System Builder Marathon: $1,250 Mid-Range PC

System Builder Marathon, February 2009: 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).

Introduction

Our second-to-the-last System Builder Marathon (SBM) enthusiast PC had the tried-and-true Core 2 Duo E8500 and our last system was equipped with the brand-new Core i7 920, so we have a really good idea of the strengths and weaknesses when comparing these two CPU architectures in similarly-priced systems. The short version of the conclusion is that the inexpensive and highly overclockable Core 2 Duo E8500 is still a great value choice when overclocked, as it leaves a lot of room in the budget for an expensive video card. While the Core i7 920 is the better choice for most CPU-oriented tasks, the relatively expensive processor and X58-based platform doesn't leave a lot of room for a high-end video card. 

This month, we explore where the Core 2 Quad fits into the scheme of things. While Core 2 Quad processors can be just as expensive as the Core i7 920, there is an abundance of inexpensive motherboards with which to pair the processor. This leaves a lot of wiggle room for a better graphics card, among other things.

Before we go over the components, please note that, since the SBMs take a few weeks to execute, Nvidia's new GeForce GTX 295 was not yet available for purchase when we ordered the components (Ed.: tomorrow, you'll see that we cheated a little after ordering the parts right before the GTX 295 launched). Swapping out the Radeon HD 4870 X2 for a tasty new GeForce GTX 295 for the same price would have been a no-brainer, but the Radeon HD 4870 X2 will allow us to get a better apples-to-apples comparison with the E8500/4870 X2 system we built in November.

Let's look at the components. First, keep in mind that only a few weeks ago all of these components spec'd out at $1,244, which was close to our $1,250 limit. Today, the components add up to about $100 less, at $1,150. Primarily, we can thank the price drops of the Q9550 ($310 down to $274) and the Sapphire Radeon 4870 X2 ($490 down to $449) for the huge savings. It goes to show you how quickly prices can drop in the computer industry, especially when new products are launched.

$1,250 Mid-Range System Components
Component
Model Price (USD)
CPU Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 $274
CPU Cooler Xigmatek HDT-S1283 (& ACK-I7751 Retention Bracket) $46
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-EP45-UD3LR $103
RAM G.Skill HK 2 x 2GB $50
Graphics Sapphire Radeon 4870 X2 $449
Hard Drives Western Digital Caviar Black 640 GB 32 MB cache $80
Sound Integrated 0
Network Integrated Gigabit Networking 0
Case Rosewill Wind Ryder RZLS142A-P YE $30
Power Corsair 650TX $100
Optical Lite-On 20X DVD±R SATA Model iHAS120-04 $22

Total Price $1,154