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Tom's SBM: The $1,500 Mainstream PC

Conclusion

This mid-range build has taught us a few things.

First, we should probably look to other, newer CPUs for higher overclocks. While the Q6600 is still a good choice for those who enjoy the speed that quad cores bring to applications optimized for them, overclockers would likely be better off with newer quad core CPUs or even newer dual core models like the E8400. While it’s true that many folks are having better luck than we have with our Q6600, it’s served us well and we’re ready to move on for the next System Builder Marathon.

While we could be happier with the overclocking result, the application performance increases hovered around 30% to 40%, which is a tangible real-world increase that isn’t easy to dismiss. The game benchmarks showed a lower increase due to dependence on the video cards, but it was still notable:

Our second conclusion is that two Radeon 4850 cards in a CrossFire configuration are a really great, cost-effective choice for a high-performance mid-range system. These cards took everything we threw at them at resolutions of up to 1920x1200. While we didn’t compare the new mid-range system to our previous mid-range System Builder Marathon configuration (because we modified some game settings in our new benchmark suite) the performance these cards provided in Crysis decimated the previous build that sported two 8800 GTS 512MB cards in SLI configuration. And the gap increased as the resolution went up, especially when we reached 1920x1200.

Now we’ll wait and see how the mid-range system and its overclock will compare to the low-end and high-end systems later in the Marathon. As always, stay tuned to see the results.

  • Hi,
    This is my first comment although I have reading this website for the past 8 years. Anyway to th point - Usuallt I agree 90% with you on components you choose, especially in the high-end and budget configuration. But this time a lot of tings strikes me: First it is the CPU - I am pleased You have addressed the issue to a great degree in the article later, but still I think it will be appropriate to try to further increase the voltage because this is a watercooled 65nm CPU; Second the chipset I think it`s ot the best choise, X38 is a former high-end chipset so when You`re overclocking you should get the faster binned X48, but because this is mid-range configuration I think it`s best to taka advantage of the super popular P45; Third the motherboard I am not sure if a motherboard with a not so stron PWM is the best tool for overclocking such a power-hungry chip, You should try to overclock on a different motherboard to see why are yuo`re not receiving a more descent overclock;Forth and last the price difference to a 1066MHz kit is pretty small so I think it`s preferable because tis will give You flexibility to try higher FSB with lower multiplier, wchich should give another notch of performance. I am saying all this because I want to help You make this website even better.
    Best Regards. Bobby
    Reply
  • I think it would be interesting to see power consumption and noise benchmarks for the PCs you build in this article series.
    Reply
  • JeanLuc
    I can see why you wanted to use a water cooling kit so that you got the best possible overclock from the CPU but water cooling is hardly ‘mainstream’ which is what I thought this system builder marathon was all about. The same goes for the choice of motherboard, the X38 is an enthusiast’s motherboard, something like the Biostar T Power i45 would have been more appropriate and according to CustomPC UK is just as good at overclocking as any other motherboard.

    Good choice in video cards, I’m glad you didn’t choose 4850’s with the stock coolers because those bad boys run really hot.
    Reply
  • Proximon
    Well it was a good try. Would have preferred a more truly mainstream rig, but then the forums are full of those.
    Reply
  • Malovane
    And I thought a $400 Dell or E-Machine was mainstream..
    Reply
  • fallen2004
    P45 wouldnt have workd cos it would bottleneck the crossfire as it only runs at 8x and 4850's need 16x
    Reply
  • neiroatopelcc
    JeanLucI can see why you wanted to use a water cooling kit so that you got the best possible overclock from the CPU but water cooling is hardly ‘mainstream’ which is what I thought this system builder marathon was all about.
    I agree with this dude really. Anything watercooled is enthusiast, not mainstream. I don't know if americans just treat themselves to better hardware, but here in europe anyone with watercooling is considered an enthusiast. Nobody with a reasonable budget is going to 'waste' money on water cooling. Imo a tuniq, tr120 or a scythe something cooler would've been a more appropriate midrange guess. Also I'd expect anyone building a pc today to pick a p45 over an x38 (though I like the red slots on this one)
    Reply
  • neiroatopelcc
    fallen2004P45 wouldnt have workd cos it would bottleneck the crossfire as it only runs at 8x and 4850's need 16xBtw I'm running a 4870 on an x16 pcie v1 - that equals an x8 pcie v2 connection. And I can hardly claim that my system's limited by the bandwidth.
    Reply
  • dirtmountain
    A E8500, single socket P45, HD4870x2,Sunbeam core contact cooler and a Coolermaster 690 would have made their budget and blown the socks off that build.
    Reply
  • grumps01
    How about some info on this "mainstream" system sound wise. How Loud or quite is this system use this Swiftech H20-220 Kit with larger pumps etc. Also what's the temperatures like (heat dissipation) like in general with this combination please?

    I know most ppl are probably more interested with the benchmarks, but I'm sure this might interest some people on what's it like to live with, thanks!
    Reply