System Builder Marathon: Performance & Value


System Builder Marathon, October 2008 : The Articles

Here are links to each of the four articles in this month’s System Builder Marathon (we’ll update them as each story is published).

The biggest change to this month’s System Builder Marathon was that we purchased all of our components one online vendor—NewEgg, as mentioned in the very first piece. Purchasing retail parts ensures that everything in our build is available on the open market, and that overclockers could have a realistic expectation of achieving similar performance gains. But perhaps the most important reason for buying our parts was to eliminate delays that typically accompany public relations department inquiries. Everything we ordered was in stock and speedy shipping reduced the possibility that any component we chose would be outdated by the time this project was published.

Of course, large projects are rarely completed without overcoming unexpected obstacles. After a small data entry error caused our account to be frozen, it took several days to figure out which parts of the order had been shipped, which parts had been canceled, and which parts were still pending approval. We were then faced with selecting substitutes for components that were no longer in stock and again waiting for shipping. The good news is that even while this series uses a six-week-old shopping list, technology has changed so little during that time that every one of our builds is still completely up-to-date, even if some of the exact models are no longer available from our friends at NewEgg. Let’s take a closer look.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Component$4,500 PC$1,500 PC$500 PC
CPUIntel Core 2 Quad Q9650 (3.00 GHz)Overclocked to 4.14 GHz, FSB-1840Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 2.40 GHzOverclocked to 3.46 GHz, FSB-1536Intel Pentium E2180 (2.00 GHz)Overclocked to 3.20 GHz, FSB-1600
CPU CoolerZalman LQ1000 IntegratedSwiftech H20-220 Apex GTCooler Master Hyper TX2
MotherboardAsus P5E3 Premium WiFi-APDFI Lanparty DK X38-T2RBGigabyte GA-EP35-DS3L
RAM4x 2GB OCZ PC3-12800 Platinum EditionUnderclocked to DDR3-1533, CAS 82x 2 GB Patriot Viper PC2-6400 CAS 4Underclocked to DDR2-768 CAS 52x 1 GB Wintec AMPO PC2-6400 CAS 5at DDR2-800 CAS 5 (Stock)
Graphics2x MSI HD 4870 X2 CrossfireXOverclocked to 782 MHz GPU, GDDR5-36002x ASUS Radeon 4850 TOP CrossfireOverclocked to 700 MHz GPU, GDDR3-2140PNY GeForce 8800 GT 512 MBOverclocked to 738 MHz GPU, GDDR3-2106
Hard Drives4x 1.0 TB Samsung Spinpoint F1 (RAID0)2x 500 GB SeagateBarracuda 7200.10 (RAID 0)Seagate Barracuda 7200.10ST3400620AS 400 GB
SoundAsus Xonar DX 7.1ch Audio CardIntegratedIntegrated 8-Channel HD Audio
NetworkIntegrated Gigabit NetworkingIntegrated Gigabit NetworkingIntegrated Gigabit Networking
CaseZalman Z-Machine LQ1000CoolerMaster Cosmos 1000Antec NSK4480B
PowerCorsair CMPSU-1000HX 1000WCORSAIR CMPSU-750TX 750 WEarthwatts 380 W Included w/Case
Total Price$4,500$1,482$499

Like so many custom-ordered “boutique builder” systems, each of our System Builder Marathon machines uses overclocking to maximize performance and value. Even the least of these builds reached a CPU clock speed of 3.2 GHz CPU, a fact that will certainly make it difficult for many builders to justify a more expensive configuration. Yet all the overclocking in the world isn’t enough to impress buyers who really need one of the higher-priced configurations .

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • slomo4sho
    Looking forward to the side by side Intel vs AMD build-offs for the $500 bracket(hopefully you start doing this)

    Also, in future write ups, can you please provide power consumption charts?
  • cangelini
    Slomo4shOLooking forward to the side by side Intel vs AMD build-offs for the $500 bracket(hopefully you start doing this)Also, in future write ups, can you please provide power consumption charts?
    I'll toss the idea around with our authors. Don't see it being a problem--just have to get everyone outfit with the same equipment and methodology. Thanks for the suggestions!
  • dangerous_23
    what about a $750 or $1000 machine - is this not a more realistic price point for most people?
  • zodiacfml
    based on these systems, a person should have an idea to build his 750 or $1000 dollar machines.
    i like most the $500 machine,the best value,simplicity and efficiency,
    only upgrading it to a quad core because i encode HD videos to H264 while surfing the net or watching a video.
    only games crysis and supreme c. required more than 3Ghz so a quad is not a big loss to duals in gaming.
  • dangerous_23
    id very much like to see the benchmarks from a machine costing somewhere between the $500 and $1500 builds
    i bet it would hit the sweet spot!
  • boostercorp
    hi tom's could you tell me where you got the
    2x 20 GB Patriot Viper PC2-6400 CAS 4
    ram ?
    I could use some more then my 8gb i've got now. ;) :p
  • cangelini
    boostercorphi tom's could you tell me where you got the
    You missed it! That was our limited-time $500 super-computer build. ;-)
  • slomo4sho
    And you stuck it in the $1500 machine? I knew you were holding out on that $500 build! :P
  • dirtmountain
    I really enjoy these System Builder Marathons, yeah i'd pick some different components and price brackets, but great stuff anyways. Going with Newegg as a sponsor is a great idea and i sure hope you continue it in the future for other SBM articles. Having a quality retailer like Newegg supply easily available components should really cut down on the logistics of doing these builds and hopefully they can come a bit more often. I'd like to see other SBM brackets e.g. $600 AMD vs. Intel build. Budget quad core builds - AMD 9950 vs. Q6600. Bracket $750 $1,500 $3,000 builds. How about a reader suggested build? Post a bracket, have folks post suggested builds and pick one or a combination of ideas and have your guys put one together. Any way, great job by the staff, good information, brilliant sponsorship by Newegg and a hell of a lot of fun to read, good job.
  • neiroatopelcc
    I'd suggest you upgrade your next $500 build to $650! or lower the $1500 to $1100 or so.
    According to a newsletter I received 4 days ago from one of the leading danish retailers, A basic pc costs $350, a basic gaming pc costs $600, and a 'good' (in their terms) gaming system costs $1000 - they're not selling any base pc with better graphics than an 4850, but it still means that they consider the $1000 to be the mainstream, and $600 to be lowend. Ofcourse the actual component price will be lower, but it's not going to be 25% lower.