System Builder Marathon, March 2011: Value Compared

Systems and Benchmark Configurations

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Test Hardware Configurations
Row 0 - Cell 0 $550 PC$1000 PC$2000 PC
Motherboard (Overclock)ASRock M3A770DE Socket AM3, AMD 770/SB710O/C to 243 MHz RCLKARock P67 Extreme4 LGA 1155, Intel P67 ExpressNo BCLK OverclockAsus P8P67 WS Revolution LGA 1155, Intel P67 ExpressNo BCLK Overclock
Processor (Overclock)AMD Phenom II X4 925 2.80 GHz Quad-CoreO/C to 3.40 GHz, 1.30VIntel Core i5-2500K 3.30 GHz Quad-CoreO/C to 4.40 GHz, 1.30VIntel Core i7-2600K 3.40 GHz, Four Physical CoresO/C to 4.80 GHz, 1.40V
Memory (Overclock)4 GB G.Skill DDR3-1333 CAS 9-9-9-24, U/C at 1.59V to DDR3-1296, CL 8-8-8-244 GB G.Skill DDR3-1333 CAS 7-7-7-20,1.50 VNo Overclock8 GB G.Skill DDR3-1600 CAS 8-8-8-24, O/C at 1.60V to DDR3-1866 CL 8-9-8-24
Graphics (Overclock)Sapphire HD 6850 1GB 775 MHz GPU, GDDR5-4000O/C to 800 MHz, GDDR5-4400Gigabyte HD 6950 2GB 800 MHz GPU,  GDDR5-5000O/C to 880 MHz, GDDR5-52002x XFX Radeon HD 6950 2GB 800 MHz GPU,  GDDR5-5000O/C to 840 MHz, GDDR5-5300
Hard DriveSamsung F4 HD322GJ/U 320GB 7200 RPM, 16MB CacheSamsung F3 HD103SJ 1.0 TB 7200 RPM, 32MB Cache2x A-Data S599 SSD, Striped 64 GB x2 (128 GB Combined)
OpticalLite-On iHAS 124-04 24X DVD±R, 48X CD-RAsus DRW-24B1ST 24X DVD±R, 48X CD-RLite-On iHBS212 BD-RE 12X BD-R, 16X DVD±R
CaseXigmatek ASGARD IIIn-Win AndroidAntec Three Hundred Illusion
PowerAntec EA380D 380W ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUS BronzeCorsair CMPSU-650TX 650W ATX12V v2.2, 80 PLUSSeasonic SS-850HT 850WATX12V v2.31, 80 PLUS Silver
CPU CoolerAMD Boxed CoolerCooler Master Hyper 212 PlusScythe Mugen 2 Rev. B
OSMicrosoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64
GraphicsAMD Catalyst 11.2
ChipsetAMD All-in-1 Ver. 8.631Intel INF

Limited by its stock cooling solution, the $550 PC still reaches a moderate 3.40 GHz CPU overclock. Larger coolers and newer core technologies enable higher frequencies, such as the $1000 system’s 4.40 GHz at 1.30 V and the $2000 build’s 4.80 GHz at 1.40 V. Low-budget builder Paul Henningsen relied on reduced latencies to boost his system’s memory performance, while the high-end build used higher frequencies for similar purposes.

Perhaps the most extreme technique for extracting additional performance, $1000 system builder Don Woligroski flashed the BIOS of his single Radeon HD 6950 graphics card to HD 6970 GPU specifications, though its memory didn’t support the full clock rate of the higher-model card.

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Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
CrysisPatch 1.2.1, DirectX 10, 64-bit executable, benchmark tool Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA Test Set 2: Very High Quality, 8x AA
F1 2010V1.01, Run with -benchmark example_benchmark.xml Test Set 1: High Quality Preset, No AA Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset, 8x AA
Just Cause 2Version, Built-In Benchmark "Concrete Jungle" Test Set 1: Medium Details, No AA, 8x AF Test Set 2: Highest Details, 8x AA, 16x AF
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call Of PripyatCall Of Pripyat Benchmark version Test Set 1: High Preset, DX11 EFDL, No AA Test Set 2: Ultra Preset, DX11 EFDL, 4x MSAA
Audio/Video Encoding
iTunesVersion: x64 Audio CD (Terminator II SE), 53 minutes Default format AAC
HandBrake 0.9.4Version 0.9.4, convert first .vob file from The Last Samurai (1 GB) to .mp4, High Profile
TMPGEnc 4.0 XPressVersion: Import File: Terminator 2 SE DVD (5 Minutes) Resolution: 720x576 (PAL) 16:9
DivX Codec 6.9.1Encoding mode: Insane Quality Enhanced multithreading enabled using SSE4 Quarter-pixel search
Xvid 1.2.2Display encoding status = off
MainConcept Reference 1.6.1MPEG-2 to MPEG-4 (H.264), MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG-2), Audio: MPEG-2 (44.1 KHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kb/s), Mode: PAL (25 FPS)
Adobe Photoshop CS4Version: 11.0 x64, Filter 15.7 MB TIF Image Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Autodesk 3ds Max 2010Version: 11.0 x64, Rendering Dragon Image at 1920x1080 (HDTV)
WinRAR 3.90Version x64 3.90, Dictionary = 4096 KB, Benchmark: THG-Workload (334 MB)
7-ZipVersion 4.65: Format=Zip, Compression=Ultra, Method=Deflate, Dictionary Size=32 KB, Word Size=128, Threads=8 Benchmark: THG-Workload (334 MB)
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark 11Version:, Benchmark Only
PCMark VantageVersion: x64, System, Productivity, Hard Disk Drive benchmarks
SiSoftware Sandra 2011Version 2011.1.17.15, CPU Test = CPU Arithmetic / MultiMedia, Memory Test = Bandwidth Benchmark
Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • tapher
    A $500 build, together with a Sony FW900 or equivalent monitor, could be had for under $800 total. Wow!
  • hmp_goose
    Did you just say "$300 monitor on a $500 box"? Really?
  • qwertymac93
    hmp_gooseDid you just say "$300 monitor on a $500 box"? Really?
    how much is a good surround sound system?
    how much is a blu-ray player?
    I rest my case.
  • jsowoc
    What if you scaled down from 100% as opposed to up from 100%? If the 2kOC machine had 100 in each category, the SSD would be "naturally" toned down. The $500 machine would be at ~40% for gaming, A/V and productivity, and ~10% for storage.

    Taking a simple average you'd get that the $500 machine is typically about 30% the speed of the $2000 OC machine. An SSD does improve the day-to-day performance of a computer significantly.
  • Ragnar-Kon
    Being the poor college student I am, the blue bar is my favorite. And that O/C'd $1000 build is looking pretty good in my book. I've built AMD systems since the Athlon XP days because the price/performance ratio of Intel chips just wasn't worth it to me. But, I shall have to take a close look at the Intel i5 for my next build.

    qwertymac93how much is a good surround sound system?how much is a blu-ray player?I rest my case.1) Surround sound system = not worth it.
    2) Blu-ray player = Definitely not worth it.
    3) $300 monitor = not worth it.

    Of course, this could be the my inner poor college student talking. I'm sure for some people it is worth it.
  • sudeshc
    you can get good LED monitor of decent size in under $100 and that would be perfect for $500 build.
  • Luay
    A job well done Tom! Thankyou.
    The $500 AMD machine underperformed in the CPU department. I think the Intel i3 2120 paired with a H61 motherboard would have been the better choice.
    $1,000 rig was near perfection.
    $2,000 rig suffered from CPU bottlenecks at resolutions lower than 2560x1600 so it should be paired with at least $600 worth of display(s).
  • Dyers Eve
    Well I think we are all thinking the same thing and that is holy jebus SSDs are awesome. 60GB SSDs are at around $120 now so maybe in a year the $500 builds will get an SSD.

    Your second to last paragraph needlessly bashes the $500 system. So a cheap build is bad for a user that only wants performance? Well, duh.

    Your $500 build was titled as a gaming PC and now that only counts for 30% of average performance. Mixing all of the stats into one performance bar is useless to everyone. Keep the gamer/av/production separate as that is more useful.
  • scootermg
    If you wanted to alter these PCs from "Gamers Rig" to "Programmers Rig" (ie. capable of running several virtual machines, with Ubuntu 64 as host). What would you alter?

    I was thinking of taking the $2K model and
    -- doubling up the RAM from 8 to 16
    -- cutting from 2 SSD to 1
    -- downgrading the graphics card, to I don't know what
    -- deleting the CPU cooler.. I will not be over-clocking
    -- leaving the rest as is

    I propose downgrading the 2K PC vice upgrading the 1K because I feel ASUS/INTEL/Ubuntu64 combo is better for virtualization than AROCK/INTEL.

    Maybe the 1K PC can do it also.
  • lamorpa
    In the conclusion:
    the $2000 machines twin SSDs
    the $2000 machines twin SSDs