System Builder Marathon, May '09: $2,500 Performance PC

CPU, Memory, And Drives

CPU: Intel Core i7-920

With a wide pricing spread between the three available LGA-1366 processors, a $2,500 budget limited this system to the least-expensive Core i7-920. There isn’t much to gain from moving to the Core i7-940, although the copper cooler of the costly Core i7 Extreme Edition 965 would have been handy.

Read Customer Reviews of Intel's Core i7-920

We were hoping for a D0 revision core, but instead received this late-production C0 stepping retail sample. Newegg doesn’t designate the stepping revision.

The limited space between the motherboard and power supply of our cube-shaped case severely restricted our cooling options. Silverstone sells a Nitrogon cooler that fits without any fan, but even users of otherwise cool-running Core 2 processors have expressed concern about insufficient cooling when using the power supply's intake fan to move air past Silverstone's sink. We were stuck with the stock Intel Core i7-920 boxed aluminum cooler, longing for the copper cooler of Intel's more expensive Core i7 EE-965.

RAM: Mushkin Enhanced 998679 6.0 GB DDR3-1600

Mushkin’s 998679 6.0 GB triple-channel kit first got our attention as a mid-priced product with high-end DDR3-1600 CAS 7-8-7-20 timings in January’s high-end memory comparison. The price has dropped by around 50% since then, making it a top-choice moderate-budget kit.

Read Customer Reviews of Mushkin's Enhanced 998679 6GB Kit

While the former modules had reached impressive clock speeds, constant changes in IC availability has put these more recent samples in the 1,800 MHz class. Rather than fight for the highest possible clock speed, we instead chose to seek better-than-rated timings in today’s overclocking tests.

HDD: 2 x Western Digital RE3 500 GB in Level 0

Since a RAID controller’s striping mode doesn’t actually live up to the redundancy part of the RAID name, our performance-only array is better described as Level 0. Level 0 makes two drives parallel for up to twice the peak throughput, while the RAID controller is responsible for splitting data into packets across the drives (writes) and combining it (reads).

A single solid-state drive (SSD) might have been chosen if this were a “gaming only” system, but our SBM builds balance gaming performance and multi-tasking capabilities. Thus, we really needed a terabyte of storage to assure that an average enthusiast won’t run out of space while working with high-definition video files and super-large photo albums.

Read Customer Reviews of Western Digital's RE3 500 GB

Western Digital’s WD50002ABYS drives provide several RAID-oriented features that likely have little benefit in a simple two-drive Level 0 array. On the other hand, these RAID Edition 3 family drives still offer the same performance improvements found in the company’s most recent Black Edition desktop drives, are further validated for 24/7 operation, and include an enhanced five-year warranty.

Because so large a Level 0 array can put months or years of data at some risk, we suggest connecting this system to a storage solution and scheduling data backups once a day

Optical: LC GGC-H20LK Blu-ray Disk/HD-DVD ROM with DVD±R/RW

The Blu-ray disk format is expected to take off eventually and we’d hate to see anyone who can afford a $2,500 system get left behind. LG’s combo drive adds HD-DVD to its read capabilities, allowing buyers to purchase heavily-discounted movies in the dead format.

Read Customer Reviews of LG's GGC-H20LK Blu-ray Drive

Nearly everyone needs CD or DVD write capabilities, so LG tossed those in as well. The GGC-H20LK won’t break any burn-speed records at its 16x DVD±R rating, but it gets the job done without requiring a second drive that our compact case wouldn’t support.

Newegg packed our drive with the Tom Clancy aerial warfare game H.A.W.X by Ubisoft.

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  • IzzyCraft
    What's with the efficiency adage at the end i mean i get why but I'm sure most of us noticed that overclocking gave us more performance but at the price of a higher electric bill, but we'll do it anyways. :)

    Case is nice but i mean with such a high end system seems like a waste so cluttered yet it all fits which makes it pretty cool esp if you put it right on top next to your monitor makes a nice look factor but it's not my style though. ;)
  • cangelini
    I'm sure the rest of the readers will be happy to learn you guys won't be interested in winning it :)
  • doomtomb
    Asus Rampage Gene > DFI Lanparty
  • doomtomb
    Antec Mini P180 would have had better airflow as well. It can fit even a 120mm fan and heatsink for the CPU, you don't have a PSU blocking it and adding heat to the air around the CPU.
  • scook9
    Very interesting as I have a pretty powerful core i7 matx build as well, however, here is what I would have changed if I were you:
    Case: Antec Mini p180 - much more room, especially if you remove bottom hard drive cage, can take ANY graphics then, much better cooling, and allows for REAL cpu cooler.
    Motherboard: Asus Rampage II Gene - I used the DFI model then got the ASUS, its nicer, much nicer. Unless you need a couple specific overclocking things in BIOS, id recommend Asus board hands down, AND it has 2 firewire, one header, and one rear.

    For those that care (probably not many but why not), here is my system:
    Antec Mini p180
    Corsair TX750 PSU (wish I had the $$ for the 1000 watt model used here)
    LG GGC-H20L Combo Blu Ray Drive (same used)
    WD 640GB Caviar Blue - placed in top optical drive slot - working on VR 300GB
    6GB Corsair Dominator DDR3-1600 (saving for the Dominator GT DDR3-2000)
    Dominator AirFlow Fan (triple channel model)
    Intel Core i7 920
    Lapped TRUE
    5x Scythe S-Flex G fans (2 on TRUE, 1 exhaust, 2 intake in place of hard drive cages)
    Thermaltake Extreme Spirit II Northbridge Cooler
    2x EVGA GTX275 SLI (the SC models, even though I purchased stock clocks :))

    This system hauls some serious ass, well staying reasonably cooled - although I will say that the S-Flex G fans have a noticeable hum to them. This system has run for days at 4GHz (50% overclock) with no issues.I "only" game on a 24" screen so the 2x GTX275 suffice for me. Thought about 295's in SLI but did not want to worry about the heat those can make (and the much higher cost).
  • scook9
    of course, I will still try my luck at winning theirs too......
  • curnel_D
    Lol, I love the firewire solution. :P I do that kind of thing all the time.

    I'm actually really impressed with this machine for it's size. I've used that silverstone exaust fan in quite a few machines, and despite it's totally uninspiring performance, it can really be a life-saver.

    Though if I won this machine, I'd totally throw it in a HAF, and ebay that case away. :P:D
  • Proximon
    I really appreciate the unusual board choice and would really like to hear some further impressions, as in an actual review ;)
    The case looks very nice, but then Silverstone always does.
    A bit surprised at the PSU selection given the cards, but impressed that it survived so well.
    Couldn't a higher RPM low profile heatsink have been found? Scythe Shuriken for instance?
  • Sihastru
    While I'm not loving the case design, I am loving it's layout. Too bad you had to use the box cooler... Perhaps a Lian Li PC-A05B would have been a better choice? It needs the optional PCI cooler assembly to keep the slots area cool, but it will do the job, while not limiting you to a mini-ATX board. It will also allow almost any aftermarket CPU Cooler (including some WC setups).

    Another small gripe... wouldn't the 640GB Blacks be just a little faster then the 500GB RE3's? They might not get the full 5 yrs warranty, and the 24/7 validation seems more like a marketing term.
  • Sihastru
    Don't get me wrong, I do get the vibe... don't use big-ass cases for gaming rigs anymore. It is true that bigger isn't always what you need, and it shouldn't be what you'd want.

    Overall nice setup.
  • IronRyan21
    vorlessThats an ugly ass case, and for 2,500 u better get D0 stepping instead.

    I dont care if this things ugly, it will beat my pc anyday, I would love to win this bad boy.
  • powerbaselx
    Forgive me if i'm wrong, but since this is supposed to be a portable PC, shouldn't the disks be configured as RAID1 - Mirror - for better protection and some Read performance improvement?
    Since the RAID controllers aren't very trusty, i think it's a risk to go to a LAN party or a competition with RAID0...
    Another thing: instead of 2x disks 7200-rpm wasn't it better to install a WD Raptor 10k-rpm with better performance? I'm pretty sure this option would offer better stability instead of the RAID0 set...
  • avatar_raq
    It's nice to squeeze all this H/W into such a small enclosure, but I must say I don't like it that way..If I win this small beast I'm gonna spread its guts to a larger case and O/C it to the extreme! I guess this CPU will have no problem reaching 4 Ghz, it's "lucky"!
    Few points:
    1.I agree that ASUS rampage gene is better than the DFI they used here. It came into mind once I read the opening paragraph, hoping it'll be the one used.
    2. The fans of PSU and CPU cooler blow air in opposite directions and they're fairly close to each other. I think it helped increasing CPU temps bigtime.
    3. I don't know if they fit or not, but there are decent low profile CPU coolers built for HTPC cases. I guess they'd perform better.
    All in all, it's a nice build. Well done.
  • justjc
    Here's hoping for a Phenom II system in one or more of the builds.
  • randomizer
    Is it a safe bet that the contest is North America only?
  • p0werhorse
    I too would like to know if non US citizens can enter the competition?
  • no $$ for a good SSD in the budget?
  • SpadeM
    p0werhorseI too would like to know if non US citizens can enter the competition?

    Answer: No... given the fact that all the TH competitions were for US only

    Other then that, an unusual system builder marathon this month. Hope that tomorrow an even more weird system comes up at the $1300 price point
  • sublifer
    I'd have rather seen an SSD with a spare TB drive than the RAID'ed 500's.
    Two of the 295's is overkill but it still looks like a great build. I wouldn't mind winning it ;)
  • I would suggest a Power Supply of 1.250W.

    I already tested a system close to this (Core i7 920 + 2x GTX 295), and when you put the CPU and GPU at max stress (Prime95 or OCCT + Furmark), the 1.000W psu does not hold the system (it will shut off).

    Off course, when gaming (Crysis for instance), the system will run fine (since the game cannot put that much stress on the CPU + GPU).
  • radiowars
    I would love to win it, then I would putt it in a bigger case and add a 3rd part heatskink lol. The GTX 295's just look very cramped.
  • radiowars
    Oh, and I think I would rather have the Midrange build, because I can't handle the power.
  • Crashman
    scook9Very interesting as I have a pretty powerful core i7 matx build as well, however, here is what I would have changed if I were you:Case: Antec Mini p180 - much more room...

    This build followed up on requests for cube-shaped PC's by presenting a case with the same internal volume (size) in a slightly different shape. If you get the SG04-H (Handle) as recommended rather than SG03, you'll find that the narrower "mini tower" is easier to carry than a cube-shaped case of the same volume.

    When people ask for a cube, it's easy to justify a differently-shaped case of the same size. When you go large, you're no longer catering to those needs.
  • arkadi
    Who requested that thing? It is cool, but i wonder what some dust will do to it ^_^, hope this thing will not burn the house down along with it.