System Builder Marathon, Dec. 2009: System Value Compared


System Builder Marathon, December 2009: 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 $2,500 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1,300 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $700 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

This month’s System Builder Marathon was full of surprises, the biggest being that our stock-cooled $1,300 build overclocked far easier than its big-air $2,500 competitor. But overclocking capacity is never guaranteed, and our final results reflect real-world challenges that every builder must face.

In the face of recent memory price surges and a shortage of high-end graphics processors, it was hardly surprising that prices on many of our components went up almost immediately after clicking the “buy” button at Newegg. The day our order was placed, the $700 build was within 1% of its target price, while the $2,500 PC actually came in under budget. Yet, we’re forced to use current pricing (or most-recent pricing for deactivated parts) in today’s value comparison with hopes that recent price increases won’t completely dismantle the efforts put forth by each builder to achieve the greatest “bang for the buck.”

Unlike September’s gaming-system shootout, today’s machines are designed to provide as much performance as possible across a wide variety of uses, while staying within certain budget limits. We have, like most readers, broken the budget on rare occasions where a little extra money would yield significant gains. But like most readers, we're still faced with the realities that our money supply is far from endless. Here’s a quick run-down of the parts we chose several weeks ago and the final cost at most-recent prices:

Swipe to scroll horizontally
December 2009 System Builder Marathon Component Prices
Row 0 - Cell 0 $700 PC$1,300 PC$2,500 PC
MotherboardDFI BI P45-T2RS LGA 775, P45/ICH10RGigabyte P55-UD4P LGA 1156, P55 PCHGigabyte P55-UD4P LGA 1156, P55 PCH
ProcessorIntel Pentium E5300 2.60 GHz Dual-CoreIntel Core i5-750 2.66 GHz Quad-CoreIntel Core i7-860 2.80 GHz Quad-Core
MemoryCorsair DDR2-800 CAS 5.0 2 x 2GB, 4GB Total MemoryA-Data DDR3-1333 CAS 8.0, 2 x 2GB, 4GB Total Memory2 x Crucial DDR3-1333 CAS 9.0, 4GB Kits, 8GB Total Memory
Graphics2 x XFX HD 4870 HD-487A-YWFC 512MB GDDR5-36002 x XFX HD 5850 HD-585A-ZNBC 1GB GDDR5-40002 x Diamond HD 5870 5870PE51G 1GB GDDR5-4800
Hard DrivesSamsung Spinpoint F3 500GB HD502HJWD Caviar Black 640GB WD6401AALS2 x WD Caviar Black 2.0TB WD2001FASS
OpticalSamsung SH-S223C 22x DVD±R 48x CD-R 16x DVD-ROMSamsung SH-S223C 22x DVD±R 48x CD-R 16x DVD-ROMLG WH08LS20 BD-RE 8x BD-R, 2x BD-RE, 16x DVD±R
CaseAntec Two HundredNZXT M59Lian-Li LanCool PC-K7B
PowerAntec EarthWatts 650W Non-Modular 80-Plus StandardCorsair CMPSU-750TX 750W Non-Modular 80-Plus StandardCorsair CMPSU-850HX 850W Semi-Modular 80-Plus Gold Certified
CPU CoolerXigmatek HDT-SD964Intel Core i5 Standard (Included w/CPU)Xigmatek HDT-S1284EE Crossbow ACK-15363 Cooler + Bracket Kit
Current Price$735 $1,464 $2,585

Stuck with last-year’s mainstream technology, the $700 configuration looks almost like a lamb before wolves. Yet, all three builders managed to find graphics-boosting CrossFire technology within or near their budgets, so perhaps the least of these will still be fast enough to at least meet our gaming needs? As other questions, such as the potentially close performance of the two costlier system’s processors lay heavily on our minds, we’re ready to examine our performance comparison charts.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • DarkMantle
    Great conclusion Thomas, good System Building Marathon overall. My only wish is to see something with an AMD processor next time, specially on the market segment where they shine.
  • shubham1401
    I am really impressed by the performance of $1300 PC.

    It came so close to the $2500 PC without breaking the bank.
    Simply awesome!!
  • noob2222
    typo on the last page, overclocked $650, not sure if that was the value used in the chart, might check that also.
  • ibnsina
    Good conclusions..

    This article can get more interesting if you add previous systems data to the charts.
  • erdinger
    Yes the previous systems would have been really nice to compare, espacially in the conclusion.
  • Crashman
    ibnsinaGood conclusions..This article can get more interesting if you add previous systems data to the charts.
    Sorry, but that wouldn't be fair. First of all, September's systems used different benchmarks, settings, and OS. Second, September's systems used both AMD graphics that pre-date these, plus AMD processors, and people would have used the older graphics as an excuse to beat up on the CPU. AMD fans would have gone nuts as well, claiming the authors were trying to use the superior graphics of this SBM to skew readers against AMD. Tom's isn't interested in publishing invalid results or creating fake controversy.
  • Crashman
    psycho sykesA question..Does those come with Windows 7 installed? Or they won't be real 700-1300-2500 machines.. Right?!
    Windows 7 was only installed for the benchmark analysis. For anyone who would like to copy one of the builds and still stay on budget, Ubuntu is suggested.
  • kick_pixels
    Crashman First of all, September's systems used different benchmarks. AMD fans would have gone nuts as well
    If you compare the benchmarks, is more or less identical with 1-2 minor differences. What’s wrong with idea of comparing different configurations? I don’t agree with the thought of AMD fans getting upset about it, to contrary they will be happy about gaining new knowledge.
  • Onus
    First of all, Merry Christmas everyone!
    Second of all, congratulations to Don. His tweaking contributed heavily to the superiority of the $1300 machine. The $700 machine pulled up lame when not gaming, and the $2500 machine was crippled by inadequate cooling.
    If I win the big guy, I'll put it in my CM-RC690 and see how it does. The little guy will get my Q9450, but Don's build just needs a better cooler.
    Nice series.
  • Niva
    Merry xmas to the staff and thanks for writing these articles at an otherwise slow time of the year due to holidays. I've enjoyed reading them.