SBM 5: Price/Performance

System Builder Marathon September: The Articles

Here are links to each each of the five articles in this month's System Builder Marathon (SBM).

Day 1: Low Cost PC compared to last SBM Low Cost PC
Day 2: Mid Cost PC compared to last SBM Mid Cost PC
Day 3: Higher Cost PC compared to last SBM Higher Cost PC
Day 4: All Three September SBM PCs Overclocked
Day 5: Summary - Price- Performance Winner

The Best Laid Schemes O' Mice An' Men

A greater truth is rarely spoken: In the world of system building, things often get ugly. Carefully planning helps one to avoid a few common pitfalls, but it often occurs that something doesn't fit, an order gets delayed, a vital component gets switched, or one part doesn't deliver the expected performance. We've proven that throwing money at the problem is not the solution, as our problems increased with the complexity of each build. System Builder Marathons are designed to deliver the same challenges to reviewers that independent builders would normally expect, so no cheating or shortcuts were allowed. Anyone wishing to revisit our ordeal is welcome to click on the links above for the full build details of each system.

This month's marathon presents a special treat for value-seeking overclockers, as our final analysis will compare three systems at three distinct price points, using both baseline and overclocked speeds. Will the lowest-cost system win yet again, and if it does, will there still be any justification for purchasing higher cost parts?

With four long days of tuning and testing behind us, it's finally time to measure each system's worth!

Test Setup

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System Hardware
Processor 1Intel Core Duo e67502.67 GHz, 1333 FSB, 4 MB Cache
Processor 2Intel Core 2 Quad Q66002.40 GHz, 1066 FSB, 8 MB Cache
Processor 3Intel Core 2 Extreme QX68502.93 GHz, 1066 FSB, 8 MB Cache
Motherboard 1ASUS P5K, BIOS: 0507
Motherboard 2MSI P6N SLI Platinum, BIOS 1.4 (07/31/2007)
Motherboard 3ASUS Striker Extreme, BIOS 1305 (08/27/07)
RAM 1Wintec AMPO PC2-64002x 1024 MB, CAS 5-5-5-16
RAM 2Patriot eXtreme Performance PC2-64002x 1024 MB, CAS 5-5-5-15
RAM 3Crucial Ballistix PC2-64002x 1024 MB, CAS 4.0-4-4-12
Hard Drive 1Seagate Barracuda ST3320620AS320 GB, 7200 RPM, 16 MB Cache, SATA 300
Hard Drive 2Western Digital Caviar RE2 WD5000YS500 GB, 7200 RPM, 16 MB Cache, SATA300
Hard Drive 32x Western Digital Caviar WD7500AAKS, RAID 0750 GB, 7200 RPM, 16 MB Cache, SATA 300
Networking 1PCIe Gb LAN controller featuring AI NET2
Networking 2NVIDIA nForce onboard Gigabit Ethernet NIC
Networking 3NVIDIA nForce onboard Gigabit Ethernet NIC
Graphics Card 1EVGA GeForce 8800 GTS, 320 MB RAM500 MHz GPU, 1600 MHz RAM Data Rate
Graphics Card 2EVGA GeForce 8800 GTX, 768 MB RAM576 MHz GPU, 1800 MHz RAM Data Rate
Graphics Card 32x Gigabyte GeForce 8800 GTX, 768 MB RAM (Per Card)575 MHz GPU, 1800 MHz RAM Data Rate
Power Supply 1Fortron Source AX450-PN, 450W
Power Supply 2Aero Cool Zerodba 620W Crossfire/SLI ready
Power Supply 3Ultra Products X3 1000W Modular Power Supply
System Software & Drivers
OSMicrosoft Windows XP Pro 5.1.2600
DirectX Version9.0c (4.09.0000.0904)
Platform DriverIntel INF nForce Version 9.53
Graphics DriverNVidia ForceWare 162.18
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Benchmarks and Settings
F.E.A.RVersion: 1.0 RetailVideo Mode: 1024x768Computer: MaximumGraphics: Maximum-Custom-No SoftshadowsTest Path: Options/Performance/Test Settings
Doom 3Version: 1.3Video Mode: 1024x768Graphics: HighTest: Time Demo 1
OblivionVersion: 1.0 RetailVideo Mode: 1024x768Graphics: High, 4xAATest: Inside & Outside save files
Lame MP3Version 3.97 Beta 2 (12-22-2005)Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 minwave to mp3160 kbps
OGGVersion 1.1.2 (Intel P4 MOD)Version 1.1.2 (Intel AMD MOD)Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 minwave to oggQuality: 5
TMPEG 3.0 ExpressVersion: (no Audio)fist 5 Minutes DVD Terminator 2 SE (704x576) 16:9Multithreading by rendering
DivX 6.6Version: 6.6Profile: High Definition Profile1-pass, 3000 kbit/sEncoding mode: Insane QualityEnhanced multithreadingno Audio
XviD 1.1.3Version: 1.1.3Target qantizer: 1.00
Autodesk 3D Studio MaxVersion: 8.0Characters "Dragon_Charater_rig"rendering HTDV 1920x1080 & 1280x720
SPECviewperf 9Version: 9.0.3
PCMark05 ProVersion: 1.1.0System, CPU and Memory TestsWindows Media Player Media Encoder
3DMark05Version: 1.2System Test Only
SiSoftware Sandra 2005Version 2005.7.10.60CPU Test = Arithmetic, Multimedia BenchmarksMemory Test = Bandwidth Benchmark

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