System Builder Marathon: TH's $2000 Hand-Picked Build

The Better Way To Spend $2000?

System Builder Marathon, September 2010: 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).

Although the contest giving away our three System Builder Marathon PCs is already over, we're giving away one more machine. This hand-picked setup is the product of Thomas Soderstrom's lessons learned, and is everything we'd want if our own $2000 were on the line. Read the rules and enter to win this configuration through our Google-based entry form!

Day 1: The $2,000 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1,000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $400 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

Editor's Note: The purpose of the System Builder Marathon is extracting maximum value from enthusiast components at a variety of price points. We come together at the end of the series to see whose build exemplified our goal.

This time around, Newegg gave us an opportunity to pick the parts we as editors wanted to see--after the fact. Our follow-up build adds a *lot* of value to the first $2000 build, and we're much happier recommending the components in this story.

Now, here's the cool part: Newegg took all of the parts in our setup, created a Combo deal on its site, and discounted the thing (from $1996 down to $1892). If you're interested in a $2000 build using the parts our editors recommend, here's your chance to grab the same system at a discount. Check out the Tom's Hardware Edition Newegg combo right here.


While each of us has our own special definition of what a “high-end” PC needs to include, most of us agree that a $2000 budget allows some basic minimums to be achieved.

Some of your suggestions have included the best possible processor, the fastest graphics card, increased DRAM and storage capacity, SSD drives, storage redundancy, and a full range of media capabilities. After carefully considering each of these suggestions and crossing anything that didn’t benefit our benchmark set from the list, we decided to combine maximum graphics power with superior multithreading in our $2000 System Builder Marathon PC. Yet before we could even build the system, an article on SLI scaling revealed that its graphics cards would be CPU-bottlenecked at the resolutions used for our final value analysis. In case you missed that one, two GeForce GTX 480s are overkill for anything under 2560x1600 (or triple-monitor Surround).

It’s often said that “too many cooks spoil the broth.” But we could only blame ourselves for the poor overall performance that resulted from components that were drastically mismatched to our test suite. Although we wanted to respond to reader requests for a six-core CPU, we certainly didn’t want to spend nearly half of our budget on it.

Prior to that SLI scaling article, we honestly thought that overclocking would allow us to approach our performance goals using a CPU that's better suited to a $1200 workhorse machine.

Our epiphany occurred as we tested the poorly-matched $2000 machine: were we too quick to cross that “too expensive” CPU from our list? We knew that Intel’s Gulftown-based Core i7 processors offered better performance. But they're four times as expensive. Could taking hundreds of dollars away from our graphics budget and applying it towards a much pricier CPU yield even better gaming performance?

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Alternative SBM Components
Row 0 - Cell 0 New/Alternative $2000 PCOriginal $2000 PC
MotherboardGigabyte X58A-UD3R LGA 1366 Intel X58 Express, ICH10RMSI NF980-G65, Socket AM3 Nvidia nForce 980a SLI
ProcessorIntel Core i7-970 3.2 GHz, Six Physical Cores 12 MB L3 Cache, LGA 1366AMD Phenom II X6 1055T 2.8 GHz, Six Cores 6 MB L3 Cache, Socket AM3
MemoryMushkin Silverline 998768 3 x 2GB (6 GB Total) DDR3-1333 CAS 9-9-9-24G.Skill F3-10666CL9D-8GBRL 2 x 4 GB (8 GB Total) DDR3-1333 CAS 9-9-9-24
Graphics2 x EVGA 01G-P3-1372-TR 2 x 1GB GDDR5-3800 2 x GF104 GPU at 763 MHz2 x MSI N480GTX-M2D15-B 2 x 1.5 GB GDDR5-3696 2 x GF100 GPU at 700 MHz
Hard DriveSamsung F3 HD103SJ 1 TB, 7200 RPM 32 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/sSamsung F3 HD103SJ 1 TB, 7200 RPM 32 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s
OpticalLite-On iHAS124 24x DVD±R, 48X CD-RLite-On iHAS124 24X DVD±R, 48X CD-R
CaseAntec Three Hundred IllusionSilverStone Raven RV02-BW
PowerSeasonic SS-850HT 850 W, 80 PLUS SilverCooler Master Silent Pro RSA00-AMBAJ3-US 1000 W Modular, 80 PLUS Bronze
CPU CoolerScythe Mugen 2 Rev. B (SCMG-2100)Scythe Mugen 2 Rev. B (SCMG-2100)
Total Cost $1989  $1934

The switch from GeForce GTX 480 to GeForce GTX 460 has a big impact on graphics power. But, in light of the CPU bottlenecks seen previously, will it really hurt gaming performance? Newegg provided two $240 models to replace our out-of-stock $220 cards. However, the price doesn't reflect this, since the upgrade will have little to no impact on our manual overclocking capabilities.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • Randomacts
    Yay more giveaways!
  • tacoslave
    should have just gone with a i7 920 and stuck a 5970 which would have been cheaper
  • duk3
    I agree, however, this SBM was about 6-core performance.
    With an i7-930, a better heatsink, 2 470s and maybe an extra fan or 2 for the case is in reach.
  • Crashman
    duk3I agree, however, this SBM was about 6-core performance.With an i7-930, a better heatsink, 2 470s and maybe an extra fan or 2 for the case is in reach.yes, the i7-930 and a couple 470's would be normal in the SBM $2000 PC.
  • cojj
    how do I enter for the giveaway?
  • Crashman
    cojjhow do I enter for the giveaway?Click the link in the announcement?
  • IzzyCraft
    I guess these were more performance driven choices. I still will miss the case, i'd gladly trade a 920/930 for the SilverStone Raven
  • Crashman
    IzzyCraftI guess these were more performance driven choices. I still will miss the case, i'd gladly trade a 920/930 for the SilverStone RavenQuality-wise, the Three Hundred is probably the best case you can get for under $80, but there should have been one more fan in the system given the internally-vented graphics cards the system ended up with. On the other hand, a lot of builders would be more than happy to "settle for" 4GHz at 1.30V, and the CPU will certainly live longer at the lower voltage.
  • brisingamen
    i prefer the six core gtx 480 sli rig.
  • pinkfloydminnesota
    A 970 and a drop to 460s? Are you kidding me? How much is newegg dropping in ad revenue for you to help them dump this overpriced stock?