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

Test System And Benchmarks

Now that we’ve looked at our choices and justifications in detail, let’s recap our components one more time before getting into the benches and compare them to last month's $1,250 enthusiast PC against which we'll benchmark this month's machine:

December $1,250 Enthusiast System Test Configuration
ComponentBase SettingsOverclock Setting
CPU Intel Core i7 920
2.66 GHz, QPI-2429, 8 MB Cache
3.7 GHz (20x 185 MHz), QPI-1330
1.32 V Core, QPI/VTT 1.3 V, IOH Core 1.2 V
CPU CoolerStock Unchanged
Motherboard Gigabyte EX58-DS4
Intel X58, BIOS F3 (11/12/2008)
3x 1024 MB, DDR3-539, CL 7-7-7-20 at 1.50 V
3x 1024 MB, DDR3-555, CL 8-8-8-21 at 1.50 V
Graphics Powercolor Radeon 4870 X2
2x AMD 4850 GPU, underclocked 575 MHz
2x 1,024 MB GDDR3 900 MHz
575 MHz GPU, GDDR3 (1,060 MHz)
Hard Drives Western Digital Caviar black 640GD
640 GB, 7,2000 RPM, 32 MB Cache
Sound Onboard
Network Integrated Gigabit Networking Unchanged
Power Corsair 650TX
ATX 12 V2.2, 52A on a single 12 V Rail
Optical LG 20X DVD±R DVD Burner SATA Model GH20NS15 Unchanged
Software and Drivers
Operating System Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit, SP1 Unchanged
Graphics Driver Catalyst 8.10 32-bit Edition Unchanged

November $1,250 Enthusiast System Test Configuration
ComponentBase SettingsOverclock Setting
CPU Intel Core 2 Duo E8500
3.16 GHz, FSB-1333, 6 MB Cache
4.25 GHz (9.5x 448 MHz), FSB-1792
1.3 V Core
CPU Cooler Xigmatek HDT-S1283 Xigmatek HDT-S1283
Motherboard DFI Lanparty X38
Intel X38, BIOS 6.00 (10/03/2008)
Northbridge Voltage : 1.30 V
2x 2,048 MB, DDR2-800, CL 4-4-4-12 at 1.80 V
2x 2,048 MB, DDR2-896, CL 5-5-5-14 at 1.90 V
Graphics Powercolor Radeon 4870 X2
2x AMD 4870 GPU , 750 MHz
2x 1,024 MB GDDR5 (Per Card) 900 MHz
777 MHz GPU, GDDR5 (950 MHz)
Hard Drives Western Digital Caviar black 640GD
640 GB, 7,2000 RPM, 32 MB Cache
Sound Onboard
Network Integrated Gigabit Networking Unchanged
Power Antec Neo 650W
ATX 12 V/EPS 12 V, 57A between three 12 V Rails
Optical LITE-ON 20X DVD±R SATA Model iHAS120-04 Unchanged
Software and Drivers
Operating System Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit, SP1 Unchanged
Graphics Driver Catalyst 8.11 32-bit Edition Unchanged

You now know the hardware and the overclock, so let’s have a detailed look at the benchmarks and settings before we scrutinize the results.

3D Game Benchmarks and Settings
Crysis Version: 1.2.1, Video Quality: Very High Details, Demo: CPU-Benchmark + Tom’s Hardware Tool
Supreme Commander
Forged Alliance
Version: 1.5.3599, Video Quality: Highest Settings, Demo: WallaceTX_006_006, Benchmark: Fraps 2.9.4 - Build 7037
Unreal Tournament 3 Version: 1.2, Sound and DirectX10, Texture Details: 5, Level Details: 5, Demo: vCTF-Reflection_bot, Time: 12/60
World in Conflict Version:, Video Quality: Very High details, Demo: Game-Benchmark

Audio Benchmarks and Settings
iTunes Version:, Audio CD (Terminator II SE), 53 min, Default format AAC
Lame MP3 Version: 3.98 Beta 3 (05-22-2007), Audio CD ""Terminator II SE, 53 min, wave to MP3, 160 Kb/s

Video Benchmarks and Settings
TMPEG 4.5 Version:, Import File: Terminator 2 SE DVD (5 Minutes), Resolution: 720x576 (PAL) 16:9
DivX 6.8.3 Encoding mode: Insane Quality, Enhanced Multi-threading, Enabled using SSE4, Quarter-pixel search
XviD 1.1.3 Display encoding status = off
Mainconcept Reference 1.5.1
Reference H.264 Plugin Pro 1.5.1
MPEG2 to MPEG2 (H.264), MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG2), Audio: MPEG2 (44.1 kHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kbp/s), Mode: PAL (25 FPS), Profile: Tom’s Hardware Settings for Qct-Core

Application Benchmarks and Settings
Autodesk 3D Studio Max 9 Version: 9.0, Rendering Dragon Image at 1920x1080 (HDTV)
Adobe Photoshop CS 3 Version: 10.0x20070321, Filtering from a 69 MB TIF-Photo, Benchmark: Tomshardware-Benchmark V1.0.0.4, Filters: Crosshatch, Glass, Sumi-e, Accented Edges, Angled Strokes, Sprayed Strokes
Grisoft AVG Anti-Virus 8 Version: 8.0.134, Virus base : 270.4.5/1533, Benchmark: Scan 334 MB Folder of ZIP/RAR compressed files
Winrar 3.80 Version 3.70 BETA 8, WinZIP Commandline Version 2.3, Compression=Best, Dictionary=4,096 KB, Benchmark: THG-Workload (334 MB)
Winzip 11 Version 11.2, Compression=Best, Benchmark: THG-Workload (139 MB)

Sythetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark Vantage Version: 1.02, GPU and CPU scores
PCMark Vantage Version: 1.00, System, Memory, Hard Disk Drive benchmarks, Windows Media Player
SiSoftware Sandra XII SP2 Version 2008.5.14.24, CPU Test=CPU Arithmetic/MultiMedia, Memory Test= Bandwidth Benchmark
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  • Hellcatm
    Personally I'd get a cheaper processor and motherboard and go with a Gforce 280 video card. You can get a $180 processor and a $145 motherboard and the 280 card has PhysX built in which is really nice.
  • enewmen
    I will hope to see how a high-clocked q9550/q9650 E0 will compare with a i7 920. The Motherboard and RAM will be cheaper. So, you can also get more RAM and faster RAM with the q9550 than the i7 920 with the same cash. Or the high-bandwidth/ lower total memory DDR3 tri-channel might actually do better?
    I don't think a i7 920 /w 3 gigs RAM will work as quickly as a q9550 @ 4.0Ghz with a 470mhz fsb and 4+ gigs RAM -even with quad-core supported apps.
    Anyway, I think the outcome will be hard to predict.
  • one-shot
    I think the Q9550/i7 920 comparison would be very informative. I have been considering purchasing a Q9950 in the near future. Let's see it happen.
  • chriscusano
    I agree with I'd agree with trying to run a comparison with the Q9550. Throwing in an nvidia card would also prove interesting.
  • pcgamer12
    Very good article. I just want to say that the Crucial 3GB triple-channel DDR3 1066 kit costs only $73.99; its price surprised me. Go Crucial! I'm definitely looking into a Crucial memory kit for my next upgrade or build, which might or might not be Core i7, depending how the price wars progress between nVidia and ATI (saying AMD still feels wierd to me when referring to video cards). I noticed how the budget had to "settle" for a 4850 X2 when they Core 2 Duo build had money for a 4870 X2. Hopefully, prices will go down faster, and soon.
  • Pei-chen
    Page 2 - E8500 has 6MB L2 cache, not 4MB.
  • Anonymous
    Yes, please try the next system with the Q9550! I would love to see how this processor compares again the new kid on the block. Of course this is the processor I have and also want to see what you get out of it. It would be nice if you chose another Gigabyte board as well to get a more apples to apples comparison with this month's build.
  • Huttfuzz
    Yes we want to see Q9550 against Core i7 920. Both overclocked at the same speed. Let's say 3.8 or something like that.
  • JeanLuc
    Good article, well done. At first I was a bit worried for the Core i7 was going to get humiliated against the higher clocked E8500 but you summary shows just how much progress has been made with developing software that can take advantage of multiple cores.

    The Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance benchmark was surprising out of all the games you tested I expected that game to be the one which showed off what quad cores can do for games. Perhaps you could add in GTA IV into your future benchmarks as that games seems to love quad cores?

    The temps were a little worrying but the Intel Stock cooler isn’t designed with overclocking in mind and you can pretty much guarantee a decent 3rd party cooler will slash those temps by a third.

    One last thing it might be an idea to compare your very first mid range build to your current mid range build, it would give the readers an idea as to how much more bang for buck we get now days.
  • kelfen
    well 4850x2 there is only two in newegg 2gb and 1gb which not sure if ATI rly supported as far as drivers compared to its bigger brother
  • Anonymous
    I read this and I suddenly start to cry ... you may have read before that figures in Euros are equal to figures in Dollars ... but things got worse and worse.

    The current prices in an average shop in Spain:

    Intel Core i7 920 : 293 EUR = 413 USD
    GIGABYTE GA-EX58-DS4 : 219 EUR = 308 USD
    Sapphire Radeon 4850 X2 2 GB : 349 EUR = 492 USD
    6 GB Patriot DDR3-1333 CL7 Kit : 259 EUR = 365 USD
  • kelfen
    spain lol
  • Pei-chen
    And yes, please include a GTA 4 benchmark. I got more FPS from overclock my C2D 700MHz than overclock my 9800GT 100Mhz.
  • bvbellomo
    The Q9550 would be interesting because it would show how much gain is from the change from Dual to Quad core and how much is gain from the new i7 architecture. This comparison is very relevant to everyone buying/building a new quad core system right now, especially around this price range.

    What I would really like to see is the new i7s on the CPU charts.
  • cah027
    I think it would have been cool if you would have used two 512mb 4870's in crossfire instead of the 4850 X2. I think there would have been a different trade off in memory amount but I think the added speed of the i7 might have offset it nicely.
  • Anonymous
    I guess core i7 is strictly suited for high end systems ($2000+), where the added costs of memory, mobo and cpu are justified. for low to mid range systems it is too much to bare.
  • trabello
    In the next SBM we should watch the brand new GTX 295, keep it in mind, folks ;)
  • jerreece
    I'm kind of surprised that you folks chose a new i7 for a "Mid Level" system.

    You've upgraded the processor, but downgraded the video cards from last month.

    "Not really. The i7/4850 X2 still performs at about 80% of the level that the E8500/4870 X2 is managing to achieve."

    Of course this new system performs less than the November one.
  • Roland00
    I understand you keep Vista 32 to make it easier to compare to the previous systems, but in reality you should really upgrade to vista 64.

    You have a total of 3.5 gigs of memory to play with in vista 32. Since you only put in a graphic card with 2gigs of video memory that leaves 1.5 gigs of memory for normal applications and the OS. Anybody that reads these system builder marathons are going to put vista 64 on their computer if they are going to use vista.
  • terr281
    Your chart regarding the base and overclock settings of the Dec. pc on page 7 is inaccurate. (Ram and Graphics card.)