System Builder Marathon: The $4,500 Super PC

Motherboard And Processor

Asus P5E3-Premium WiFi-AP@N Edition

Read Customer Reviews of Asus’ P5E3 Premium WiFi-AP

Choosing the right motherboard isn’t always difficult, but it’s certainly an important step in your build process. Knowing that this month’s $4,500 PC would support high-end AMD graphics in a CrossFireX configuration, starting with Intel’s X48 Express chipset was a forgone conclusion. Two PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots provide the best bandwidth for high-performance graphics cards.

Narrowing our selection was as simple as looking at available memory modules. Though the DDR3 standard supports up to 16 GB per slot, it’s hard to find modules larger than 2 GB in retail channels. Our 8 GB target memory capacity would require four modules, a configuration that heavily favored the Asus P5E3-Premium in our second X48 Motherboard Comparison.

The P5E3 Premium WiFi-AP@N Edition is packed with features worthy of this $4,500 PC, including an on-board 802.11 Draft-N wireless interface, dual-Gigabit networking, and external SATA (eSATA). Even in the face of Intel’s X58 platform, it remains a compelling choice.

Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650

We’re certain that many readers will question the rationale for placing a $550 processor in a $4,500 machine, and we’ve got a good one. The Core 2 Quad Q9650 has the same standard 3.00 GHz clock speed as our previously chosen QX9650 and costs half as much as Intel’s top QX9770, yet it still provides us with Intel’s recent E0 stepping for superior overclocking capability. Why would we take a chance on the QX9770 which, at twice the price, might come with the older C0 stepping ?

We believe the Q9650 is the best choice for an overclocked system, at least until Intel releases its next-generation platform. That the Q9650 also saves us money compared to Intel’s top-rated part is a budgetary bonus that we can apply to other system components.