System Builder Marathon: Price/Performance


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

With all the testing behind us it's finally time to see how each of our high end systems stands up in terms of value. We already knew that doubling the price of a system wouldn't double its performance level, but meeting basic market demands was our primary objective. Was our sub $1,000 low-cost system adequate to fill all of our basic needs, including games? Would the sub $2,000 mid-priced system provide substantial improvements in all programs, including support for medium gaming resolutions? Did the sub-$4000 high-end system prove itself cost-effective in high-end applications?

We'll go on to make our final value analysis after comparing each system side-by-side in the following benchmarks:

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Benchmarks and Settings
CrysisVersion: 1.1Video Quality 1: High Details No Anti-AliasingVideo Quality 2: Very High Details, 4x Anti-AliasingBenchmark: Benchmark_CPU.bat
PreyVersion: 1.3Video Quality 1: Default (No AA, 8x AF)Video Quality 2: High Quality, 4x AABenchmark: THG-Demo
Supreme CommanderVersion: 3.220Video Quality 1: DefaultVideo Quality 2: High Fidelity, High Shadow, 4x AABenchmark: Real 60 Game
Unreal Tournament 3Version: RetailTexture Detail: 5World Detail: 5Field of View: 100Benchmark: Botmatch (WAR-Torlan, 12 bots, 1 Minute)
Warhammer Mark of ChaosVersion: 1.6Video Quality:Default (Highest Settings)Demo: THG Timedemo (1 Minute)
iTunes 7.2Version: CD "Terminator II SE", 53 minHigh Quality (160kb/s)
Lame MP3Version: 3.98 Beta 3 (05-22-2007)Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 minwave to MP3160kb/s
TMPEGEnc 4.0 XpressVersion: File: Terminator 2 SE DVD (5 Minutes)Resolution: 720x576 (PAL) 16:9Audio: Dolby Digital, 48000 Hz, 6-Channel, EnglishAdvanced Acoustic Engine MP3 Encoder (160kb/s)
DivX 6.6Version: 6.6.1Profile: Home Theater Profile (720 x 576)1-pass, 780 kb/sEncoding mode: Insane QualityEnhanced multithreading
XviD 1.1.2Version: 1.1.2Target quantizer: 1.00 (maximum quality)
Adobe Photoshop CS3Version: 10.0x20070321Filtering 69 MB TIF PhotoBenchmark: Tom's Guide-Benchmark V1.0.0.4
Autodesk 3D Studio MaxVersion: 9.0Rendering One Video FrameQuality: HTDV 1920x1080 & 1280x720
Grisoft AVG Anti-VirusVersion: 7.5.467Virus Base: 269.6.1/776Benchmark: Scanning 3.82 GB Application Folder
Maxon Cinema 4DVersion: 10.008Resolution: 1280 x 1024Benchmark: Rose Drop, 8-bits (50 Frames)
Rarlab WinrarVersion 3.70 BETA 8Compression = BestDictionary = 4096 kBUncompressed Folder Size: 642 MB
SPECviewperf 9Version: 9.0.3
PCMark05 ProVersion: 1.1.0System, CPU and Memory TestsWindows Media Player 11.0.6000.6324Windows Media Encoder
Futuremark 3DMark 2006Version 1.10System Test Only
SiSoftware Sandra XIIVersion 2007.5.11.40CPU Test = CPU Arithmetic, MultimediaMemory Test = Bandwidth Benchmark

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.
  • It's an amazing comparison....!!!

    However, it would be appropriate to raise the cost of the low-cost system to $1,000, to corrolate systems that cost $1,000, $2,000 and $4,000 for better distinction, then the low cost alternatve could shine as a value option, with E8500 CPU, 2x2 GB RAM and a 750 GB storage.
  • Retrogame
    What I took away from this was examples of how the systems actually behave. Naturally, if you're spending $4000 on hardware and that doesn't even include your OS and your screen, you want and expect a system that's "really really really fast". You can get that.

    However, the second thing I was paying attention to was how the lower end system did in "real world" terms. Except for Crysis, it actually did pretty well on most things, and gave you games that were playable. When it comes to the other benchmarks, sure, you can "render that video in a minute's faster time"; but then again, in the real world, you would be working on something that takes many more minutes to render; long enough that you would probably work on something else in the mean time, or still go for a cup of coffee.

    Or you can rip that CD faster, but, then again, now that we're in the realm of mere seconds, is saving less than a minute really of actual value? Not several thousand dollars worth of value.

    I think I'm like most people and would shoot for the overclocked middle system.

    I still remember the days when rendering took over night!
  • ikesysmi
    -- firstly, please forgive me if use terminology incorrectly or i sound unfamiliar with this territory (because actually i am). a former it help desk supervisor for 23 years and career cut short to disability a few years ago. so ... i've been out of the "loop" for awhile, although the "game" still interests me despite disabilities ... thank you.

    -- as for the tom's website and this forum ... today's my first encounter (my b'day of all days! great resource / forum here!

    I am considering building a PC for me to work from home / build a new home business vie the web. I've been researching for days (and nights) now and this article was a blessing! Looking for a system that would blow the doors off Photoshop, AutoCad and the like ... here's my take ...

    By the way ... I did what most of us do and went right to the "conclusion" writing first. Only then when I see the hype over the "low-end" system did I go back to the beginning; sorry, i just learned to read that way (ex-IBM'r and just loved to read cover to cover those shelves of 3-inch thick IBM manuals lining my office shelves ... if ya' know what i mean ... ~wink~). Anyway ...

    Turns out that for me (and potentially other digital "image doodlers" as well), that the middle of the road works especially well: 1.The study here shows (as for overclocked applications are compared) that the likes of Photoshop noticed almost a 100% percent performance gain over the low-end system (the one i almost built), 2.While middle system showed a performance gain of anywhere from 34% to 94% on applications, the low end system only seen a 7%-13% gain! Wow! That's "valuable" to me! and 3.The most noticable difference between middle / low systems is with the likes of Photoshop and 3D rendering! Right up my ally! Yes it costs me 131% more to build but in my case, I can't pass up a potential for a 100% percent gain in productivity! And finally, the article points out that mid$ systems when overclocked actually surpass the hi$ systems base-speed. So, that tells me that the best thing for me to do is to find the least costly, middle of the road system to build but make sure that the components are as upgradable as possible so that in the future (say 6 months from now), when the next photoshop upgrade calls for more and more system resources ... i'll not need to throw it out and start over again from scratch!

    Thanks guys ... fantastic article! Saved me tons of wasted time!
  • ikesysmi
    RetrogameWhat ... Or you can rip that CD faster, but, then again, now that we're in the realm of mere seconds, is saving less than a minute really of actual value? Not several thousand dollars worth of value. I think I'm like most people and would shoot for the overclocked middle system.I still remember the days when rendering took over night!
    I'm from the days when "rendering" meant that the IT manager summoned the department gopher (me in those days) to "render" her another cup of coffee!

    In all seriousness though ... you make an excellent point here ...

    Not so long ago, I remember my computer users asking back in the day when the PS/2 came to replace our 40286-processor AT's ... "What the heck we need PS/2 for anyhow?" Heck, we were running dual-display, 286 AT workstations for AutoCad for goodness sake! And we spent quite a pretty penny for those systems! I even remember my IT boss commenting to the computer staff that the fixed disk was just a fad and there wasn't any software that could take advantage of it ... and therefore ... she bucked buying systems with hard drives for years and wanted management to continue paying for her overpriced, turtle-speed mainframe!

    So, the point I make here I guess is ... That millisecond or two we're laughing about right now will add up and it won't be too long into the future when you'll be looking back and telling your grandkids about the first multi-terrabyte machines that came out ... way way back in the early 2000's !!!