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

Motherboard, CPU, And RAM

Motherboard: Gigaybte P55-UD4P

The ability to support two high-performance graphics cards at adequate bandwidth, plus a top-overclocking Nehalem-based processor, was the primary concern we had for our motherboard selection. Because so much money had been spent on graphics, we also wanted a bargain price. Recently awarded for its excellent value, Gigabyte’s P55-UD4P fit the build perfectly.

Read Customer Reviews of Gigabyte's GA-P55-UD4P

At $170, the P55-UD4P is one of the least-expensive motherboards to support both high-amperage CPU overclocks and automatic pathway switching for two PCI Express (PCIe) graphics cards. While the extra PCIe pathways of an X58-based solution might have proven slightly better from a performance standpoint, the higher price of entry would have killed our budget.

CPU: Intel Core i7-860

Lacking any stock-speed performance benefits compared to its Bloomfield-based predecessors, our experience has shown that Lynnfield-based processors are still slightly better for overclocking and usually run a little cooler. Overclocking at a reduced cost is key to our final value analysis, so the only remaining question was “which one?”

Read Customer Reviews of Intel's Core i7-860

At around half the price of Intel’s 2.93 GHz Core i7-870, the i7-860 provides most of the clock speed and, hopefully, most of the overclocking capability of its high-priced sibling. For an extra $80 compared to the 2.66 GHz i5-750, the i7-860 benefits from a higher 2.80 GHz base clock, a higher five-bin maximum Intel Turbo Boost multiplier increase, and an increase to eight virtual cores via Hyper-Threading that can help keep the execution pipeline full. Comparing price to potential performance makes the Core i7-860 appear to be the best-value product to fit within our $2,500 budget.

DRAM: Two Crucial CT2KIT25664BA1339 4GB Memory Kits

The most highly awarded memory we’ve ever used, Crucial’s DDR3-1333 CAS 9 consistently impresses us with a low price and superb overclocking capabilities even after testing several kits, usually purchased from Newegg.

Read Customer Reviews of Crucial's CT2KIT25664BA1339 Kit

Most builders would expect us to use so-called “high-end” memory in a $2,500 machine, but our budget would have limited us to 4.0GB of the expensive stuff. Crucial’s low-cost kits get us close to the high rated speeds of high-priced parts while leaving enough room to expand our configuration to an impressive 8.0GB.

Thomas Soderstrom
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.