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!
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?
|Alternative SBM Components|
|Row 0 - Cell 0||New/Alternative $2000 PC||Original $2000 PC|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte X58A-UD3R LGA 1366 Intel X58 Express, ICH10R||MSI NF980-G65, Socket AM3 Nvidia nForce 980a SLI|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-970 3.2 GHz, Six Physical Cores 12 MB L3 Cache, LGA 1366||AMD Phenom II X6 1055T 2.8 GHz, Six Cores 6 MB L3 Cache, Socket AM3|
|Memory||Mushkin Silverline 998768 3 x 2GB (6 GB Total) DDR3-1333 CAS 9-9-9-24||G.Skill F3-10666CL9D-8GBRL 2 x 4 GB (8 GB Total) DDR3-1333 CAS 9-9-9-24|
|Graphics||2 x EVGA 01G-P3-1372-TR 2 x 1GB GDDR5-3800 2 x GF104 GPU at 763 MHz||2 x MSI N480GTX-M2D15-B 2 x 1.5 GB GDDR5-3696 2 x GF100 GPU at 700 MHz|
|Hard Drive||Samsung F3 HD103SJ 1 TB, 7200 RPM 32 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s||Samsung F3 HD103SJ 1 TB, 7200 RPM 32 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s|
|Optical||Lite-On iHAS124 24x DVD±R, 48X CD-R||Lite-On iHAS124 24X DVD±R, 48X CD-R|
|Case||Antec Three Hundred Illusion||SilverStone Raven RV02-BW|
|Power||Seasonic SS-850HT 850 W, 80 PLUS Silver||Cooler Master Silent Pro RSA00-AMBAJ3-US 1000 W Modular, 80 PLUS Bronze|
|CPU Cooler||Scythe Mugen 2 Rev. B (SCMG-2100)||Scythe Mugen 2 Rev. B (SCMG-2100)|
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.