System Builder Marathon, Sept. 2011: System Value Compared

Who Built The Best PC This Quarter?

System Builder Marathon, September 2011: 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 fill out this Google form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: The $2000 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $500 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected


Every three months, our top builders face off in a competition that usually looks a lot like the one that preceded it. This quarter was different, though.

While the builders collaborated on many of the hardware decisions that went into past System Builder Marathons, all three went autonomous this time around. The end result was machines that looked a lot different from their predecessors in more ways than we'd expect.

Sure, they look similar. But as many mothers tell us, "it's what's on the inside that counts.” Both the $2000 and $1000 PCs shifted toward Nvidia graphics from the long-favored AMD parts, while the $500 machine re-adopts an AMD processor after exploring what it'd be like to center on an unoverclockable Intel part. 

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Q3 2011 System Builder Marathon Components
Row 0 - Cell 0 $2000 Performance PC$1000 Enthusiast PC$500 Gaming PC
MotherboardGigabyte GA-Z68XP-UD3: LGA 1155 Intel Z68 ExpressEVGA P67 Micro SLI LGA 1155, Intel P67 chipsetASRock M3A770DE Socket AM3, AMD 770
Graphics2 x EVGA 015-P3-1580-AR: GeForce GTX 580 SLI2 x EVGA 01G-P3-1370-TR: GeForce GTX 460 1 GB SLISapphire 100314-3L: Radeon HD 6870 1 GB
ProcessorIntel Core i7-2600K: 3.4-3.8 GHz, 8 MB L3 CacheIntel Core i5-2500K: 3.3-3.7 GHz, 6 MB L3 CacheAMD Phenom II X4 955 BE: 3.2 GHz, 6 MB L3 Cache
MemoryG.Skill F3-14900CL9D-8GBXL: DDR3-1866 C9, 4 GB x2 (8 GB)Mushkin Redline 997013: DDR3-1600 C7, 2 GB x2 (4 GB)Crucial CT2KIT25664BA1339: DDR3-1333 C9, 2 x 2 GB (4 GB)
System DriveAdata S511 120 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSDOCZ Vertex 30 GB, SATA 3Gb/s SSDSeagate Barracuda ST500DM002 500 GB HDD
Storage DriveWestern Digital Caviar Green WD20EARS 2 TB, 7200 RPM HDDWestern Digital Caviar Black WD7502AAEX 750 GB, 7200 RPM HDDSingle Drive (above)
OpticalLite-On iHAS224-06: 24x DVD±R 8x DVD+RW 6x DVD-RWSony AD-7260S-0B: 24x DVD±R 8x DVD+RW 6x DVD-RWSamsung SH-222AB: 22x DVD±R 8x DVD+RW 6x DVD-RW
CaseAntec Three Hundred IllusionRaidmax Atlas-295WBNZXT Gamma GAMA-001BK
PowerSeasonic SS-850HT: 850 W, ATX12V v2.31, 80 PLUS SilverCorsair CX600 V2: 600 W ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUSAntec EarthWatts EA430D: 430 W, ATX12V 2.3, 80 PLUS Bronze
CPU CoolerCooler Master Hyper 212 Plus RR-B10-212P-G1Cooler Master Hyper TX3AMD boxed heatsink/fan
Total Cost$2016 $1032 $519

Another big change was the $1000 machine’s addition of an SSD, which is far smaller than the benchmark set it’s meant to represent. And yet, Don still used it to run all of the benchmarks. We’ll figure out a way to account for that small issue in our final value results.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • hmp_goose
    Value, shamlue: Will it run Crysis?

    Oh: Wait …
  • revjacob
    Actually what we need now are more affordable 2560x1600 monitors for these enthusiast PCs.
  • compton
    I think the next quarter SBM should utilize an SSD at all segments. Its just about time when no one should seriously think of not including a SSD a build. There are great values out there and even the budget system deserves some love. If a small increase in price segments is necessary, so be it. Going from a HDD to a SSD is like going from IGP to discrete class graphics.

    Also, as a result, more emphasis should be placed on the storage sub system. I know these are gaming configurations, but I'd give up my GPU in a nanosecond if it meant I could keep my SSDs. Fortunately, I don't have to choose, but I would if I had too, and I'm not alone out there. Budget systems don't feel so budget-y with even a modest SSD.
  • chumly
    Maybe the value of the $1000 PC would go up if you weren't wasting money on unnecessary or poorly chosen parts. You could add another 4 GB of ram, and swap out the twin stuttering 460's for 6870's (and still have enough money to add a better, modular PSU).

  • jprahman
    comptonI think the next quarter SBM should utilize an SSD at all segments. Its just about time when no one should seriously think of not including a SSD a build.
    Yeah, good luck fitting an SSD into a $500 gaming build.
  • Kamab
    jprahmanYeah, good luck fitting an SSD into a $500 gaming build.
    there have been 64GB Vertex Crucial drives on sale for < 79$. Which isn't bad.
  • Kamab
    And I meant OCZ Vertex / Crucial M4
  • compton
    jprahmanYeah, good luck fitting an SSD into a $500 gaming build.
    That's why I think the $500 system should be closer to $600, maybe like $550. 30GB Agility drives were going for $40 yesterday at the Egg, so its not like you have to spend $300 to get a tangible benefit. That one addition would have contributed a significant performance benefit and the budget category used to be $650 anyway.
  • nd22
    I would have stick to 1 gpu in the 1000 S build. Instead of 2 gf 460/radeon 6850 I would have used 1 radeon 6970/ geforce gtx570 - from persoanl experience 1 gpu = less problems!
  • mayankleoboy1
    i think quicksync should be included in the final score as video conversion is something that everyone of us do. and if we buy a SB cpu, then we would surely use quicksync.
    maybe also include windows boot time.