System Builder Marathon, December 2010: Value, Compared

Benchmark Results: Audio And Video Encoding

Poorly-threaded applications like Apple's iTunes generally respond to CPU frequency more than anything else.

Credit goes to the enormous Prolimatech Megahalems CPU cooler for allowing the overclocked $2000 machine beat its less expensive rivals.

HandBrake stands in stark contrast to iTunes, pushing every available core to 100% of available resources. The $2000 PC picks up it biggest win here, while the $500 triple-core configuration appears to beat the $1000 machine’s four logical (two physical) cores, clock-for-clock.

TMPGEnc falls between iTunes and HandBrake, getting little benefit from added cores and greater benefit from increased CPU frequency.

Professional applications generally use CPU resources most effectively, and MainConcepts benchmark results are a perfect reflection to those of HandBrake. The overclocked $1000 PC barely edges past the overclocked $500 system, while the $2000 machine’s four cores allow much larger performance gains.

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78 comments
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  • 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.
  • nevertell
    I love how the PC's scale here .
  • Crashman
    TwoboxerI 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.
    That's exactly what I've been saying for months, but you're going to have to start a war with readers who disagree with you to fix this: It's no longer my fight.
  • geok1ng
    The $500 machine was the best on the history of the SBMs; triple core, 4GB memory, great mid-range GPU.

    The $500 value skyrockets when we take the most demanding gaming resolution a budget machine will face on the next two years of life: 1080p. The $500 will be gaming at 1080p without AA for the next years without a problem.
  • mrmotion
    Still like the upgrade path of the 1000$ build. Its perfect for someone who wants to throw in a bigger CPU later and double down on performance. I think this months builds highlight the best aspects of all three price ranges. The 500$ has kick butt power for the price. The 1000$ lets you expand while never being left behind. The 2000$ does what it should and owns the competition. Great SBM guys!
  • canting_dissentor, Twoboxer, mayankleoboy1, Crashman:

    I really don't understand your points of view on the SSD issue. It's WAY overdue on these builds. I'd go so far as to say that you'd be a fool to build a $2000 system without putting an SSD in it. When value is important, it's critical to spend your money on things that actually make a difference to your everyday experience with the system. If a system is already capable of 90FPS in Crysis at 1920x1080 on HQ settings, then what's the point in spending another $200 to push that up to 100FPS? You won't notice the extra 10 frames, just like you won't notice the 50 frame difference between the $500 build and the $2000 build. What you will notice with an SSD is that levels will load in 1/8th the time, and that for every other practical usage scenario (internet, productivity, file copying, booting, program installation etc...) you'll notice a huge difference by spending a few bucks on an SSD.

    It's all about diminishing returns, and that's why it makes sense to put an SSD in the $2000 build, and probably even the $1000 build but not the $500 build.

    You guys are too hung up on maximizing frame rates, even though you don't get anything for it but bragging rights.
  • lunyone
    * I agree the $500 build is one of the better ones that have been introduced.
    * I also agree that these should be released in the middle of the quarter, because of the introduction of newer parts.
  • ScrewySqrl
    the $500 PC with a $100 A.Data 64 GB SSD is still a fantastic $600 PC.

    as it is, It is probly the best gaming PC for the dollar in this quarter's marathon. Games don't play any fastre on an SD. and you lose a few second in game loads over the SSD. The rest of it is great. It can play any game you throw at it for at least a year or two into the future, which is my criteria for games.
  • caamsa
    This is just a guide.....just build whatever type of machine you want to. I would say that within an individuals budget it is best to spend the most on the core parts of your system like the cpu, gpu, memory, mb psu....etc in that order if you are looking at a gaming machine. I worry less about the case since that sits under my desk. As long as it has decent air flow that is all you really need to worry about.
  • accolite
    162236 said:
    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.


    The $2000 pc is about performance, and SSD load times are performance enhancement,
    Is it not faster? it's only load times, yeah but it's faster!
  • pauldh
    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.

    Just to be clear, this weighting wasn't an afterthought. Tweaking the value equation was a team discussion that took place prior to ordering components, so no data was in place to pre-select a winner. Something needed to be done to demonstrate the benefits of (the often requested) SSDs.

    The problem (and your outrage) likely stems from the limitation we faced of using theoretical performance from a synthetic rather than an implementation measuring real-world benefits. Just remember, the SBMs are a work in progress, directed by reader feedback. We appreciate and encourage constructive discussions that can better the series.
    =)
  • wasupmike
    "We wanted our HDD performance tests to represent programs, not just Windows startup, because most enthusiasts don’t restart their systems often enough to make an OS-only SSD worthwhile. That means having a system partition that’s at least 100 GB plus breathing room, with realistic consideration going to drives rated at 120 GB or more." -> from the 'Value Conclusion' summary page

    Great article as usual... However I'd like to disagree with the editor on the fact that you need at least a 120GB system drive. At the time I wanted to delve into the SSD world, I couldn't afford more than the smallest drives, and so I purchased the OCZ Vertex 30GB SSD.

    Now I had to figure out how to load my Windows 7 (64bit) and as many apps as I could on it... to take advantage of this expensive 30GB drive I just bought...!

    Alas - I was able to load the OS, ALL my everyday apps (including large ones such as MS Office 2007, Adobe PS CS5 + Adobe Premiere Elements 8) and still have breathing room left to spare (approximately 6GB free space left - which is a 1/5 of the drive - which is just enough to leave free). Only my games were installed on the HDD

    Here's how to do it:
    - Turn off 'System Restore' right after the initial first-time-boot of your OS. Then finish your Windows installation (latest drivers, Windows updates, etc...) -> Then turn it back on when you're done and limit how much drive space it takes to about 2% only (If you use 'System Restore' to restore your computer - you won't want to go more than a couple restore points back anyways)

    - Move your 'virtual memory' to the mechanical HDD -> By going to: System Properties -> Advanced -> Performance -> Settings -> Advanced -> Change -> and moving the 'page-file' to your mechanical HDD (**tip: in your 'power settings' options -> configure the HDD to 'Never Turn Off', as so to not wait for it to spindle up if it's "sleeping" when your OS decides to go to the 'virtual memory')

    - Move your data folders to the mechanical HDD

    - 4th thing to do is of course keep your system clean by periodically cleaning out temps and junk every once in a while :)

    So that's all on a measly 30GB drive. Now SSD prices are not as crazy high as they were, even just a year ago... So a 50-60GB drive would still save you LOADS of money compared to a 100-120GB SSD, while being, I'm sure more than adequate for your OS... all of your daily apps... and depending on how many games you play... most of them, if not all of them will fit in there too..! (I recently upgraded to a 60GB SSD on my main system... have all my games now on it... loads of room to spare)

    To sum up... you don't need a minimum 100GB SSD for your system drive... If budget is an issue - you'll be more than fine with a 50-60GB SSD
  • helpme3948
    fishstikcanting_dissentor, Twoboxer, mayankleoboy1, Crashman:I really don't understand your points of view on the SSD issue. It's WAY overdue on these builds. I'd go so far as to say that you'd be a fool to build a $2000 system without putting an SSD in it. When value is important, it's critical to spend your money on things that actually make a difference to your everyday experience with the system. If a system is already capable of 90FPS in Crysis at 1920x1080 on HQ settings, then what's the point in spending another $200 to push that up to 100FPS? You won't notice the extra 10 frames, just like you won't notice the 50 frame difference between the $500 build and the $2000 build. What you will notice with an SSD is that levels will load in 1/8th the time, and that for every other practical usage scenario (internet, productivity, file copying, booting, program installation etc...) you'll notice a huge difference by spending a few bucks on an SSD.It's all about diminishing returns, and that's why it makes sense to put an SSD in the $2000 build, and probably even the $1000 build but not the $500 build.You guys are too hung up on maximizing frame rates, even though you don't get anything for it but bragging rights.

    There's a flaw in what you're saying. If the hardest game to run was Counter Strike and everyone could already max it out at over 90FPS constantly, then buying a better GPU would be stupid. As it is now, only the overclocked $2000 build can get over 60FPS AVERAGE at 1080p in Crysis at Very High, that's not even taking minimums into account. There's also no AA turned on in those tests. Any of those builds would still benefit from more GPU power and it would show up as more AA and more FPS on the screen, not just discarded frames. There's also some people who like 2560x1600 monitors. What if someone wanted to use that $2000 build to play Metro 2033 at 1080p with all the settings maxed? There's no way having more GPU power would be "just for bragging rights." He'd actually get FPS closer to what his screen could output. Whether or not X part is worth the extra cost is up to the individual, but you can't say there would be no benefit from having a better GPU. Also, yes, people can tell the difference between ~30FPS and ~60FPS ($500 vs $2000). Now, I'm not saying whether an SSD or a better GPU would be a smarter choice. I'm just saying that a better GPU wouldn't be a complete waste. This point really comes down to what the priorities of the builder are and that gets pretty subjective, IMO.
  • jtbm
    The SSD points are way off.
    The SSD has almost no impact on performance in most computer tasks, except system or program load.

    SSD performance is measured during application content creation already, so no extra points should be given.
  • Onus
    As often as I jump around between programs, I consider it unlikely I'll ever build a machine for myself that doesn't have a SSD in it. Just think about the value comparison, artificial or not, if you were to put a 64GB SSD into the $500 machine.
    Looking back on them, even the "unconscionable" decision of an i3 in a $1000 machine, ALL of them serve as excellent starting points, to be tweaked in whatever direction necessary. I'd love to win any of them.