System Builder Marathon, Sept. 2011: $2000 Performance PC

Motherboard And Graphics

Motherboard: Gigabyte Z68XP-UD3

Have you ever wished you could go to a computer store, buy everything on the shelf, and then decide for yourself which parts to keep? Review editors are privileged to have actually tested much of the hardware they use in system builds, and there’s nothing better than a value award to explain why this editor picked Gigabyte’s upper-mainstream model.

Intel’s Z68 Express chipset supports Quick Sync video transcode acceleration, plus discrete graphics via Lucid Virtu software, which is a feature we value (even though it’s not supported by our SBM benchmark set).

Read Customer Reviews of Gigabyte's Z68XP-UD3


Gigabyte chooses the least-expensive way to add SLI support to its Z68XP-UD3, switching from a single x16 slot to two x8 slots when both cards are installed. That’s not a problem for us however, since Nvidia graphics aren’t particularly bandwidth hungry even when configured in SLI mode. A greater concern to us is whether a motherboard with no sink on half of its voltage regulator will provide the stability for our overclocking attempts, even though it worked well at voltage levels only slightly below today’s target.

Graphics: EVGA GeForce GTX 580 1.5 GB in SLI

Only the cheapest GeForce GTX 580 graphics card would allow us to upgrade from our previous build’s Radeon HD 6970s, and we were surprised to find EVGA’s lifetime-warranty-bearing -AR model among them.

Read Customer Reviews of EVGA's 015-P3-1580-AR GeForce GTX 580


What isn’t there to love about EVGA’s 015-P3-1580-AR? Really, there's only the possibility that these particular cards will resist our overclocking efforts, since EVGA is known for binning its cards to sell the more scalable GPUs at a higher price. As a result, samples most likely to overclock the highest will have likely already been set aside for more premium cards. Still, we value the lifetime warranty on this reference frequency-based model.

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  • wrazor
    Great article. I am wondering, if instead you had gone with the EVGA 3GB GTX 570 SLI, maybe OC would have been possible? 2000$ is quite a bit of money. I wonder how these babies would hold out for Nvidia's 3D experience? Personally I am not a big 3D fan in theatres(headache and stuff), but gaming has to have a chance. You had an article on projectors gaming experience? Do it with 3d performance\eyefinity with the system marathon builds? That would be really cool. :)
  • Yargnit
    I'm actually surprised that after the recent micro-stutter article you didn't opt for 3x 570's/6950's/6970's instead of 2x 580's. the First two should be cheaper than 2x 580's, while the third would cost very similarly.

    All three should have provided at least equal performance, and been better on intangible benefits to micro stuttering.
  • DjEaZy
    ... a bit of stagnation in performance department... no big difference in Q2 and Q3 models... gonna wait til bulldozer...
  • decembermouse
    Poor case decision. Inadequate PSU (did you seriously expect good overclocking results?). Nice graphics, but severely limited by the other components. Hence, "nice graphics" doesn't matter. It's like putting a V10 inside a Dodge Neon. Just... why? I make a point of using good cases even in less-expensive builds. Compromising on PSU and the case are two things I've learned are no-nos. We can see how this hurt the outcome, When any OC whatsoever results in instability, you've made a mistake (or several).

    Now I know we'll see the usual "well this is meant to be a learning experience, learn from our errors and improve for next time" comments, but these are not mistakes I expect to see Tom's writers making. Even non-uber-enthusiast readers can probably see that some of the imbalances here. No result is horrible, but I'd have expected Tom's to look at that Newegg shopping cart and immediately think "nope guys, this isn't right. This gfx setup... in an Antec 300?" etc.

    Always love these articles guys, keep them up! Even if I do disagree with some of the choices obviously ;) Really looking forward to $1k and $500 builds in the coming days!
  • anonymous x
    decembermousePoor case decision. Inadequate PSU (did you seriously expect good overclocking results?).

    No, this case cools better than many (most?) cases more expensive than it. 2x 120mm intake is more than adequate for SLI cards with room for air to flow between them. Did you even look at the power consumption numbers? The system when overclocked only consumed 697w at load from the wall (actual consumption is less), while the PSU is rated at 850w.
  • Pawessum16
    Where the heck did they get that SSD for $170????? It's $205 on Newegg, and that's after a $35 price drop. What a steal....
  • Hupiscratch
    These SBM keep becoming cheaper. At first was 5k, then 2.5k and now is 2k for the enthusiast one. The recession is beating hard.
  • karma831
    All I can say is...WOW you guys have bad luck with overclocking.
  • jestersage
    maybe one of the 120mm fans should have been placed on the side panel? just wondering...
  • iam2thecrowe
    all i have to say is, ditch the crappy Gigabyte motherboard and get sonething better, and for the price difference get the i5 2500k, its no real loss to the i7.
  • iam2thecrowe
    and also, there is no crysis 2 benchmark? why not? get some newer games to use for benching toms please.
  • crisan_tiberiu
    I have my i7 2600k @ 4,2 GHZ. But @ 4,4 my PC will shut down in Intel Burn test extreme setting. Try that aswell :), without disabling the CPU protection in BIOS.
  • shoelessinsight
    Personally, I would have gone with a 1.5 TB storage drive and used the extra cash on a motherboard with more overclocking potential. Still, it's good to see a GPU upgrade.

    Thanks for the builds!
  • cangelini
    pawessum16Where the heck did they get that SSD for $170????? It's $205 on Newegg, and that's after a $35 price drop. What a steal....


    It was purchased on Newegg about a month ago in preparation for this series, actually =)
  • cangelini
    YargnitI'm actually surprised that after the recent micro-stutter article you didn't opt for 3x 570's/6950's/6970's instead of 2x 580's. the First two should be cheaper than 2x 580's, while the third would cost very similarly.All three should have provided at least equal performance, and been better on intangible benefits to micro stuttering.


    As you saw in that piece, micro-stutter was most apparent on more mainstream cards. Something like the GTX 580 isn't going to demonstrate the issues seen there, whereas a GTX 560/HD 6850 might.
  • cangelini
    iam2thecroweand also, there is no crysis 2 benchmark? why not? get some newer games to use for benching toms please.


    Check out Scott Wasson's excellent story about Crysis 2 on The Tech Report. Tons of artificial geometry to favor Nvidia's tessellation-emphasizing architecture. Not sure that's something we want to fold into our benchmark suite. We are looking at new games, but bear in mind that as soon as we ditch these, we kill the comparison points from the previous quarter. That's why you don't see the SBMs shift benchmark suites as often!
  • hmp_goose
    Very educational. Thank you for the insight on what panned out and what didn't. (Tower CPU coolers like to feel ducted?)
  • Crashman
    decembermouseNow I know we'll see the usual "well this is meant to be a learning experience, learn from our errors and improve for next time" comments, but these are not mistakes I expect to see Tom's writers making.
    No, because the only serious issue with the build was the motherboard VRM not outputting enough current to go to 1.38V. Everything else was great, which means everything else you commented on was wrong. You only need to look at the power and heat page to see how wrong. The big question is, what we should sacrifice to get the extra $100...in order to achieve an extra 5% O/C with another motherboard.
  • ScrewySqrl
    A question I have is why none of the system builder marathon PCs at any price level spend $15-20 on additional fans? More airflow usually equals a cooler system.
  • qwertymac93
    TBH i would've traded the 580s for 570s(or 6970s) and got a better case. The 300 is a nice case on a budget, but this is a high end enthusiast PC, we can spare a few extra $ for better cable management, more airflow, better water cooling support, more expansion slots...

    Overall the build certainly wasn't bad, just not quite 10/10 for me :)
    Oh, and do you think the overclocking would've been improved with a cooler that blows over the vrms, like the Cooler master GeminII S?
  • _Pez_
    I can surely argue that those results are quite strange for me, because those GTX 580 has higher shader clock (1710MHz Shader Clock) and wider memory bandwidth (202.1 GB/s Memory Bandwidth ). I would like to know the exact reason why suddenly and quietly evga or nvidia might have decided to change the specs of the non overclocked cards without previous notice. (which I suppose) Because of that, you are reading and seeing a wide favorable margin against the other pair of cards and it might be the reason why the reviewers could not overclock them as they expected.. I own 2 gtx 580 with the same part number specs of my card are; 1544 Mhz Shader Clock and 192.4 Gb/s Memory Bandwidth, both of my cards were made on november 09, 2010. If any of you know why the difference, I ask you to share the info :D .
  • Novuake
    I do not approve of the ADATA SSD, horible brand... Unreliable at best...
  • Crashman
    jestersagemaybe one of the 120mm fans should have been placed on the side panel? just wondering...
    The CPU and GPU temperatures were fine, and the CPU PWM isn't anywhere close to the side fan. Front-to-back airflow works fine, but the cards probably needed a little more voltage to O/C and this builder doesn't do graphics overvolting.
    qwertymac93TBH i would've traded the 580s for 570s(or 6970s) and got a better case. The 300 is a nice case on a budget, but this is a high end enthusiast PC, we can spare a few extra $ for better cable management, more airflow, better water cooling support, more expansion slots...Overall the build certainly wasn't bad, just not quite 10/10 for me Oh, and do you think the overclocking would've been improved with a cooler that blows over the vrms, like the Cooler master GeminII S?
    Probably, but then the CPU would have likely been warmer due to the modified air path.
  • Luay
    Showing us your experiment and the (not quite successful) results was brave and informative. Thanks!
    3 Sapphire HD6950 2GB Toxics unlocked and manually overclocked for $850 is $130 cheaper than GTX580 SLI.
    Upgrade to NF200 tri-fire ready Asus P67 WS revolution for $105 more than the GA-Z68XP-UD3. A premium overclocker too!
    Take away your $16 over the budget and you're at $1991.

    I would also recommend to a friend attempting to build similarly to:
    1) Replace i7 2600k with 15 2500k and save $95.
    2) Switch Memory to low voltage such as G.skill Sniper 8GB for and save $25. I don't want to go over a 850W PSU
    3) Switch HDD to Samsung F3 1TB for and save $20
    4) Upgrade SSD to Crucial M4 128GB for $30 more since the money is there.
    5) Upgrade case to Rosewill Blackhawk for $30 more. I'm not saying my choice of case is better, but I need more airflow for my choice of GPUs.
    6) You now have $89 to spend on a Gold Efficiency PSU, a premium CPU cooler, or a blue-ray drive, in that order.