System Builder Marathon, Sept. 2010: Value Compared

Performance Is Value

System Builder Marathon, September 2010: 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 $2,000 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1,000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $400 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected


Enthusiasts have a different mindset from the general public with regard to performance. While Joe down the street equates value with how cheap his PC is, real power users know that performance defines what their PC is worth. It doesn’t matter how inexpensive something is if it doesn’t work well, and a functional product certainly has no value if it isn't fast enough to perform its intended task.

While Joe certainly wouldn’t be foolish enough to put his child on the freeway with a moped, he might be tempted to buy that $300 discount PC for his little-Joe-gamer. Enthusiasts know better.

This month saw budget-builder Paul Henningsen attempt to provide little-Joe-gamer a convincing counter-offer, in a true gaming system that ran him only $400. Of course, the builder who follows in Paul's footsteps still has to find his own peripherals and operating system, but we hope he is able to reclaim much of that stuff from the waste of purchases past.  Discontinued discounts have since pushed his system cost up to a still-acceptable $409.

Our mid-budget build followed a more conventional enthusiast-class plan, beginning with Intel’s popular, mid-range Core i5. Builder Don Woligroski nearly broke the bank with his choice of graphics card, but recent price cuts and limited-time discounts brought his system price back under the limit.

Our high-end build took a completely different direction when its builder caved to reader requests from System Builder Marathons past, fitting a six-core processor and two GeForce GTX 480 graphics cards within his $2000 budget. High GPU-oriented costs limited our six-core options to AMD’s cheapest Phenom II X6, in turn forcing the unconventional choice of Nvidia’s previous-generation SLI chipset to make it all work.

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September 2010 System Builder Marathon Components
Row 0 - Cell 0 $400 Budget PC$1000 Budget PC$2000 Budget PC
MotherboardASRock M3A770DE Chipset: AMD 770/SB710Asus P7P55D-E LX Chipset: Intel P55 ExpressMSI NF980-G65 Nvidia nForce 980a SLI
ProcessorAMD Athlon II X3 440 3.0 GHz, Three Cores 1.5 MB L2 Cache, Socket AM3Intel Core i5-750 2.66 GHz, Four Cores 8 MB L3 Cache, LGA 1156AMD Phenom II X6 1055T 2.8 GHz, Six Cores 6 MB L3 Cache, Socket AM3
MemoryCrucial CT2KIT12864BA1339 2 x 1 GB (2 GB Total) DDR3-1333 CAS 9-9-9-24Crucial CT2KIT25664BA1339 2 x 2 GB (4 GB Total) DDR3-1333 CAS 9-9-9-24G.Skill F3-10666CL9D-8GBRL 2 x 4 GB (8 GB Total) DDR3-1333 CAS 9-9-9-24
GraphicsPowerColor AX5670 512MD5-H 512 MB GDDR5-4000 HD 5670 GPU at 775 MHzMSI N470GTX-M2D12-B 1.2 GB GDDR5-3348 GTX 470 GPU at 607 MHz2 x MSI N480GTX-M2D15-B 2 x 1.5 GB GDDR5-3696 2 x GTX 480 GPU at 700 MHz
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 1.0 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. PlusRS-500-PCAR-A3-US 500 W, ~70% EfficiencyCorsair CMPSU-650TX 650 W, 80 PLUS StandardCooler Master Silent Pro RSA00-AMBAJ3-US 1000 W, Modular, 80 PLUS Bronze
CPU CoolerAMD boxed heat sink & fanCooler Master Hyper TX3 (RR-910-HTX3-G1)Scythe Mugen 2 Rev. B (SCMG-2100)
Total Cost $409 $993 $1,885

Huge reductions in the budget-build’s price are almost certain to increase its value rating, but will that machine still perform adequately throughout our entire benchmark set?

Conversely, will AMD’s lower performance-per-clock throughput combine with the poorly-threaded nature of many desktop applications to sabotage our high-priced machine?

Before anyone assumes a big win for the mid-priced system, let’s take a closer look at the benchmark data.

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)!