System Builder Marathon: High-Cost System

Getting Ahead Of The Curve

Here’s a list of the System Builder Marathon (SBM) articles in this five day series.

The toughest part about building a system within a $4,000 hardware budget is that there are simply too many good parts to choose from. Many upper-range components typically offer similar performance, yet there isn’t enough money to waste resources on frivolous things such as custom-painted cases and gold-plated heat sinks. Our selections have to stand up in light of this marathon’s Day 5 value comparison, and this also has to be a system that anyone proficient with a screwdriver can replicate.

From the outside, our high-end build certainly looks like a performance player, but looks can be deceiving. In order to determine its true worth, we’re going to treat it just as critically as we would any pre-built system with similar specifications. We’ll also detail the rationale behind each selected component, which should reduce the amount of hate mail we get that always begins with "Why didn’t you choose (a different part)" and ends with an insult to our collective intelligence.

Our build sheet certainly looks much like those of certain boutique builders, but notice that the final cost is in line with a "next model down" pre-built. (Compare Prices on Core 2 Extreme QX9650)

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March 2008 SBM High-End PC Component Cost
CPUIntel Core 2 Extreme QX9650$1060
CPU CoolerSwiftech H20-120 Compact Cooler KitSwiftech MCR220 2x120mm RadiatorSilverstone RADSUPPORT09Swiftech Chrome 3/8-Inch Fittings, 2-packSwiftech Plastic Hose Clamps, 4-pack2x Swiftech 3/8-Inch Neoprene Tubing Packs2x Scythe S-Flex SFF21E 120mm Fan1403615562630
MotherboardAsus Striker II Formula320
RAMCrucial Ballistix DDR2 800 PC2-6400 - 4 GB100
Graphics2x Gigabyte GeForce 8800GTX - GV-NX88X768H-RH840
Hard Drive2x Western Digital Caviar WD7500AAKS300
SoundAsus SupremeFX II Riser Card0
CaseSilverstone Temjin TJ09BW270
PowerCoolermaster RS850-EMBA 850W200
DVD-RWToshiba Samsung Storage Technology SH-203B28
Auxiliary FanAntec SpotCool Motherboard Cooling Fan15
Floppy DriveNEC 1.44 MB Floppy Drive9
Total Price$3,400

Nobody said we had to spend all of the money, and we simply couldn’t think of any performance additions that wouldn’t have killed this system’s value. If we didn’t already have our own software and peripherals we could even spend the remaining money on a 24" monitor, keyboard, mouse, and operating system. A great deal of this build’s budget is dedicated to the cooling system, but we’re looking forward to the payoff from that in our Day 4 overclocking comparison.

Because this build’s cooling system is so elaborate, a detailed component installation guide accompanies today’s component descriptions and benchmarks. Let’s take a closer look.

Join our discussion on this article !

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • TDL
    Thanks for the great article - I'm having fun building this - I do have 3 questions though - the fan duct assembly fan has 3 wire sets, 1 has the 3wire motherboard connector, the second taps into a regular power lead. The third is a single wire - the case documentation does not describe that one - what is that little single lead for? Also the motherboard sound card has some connectors on it - I assume one is for the case headphone/mic lead? Third, should teflon tape be used in the dual radiator threads if not how tight is tight enough for the O-rings? Thanks great article!
  • Dax3000
    Hi Thanks For The Great Article - I Am Also Building A System With A Few Modifications I Loved Asus Boards But Can Never Seem To Overclock Them At All So I Am Going With A EVGA 780i FTW when they come out, THat Processor IS Sweet But No Way CAn I JUstify PAying $1060 or more here in canada for 1 Pc Component when i already own three computers, I was thinking maybe a Q6850 when they come out, i have changed the middle fan in my case already and i am just waiting on my 120 rad to get here as i already have the other parts from another computer i built that i couldn't use so that saved me a few dollars:) and i can't find that power supply anywhere so i am gonna do with a X3 1000 watt from ultra i hope it's good enough. and since i am not a really good overclocker no point in risking a high end system by messing around with 2 expensive graphics cards will 2 9800GTX+ work for me ? and omost importantly after my system is finished and filled how do i top it up if it needs more water do i have to take the top rad down to fill it everytime or can i just add water in to the same rad. thanks alot of your help and keep up the great work.
  • DaveCharleson
    I've been installing and have three questions. First, there seems to be no pump in this system - have I just missed something?

    Second, the twin fan radiator seems to draw the air from inside the case up through the radiator and then out the top of the case. Wouldn't you want to draw cooler air from the outside past the radiator?

    Third, I don't see any connection to the video card although the 880GTX card is built for water cooling. Wouldn't you want to include this in the loop?

    This is my first build with water cooling so sorry if the questions belie this.
  • jimwalk
    The Arctic Silver instructions for applying to Intel Quad Core CPU W/Heatspreader are at