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System Builder Marathon, Dec. 2009: $1,300 Enthusiast PC


Let's start with the gaming results. These results are taken from the highest-detail 1920x1200 data across all of our game benches--we left out the low-resolution stuff because this system justifies at least a 1920x1200 monitor.

Here we really see what the four Radeon HD 4850s in our previous SBM system can do. Only a month ago, these cards were going for $100 each, making the entire graphics card subsystem worth about $400. While the Radeon HD 4850s have all but dried up now, compare this to the new system's two-card Radeon HD 5850 setup, which costs at least $620. More importantly, look to the previous system's total cost of $1,265, which undercuts our new system's final price by almost $100. While it's true that prices have gone up a bit in the past couple months, an all-AMD system can make a great case for a dedicated gaming machine. If we had charted the ultra-high 2560x1600 resolution instead, the quad-CrossFire machine would have fared even better.

Of course, the new Core i5 system is a much easier system with which to live, considering that its assembly is simpler and it has a much lower power-usage footprint. The new Radeon HD 5850s offer DirectX 11 functionality that the previous system could not offer, and the Core i5 does considerably better when overclocked—and that's not even considering the Core i5's advantage when we leave the gaming arena (more on that below).

But with the $1,250 AMD system's proven high-resolution gaming prowess, we have to wonder what four of the new Radeon HD 5750s could do in quad-CrossFire. And with a price tag as low as $480, this configuration also undercuts a pair of 5850s by a significant amount. To do this on a budget, you'd have to go with an AMD platform since Intel's Core i5 won't handle four graphics cards with its 16 lanes of integrated PCI Express. That means AMD's 790FX chipset would be the order of the day for a budget-oriented quad-CrossFire system, delivering four PCIe graphics slots with eight lanes each.

However, once we turn our eyes away from gaming, the Core i5-750 really struts its stuff. Applications tended to take advantage of the Nehalem-based Lynnfield architecture, and the new $1,300 system certainly looks better from a productivity standpoint. By all counts, the new Core i5 machine is better all-around than the gaming-oriented AMD box that we built last time.

How good does the $1,300 Core i5-based system look when compared to Thomas Soderstrom's new $2,500 Intel build? And how will Paul Henningsen's budget system deliver when compared to the $1,300 system? We will sort it all out in the SBM conclusion article to show you just how far your money will get you with these builds.

  • Crashman
    Great build Don! The only thing I'd change is to use the RAM from the $2500 system! It's too bad you didn't have enough money left over to buy a big cooler.
  • noob2222
    Very smoothe build, pretty limited with the 5850s with the pricing once past that, but this thing handles it well, esp since the cpu was lucky enough to stay fast while undervolted.

    Not all cpus are the same, this one compared to the $2500 build definatly shows it. Takes a bit of luck sometimes or bad luck.
  • Tridec
    Just a thought, but why not use an I7 920 CPU, with an asrock x58 Extreme motherboard? I see a lot of people bought their I7 920 CPU for 199 dollars and the motherboard costs 170 dollars.
    Pair that up with OCZ 1333 platinum 7-7-7-24 memory, that can easily be overclocked to 1600 7-7-7-24 and you'll have a powerful system with 36 PCI-e lanes and loads of CPU overclocking room thanks to asrock's great motherboard.
  • SpadeM
    Good article, and yes the quadfire setup was sweet back then!! I just have a question/suggestion to make, and if you find worthy of a replay I'd much appreciate it.

    Since you are willing to experiment with different setups, and since we see the problem with the Phenom in the application suite, why not try something more exotic like pairing a nvidia based card with the crossfire cards to act like a PPU / video transcoding accelerator (TMPEng supports CUDA at least to act as a filter). I don't know if this makes sense in a marathon build, but I'd like to see something like this benchmarked.
  • alchemy69
    Those delta T over ambient figures worry me. We don't all live in Fairbanks, AK.
  • shubham1401
    This is an excellent build.
    With an aftermarket cooler this build will be flawless.

    Power Draw,Performance all were nice.

    The case looks nice too.
  • burnley14
    I'm not especially interested in the gaming results per se, but this build certainly solidifies my choice to go with an Intel processor over AMD based on productivity benchmarks.
  • optional22
    Aside from the video cards, this is essentially the same build as the $2,500 build recently posted performance-wise. What is the point?
  • kick_pixels
    Good system over all… an extra hard drive for backup is essential and the wiring needs some tiding up.

  • cangelini
    More specifically, these guys are trying different things each time we do a round of SBMs--sometimes the results are great, and sometimes they're not as good. The point is that we're putting the machines together and reporting on the results so that you can decide if you want to do the same or not. And hopefully, when we come across a result that doesn't look so hot, we'll call out where our mistake was in building the box.

    Just think how boring these would be if every quarter we did a Core i7-920-based machine at $2,500, a Core i5-750 machine at $1,500, and a Phenom II-based box at $700! =)