the 2500$ build.

    In addition to all the improper decisions you've mentioned in the conclusions page, the case was completely inadequate for this kind of high-end hardware (unless you mod it) and costs 2 times more (!!!) than the much more able antec 200.

    That by itself could allow buying 2 intake fans and a better cpu cooler, thus increasing overclocking by a big margin, consequently improving overall system performance.
  • 0 Hide
    Crashman , December 25, 2009 5:54 PM
    doronI'm still upset about the 2500$ build.In addition to all the improper decisions you've mentioned in the conclusions page, the case was completely inadequate for this kind of high-end hardware (unless you mod it) and costs 2 times more (!!!) than the much more able antec 200.


    It's nice when a case has enough room for both the graphics cards and the hard drives, not either/or.
  • 5 Hide
    arkadi , December 25, 2009 7:18 PM
    The conclusion makes up for the Hi-end build, I guess next Hi-end build will rock. As for the 700$ build...please consider AMD for the next one.
  • 0 Hide
    doron , December 25, 2009 7:47 PM
    @Crashman - Then how about Coolermaster 922 which costs 100$ on newegg?
    I know that's 10$ more but your afoermentioned case has the same 100$ price tag on newegg.

    Even better, for 90$ you could get a mighty Antec 900 (First gen) with all its 3x120mm + 1x200mm fans bundled.
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , December 25, 2009 8:07 PM
    doron@Crashman - Then how about Coolermaster 922 which costs 100$ on newegg?I know that's 10$ more but your afoermentioned case has the same 100$ price tag on newegg.Even better, for 90$ you could get a mighty Antec 900 (First gen) with all its 3x120mm + 1x200mm fans bundled.


    Yeh, it's a good deal. Unfortunately it didn't fit within budget at order time, when the Lian-Li case was on sale for $80 and the total purchase was $2495.
  • 1 Hide
    arkadi , December 25, 2009 8:43 PM
    hmm i have an idea. Give us, toms readers option to choose builds in each segment. Post few configurations for each budget for a survey, and build the winer.
  • 5 Hide
    tacoslave , December 25, 2009 8:45 PM
    i would have loved to see the athlon 620 overclocked to 3.2 gigahertz instead of that shitty dual core. i mean a quad core makes sense to drive those 4870's.
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