System Builder Marathon, December 2010: Value, Compared

Test Settings

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Test Hardware Configurations
Row 0 - Cell 0 Current $500 PCCurrent $1000 PCCurrent $2000 PC
Motherboard (Overclock)ASRock M3A770DE AMD 770, SB710O/C at 250 MHz RCLKAsus Sabertooth 55i Intel P55 Express PCHO/C at 167 MHz BCLKGigabyte X58A-UD3R Intel X58, ICH10RO/C at 189 MHz BCLK
Processor (Overclock)AMD Athlon II X3 445 3.1 GHz Triple-CoreO/C to 3.88 GHz, 1.40 VIntel Core i3-550 3.2 GHz Dual-CoreO/C to 4.02 GHz, 1.35 VIntel Core i7-950 3.06 GHz, Quad-CoreO/C to 4.35 GHz, 1.40 V
Memory (Overclock)6 GB Mushkin DDR3-1333 CAS 9-9-9-24, 1.50 VUnchanged4 GB Geil DDR3-1333 CAS 7-7-7-24, U/C @1.50 V to DDR3-1004 7-7-7-246 GB Mushkin DDR3-1333 CAS 9-9-9-24, U/C @1.60 V to DDR3-1133 CL 7-6-7-18
Graphics (Overclock)Sparkle GTX 460 768 MB 675 MHz, GDDR5-3600823 MHz, GDDR5-42002 x ECS GTX 460 1 GB 765 MHz, GDDR5-3700825 MHz, GDDR5-38002 x EVGA GTX 470 607 MHz, GDDR5-3348702 MHz, GDDR5-3404
Hard DriveSamsung F4 HD322GJ/U 320 GB, 7200 RPM HDDWD WD7501AALS 750 GB, 7200 RPM HDD2 x A-Data S599 MLC SSD 64 GB x2 (128 GB Striped)
OpticalLite-On iHAS 124-04 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-RLG GH22LS50 DVD-RW 22x DVD±R, 48x CD-RLite-On iHBS112 BD-RE 12x BD-R, 16x DVD±R
CaseAntec NSK 4482BNZXT GammaSilverStone Fortress FT02B
PowerAntec EA-380D 380 W, 80 PLUS BronzeCorsair CMPSU-650TX 650 W, 80 PLUSSilverStone ST85F-P 850 W Modular, 80 PLUS Silver
CPU CoolerRosewill RCX-ZAIO-92Cooler Master Hyper 212 PlusProlimatech Megahalems Delta AFC1212D-PWM
OSMicrosoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64
GraphicsNvidia GeForce 260.99
ChipsetAMD Platform Driver 8.631Intel INF
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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 2Demo Version, Built-In Benchmark 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 EncodingRow 5 - Cell 1
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 1.6.1MPEG2 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 15.7 MB 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 334 MB Folder of ZIP/RAR compressed files
WinRAR 3.90Version x64 3.90, Dictionary = 4,096 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 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.
  • Tamz_msc
    This month's 500$ build is of great value for someone on a budget.
  • shovenose
    im going to make my mom enter so i can win one :)
  • dEAne
    I will count on that, this is something I can compare with my other build. thanks tom.
  • wribbs
    I really enjoy these SBM articles but you need to start putting out these systems/articles faster because by the time you post these configs no one would build them. These "December" systems all use November parts. When you know an important part (CPU/GPU) is going to be replaced by a newer model before the article will post, just wait a few days for it.
    That said, SSD is a great addition as well as some of the other difficult to measure in value parts.
  • Your 'flexible' statistics are a joke! We'd really like the $2000 system to win to so we'll shovel in the hard drive figures with massive over-emphasis... It's bollocks.
  • Twoboxer
    I don't understand introducing SSDs into these builds. Buying an SSD is a binary decision: if you want faster load times, you add an SSD . . . if not, you don't.

    These builds are targeted at a fixed budget, and (at the moment, with these budgets) money should never be spent on an SSD at the expense of more cpu or graphics power.

    Dropping SSDs would also stop convoluting the "value" comparison.
  • ethaniel
    82% performance at half the cost? 500 USD build for me, thanks. I can add a 100 bucks SSD anytime (and they'll just keep dropping). Newegg has some nice, cheap SSDs out there...
  • tapher
    This has been a very informative triple build review, and this article sums up the lessons nicely! The point about the $1000 PC and games being fine with dual cores was gratifying to see echoed in the summation.

    The fact that problems were encountered during the builds, such as the issue with memory, and the issue with the bios; these are important practical lessons that make the articles well worth the time to read.

    Overall, I can't imagine a better choice of builds, nor a better outcome, given Sandy Bridge on the horizon.
  • jestersage
    How about timing the marathon differently. It seemas doing it at the end of the quarter isn't such a good idea because of new tech launch schedules this half of the year. Maybe release the article in the middle of every quarter?

    In any case, the $500 build rocks my boat. I just feel it isn't right to saddle the $1000 build with a dual core, hyper-threaded or not. An AMD triple/quad core with bad-@ss cooling (at the same price) might have been better.
  • Crashman
    canting_dissentorYour 'flexible' statistics are a joke! We'd really like the $2000 system to win to so we'll shovel in the hard drive figures with massive over-emphasis... It's bollocks.d00d, that's what a bunch of readers wanted. We all know that SSDs waste money for most users, but the site was overwhelmed by readers who claimed they couldn't wait for four seconds on a process that should open in three.