System Builder Marathon, December 2010: Value, Compared

Raising The Stakes

System Builder Marathon, December 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 $500 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected


Builders with different budgets have different priorities. While a gamer working with a limited amount of spare cash might prefer the most powerful graphics card he can fit into a tight $500 budget, someone with a Benjamin Franklin party in their pants should be able to afford a system that does everything well. Taking the middle ground is more representative of most enthusiasts' minimum performance requirements, and our $1000 system tries to do everything well, while putting game frame rates first. At least, that’s how things normally work out when we build with balance in mind.

SSD drives were one of the most persistent requests for our high-end build, but those offered little performance gain in our traditional benchmark set. That’s a problem for our value comparison, since the scant performance difference could never offset the high price of these parts. Yet, our readers made their voices heard, stating that the gain in responsiveness from a machine that loads programs almost instantly was a necessity at the high-end price point. After much discussion, we struck a deal with a few of our readers, and today we’re adding hard drive performance to the value analysis.

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SBM System Comparison
Row 0 - Cell 0 Current $500 PCCurrent $1000 PCCurrent $2000 PC
MotherboardASRock M3A770DE AMD 770, SB710Asus Sabertooth 55i Intel P55 Express PCHGigabyte X58A-UD3R X58 Express, ICH10R
ProcessorAMD Athlon II X3 445 3.1 GHz Triple-CoreIntel Core i3-550 3.2 GHz Dual-CoreIntel Core i7-950 3.06 GHz Quad-Core
MemoryMushkin 996586 4 GB DDR3-1333 CAS 9GeIL GB34GB1333C7DC DDR3-1333 CAS 7Mushkin 998586 6 GB DDR3-1333 CAS 9
GraphicsSparkle SXX460768D5UNM 768 MB GeForce GTX 4602 x ECS NBGTX460 1 GB GeForce GTX 4602 x EVGA 012-P3-1470-AR 1.28 GB GeForce GTX 470
System DriveSamsung F4 HD322GJ/U 320 GB, 7200 RPM HDDWD WD7501AALS 750 GB, 7200 RPM HDD2 x A-Data S599 64 GB MLC SSD
Storage DriveUses System DriveUses System DriveSamsung F3 HD103SJ 1 TB, 7200 RPM HDD
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
Heat SinkRosewill RCX-ZAIO-92Cooler Master Hyper 212 PlusProlimatech Megahalems Rev.B
CPU FanIncluded with H.S.Included with H.S.Delta AFC1212D-PWM 3400 RPM, 120 mm
Total Price$511 $991 $2,000

Because hard drive tests would represent program launch performance, in addition to Windows load times, we required a system partition at least large enough to hold all of our programs with room to spare. Our $1000 builder considered his SSD options and chose to add a second graphics card instead, taking advantage of the GeForce GTX 460’s amazing SLI scaling in games that would make up ¼ of our total performance score. The questions that remain are whether low-cost SLI or high-priced SSDs will help the $1000 or $2000 systems beat the $500 PC in value.

Let’s find out!

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.