System Builder Marathon: Performance & Value


System Builder Marathon, November 2008 : The Articles

Here are links to each of the three articles in this month’s System Builder Marathon (we’ll update them as each story is published).

Taking Feedback Into Consideration

One of the most commonly brought-up reader comments in past System Builder Marathons was that our fixed price structures often guided the mid-budget builder to choose a few parts that exceeded an ideal “enthusiast-level” price/performance ratio, while limiting the low-cost gaming system builder to parts that were simply too cheap to offer an ideal entry-level price/performance ratio. The value of both systems was handicapped by component prices that were outside what many readers thought would be normal for the intended market.

A large amount of feedback resulted in our selection of new pricing guidelines for both systems. Increasing our low-cost gaming PC budget to $625 allowed us to eliminate the under-performing graphics card and processor found in the previous $500 machine. Decreasing the mid-priced enthusiast build to $1,250 compelled us to ditch the controversial quad-core processor and over-sized liquid cooling system found in the previous $1,500 build. As a result, the newly-chosen dual-core processor is better-optimized for gaming than professional-level applications. Here’s a recap of each system’s components and the overclock settings used to achieve even more performance value.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Component$1,250 PC$625 PC
CPUIntel Core 2 Duo E8500 3.16 GHzOverclocked to 4.25 GHz, FSB-1792Intel Pentium E5200 2.50 GHzOverclocked to 4.00 GHz, FSB-1336
CPU CoolerXigmatek HDT-S1283Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro
MotherboardDFI Lanparty DK X38-T2RGigabyte GA-EP45-DS3L
RAM4.0 GB PNY XLR8 PC2-6400 CAS 4Overclocked to DDR2-896 CAS 54.0 GB PNY XLR8 PC2-6400 CAS 4Clocked at DDR2-802 CAS 4
GraphicsPowercolor Radeon 4870 X2 2048MBOverclocked to 777 MHz GPU, GDDR5-3800Sapphire 100245L Radeon HD 4850 512MBOverclocked to 700 MHz GPU, GDDR3-2340
Hard DrivesWD Caviar Black WD6401AALS640 GB, 7200 RPM, 32MB CacheSeagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST3500320AS 500GB, 7200 RPM, 32MB Cache
SoundIntegrated 8-Channel HD AudioIntegrated 8-Channel HD Audio
NetworkIntegrated Gigabit NetworkingIntegrated Gigabit Networking
CaseAntec Three HundredAntec Three Hundred
PowerAntec NeoPower 650WAntec NeoPower 650W
OpticalLITE-ON 20X DVD±R SATA Model iHAS120-04LITE-ON 20X DVD±R SATA Model iHAS120-04
Total Price$1,250$654

Vanishing discounts bumped up the price of our $625 PC after its components were ordered, but we did receive everything within budget from NewEgg. In the longer term, all of these pieces will fall in price, almost guaranteeing a total build price under what we originally forecast the machines to cost.

A closer look at each system’s performance will help us gauge the effectiveness of our new budget limits in increasing value, while comparing the two new systems to each other will help us to define situations where the new enthusiast build might actually be worth twice as much as the new budget system.

For those of you who’ve read this far through the series, today is when we’ll present comparison’s to last month’s System Builder Marathon builds as well.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • namelessted
    So is there not going to be a high end build somewhere around $2000? Because I am looking forward to that one as usual.
  • Crashman
    NamelessTedSo is there not going to be a high end build somewhere around $2000? Because I am looking forward to that one as usual.
    It was explained in the Day 1 article but should have been mentioned at the lead of this one, that Core i7 wasn't ready when the site placed its order. And to build a high-end Core 2 machine after Core i7 was available was not a viable option. Since the site couldn't get a retail Core i7 on time, the high-end build was scrapped.
  • namelessted
    @Crashman, that makes sense, I guess i missed that in the Day 1 article. Man, I really wish I could have seen the comparison with the Core i7 and 6GB of DDR3 RAM. I guess I will have to wait until next month.
  • Crashman
    I'm just glad it was the first question asked, so the answer could be right at the top. Otherwise it might have been asked a few hundred more times, rather than a few more times.
  • slomo4sho
    Surprisingly, there was a 1:1 relationship between performance and price when comparing last months $500 build and this months $625 build. You got about a 25% performance boost with an increase in cost by 25%.

    Thanks for the write-up. I look forward to seeing both a AMD and Intel build for the lowest price point builds in the upcoming months hopefully :)
  • zodiacfml
    i think the pentium dual core and athlon x2 systems are quite the lowest price points...anything lower will be single core systems.
    i should have got the pentium dual core for the same price of an amd.
    i was focusing too much on core2duos and thought they were too expensive compared to athlon x2's.
    my x2 5000 runs at 3.1 GHz compared to pentium dual cores running at 4.2GHz with 2MB of L2 cache, 1MB more than the x2.
    ultimately, pentium dual cores are core2duo's with less cache. :)
  • Huttfuzz
    Excellent articles as usual. I wish my e8400 was as responsive to
  • Teruo
    Sorry to bring up the highend system again, but I really do what to see Quadcore Q9300 to be OC because I'm planning to get a Q9300 budget around $1400. Would the setting of the $1250 replace with Q9300 would have a good increase in gaming performance or they will be similar which is not worth the CPU upgrade?
  • Shadow703793
    @Teruo: Quads won't help gaming as most games arn't optimised for quads. However games like FSX will benefit from a quad as that game is more CPU bound than GPU.
  • Onus
    This whole series made a lot more sense than those from past months. Nothing in any of the builds was hopelessly out of balance or an unlikely choice for people actually building a system.