System Builder Marathon, Sept. 2010: Value Compared

Test Setup And Benchmarks

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September 2010 SBM Test Configurations
Row 0 - Cell 0 $400 PC$1000 PC$2000 PC
Motherboard (Overclock)ASRock M3A770DE Chipset: AMD 770/SB710O/C to 214 MHz Ref. Clk.Asus P7P55D-E LX Chipset: Intel P55 ExpressO/C to 178 MHz BCLKMSI NF980-G65 Nvidia nForce 980a SLIO/C to 188 MHz Ref. Clk.
Processor (Overclock)AMD Athlon II X3 440 3.0 GHz, Three CoresO/C at X4 to 3.2 GHz, 1.3 VIntel Core i5-750 2.66 GHz, Four CoresO/C to 3.75 GHz at 1.36 VAMD Phenom II X6 1055T 2.8 GHz, Six CoresO/C to 4.0 GHz at 1.43 V
Memory (Overclock)2 GB Crucial DDR3-1333 CL 9-9-9-24, O/C at 1.65 V to DDR3-1426, CL 8-8-8-244 GB Crucial DDR3-1333 CL 9-9-9-24, U/C at 1.50 V to DDR3-1070, CL 8-8-8-228 GB G.Skill DDR3-1333 CL 9-9-9-24, O/C at 1.65 V to DDR3-1533, CL 7-7-6-20
Graphics (Overclock)PowerColor Radeon HD 5670 775 MHz GPU,  GDDR5-4000O/C to 850MHz, GDDR5-4200MSI GeForce GTX 470 607 MHz GPU, GDDR5-3348O/C to 690 MHz, GDDR5-33802 x MSI GeForce GTX 480 700 MHz GPU, GDDR5-3696O/C to 816 MHz, GDDR5-4132
Hard DriveWestern Digital WD2500AAJS 250 GB, 7200 RPM 8 MB Cache,  SATA 3Gb/sWestern Digital WD36401AALS 640 GB, 7200 RPM 32 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/sSamsung F3 HD103SJ 1 TB, 7200 RPM 32 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s
OpticalSamsung SH-S223C 22x DVD±R, 48X CD-RLite-On iHAS124 24x DVD±R, 48X CD-RLite-On iHAS124 24x DVD±R, 48X CD-R
CaseRosewill BlackboneAntec Three HundredSilverStone Raven RV02-BW
PowerCooler Master Ext. Pwr. Plus RS-500-PCAR-A3-US 500 W, ~70% EfficiencyCorsair CMPSU-650TX 650 W, 80 PLUS StandardCooler Master Silent Pro RSA00-AMBAJ3-US 1000W Modular, 80 PLUS Bronze
CPU CoolerAMD boxed heatsink & fanCooler Master Hyper TX3 (RR-910-HTX3-G1)Scythe Mugen 2 Rev. B (SCMG-2100)
OSMicrosoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64
GraphicsAMD Catalyst 10.7Nvidia GeForce 258.96Nvidia GeForce 258.96
ChipsetAMD Ver. 8.631_W7_logoIntel INF MCP

A big, inexpensive cooler helps the $2000 PC reach 4.00 GHz, while the $400 PC gets its 200 MHz overclock from a stock cooler. Mid-sized cooling limits the $1000 build to a still-respectable 3.75 GHz.

Memory overclocking is a completely different story. Knowing that most 1.50 V memory will tolerate a 10% voltage increase for several years, the $2000 system was pushed to DDR3-1533 CAS 7, in spite of difficulties that often accompany high-density chips. Mid-priced system builder Don Woligroski forgot that his value award-winning RAM actually runs cooler when overclocked than many 1.65 V-rated modules based on the same Micron D9KPT chips, an omission that negated its enormous overclocking potential. Budget builder Paul Henningsen had better luck with the single-sided version of the same memory, though his DDR3-1426 CAS 8 results are likely limited by the memory controller of his low-cost CPU.

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Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2Campaign, Act III, Second Sun (45 sec. FRAPS) Test Set 1: Highest Settings, No AA Test Set 2: Highest Settings, 4x AA
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
DiRT 2Run with -benchmark example_benchmark.xml Test Set 1: High Quality Preset, No AA Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset, 8x AA
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 (1.0GB) 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 1.6.1MPEG2 to MPEG2 (H.264), MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG2), Audio: MPEG2 (44.1 KHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kb/s), Mode: PAL (25 FPS)
Adobe Photoshop CS4Version: 11.0 x64, Filter 15.7MB TIF Image Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Autodesk 3ds Max 2010Version: 11.0 x64, Rendering Dragon Image at 1920x1080 (HDTV)
Grisoft AVG Anti-Virus 9.0Version: 9.0.663, Virus base: 270.14.1/2407, Benchmark: Scan 334MB Folder of ZIP/RAR compressed files
WinRAR 3.90Version x64 3.90, Dictionary = 4,096 KB, Benchmark: THG-Workload (334MB)
7-ZipVersion 4.65: Format=Zip, Compression=Ultra, Method=Deflate, Dictionary Size=32KB, Word Size=128, Threads=8 Benchmark: THG-Workload (334MB)
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark VantageVersion: 1.0.1, GPU and CPU scores
PCMark VantageVersion: x64, System, Productivity, Hard Disk Drive benchmarks
SiSoftware Sandra 2010Version 2010.1.16.11, 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.
  • karma831
    oops double post...

    Anyways, I didn't really like the builds this SBM but I learned quite a bit. Thanks for the great read.
  • Yeah the $2000 system did not make much sense. Only spending 10% of your build money on the CPU seems wrong. The two GTX480s and Nvidia mobo was bizarre. I guess they felt they had to throw the AMD CPU guys a bone. The lack of a solid state drive in a $2000 build was also odd to me. Which could be explained if your going after raw gaming power, where they did with the dual 480s, but then they gimped it with that AMD cpu. Why pair dual GTX 480s with a Phenom Hexacore; which are subpar for anything that uses 4 threads or less. For the same $2000, I think you would get a much better system with a core i7 950, 6gb of ddr3 1600, a 120gb SSD, and 2 GTX 460 1gb.
  • HibyPrime
    I usually skip over the power and efficiency pages of the high-end SBM build, because the power usage is mostly irrelevant for such a high-end build... but when I saw it in the efficiency comparison...

    ONE KILOWATT? seriously!?
  • Crashman
    stm1185For the same $2000, I think you would get a much better system with a core i7 950, 6gb of ddr3 1600, a 120gb SSD, and 2 GTX 460 1gb.-1 for the SSD comments since these have always hurt the system's overall score in the benchmark-based value analysis.
  • avatar_raq
    One of the odd things encountered in the $2000 build is the results of Dirt2. This game bears the AMD logo, and in one benchmark the intel system scored almost double!! OMG!! AMD guys really need to do something about their CPUs and their relations to game developers.
  • SLI does not seems to work in AMD system or it is throttling.
  • Crashman
    MayPSLI does not seems to work in AMD system or it is throttling.The CPU is throttling the rest of the system. Most of the benchmarks show a CPU-capped pattern.
  • I'd like to have seen CS5 tests rather than CS4, considering you're using a Win 7 x64 build.
  • "The CPU is throttling the rest of the system. Most of the benchmarks show a CPU-capped pattern."

    There is noway i5 can be twice as fast as x6. Simply no way. Something is wrong. Unless there is an artificial limitation in the SLI board to prevent it running faster than that. Even 5670 is closer to SLI 480. Simply Dirt2 benchmark is wrong. And I sense SLI is not working. Better to try with Cross Fire setup.
  • avatar_raq
    TheCapulet it's just plain unbelievable that the builder didn't do his homework. If you read the article thoroughly you would know the reasons behind the CPU choice! And Thomas was honest about the results and he clearly said 'we failed'. Besides it IS nice to see someone try that and inform us so that we don't repeat the same, or similar, mistakes!

    TheCapulet This will be the first month that people sign up hoping to win the 1k machine instead of the 2k.Free is always good! For me, I wish I win the $2000 build, simply because the 2 gfx cards alone worth almost as the mid-priced build ($920 vs $1000)!