System Builder Marathon: Sub-$1000 PC

Power Supply: Silverstone ST400

With so many mediocre power supplies on the market, most users don’t know how much power they actually need. We’re certain there will be a lot of discussion about the adequacy of a 400 W unit, but our own testing has shown that even our high-end quad-SLI $4000 build needed less than 600 W peak power.

Knowing that we wouldn’t need more than 400 watts, we looked for a quality part that could truly meet its rated capacity while providing the vast majority of that power over the 12V rails. The Silverstone ST400 suits this purpose perfectly.

Providing up to 18 amps on each 12 V rail but only 348 watts combined 12 V power, the ST400 is strong enough to power all our components even in an overclocked state. Given that most of our power will be going to graphics cards, we’re not so sure that there’s enough power left for any large upgrades, but at least we know Silverstone’s quality will keep this system running in its current hardware configuration for a very long time.

Knowing that some users would be powering a quad-core processor along with many drives and accessories at once, Silverstone didn’t include a second PCI-Express connector for use with “big” cards or SLI. Fortunately, Gigabyte includes 4-pin to PCI-Express power adapters with each 8800 GT graphics card, and our lack of extra drives and accessories left us plenty of connectors and capacity to use one of Gigabyte’s power adapters.

Case Cooling: OKGEAR D12SL-12

Our chosen case included a single intake and single exhaust fan, and the two were perfectly capable of keeping internal temperatures tolerable. So why add fans to such a low-heat system? For overclocking, of course!

Rated at 47 CFM and 28 decibels per fan, the OKGEAR D12SL-12 120mm fans are the best low-cost fans we could find. These are produced by famed high-value fan manufacturer Yate Loon and sell for only $4.50 each.

Our Cooler Master Centurion 590 case supports two additional intake fans on the side and two exhaust fans on top, but we bought only two fans total. These will be attached to the side panel over the CPU cooler and graphics card, since the placement is perfect for cooling these components, turning the top fan mounts into passive outlets for the positive pressure created.

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    Top Comments
  • randomizer
    yonefWhy the hell you need crapy 8800GT??!

    It's funny how a suddenly card becomes worse when another card is released better than it, even funnier when a few weeks ago this was THE card to buy. Did you stop to consider when this article was written? Perhaps the card wasn't available when they wrote this, and in order to get the article out on time they had to go with "crappy" cards.
  • Other Comments
  • Haiku214
    I'm glad to know that you don't really need a huge amount of wattage to run the 8800 gt sli. How about for the ati 4850 crossfireX? Is 460 watts with a combined 42 amps for the 12V rail be enough?
  • hellwig
    Seeing the new prices for components, couldn't you have stayed with the AMD theme, just to satisfy reader curiosity. I.e. 2x3870 in crossfire (or 3870x2) = $300, AMD 790X/FX MB = $125, Phenom 9850 Black Ed = $235 (or 6400+ X2 Black Ed = $160, making room for 2x4850), Plus all cheaper components from current build. You would have still been under the $1000 mark, and the dual 3870/4850 would have given much closer results in the games category, and the unlocked multiplier would have given AMD a little more benefit in the overclocking category compared to the locked 9500 used previously. This would have been more interesting especially since your $2000 PC was really a $1400 PC (the only difference between $1000 and $2000 now being GTS vs. GT and quad vs. dual).
  • randomizer
    The first Crysis graph looks more like Very High, not High. I get around 32FPS with a single 9600GT on high at 1440x900.
  • cjl
    Considering that those GT's ran you $188 each, even counting a $30 rebate, that should have left 4850's well within your grasp, and they would have significantly outperformed the GT's. In fact, they probably would have outperformed your
  • cjl
    Hmm. Looks like it took my less than sign as HTML tagging. That should have said "outperformed your less than $2000 system"
  • yonef
    Same problem in here (like in $2000 system build)!
    Tom's realy starts to annoying me:
    First of all: Why the hell you need crapy 8800GT??! while for the same prize you can buy HD4850s -> 2xHD4850=$330 < 2x8800GT=$386 !!!
    Second of all: 2xHD4850 will easy outperform 2x8800GT even in crysis :D(wich is exclusively for nvidia)
    Third, but not least: How the hell whole system with 2X8800GT will run on 400W PS ?!!? I'm so convinced;
  • str8ballistik
    This is really dumb. I love how they add up only a tower. you have to add in the monitor, speakers, mouse/keyboard, etc.. That is what a computer is, not a tower. You get peoples hopes up to buy a computer, then they realize, oh yeah, I have to buy this other stuff to actually be able to use the tower. Come on, be more realistic. I would love to see a mid-rang computer, while seeing what size monitor you can get with it.
  • randomizer
    yonefWhy the hell you need crapy 8800GT??!

    It's funny how a suddenly card becomes worse when another card is released better than it, even funnier when a few weeks ago this was THE card to buy. Did you stop to consider when this article was written? Perhaps the card wasn't available when they wrote this, and in order to get the article out on time they had to go with "crappy" cards.
  • mf_fm
    AMD + ATi FTW $1000 system
  • giovanni86
    If u don't already own a monitor/keyboard/mouse/speakers n your reading this thread you are a retard. Like seriously why would you not own those things already. Personally i like these articles they make, it puts together a PC built tower for you already kind of knowing what u could get at such a great price point. And 2ndly in my opinion ATI has nothing on NVIDIA, although ppl claim it to be better and cheaper then NVIDIA's line up i beg the differ. And 3rdly i can't believe that a sli system as well could run off a 400watt PSU.
  • yonef
    Anonymous said:
    Did you stop to consider when this article was written? Perhaps the card wasn't available when they wrote this, and in order to get the article out on time they had to go with "crappy" cards.

    I'm sick of this when the article was written! It is posted in July. They can easy write an article last year and post it now and say that the best sub $4000 is 2x 8800GTX(G80) !

    ...Even if we consider that this article was written before ATI 4000 seris release(maybe few days ago) they was completely informed about the performance of 4000 series and wrote an article as fast as they can just to put it before ATI release! (my opinion)

    Even though, they can go for HD3870X2 ~ $250 (search or even better: HD3870X2 + HD3870 for about the price of 2x8800GT ! AND there will be NO need to use (if you let me) CRAPY Nvidia chipset.

    P.S. I used to be Nvidia fan. I have almost all series of NV cards (starting form 4200 TI to 7950), BUT now things changed. I'm not happy to pay loads of money for nothing; Just watch price/performance and then buy
  • grimreality
    I'm curious about the bottom mounted PSU issue. I bought this exact same case a couple weeks ago (and I'm very happy with it btw), but I mounted my PSU upside down so that it still pulls air out from inside the case. If the guys at Tom's are so concerned with sucking air/dust/dirt/hair/etc in from the bottom of the case, then why don't they just do what I did and flip the PSU upside down? With both side panel fans going there's more than enough cool air coming in (especially in their example with no top exhaust fans) for the the PSU to share with the other components.

    To those complaining about price in regards to including/excluding peripherals, I do a lot of recommendations myself with friends in other forums and it's very rare that we talk about price including peripherals. The tower and its internal components are the most important parts and people generally reuse whatever monitors/keyboards/mice/printers/etc they had with their old system. And if you've been reading Tom's articles for long enough you'd know not to get your hopes up thinking that they'll include all that stuff in their system build marathons.
  • ubbadubba
    Crucial should find it troubling that the 2x1GB Ballistix in both DDR2-800(PC2-6400) and DDR2-1066(PC2-8500) get lots of recommendations, but are receiving very significant returns, RMAs, BSODs, and incompatibilities recently. I have the 1066 kit and have some minor incompatibilities. See purchaser comments here:
  • ubbadubba
    does Tom's come back and alter recommendations based on massive product reliability issues? (I would qualify these 2 Crucial Ballistix RAM sets as having issues, even if not everyone is having problems)
  • JPForums
    Giovanni86ATI has nothing on NVIDIA, although ppl claim it to be better and cheaper then NVIDIA's line up i beg the differ.

    Have you had a bad experience with ATI recently? You can't be basing this opinion off of reviews as they tend to show that ATI has been at least somewhat competitive in price/performance since the 3800 series showed up. In the workstation market, ATI's offerings are very compelling (especially at the price points they released them at). Now with the 4800 series out, ATI's price/performance ratio can hardly be disputed. As far as drivers go, ATI has addressed any issues I've had in a much more timely manner than nVidia. Power consumption differences between ATI and nVidia's new series are insignificant as over the life of the card you will not save near enough to offset the initial price difference between two. Heat is a concern for me, but as long as the card can handle it, it isn't really an issue. Still if its a concern, with the savings you get from an HD4870 has compared to the GTX260, you could put on a aftermarket heatsink that would outperform any stock heatsink and still have money to burn. You could even buy a cheap water cooling system and dedicate it to the GPU if you wanted. So I dispute your claim and say that ATI more clearly now than any time since the acquisition has SOMETHING on nVidia. In fact, I would say that nVidia only really has two things on ATI. They have the undisputed highest performing chip out right now (GTX280) and they have better linux driver binaries. (Though, I haven't tried the community developed ATI drivers)

    All that said, I'm not rushing to the store to replace my 8800GTS (G92) with two HD4850s or HD4870s. There isn't much of a practical gain to doing so as my cards give the maximum game experience I can get on my 22" 1680x1050 monitors. When I'm ready to upgrade, I'll consider which offerings are the best at that point. I have no reservation, however, recommending ATI's cards for anyone I deem it appropriate at the moment.

    Giovanni86And 3rdly i can't believe that a sli system as well could run off a 400watt PSU.

    Two 8800GTS (G92) cards will run off of a quality 430 watt PSU just fine. Though, my overclocking attempts weren't exactly rewarding until I dropped in a PSU with a little more juice. Keep in mind, the system build in the article only has one hdd and one optical drive. As thin as their build is, they may even have enough headroom even for GPU overclocking (I have no experience with Silverstone PSUs). If you're having trouble, you may want to consider a different brand PSU. I've had good luck with PC Power & Cooling, Enermax, and Fortron Source. Oh, and the lower end Antech PSU's may as well be from a different company as their quality isn't even comparable to their higher end offerings.

    I do have to mention that I seen a lot of people who look at the average power posted by review sites and think that they can get away with a power supply that just barely exceeds those figures. It isn't the average power that kills you, it's the instantaneous power. More specifically, if you ever draw enough current on any rail that the voltage drops below what your components can handle, then you'll have issues. This usually happens on the 12v rail, but can happen elsewhere depending on your setup. A large single 12v rail PSU is more likely to run a system loaded to near the PSU's capacity without issue than a multi-12v rail system. Multi-12v rail systems are nice because as long as each rail can support its respective load, the rails are cleaner and better for overclocking. Combined load is often a fallacy as you can't share current between independent rails. Better designed multi-12v rail PSUs like some of Enermax's PSUs aren't fully independent and thus can supply larger currents on individual rails when necessary. Noise is still filtered between rails (better overclocking), but you don't leave as much untapped current there. Unfortunately, throwing in large numbers of rails, and consequently leaving a lot of current delivering capability untapped, is largely the reason people think they need 1K+ watt PSUs. GPU manufacturers can't assume that you have a well designed PSU and thus have to recommend huge PSUs to make sure they don't have angry customers.
  • tkuhl87
    I just found these Gigabyte 8800GT's for $153 on Newegg before the $30 Mail in Rebate. Just thought readers should know it's now a $70 cheaper build!
  • gaiden
    When building a sub-$1000 system longevity and reliability comes to mind. Somewhere in it drawing a balance between quality of the hardware while staying in style is a true challenge to any system builder, this is so much more interesting then a sub-$2000+ system build because no one can just throw in the latest and greatest for the best results. I think the best bet for these builds would be to pick out quality core components while leave room for future expansions.

    * AMD 5000+ BE should be the top choice for a budget pc here due to the fact that it has unlocked multipliers that could easily adjust to a budget config according to the quality/effectiveness of the CPU cooler provided. Also one of the most cost effective CPU in the market.

    * MSI K9A2 Platinum has been out for a while but due to the fact that it supports CFX and offers 4 lanes of PCI-E's supports up to 4 GPU's, this board should be on every budget builder's book. Pretty decent design on the heatsinks on the bridges. Supports AM2+ cpus and better.

    * ATI HD3870 is one of the two choices (other is HD4850) for this build, I stayed with this due to the price level of this build. Regardless, 2x 3870 still offers very good gaming level in CFX and the single slot designs also give access to more air flow and space for use of PCI add-on's.

    * Corsair 2x2gb DDR2 800 ram are a very safe choice for decent future overclocking and good performance at a great price.

    * Seagate 250gb hdd are nice and quiet and very affordable. Its new slim design should appeal any builder who is trying to maximize internal air flow. 2x hdd in RAID 0 will make up for a bit of performance loss comparing to the higher end configs.

    * Corsair 520 Mod PSU is the best choice for a budget build due to its quality performance and my personal experience with the unit. Modular fits very well into a space saving themed build.

    * Freezer 64 Pro is a very decent and popular heatsink not only because of its price/performance but also the ease of installing and very decent cooling without making much noise. It's a perfect choice for a low heat CPU like the AMD 5000+ BE in this build.

    * Samsung DVD drive is one of the quietest and most affordable drive you can find out in the market right now, period.

    * The reason I picked TT Tsunami Mid tower over a full tower or a cheaper mid tower is the fact that this build does not generate as much heat as other higher-end config would so it could afford to be in a mid tower. And Black Tsunami IS the best looking mid tower I have lay my eyes on for that price. For functionality, air flow, look and style this case has got it all and is one of my top 5 mid towers. You cant go wrong with the price either.

    CPU: AMD 64 x2 5000+ BE ----------------------------- $82
    MOBO: MSI K9A2 Plat --------------------------------- $150
    GPU: SAPPHIRE Radeon HD3870 512MB (x2) -------------- $300
    RAM: CORSAIR 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) ------ $67
    HDD: Seagate Barracuda 7200RPM 250GB (x2) ----------- $120
    PSU: CORSAIR CMPSU-520HX 520W Modular --------------- $99
    HS: ARCTIC COOLING Freezer 64 Pro 92mm Cooler ------- $30
    DVD: Samsung 20x DVD+- Drive ------------------------ $25
    CASE: Thermaltake Tsunami Black Aluminum Mid Tower -- $105

    sub total: ------------------------------------------ $978

    optional PCI fan exhaust: --------------------------- ($10)

    total: ---------------------------------------------- ($988)

    P.S. want more air flow you can always spend $8-10 for a PCI slot fan exhaust to maximize your air flow. most people think it's a gimmick but when it comes to mid-towers all the way to HTPC case these buggers does help out alot.

  • yangman
    The claimed advantages of top-mounted PSU is interesting; this is the first time I've seen it come up on this site.

    I doubt anyone will disagree with the silliness of having a PSU draw intake from directly underneath the case, but the disadvantage are not so clear when it is mounted upside-down.

    Considering this is Tom's Hardware, I am now expecting a full article comparing temperature and acoustic differences between similarly configured cases of different PSU arrangement. Perhaps throw in a passive CPU cooler or two in as well.

    I'm sure you won't disappoint.
  • Best_reviewss
    gaiden this pc costs the same but is MUCH slower. heck, can you compare a e7200 to a 5000+ be? 8800gt>3870. Whats the point?
  • KyleSTL
    Why is the TX2 recommended when the Xigmatek S963 is clearly superior for the same price?