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System Builder Marathon, Q4 2012: System Value Compared

Hardware And Software Test Configurations

Test Hardware Configurations
$500 Gaming PC$1,000 Enthusiast PC$2,000 Performance PC
Processor (Overclock)Intel Pentium G850 2.9 GHz, Two Physical CoresNo OverclockingAMD FX-8350 4 GHz, Eight Physical CoresO/C to 4.33 GHz at 1.34 VIntel Core i7-3770K 3.5 GHz, Four Physical CoresO/C to 4.40 GHz, 1.26V
Graphics (Overclock)PoweColor AX7850 1GBD5-DH: 860 MHz GPU, GDDR5-4800, O/C to 1200 MHz GDDR5-5240GIGABYTE GV-N670OC-2GD:  980 MHz GPU, GDDR5-6008, O/C to 1137 MHz GDDR5-70122 x MSI R7970-2PMD3GD5/OC: 1010 MHz GPU, GDDR5-5500O/C to 1125 MHz GDDR5-6300
Memory (Overclock)8 GB G.Skill DDR3-1333 CAS 9-9-9-24, O/C at 1.60 V to DDR3-1333 CL 7-8-7-228 GB Mushkin DDR3-1600 CAS 8-8-8-24, O/C at 1.60 V to DDR3-1866 CL 9-9-9-248 GB G.Skill DDR3-1600 CAS 8-8-8-24, O/C at 1.60 V to DDR3-2133 CL 10-11-10-24
Motherboard (Overclock)ASRock H77 Pro4/MVP: LGA 1155, Intel H77 ExpressStock 100 MHz BCLKGigabyte GA-970A-D3: Socket AM3+, AMD 970/SB950Stock 200 MHz RCLKGigabyte GA-Z77X-D3H: LGA 1155, Intel Z77 ExpressStock 100 MHz BCLK
OpticalLG GH24NS90 24x DVD±RLG GH24NS90 24x DVD±RAsus BW-12B1ST 16x BD-R
CaseRosewill BlackboneHEC Compucase BlitzCooler Master Storm Enforcer
CPU CoolerPentium G850 Boxed CoolerXigamtek Loki SD963Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo
Hard DriveWestern Digital WD3200AAKX: 320 GB, 7200 RPM HDDOCZ AGT3-25SAT3-60G: 60 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSDMushkin Chronos Deluxe DX 240 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD
PowerAntec VP-450: 450 W, ATX 12V v2.3Corsair CX600 V2: 600 W,  ATX12V v2.3,  80 PLUSCorsair HX750: ATX12V V2.3 80 PLUS Gold
OSMicrosoft Windows 8 Professional RTM x64
GraphicsAMD Catalyst 12.10Nvidia GeForce 310.54AMD Catalyst 12.10
ChipsetIntel INF 9.3.1025AMD Platform Driver 8.00.881Intel INF

A great amount of overclocking effort turned into a spectacular fiasco when both the $1,000 and $2,000 systems reached their cooling limits long before their CPUs could be fully performance-optimized. Paul's $500 build couldn't be overclocked, so he never had to face the embarrassment that Don and I did.

Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
Battlefield 3Campaign Mode, "Going Hunting" 90-Seconds Fraps Test Set 1: Medium Quality Defaults (No AA, 4x AF) Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Defaults (4x AA, 16x AF)
F1 2012Steam version, in-game benchmark Test Set 1: High Quality Preset, No AA Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset, 8x AA
Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimUpdate 1.5.26, Celedon Aethirborn Level 6, 25 Seconds Fraps Test Set 1: DX11, High Details No AA, 8x AF, FXAA enabled Test Set 2: DX11, Ultra Details, 8x AA, 16x AF, FXAA enabled
Adobe Creative Suite
Adobe After Effects CS6Version x64: Create Video which includes 3 Streams, 210 Frames, Render Multiple Frames Simultaneosly
Adobe Photoshop CS6Version 13 x64: Filter 15.7 MB TIF Image: Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Adobe Premeire Pro CS6Version, 6.61 GB MXF Project to H.264 to H.264 Blu-ray, Output 1920x1080, Maximum Quality
Audio/Video Encoding
iTunesVersion x64: Audio CD (Terminator II SE), 53 minutes, default AAC format
Lame MP3Version 3.98.3: Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 min, convert WAV to MP3 audio format, Command: -b 160 --nores (160 Kb/s)
HandBrake CLIVersion: 0.98: Video from Canon Eos 7D (1920x1080, 25 FPS) 1 Minutes 22 Seconds Audio: PCM-S16, 48,000 Hz, Two-Channel, to Video: AVC1 Audio: AAC (High Profile)
TotalCodeStudio 2.5Version: MPEG-2 to H.264, MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG-2), Audio: MPEG-2 (44.1 kHz, Two-Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kb/s), Codec: H.264 Pro, Mode: PAL 50i (25 FPS), Profile: H.264 BD HDMV
ABBYY FineReaderVersion Read PDF save to Doc, Source: Political Economy (J. Broadhurst 1842) 111 Pages
Adobe Acrobat XVersion Print PDF from 115 Page PowerPoint, 128-bit RC4 Encryption
Autodesk 3ds Max 2012Version 14.0 x64: Space Flyby Mentalray, 248 Frames, 1440x1080
BlenderVersion: 2.64a, Cycles Engine, Syntax blender -b thg.blend -f 1, 1920x1080, 8x Anti-Aliasing, Render THG.blend frame 1
Visual Studio 2010Version 10.0, Compile Google Chrome, Scripted
File Compression
WinZipVersion 17.0 Pro: THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to ZIP, command line switches "-a -ez -p -r"
WinRARVersion 4.2: THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to RAR, command line switches "winrar a -r -m3"
7-ZipVersion 9.28: THG-Workload (1.3 GB) to .7z, command line switches "a -t7z -r -m0=LZMA2 -mx=5"
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark 11Version:, Benchmark Only
PCMark 7Version: 1.0.4 x64, System, Productivity, Hard Disk Drive benchmarks
SiSoftware Sandra 2011Version Version 2013.01.19.11, CPU Test = CPU Arithmetic / Cryptography, Memory Test = Bandwidth Benchmark
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.