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System Builder Marathon, March 2010: System Value Compared

The Bigger They Come…

System Builder Marathon, March 2010: 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). And remember, these systems are all being given away at the end of the marathon.

To enter the giveaway, please check out this Google form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: The $3,000 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1,500 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $750 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected


It’s always been the goal of our System Builder Marathon (SBM) series to present three levels of enthusiast builds, beginning with budget-performance and ending with extreme-performance configurations. However, last year’s price increases took particularly hard hits on the low-cost system’s memory and high-end system’s cooling configuration. Moderate expectations and a wider selection of mainstream parts offer a little more flexibility in the middle. However, maintaining the same price structure meant increasing all three budgets by a similar level. Getting back to where we were at the beginning of last year pushed the occasionally-broken $2,500 budget to $3,000, the frequently-breached $1,250 budget to $1,500, and the completely-disregarded $625 budget to $750.

Each of the three builders approached the new budget limits with a different perspective. The $3,000 PC builder quit spending when he ran out of economically-feasible performance upgrades, coming $100 short of what he considered to be an actual limit and leaving plenty of room for several weeks of price changes. The $1,500 PC builder treated the budget as theoretical, maximizing scalability with an LGA 1366 platform that pushed the budget $23 beyond its limit before time-restricted discounts vanished. The $750 system builder focused on cramming in the highest possible gaming value at purchase time, with far less regard for what the future of prices (or upgrades) would bring.

March 2010 System Builder Marathon Components
$750 PC$1,500 PC$3,000 PC
MotherboardGigabyte MA790GPT-UD3H Socket AM3, 790GXASRock X58 Extreme LGA 1366, X58 ExpressGigabyte GA-X58A-UD7 LGA 1366, X58 Express
ProcessorAMD Athlon II X3 435 2.90 GHz Triple-CoreIntel Core i7-920 2.66 GHz Quad-CoreIntel Core i7-920 2.66 GHz Quad Core
MemoryG.Skill DDR3-1600 CAS 9 2 x 2GB (4GB Total)Crucial DDR3-1333 CAS 9 3 x 2GB (6GB Total)Crucial DDR3-1333 CAS 9 3 x 2GB (6GB Total)
Graphics2 x Sapphire HD 4850 512MB GDDR3-1986 625 MHz GPU2 x Visiontek HD 5850 1GB GDDR5-4000 725 MHz GPUPowerColor HD 5970 2GB GDDR5-4200 Dual GPU at 750 MHz
System Hard DrivesWD WD6401AALS 640GB, 7200 RPM, 32MBWD WD7501AALS 750GB, 7200 RPM, 32MB2x Crucial CT64M225 SSD 64GB x 2 (128GB Total)
HDD AccessoryNoneNoneSNT-SATA2221B 2x 2.5" Mobile Rack
Additional Hard DriveNoneNoneWD WD1001FALS 1.0TB, 7,200 RPM, 32MB
OpticalLG GH22NS50 22x DVD±RSamsung SH-S223C 22x DVD±RLite-On DH-4B1S-08 4x BD-R,  2x BD-RE
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
Current Price$789$1,582$2,926

The value goals of today’s comparison meant frivolous spending would be out of the question. Less than 10% of the $3,000 system’s total price was spent on added storage and Blu-ray capabilities. Similarly, less than 10% of the $1,500 system’s price was spent on upgrading to LGA 1366. The $750 PC builder was even thriftier, with less than 1% of the PC's price spent on an upgrade to 640GB.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.