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.

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March 2010 System Builder Marathon Components
Row 0 - Cell 0 $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.
  • 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 ;)