System Builder Marathon, Dec. 2009: $2,500 Performance PC


This month’s $2,500 machine is our most powerful to date, but changes that came to market immediately after our purchase still left room for regret. Our biggest regret might be our choice of graphics cards, but how could we complain about parts that offered so much performance?

The problem, of course, is price--two Radeon HD 5870s are an awesome performance combination, but similar performance can be had for much less money in the dual-GPU Radeon HD 5970. The Radeon HD 5970 does require overclocking to exactly match a pair of Radeon HD 5870s, but both the single- and dual-GPU cards have similar overclocking limits imposed through card BIOS. Our only excuse was availability, but anyone who has tried to purchase ATI’s most recent graphics technology will likely tell you that this is a darned good excuse.

The next excessive expense was for storage, with each of our top-performing 2.0TB drives priced at $300. The same $600 could have purchased two 80GB Intel X25-M drives for better performance, but that would have left the system with less space than is typically required by a power user. A single 80GB SSD and single 2.0TB drive would have provided the worst of both worlds, with too little space to store a typical high-end set of program files on the 80GB drive and no redundant storage capability. While smaller hard drives don’t offer the same level of performance as our 2.0TB units do, a better “bang-for-the-buck” option probably would have been three 1.0TB drives in RAID 5.

Combining the cost savings of those two changes would have let us step-up to an X58 platform, a large enough liquid-cooling system to push the processor well beyond 4.0 GHz, and a more expensive case that could hold that liquid-cooling system internally. Such a system would have added support for future upgrades, such as a second dual-GPU graphics card. But we were stuck with a CPU that created far more than the expected level of heat, a CPU cooler that provided far less than the expected level of cooling, and a graphics system that maxed out our motherboard.

Yet choosing mainstream drives to step up platform features would have given this system's critics an equal amount of ammo to attack on a different front. That is to say, $2,500 might be just enough money to consider this as an expensive system, but it represents less than we would need to make a completely high-end build.

Future options include budget changes and/or a reprioritization of graphics, processing, and storage needs, and this is where we turn some of our decision-making responsibilities over to loyal readers. Should the next marathon include a dream system at twice the price? Should we instead adjust every system budget by a smaller amount to align with recent price increases? Should we stick to gaming or general-purpose power machines, rather than trying to create the best of both worlds? Your responses play a critical role in the direction of future builds.

Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • noob2222
    If you went with the 5970, this build would have been fine, but with using 2 5870s, I would have opted a little different, x58 isn't that much more.

    Cpus are almost identical in price, wich leaves only the MB.

    UD4P - 170
    UD3R - 188

    I think in my book it would have been worth the $18.

    The other thing thats a bit overpriced is the HDD as mentioned. At $300 for 2TB, thats $150/TB. 1.5TB drives cost that much, put in 3 drives and save $150 and have .5TB more space.

    Aside from that, good build.
  • ColMirage
    Wait, why is the contest limited to the USA now?

    I am disappoint.

    Aside from that, the build is nice, and I can't wait to see the other ones.
  • scook9
    This article has me second guessing me selling my desktop!
  • Onyx2291
    Very powerful, but if I were to have it. I think I'd steer clear of overclocking myself haha.
  • Gigahertz20
    Horrible build, $2,500 and no SSD drive? That is inexcusable, a SSD drive is one of the best parts you can add to a high end computer, the noticeable performance improvement going from a regular hard drive is like night and day.

    The $860 dollars spent on video cards and $600 for hard drives is a waste. This system should have went with one 2TB WD Caviar Black hard drive for storage and then a 160GB SSD hard drive as the main drive. For a video card, one Radeon 5870 is more then enough, the money saved by not buying a second 5870 should have gone to buying a good full tower case and better CPU cooler.
  • enzo matrix
    Good all round build.
  • rambo117
    Great read, as always. Gosh, if you guys are calling last SBM performance PC "outdated", id hate to know what my rig is... =/
  • liquidsnake718
    enzo matrixGood all round build.

    Yes I was thinking just that.... an SSD for the master, and a 1tb or a 2tb for backup slave drive.... then a 5970. That would have been ideal as this is considered high end.....
  • tacoslave
    ColMirageWait, why is the contest limited to the USA now?Tom's.I am disappoint.Aside from that, the build is nice, and I can't wait to see the other ones.
    Yes we know you're a disappointment. Geez you're worse than kevin parrish.
  • wft, you put crossfire on a P55 chipset? You do know that there are only 16 PCIX lanes to the CPU right?

    $300 for a 2TB drive? Are you insane? How can you possibly justify not getting 2 x 1TB Caviar Blacks for $200 total and then getting an SSD?

    2 X 5870 for $860 over 5970 for $650? How much of a performance difference can you possibly expect with Crucial CAS 9-9-9-28 over CORSAIR XMS3 9-9-9-24 which costs $90 for 4GB?

    No water cooling on a system that costs $2500?

    This is the worst build I've ever seen at this price point.