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

System Builder Marathon, May 2009: 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).

The SBM contest is live! Enter to win one of our three systems right here.


Tom’s Hardware looks to your feedback in article planning. One of the most frequent of many System Builder Marathon (SBM) themes you’ve proposed in our comments section is that of the “gaming cube,” and that's why all three of this month's configurations attempt to maximize the performance potential available with portable enclosures.

Forget the term small form-factor cases (SFF) when thinking of Micro-ATX cubes, since “form factors” are dimensional standards that apply to internal components. SFF originated with the two-slot designs of Shuttle barebones PCs, so the insistence of some manufacturers on using the term to describe much larger and completely incompatible Micro-ATX parts only serves to confuse inexperienced builders.

With portability our first priority, we tried to stuff as many high-end parts as our budget would allow into the most portable Micro-ATX case we could find. Here’s what we came up with:

$2,500 Portable PC Performance Parts Prices

DFI LANParty Jr X58-T3H6 Micro-ATX
Intel X58/ICH10R, LGA1366



Intel Core i7-920
Four Cores, 2.66 GHz, 8 MB Cache



Mushkin 998679 6.0 GB DDR3-1600
3x 2.0 GB, CAS 7-8-7-20, 1.65 V



2 x EVGA GeForce GTX 295 in SLI
1,792 MB GDDR3-2000 Per Card
576 MHz GPU, 1,242 MHz Shader


Hard Drives

2 x Western Digital RE3 WD50002ABYS (RAID 0)
500 GB, 7200 RPM, 16 MB Cache SATA 3.0 Gb/s



LG GGC-H20LK Blu-ray Disk/HD-DVD ROM
6x BRD, 3x HD-DVD ROM, 16x DVD±R



Silverstone SG04B-H Micro-ATX Mini-Tower



Corsair CMPSU-1000HX Modular 1,000 W
ATX12V 2.2, EPS12V 2.91, 80-Plus Certified


Intake Fans

2 x Scythe S-Flex SFF21F 120 mm, 1,600 RPM, 63.7 CFM at 28.0 dBA


Exhaust Fan

Silverstone RL-FX121 Cross Flow Blower
3,000 RPM, 14 CFM at 26 dBA



Total Cost

$ 2,440

While we stick to the above price list as our recommended configuration, a serious shortage of GeForce GTX 295 boards forced us to buy the only model in stock at ordering time, resulting in some visually-different but functionally-identical replacement products. We’re fairly certain that the lucky winner of today’s build will be pleased with the overall result.

Ed.: Wait, what was that? The lucky winner? That's right folks. We're going to be giving away this system, plus the two machines to follow tomorrow and the day after. Once the SBM series has run its course this week, look for a contest page to go up on the front page of the site. You'll need to answer one question about each of our configurations and will then be entered into a drawing for one of this month's three SBM builds!

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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.