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System Builder Marathon, March 2012: System Value Compared

Three Well-Built Machines Face Off

System Builder Marathon, March 2012: The Articles

Here are links to each of the five articles in this quarter’s System Builder Marathon (we’ll update them as each story is published). And remember, these systems are all being given away at the end of the marathon, including the Bonus Customer Choice PC, which we picked out using the highest-rated components in Newegg's feedback system.

To enter the giveaway, please fill out this SurveyGizmo form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: The $650 Gaming PC
Day 2: The $1250 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $2600 Performance PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected
Day 5: Bonus Newegg Customer Choice PC

Introduction

Without the benefit of an unlimited budget, improving performance in one area typically means making a sacrifice somewhere else. Recent changes to our benchmark suite slightly deemphasize the importance of beefy graphics at the high-end, since CPU bottlenecks hamper some of its games. On the other hand, Paul, the guy building our entry-level machine, usually can’t afford a fast enough graphics card to see those CPU bottlenecks. Those concepts drive this quarter's cheapest and most expensive systems in opposite directions. I dropped SLI from my $2600 machine, while Paul gave up a capable Core i5 processor from his $650 contender.

More controversial were the choices made by Don, who picked parts for our $1250 PC. He went with the same high-end graphics card as me in an attempt to match the expensive machine in at least the gaming segment of our metrics. Knowing that his affordable quad-core CPU couldn't stand up to my Sandy Bridge-E-based Core i7-3930K in the content creation apps, Don made his stand where he knew he stood a chance. Frequency (rather than core count) determines where most games run into a bottleneck, so Don pinned his hopes on topping-out Turbo Boost technology, since his Core i5-2400 is one of those "partially-unlocked" models.

So, we end up with two purpose-built gaming machines taking on a fully-loaded $2600 heavyweight in the productivity and content creation suites. That's definitely not going to be a fair fight. But you could also look at this match-up as one feature-oriented (overpriced) behemoth taking on two budget-oriented game systems in a battle for the best value. That may be equally unfair. We’ll do our best to present both sides of the performance/value debate, though.

Q1, 2012: System Builder Marathon PC Components
 $2600 Perfomance PC  $1300 Enthusiast PC  $650 Gaming PC 
ProcessorIntel Core i7-3930K 3.2GHz Hexa-CoreIntel Core i5-2400 3.10 GHz Quad-CoreIntel Core i3-2120 3.3 GHz Dual-Core
MotherboardAsus P9X79 Pro LGA 2011, Intel X79 ExpressASRock P67 Pro3 SE LGA 1155, Intel P67 ExpressGigabyte H61MA-D3V LGA 1155, Intel H61 Express
GraphicsMSI R7970-2PMD3GD5/OC Radeon HD 7970 3 GB O/CPowerColor AX7970 3GBD5 Radeon HD 7970 3 GBXFX HD-395X-ZNFC Radeon HD 6950 1 GB
MemoryG.Skill F3-1600C9Q-16GAB 16 GB (4 x 4 GB) DDR3-1600Mushkin Enhanced 996981 8 GB (2 x 4 GB ) DDR3-1600Team Elite TED34096M1333C9DC 4 GB (2 x 2 GB) DDR3-1333
System DriveMushkin MKNSSDCR240GB-DX 240 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSDCrucial m4 CT064M4SSD2 64 GB SATA 6Gb/s SSDSeagate ST500DM002 0.5 TB 7200 RPM HDD
Storage DriveSeagate ST1500DL003 1.5 TB, 5900 RPM HDDHitachi HDS721075DLE630 0.75 TB 7200 RPM HDDUses System Drive
OpticalPioneer BDR-206DBKS 12x BD-RSamsung TS-H353C 16x DVD-ROMLG GH22NS90B 22x DVD±R
CaseAntec P280 Case w/Rosewill FansApevia X-Trooper JuniorRosewill FBM-01
PowerSeasonic Platinum-860 860 W, 80 PLUS PlatinumCorsair CMPSU-650TXV2 650 W, 80 PLUS BronzeRosewill  Green RG630-S12 630 W, 80 PLUS
Heat SinkZalman CNPS12XCooler Master Hyper TX3Intel Boxed Cooler
Total Cost$2541 $1263 $649

Notice that the title for each build refers to its budget limit, not its actual cost. Two days ago, we saw Don call his configuration the $1250 build, though he did have another $50 available to him. Amounts left unspent simply contribute to each PC’s price-per-performance calculations.

  • sonexpc
    Looks like $650 PC can do almost everything smoothly ! Even most of the game can get over 40fps...
    which is not bad... for Just $650 ...So the first piority for gaming PC is still the Video card!
    Reply
  • MMO Fan
    nobody needs a $600 cpu
    Reply
  • shoot you
    I always love seeing the System builder articles (even though I cant build one myself for now hahahaha).

    Great as always. It sad that the Nvidia GTX 680 has yet to be considered due to availability and pricing issues hehehehe.

    Reply
  • iamauser
    Translation: we don't actually stand behind any of these builds as being worthwhile to emulate.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    iamauserTranslation: we don't actually stand behind any of these builds as being worthwhile to emulate.The $650 and $2600 PC builders loved their machines, it's just hard to recommend either of those to "everyone" or even "most people" since most of the readers really want $800-1200 machines.
    Reply
  • MMO Fan
    CrashmanThe $650 and $2600 PC builders loved their machines, it's just hard to recommend either of those to "everyone" or even "most people" since most of the readers really want $800-1200 machines.It's hard to recomend them because they just are not real good for the large outlay of cash as in the money could have been spent on better parts but instead was spent on "balancing" and pleasing the TH memebers.
    Reply
  • Wave Fusion
    I'd love to build a PC with a beefy GPU someday.
    But coming from a notebook background, I more or less have to start from scratch.

    I can use my old mouse, and my TV as a monitor. But on top of the estimated build costs listed, I also need the OS, keyboard, and likely other misc. odds and ends.

    $200 ($100 OEM) for Windows 7 is brutal.

    I also don't want to waste time on a desktop that only has a GPU advantage over the notebook.
    Desktop upgrades over even a mobile i7 is still pricey.

    Since I know my 2720QM uses the same die as desktops; it'd be swell if I could just yank it out; plug it in a desktop board and call it a 2600k. In a desktop it wouldn't have to stay in a 45W TDP

    But.. *sigh*.. the parts are locked, the sockets don't match; and a real life desktop carbon copy of my notebook is out of my budget atm.
    --
    If I could find a way to attach a 7870 to my notebook motherboard, I wouldn't have a problem with the frankenstein-ish creation.

    The 6670 just doesn't cut it sometimes
    Reply
  • MMO Fan
    Wave FusionI'd love to build a PC with a beefy GPU someday.But coming from a notebook background, I more or less have to start from scratch.I can use my old mouse, and my TV as a monitor. But on top of the estimated build costs listed, I also need the OS, keyboard, and likely other misc. odds and ends.$200 ($100 OEM) for Windows 7 is brutal. I also don't want to waste time on a desktop that only has a GPU advantage over the notebook.Desktop upgrades over even a mobile i7 is still pricey.Since I know my 2720QM uses the same die as desktops; it'd be swell if I could just yank it out; plug it in a desktop board and call it a 2600k. In a desktop it wouldn't have to stay in a 45W TDPBut.. *sigh*.. the parts are locked, the sockets don't match; and a real life desktop carbon copy of my notebook is out of my budget atm.--If I could find a way to attach a 7870 to my notebook motherboard, I wouldn't have a problem with the frankenstein-ish creation.The 6670 just doesn't cut it sometimesAny Desktop CPU this side of C2Duo will substancially out perform any Laptop CPU
    Reply
  • Crashman
    MMO fanIt's hard to recomend them because they just are not real good for the large outlay of cash as in the money could have been spent on better parts but instead was spent on "balancing" and pleasing the TH memebers.I'll explain this the way I did in your other $2600 PC comments. You're simply wrong. I can't help you understand why someone would want a PC that performs well in multiple areas. I can't help you understand why someone would want their PC to be quiet. I can't help you to understand why someone would want their PC to store more applications on the faster device. I can't help you to understand these things because you have already rejected them. Your prejudice excludes any "balanced" analysis.

    But at least you're fairly nice about it.
    Reply
  • MMO Fan
    CrashmanI'll explain this the way I did in your other $2600 PC comments. You're simply wrong. I can't help you understand why someone would want a PC that performs well in multiple areas. I can't help you understand why someone would want their PC to be quiet. I can't help you to understand why someone would want their PC to store more applications on the faster device. I can't help you to understand these things because you have already rejected them. Your prejudice excludes any "balanced" analysis.But at least you're fairly nice about it.7970 is more than "well" it is the best of the best and Fractal Design Define R3 is $100 or some $30 less than the P280 and performance better these two points I made are just for starters. If you will I could go on and build a far better machine for $2600 but you seem to think this TH $2600 "performance" build is the best when it is far from it.
    Reply