System Builder Marathon: Performance & Value

System Builder Marathon, December 2008: 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).


Even when economic times are good, there are buyers who prefer to save money whenever possible, such as those who drive an old wreck even when they can afford a new car or who eat Ramen Noodles when they have the money for sirloin steak and fresh vegetables. One could argue that anyone willing to accept reduced performance as a penalty for reduced cost shouldn’t even bother with a new PC. Yet there seems to be a threshold of how much a frugal performance enthusiast is willing to sacrifice in order to save a few dollars. For them, our $625 Gaming PC might be the ticket for cheap thrills.

At the other side of the equation, some buyers are willing to spend themselves silly, snatching up the latest and greatest of everything, especially when some manner of performance is in the equation. For them, a $5,000 PC is no big deal--and anything less than that isn't worth the silicon used to manufacture it.

In the middle are buyers who, after carefully considering their own requirements, are willing to spend only as much as needed to achieve a certain performance plateau. The $1,250 budget of our mid-priced system should appeal to the majority of experienced users, while our $2,500 high-end machine should be within reach of middle-income buyers who want to take gaming and storage to a higher level.

We already know that nearly any properly-selected $625 system is going to be a good value, but its performance level won’t suite everyone. Let’s take a closer look at the scope of those differences.

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  • one-shot
    My e6750 @ 3.7Ghz and ATI 4850 look kind of slow compared to these i7 based systems. :(
  • Anonymous
    very nice article. i love this series.
  • skora
    Taken from Dec $625 SBM conclusion:

    Those who don’t want to go back and compare old charts will need to wait for the Performance Analysis to see how the two systems compare in straight-out gaming performance.

    Last line of the Dec $625 SBM:

    All that’s left now is to see how this system compares directly to last month's build and also to the other two more-expensive systems.

    So where is the head to head Dec vs Nov $625 analysis?
  • Crashman
    Anonymous said:
    Taken from Dec $625 SBM conclusion:

    Those who don’t want to go back and compare old charts will need to wait for the Performance Analysis to see how the two systems compare in straight-out gaming performance.

    Last line of the Dec $625 SBM:

    All that’s left now is to see how this system compares directly to last month's build and also to the other two more-expensive systems.

    So where is the head to head Dec vs Nov $625 analysis?

    Great question. The answer is unfortunate: There was a miscommunication between the $625 system editor and all the other editors.
  • SirSuperSouthern
    The GTX 260 Core 216 triple threat allowed our $2,500 monster to chew through frames even at our highest setting.

    No it didn’t. Both Crysis and Supreme Commander were unplayable at 25x16 (TRUE highest setting), whereas they both had acceptable FPS in October’s build that paired two 4870X2s. The proof is sitting in this month’s $2,500 article, where the same group of games was compared to October’s “high-end” build @ 25x16. The final conclusion is simply not accurate as a result.

    Real conclusion:

    GPUs are currently experiencing an awkward, gangly teenage phase. They still desperately need to bulk up on GDDR5 RAM before they can be taken seriously, as evidenced by the one set of benchmarks brave enough to tell the embarrassing truth.

    Gaming @ 25x16 with 4xAA puts enormous strain on the GPUs RAM, which is why the 4870X2s were playable at that resolution while the 260s were not. The 260s GPU is obviously not the problem, it’s a good chip; but it only has 896MB of GDDR3 RAM which is completely inadequate for moving such a large payload. Its like trying to fit a bowling ball inside a garden hose.

    That said, spending $1,000 on two 4870X2s is not a very attractive option either. The next round of cards will have a minimum of 2GB GDDR5 RAM, possibly even 4, we’ll have to wait and see. You’ll be able to get better performance from one while at the same time saving a good deal of power.

    The bottom line is that if your goal is to run the most demanding games @ 25x16 with AA cranked, you best move is, sadly, to wait. I don’t like using that four-letter-word, but I thinks its appropriate in this case. Not only is the current line-up of GPUs RAM deficient, but Intel is coming out with a proper socket for its new LGA 1366 CPUs mid-’09. By that time prices will have dropped on not only the CPUs, RAM and motherboards, but the ABS Canyon 695 PC case might drop a few hundred dollars as well…
  • V3NOM
    The dreaded power consumption test will surely disappoint fans of Intel's new Core i7, as these new processors are extremely power-hungry when overclocked.[/quote

    lolwhat? who cares about power consumption?
  • coopchennick

    I've read through all of your posts on the other articles and while I do agree with you that the best option now is probably just to wait, I don't really see an immediate solution from you. In the mean time, the articles must be made. I enjoy reading through these articles each month and I think THW did pretty much the best they could do -of course except for the RAM- at this particular time with the given budget marks (which have been chosen due to popular demand).

    Another thing is that the 4870's GDDR5 isn't benefiting the card any more than a 280's GDDR3 because of the narrower bus. Your bowling ball analogy works better for the 4870 - what must be limiting the 260 at 2560x1600 more so (as you pointed out) is the amount of memory.

    Overall, I enjoyed this set of articles - toying with the i7 and whatnot. Though we could have been a little more "mature" (supersouthern v crashman), I like to see these discussions flare up.

    Next month, screw the benchmarks and go with x64.
    I kind of like these price points how they are. Maybe I'm nuts but I don't find it as exciting to spend as much money as you can on each and every component rather than sticking to a (somewhat high for the "enthusiast" build) budget and seeing what type of performance I can get out of that. With the insano-crazy expensive builds, it always seems to me that they are just a little bit unimpressive considering the money spent, and totally impractical for gaining any knowledge for the majority of discerning computer builders who visit this site.

    Thanks for the articles
  • randomizer
    1920x1200 Crysis performance on the $2500 system is a thing of beauty.
  • Anonymous
    Shit! $625 is still expensive for me.
  • Anonymous
    Crysis is the shittest game ever made
  • butcher
    i like reading theses articles

    one thing that people must also remember bout the higher end PCs is that you get more of everything

    things that the benchmarks dont test

    better case (i love a nice big case thats easy to work with),a lot more storage with redundancy, ect
  • zodiacfml
    the reason why we don't get much from from these expensive boxes is diminishing returns on buying multiple video cards.
    we don't buy dual/triple cards in a set/package, they were bought separately, so buying those will be like giving profits to the companies twice/thrice.
    after that, performance scaling on such is not linear.

    i agree with sirsupersouthern,(i am not a fan of dual of triple setups) one has to wait for a better highend machine. in my opinion, for those buying a highend machine today get the core i7 system and buy a highend single card. in one 1 or 2 years, replace it with a better card or multiple gpu setup that can run crysis with ease.

    for now, multiple gpu setups only benefits Crysis and Supreme Commander only (more than 50-60FPS is useless on other games), and they're not the only games in the pc world.
  • Pei-chen
    I have to agree with SirSuperSouthern as well. GTA IV at 1920*1200 with highest setting requires a card with 1.5GB memory buffer. No gaming card in existence has that much memory so it is necessary to wait for GTX 200 refresh or the next gen card from ATI & Nvidia.
  • DFGum
    The I7 being power hungry when OC'd is BS .
    With proper OC'ing and setting of voltage away from the defaults i was actually able to OC and save on power at the same time.
  • sojrner
    Good work guys, I only have one quibble. Even w/ the value and ppd charts nicely done up as they are it does not change the fact that "value" is subjective. IF you use the lowest system as your base "need" then yes, your conclusions are right. But what if you require the performance of the mid-system as MINIMUM? If you set the base at that mid-system stock speed and then re-calc the ppd chart it changes everything. All of a sudden that $625 system is possitively worthless and the $2500 system is not quite so bad.

    I realize that was not the point of the article, nor do I assume you guys do not know this stuff. Don't take this as a complaint per-se, rather mention that all things related to "value" are relative to individual need. (which in itself is subjective... lol) Not looking for flames, just trying to temper the enthusiasm over the perceived value of that low-end system.

    game on.
  • gaiden2k7
    The numbers (especially the last page) are always interesting, BUT the end result was always too predictive. Mid-range builds tend to always strike a great balance between Dollars Spent VS Performance.

    I have an idea for a more interesting article: TH hold a staff build competition basing on a budget voted by the readers.

    Comon TH - take a chance ;)
  • sojrner
    Probably sounded good at first to many, but after thinking on that, wouldn't it just give us most building the exact same machine with a few "rebels" trying to get something more out of less? Just look at the past reviews of boutique builders... when they all come in there is very little hardware difference. At any given price, best performing machines are gonna be pretty much the same thing.

    IMO we could get all excited and go to a yawning festival as well...
  • Anonymous
    Very nice!
    I love that a 'more affordable' pc has been added in the likes of $600.

    However the majority of the sales are pc's lower than $500; granted they are not gaming pc's.

    The memory bandwidth makes me realize I might rather go for the $1250 pc than the 600 one.
    5GB VS 17GB is quite a lot of difference.
    However, if there where any pc inbetween (eg:a well balanced and speedy $800 machine) I would love to see how it would perform to a $1250 pc.

    I think most gaming pc's bought are between $450 and $850; with generally a better processor or videocard determening the price difference.

    On next month's budget probably a $800 pc can be compared with the results of todays $600 pc?
    It's hard to find the middle way between gaming quality and money.
    Probably the cheaper you go the greater the buy (all downto a simple core2duo with 633Mhz DDR2 memory and an ATI 3x00 card.

    Most monitors bought are generally 22" TFT at best, with 1600something resolution.
    Being able to play a game on 1900 pix does not really benefit a 1600 x 1024 (or something) pix screen.

    Few gamers actually play on (or can afford a) dual monitor setup anyways. And few games work well with more than 1 monitor.

    I'd love to see a review of a 'gaming cube'; small mini pc the size of 5 to 7 14" notebooks stacked on top of eachother.
    A gaming machine for the occasional gamer. One which uses very little power (low power consumption), and when needed is able to play most games fine on today's monitor resolutions.
    Acouple of setups for around $300 - $600.
  • Anonymous
    V3NOMThe dreaded power consumption test will surely disappoint fans of Intel's new Core i7, as these new processors are extremely power-hungry when overclocked.[/quotelolwhat? who cares about power consumption?

    Well,as for starters I do!
    And a lot of people do!
    If you calculate for office tasks, a regular pc uses about 250W; and replace that with an Asus EeeBox,which has sub 28Watts; you'll actually save over $300 on 4 years time,and totally buy back the pc in that timespan.
    For gamers;depending on how long they play (and whether they are responsible for their electric bill or not) they could save 300-900$ on electric bill on 4 years (generally 4 years is a large timespan for a gaming PC).
    4 years from now, 300-900 is like upgrade yourself to a Corei7 system you see on today's top chart!

    Especially for LAN gamers,and those who're running all-nighters playing all sorts of games.

    And for those with smaller bedrooms, that would mean not being in a hot sticky 32 degrees Celcius room (90 F), but a still comfortable 24 degrees (75F).

    Really; some gaming computers could (and should) be used to directly heat up the bathroom for granny.
  • sojrner
    lol @ bathroom for granny... :D probably all granny could use that PC for anyway. ;)