System Builder Marathon, March 2010: System Value Compared

Test Settings

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March 2010 SBM Test Configuration
Row 0 - Cell 0 $750 PC$1,500 PC$3,000 PC
Motherboard (Overclock)Gigabyte MA790GPT-UD3H Socket AM3, 790GX Overclocked to 257 MHz HyperTransport ClockASRock X58 Extreme LGA-1366, X58 ExpressOverclocked to 195 MHz BCLKGigabyte GA-X58A-UD7 LGA-1366, X58 Express Overclocked to 205 MHz BCLK
Processor (Overclock)AMD Athlon II X3 435 2.90 GHz at 3.60 GHz Fourth Core Unlocked, 1.49VIntel Core i7-920 2.66 GHz at 3.90 GHzOverclocked 20x 195 MHz, +0.0VIntel Core i7-920 2.66 GHz at 4.30 GHz Overclocked 21x 205 MHz, 1.36V
Memory (Overclock)G.Skill DDR3-1600 CAS 9 CAS 9-9-9-24 at 1.60V Overclocked to 1,369 MHz, 7-8-7-15, 1.65VCrucial DDR3-1333 CAS 9 CAS 9-9-9-24, 1.50VOverclocked to 1,540 MHz, 8-8-8-18, 1.60V3 x Crucial DDR3-1333 2GB CAS 9-9-9-24, 1.50V Overclocked to 1,640 MHz, 8-8-8-18, 1.65V
Graphics (Overclock)2 x Sapphire HD 4850 625 MHz, GDDR3-1986 Overclocked to 700/2,360 MHz2 x Visiontek HD 5850 725 MHz, GDDR5-4000Overclocked to 775/4,500 MHzPowerColor HD 5970 750 MHz, GDDR5-4200 Overclocked to 980/4,880 MHz
System Hard DrivesWD WD6401AALS 640GB, 7,200 RPM, 32MBWD WD7501AALS 750GB, 7,200 RPM, 32MB2 x Crucial CT64M225 SSD 64GB x2 (RAID 0)
CaseAntec Three HundredCooler Master CM 690Cooler Master Cosmos-S
PowerAntec EarthWatts EA650 650WCorsair CMPSU-750TX 750WSilverStone ST1000-P 1,000W Modular
CPU CoolerXigmatek HDT-SD964 92mm TowerRosewill FORT120 120mm TowerSwiftech H20-220 Ultima XT Liquid Kit
O/SMicrosoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64
GraphicsAMD Catalyst 10.2
ChipsetAMD Catalyst 10.2Intel INF

All three systems achieved at least somewhat-admirable clock speeds and the $1,500 build amazingly reached 3.90 GHz at stock voltage after it was determined that increased voltage wasn’t helping. Gone is the problematic Core i7-860 of last-month’s high-cost build, while the new system’s liquid-cooled i7-920 reached 4.30 GHz with ease. The $750 system builder was even able to unlock his processor’s fourth core without suffering a major loss in stability, although his memory couldn’t match the CAS 6 capability of equally-priced award-winning modules from our previous shootout.

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Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2Campaign, Act III, Second Sun (45 sec. FRAPS) Test Set 1: Highest Settings, No AA Test Set 2: Highest Settings, 4x AA
CrysisPatch 1.2.1, DirectX 10, 64-bit executable, benchmark tool Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA Test Set 2: Very High Quality, 8x AA
Dirt 2 DemoIn-game benchmark Test Set 1: High Quality Preset, No AA Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset, 8x AA
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call Of PripyatS.T.A.L.K.E.R: Call Of Pripyat Benchmark version Test Set 1: High Preset, DX11 EFDL, No AA Test Set 2: Ultra Preset, DX11 EFDL, 4x MSAA
Audio/Video Encoding
iTunesVersion: x64 Audio CD ("Terminator II" SE), 53 min. Default format AAC
Handbrake 0.9.4Version 0.9.4, convert first .vob file from "The Last Samurai" (1GB) to .mp4, High Profile
MainConcept Reference 1.6.1MPEG2 to MPEG2 (H.264), MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG2), Audio: MPEG2 (44.1 KHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kb/s), Mode: PAL (25 FPS)
Adobe Photoshop CS4Version: 11.0 x64, Filter 15.7MB TIF Image Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Autodesk 3ds Max 2010Version: 11.0 x64, Rendering Dragon Image at 1920x1080 (HDTV)
Grisoft AVG Anti-Virus 9.0Version: 9.0.663, Virus base: 270.14.1/2407, Benchmark: Scan 334MB Folder of ZIP/RAR compressed files
WinRAR 3.90Version x64 3.90, Dictionary = 4,096KB, Benchmark: THG-Workload (334MB)
7-ZipVersion 4.65: Format=Zip, Compression=Ultra, Method=Deflate, Dictionary Size=32KB, Word Size=128, Threads=8 Benchmark: THG-Workload (334MB)
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark VantageVersion: 1.0.1, GPU and CPU scores
PCMark VantageVersion: x64, System, Productivity, Hard Disk Drive benchmarks
SiSoftware Sandra 2010Version 2010.1.16.11, CPU Test = CPU Arithmetic / MultiMedia, Memory Test = Bandwidth Benchmark

Our new benchmark suite is working fairly well, although we’re still seeing somewhat temperamental results in AVG. We’re currently working on a new antivirus application.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • DearSX
    Great comparison. I guess being poor is not all bad.
  • dirtmountain
    The performance of the $750 system is great for the price and i certainly agree with your statement "Yet the real winner is not the machine but its builder, as Paul Henningsen achieved a best value coup with AMD’s low-cost, overclockable, and unlockable Athlon II X3 435 processor."
    A big +1 to Mr. Henningsen and the other builders.
  • shubham1401

    Now I'm even more impressed with the Athlon II X3 435.

    The 750$ Rig was the most impressive for me.
  • skora
    Its nice to know "Go BIG or Go Home" can GO AWAY!!!

    Drop to a 500gb HDD and step up for the 1gb 4850s, and you have a very well balanced high power system with budget parts. Bravo Paul. Good showing Don and Tom.
  • gkay09
    I too agree that the credit should go to the builder - Mr. Henningsen
    But I would say that it should also go to AMD for giving such a CPU...
    Low-Mid segment, AMD still rules in terms of value and performance...
  • Onus
    Outstanding results. I hope this helps kids who are building with Daddy's money understand that they don't need to waste it on a big edong. Furthermore, for all practical intents and purposes, FPS may be capped at 120Hz for 3D displays and 60Hz for the other 99.9+% of us, and higher framerates ignored in the value comparisons as not being a visible improvement. Unlocking being partly a matter of luck though, it does still support the value of a quad-core processor, even in a budget build.
    On the subject of AVG, I'd leave it in the benchmarks as a valid example of a program a lot of people use, making its results relevant even if they look a little odd.
  • axekick
    I built my first build last October using a very similar setup.

    Antec 300 Illusion (same case)
    Gygabyte GA-MA790GPT-UD3H (same motherboard)
    Western Digital Caviar Black WD5001AALS
    G.Skill (2x2GB) DDR3 1333
    AMD Phenom II X3 720
    Sapphire Vapor-X Radeon HD 5750 (recently added)
    Corsair 450VX
    Samsung SH-S223B DVD Burner

    At the time it cost slightly less, without OS and including the recently added Radeon HD 5750 totals $737.55

    I have very similar benchmarks, slightly better actually and am very satisfied with the system. I have successfully unlocked the fourth core of the BE 720 and ran benchmarks after overclocking the processor and video card. It's an outstanding system for the price, more than I need. Actually I have locked back down the fourth core and do not keep it over-clocked as I don't do a lot of gaming.
  • gilbertfh
    IMO both the $750 and $1500 systems perform extremely well for the cost. From the looks of it the $3000 pc would be more of a status symbol.
  • bustapr
    I hope u guys start selling PCs on Newegg. "THG SMB Gaming PCs", I would like to buy that $750 PC, already built at that price or similar. It would save me alot of trouble building and ordering parts and it will become an instant best seller. You guys can destroy cyberpower and alienware and others. Paul Henningson, you can get rich fast.
  • jeverson
    I'm just a little curious though about the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. results. It says that the benchmark is using DX11. The $750 system is being evaluated there but is using HD4xxx video cards. How are you getting results for DX11 for that build? Anyway, great job as always guys! Although, I would have to say that to me the winning PC would be the $1500 OC as it was capable of staring down the $3k box and not flinch. Of course, I also say it because I have a 24" monitor and the $750 rig just doesn't cut it there unfortunately. Lastly, in one of the articles you guys asked if you should go back to the old $500/$1k/$2k builds. I think you guys are now in the new "sweet spots" for PC now. $750-$800/$1200-$1500/$2500-Obscene are good ranges these days. Hmm... maybe the "Obscene" should be a forth "bonus" build ;)