System Builder Marathon, March 2011: Value Compared

Performance Is Value

System Builder Marathon, March 2011: 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 fill out this Google form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: The $2,000 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1,000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $500 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected
Day 5: Tom's Hand-Picked SuperCombo


I find it almost ironic that folks who use the value label in talking about their most affordable finds will then go on to talk about the value of their most expensive purchases. The true meaning of value varies between all of us, so long as the product we're talking about does its job the way we want it to. Any product that doesn’t perform adequately then becomes worthless.

Putting aside those qualitative assessments, value can also be determined mathematically by comparing performance to price. The numeric “bang-for-the-buck” result is an easy tool for picking winners, but doesn’t do a good enough job explaining whether the winning product can sufficiently fill the buyer’s needs. A perfect comparison would discuss numeric expressions of performance-value, as well as the suitability of each system for specific tasks.

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System Builder Marathon Components
Row 0 - Cell 0 $550 PC$1000 PC$2000 PC
MotherboardASRock M3A770DE Socket AM3, AMD 770/SB710ARock P67 Extreme4 LGA 1155, Intel P67 ExpressAsus P8P67 WS Revolution LGA 1155, Intel P67 Express
ProcessorAMD Phenom II X4 925 2.8GHz Quad-Core, 6MB CacheIntel Core i5-2500K 3.30 GHz Quad-Core, 6 MB CacheIntel Core i7-2600K 3.40 GHz Quad-Core, HT, 8 MB Cache
MemoryG.Skill F3-10666CL9D-4GBNS DDR3-1333 C9, 2GB x2 (4GB)G.Skill F3-10666CL7D-4GBRH DDR3-1333 C7, 2GB x2 (4GB)G.Skill F3-12800CL8D-8GBXM DDR3-1600 C8, 4GB x2 (8GB)
GraphicsSapphire 100315L Radeon HD 6850 1GBGigabyte GV-R695D5-2GD-B Radeon HD 6950 2GB2x XFX HD-695A-CNFC Radeon HD 6950 2GB, XFire
System 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)
Storage DriveUses System DriveUses System DriveSamsung F3 HD103SJ 1.0 TB 7200 RPM, 32MB Cache
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 850W ATX12V v2.31, 80 PLUS Silver
Heat SinkAMD Boxed CoolerCooler Master Hyper 212 PlusScythe Mugen 2 Rev. B (SCMG-2100)
Total Price$527$977$1975

The cheapest PC in today’s comparison is already equipped with a high-performance graphics card and, as always, will receive the same level of overclocking attention as its high-priced competitors. The real question, then, is how far up the performance ladder the $550 PC can climb, and whether the superior components in the $1000 and $2000 builds will allow them to double and quadruple the less-expensive machine's performance?

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