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System Builder Marathon, June 2010: $2,000 Performance PC

Enhancing High-End Value

System Builder Marathon, June 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). And remember, these systems are all being given away at the end of the marathon.

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

Day 1: The $2,000 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1,000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $550 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

Introduction

Our past System Builder Marathons (SBMs) have used various budgets for high-priced machines, culminating in a March $3,000 PC that we think hit the performance sweet spot, while leaving almost $100 in the budget for optional upgrades, such as redundant storage. However, our less-expensive systems did an even better job of proving value, and we’re always left to question whether we could have generated similar performance for a lower price.

The two technologies that had the biggest effect on our $3,000 machine’s prices were liquid cooling and solid-state drive (SSD) storage. While the liquid cooler itself wasn’t very expensive, added components, such as a special case (to hold the radiator internally) and a liquid-cooled graphics card, pushed the total expense for this upgrade beyond $500. Yet, the VGA cooler at least allowed us to overclock a reputedly ultra-hot pair of graphics processors, while the SSD drives had a negligible impact on the real-world benchmarks we use in the final value analysis. Our chosen $380 SSD configuration certainly sped up boot times, but superb performance that only occurs outside those benchmarks will always undermine the machine’s value score.

The biggest problem with those potential excesses could be that many high-end buyers are feeling the pinch of an unstable economy. As many begin to seriously consider paying off small debts and beefing up emergency funds, it appears almost frivolous to spend significant money on anything that doesn’t provide equally-significant improvements in performance or quality.

A well-built, mid-priced case is just the beginning of a carefully planned value assault on our previous project’s performance profile. Other cost-conscious changes include a switch from the previous system’s expensive X58A-UD7 motherboard to its award-winning -UD3R sibling. The switch to air cooling saves even more money, though the CPU heat sink we chose requires the additional expense of a separate fan.

$2,000 Performance PC Component Prices
MotherboardGigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R Chipset: Intel X58 Express$210
ProcessorIntel Core i7-930 2.80 GHz Four Cores, 8MB L3 Cache$289
MemoryCrucial 6GB DDR3-1333 Triple-Channel Kit 3 x 2GB (6GB Total), CAS 9-9-9-28$168
Graphics2 x Gigabyte GV-N470D5-13I-B in SLI 2 x 1.28GB GDDR5-3482 2 x GeForce GTX 470 GPU at 607 MHz$700
Hard DriveSamsung Spinpoint F3 HD103SJ 1TB, 7,200 RPM, 32MB Cache, SATA 3 Gb/s$80
OpticalLite-On Blu-ray Disc Combo Model iHES208-08 8X BD-ROM, 12X DVD-ROM DL, 16X DVD±R$108
CaseAntec Three Hundred Illusion$70
PowerSilverStone DA750 750W Modular ATX12V 2.2, EPS12V 2.91, 80-Plus Silver$110
CPU CoolerProlimatech Megahalems Rev.B$62
CPU FanScythe Slip Stream SY1225SL12LM-P$11
Total Current Cost$1,808

As with our previous month’s $3,000 machine, the builder took this month’s $2,000 budget as an absolute limit, and picked what he thought might be the best performance-value combination to approach that price threshold. Intended to address the higher expectations of high-end buyers, a Blu-ray combo drive is the only component in today’s build to add functionality without improving performance or reliability.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.