System Builder Marathon, March 2010: $3,000 Extreme PC

Finally, A Forward-Looking Build

System Builder Marathon, March 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 $3,000 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1,500 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $750 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected


Everyone hates the idea of putting a bunch of money into a system, only to find its components are middle-rung six months later. But that’s the harsh reality of the high-end market. Offended by that loss in value, many builders toss around terms like “future proof” when they're looking for components that will support the latest hardware trends perpetually. And yet, the harshest reality might be that most IHVs can only look forward to a single generation. The best we can hope for is a system that can be upgraded using near-term technologies over the course of several years, so that’s where we’ve started today.

Followers of our System Builder Marathon (and those who help us make these decisions with their participation in the comments section) will notice several additions and subtractions from this month’s build. First up was a long-overdue increase in budget from $2,500 to $3,000 that finally addresses last summer’s component price escalation.

No longer must we choose between solid-state drives (SSDs) or liquid cooling, as this month’s budget allows us to use both. Redundant storage, on the other hand, was nixed due to reader disagreement over various backup methods, though we intentionally left enough money in the budget to add a second storage drive, if that's the direction you choose to take with your own build.

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$3,000 Performance PC Component Prices
MotherboardGigabyte GA-X58A-UD7 Chipset: Intel X58 Express$350
ProcessorIntel Core i7-920 2.66 GHz 4 Cores, 8MB L3 Cache$289
MemoryCrucial 6GB DDR3-1333 Triple-Channel Kit 3 x 2GB (6GB Total), CAS 9-9-9-28$165
GraphicsPowerColor LCS AX5970 2GB GDDR5-4200 Radeon HD 5970 Dual GPUs at 750 MHz$830
System Hard Drives2 x Crucial CT64M225 SSD (RAID 0) 64GB x2 (128GB Total), SATA 3.0 Gb/s$380
HDD AccessorySNT-SATA2221B Hot-Swappable 2x 2.5" Mobile Rack$ 22
Storage Hard DriveWestern Digital Caviar Black WD1001FALS 1TB, 7,200 RPM, 32MB Cache, SATA 3.0 Gb/s$100
OpticalLite-On DH-4B1S-08 SATA Blu-ray Burner 4X BD-R, 2X BD-RE, 12X DVD±R, 4X BD-ROM$190
CaseCooler Master Cosmos-S RC-1100-KKN1-GP$170
PowerSilverStone ST1000-P 1,000W Modular ATX12V 2.2, EPS12V 2.91, 80-Plus Silver$200
CPU CoolerSwiftech H20-220 Ultima XT Liquid Kit 2x 120mm Radiator$230
Row 11 - Cell 0 Total Current Cost$2,926

Because we treated the $3,000 budget as an absolute limit rather than a target, our highest-priced system remains under-budget, despite minor increases that occurred after placing our order.

Now that we’ve introduced the system, let’s consider how each of these components fits into our plans for a forward-looking, high-performance PC.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • zoemayne
    More than 64GB is gonna be needed for multiple games and good apps... those ssd's can only handle 5 games max.
  • zoemayne
    the case is sick it just needs a black interior
  • Crashman
    zoemayneMore than 64GB is gonna be needed for multiple games and good apps... those ssd's can only handle 5 games max.
    You're repeatedly ignoring that it's 128GB, not 64GB, because the article repeatedly states that the drives are striped (Level 0) by the RAID controller. And there's a terabyte of added storage on top of that for stuff that isn't programs.
  • sid1712
    I couldn't have made it better. Amazing rig for a 3k budget.
  • Onyx2291
    Nice fail there Zoe.

    This thing is a beast.
  • anamaniac
    Nice as it is, my only complaint is that...
    Overclocked 5970 + i7 on a single 120.2?

    Well, I personally would have dropped something else and gone for a 120.3 or 140.3 radiator. =D
    Hell, maybe even a 140.4 radiator, but then again, I like my system to run chilly and silent. It's also be very difficult to mount a 140.4 I assume. Maybe I could jack a radiator form work, I think it's about 1 metre by 3 metres by half a metre. Granted, it's for industrial use, but just for one day, please boss please?

    Good results on the i7 though. Decently low voltage and still managed to reach 4.3GHz. My i7 is a lemon. It makes me sad. =(
    Also an impressive overclock for a 5970.

    At this kind of power, you should be testing multi monitor resolutions. I have a 5770 and I run 7 megapixels, you use a 5970 and only run 4 megapixels.

    Looking forward tho the $1,500 build. See how my build compares to one six months older on a similar budget (and cry).
  • tacoslave
    i cried when i saw that 5970. in action
  • tacoslave this is what happened when i saw that 5970 in action "I CAME"
  • Crashman
    9490893 said:
    Nice as it is, my only complaint is that...
    Overclocked 5970 + i7 on a single 120.2?

    Well, the explanation is in the conclusion, the builder wanted redundant storage instead of the big radiator but chose neither, leaving enough room in the budget for anyone who wanted to copy the build to make their own upgrade choice.

    But what's not in the budget is that the water was never hot, it was barely warm. The problem with running the CPU at 100% load and the GPU at 100% load is that the water temperature went up by around 10 degrees...we're talking about going from the 30's to the 40's here at full load. The article points to the GPU cooler as a likely flow restriction so I have three solutions:

    Solution 1: Add 1/2" by 3/8" adapter T's and cool the chipset block, parallel to the GPU block. That would allow some of the water to bypass the GPU cooler, which is OK since the GPU was always cold. But 1/2" by 3/8" T's are hard to find outside of a hardware store, and Newegg certainly doesn't have them.

    Solution 2: Switch to a 3-fan radiator. A 4-fan unit won't fit nicely into that case, and making an ugly system wasn't considered a solution.

    Solution 3: Add a second liquid-cooled 5970 parallel to the first. Get twice the GPU power and completely unblock the lines in the process. The GPUs would run slightly hotter when each gets only half the water, but at least the CPU block's flow won't be restricted. And...since it's probably adding another 10 degrees to the coolant...stick the three-fan radiator in there as well. For FOUR grand you could have a KILLER system!

    OK, so solution 1 is the cheapest, but you have to admit solution 3 is tempting...
  • Sihastru
    I kinda like it. Dramatic power increase for the overclocked components. But also dramatic performance increase.

    Another solution to the constricted water flow would be to change the block on the 5970.

    This build gets one and a half thumbs up from me, not that anyone cares...