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System Builder Marathon: Sub-$4000 PC

Setting the High Mark?

This System Builder Marathon marks the first time in the series that we’ve felt significantly restricted by a $4,000 budget. Though lots of top parts can be had for less, it’s the combination that got us. It’s certainly a shame that, for example, our budget forced us to forgo any of the new “lower-cost” Blu-Ray optical drives. Keeping our focus on total system performance will pay off in the benchmarks, in spite of the fact that we feel just a little let down in the area of features.

SBM High June

Carrying over many of the components from our March System Builder Marathon allowed us to also carry over the finished photo, though the lighted audio module seen above has been replaced with a sound card. As we consider our updates, we’ll also detail why some of our previous choices simply couldn’t be improved upon.

CPUIntel Core 2 Extreme QX96501050
CPU CoolerSwiftech H20-120 Compact Cooler Kit140
Swiftech MCR220 2x120mm Radiator36
Silverstone RADSUPPORT0913
Swiftech Chrome 3/8-Inch Fittings, 2-pack5
Swiftech Plastic Hose Clamps, 4-pack6
2x Swiftech 3/8-Inch Neoprene Tubing Packs26
2x Scythe S-Flex SFF21E 120mm Fan30
MotherboardAsus Striker II Extreme450
RAMPatriot Extreme Performance DDR3-1333 - 4GB315
Graphics2x Gigabyte GeForce 9800 GX2 GV-NX98X1GHI-B1040
Hard DriveSamsung Spinpoint F1 HD753LJ (750GB) x2240
SoundASUS Xonar DX 7.190
CaseSilverstone Temjin TJ09BW250
PowerCoolermaster RS850-EMBA 850W180
DVD-RWToshiba Samsung Storage Technology SH-203B30
Auxiliary FanAntec SpotCool Motherboard Cooling Fan15
Floppy DriveNEC 1.44MB Floppy Drive9
Total Price$3925

While the system we built in March was several hundred dollars under budget, this month’s highest-end configuration is dangerously close to our budget limit. We added a sound card this time, but the substitution of higher-cost parts remains by far the largest contributor to our overall expense. The big question is whether or not the new configuration will outperform the former system by a similar amount, so lets take a closer look at the components.

  • L1qu1d
    Good Article, i'd still like to see more current generation games, such as COD4, Bioshock, Grid, Gears of Ware etc, I mean prey is a very old game and warhammer meh...

    Either way very well explained article, but for some1 like me the 8800 Ultras still sell for around 500$ here, and 3 of them would set me back 1500, while the GX2s 1000-1200:P
    Reply
  • Waspy
    Liquid, what was their old rig? Wasn't it 2x 8800GTXes? That pretty much squarely beat 2x 9800GX2s? So you don't need 3, only 2!

    Also, good point, they need to benchmark games like GRID and Age of Conan as well!
    Reply
  • Waspy
    Ahhh too bad about the videocard choice here. I would have liked to see a 2x GTX260 rig...I think that'll be the next power-gamer's rig without dropping the extra $500 on the 2x GTX280 and the extra $300 on a 1wK PSU...although I'm sure this 850W could handle it. I'm going to be running GTX260s on a 750W quality PSU...I predict absolutely no problems.
    Reply
  • mr roboto
    Yes good article but I have to echo the exact sentiment from above. Prey is a fun game but it was never really the system killer to begin with. Some shader intensive games would be nice too.

    I think Nvidia is going to discontinue the 8800GTX\Ultras real soon here. Right now on Newegg.com they don't have any of either card. Over the last few weeks they've been sporadic as far as being in stock. I would consider adding another 8800GTX to my rig but like L1qu!d said they're still pretty expensive. The lowest price I've seen for the 8800GTX's is around $350. If I could find one for $250-$300 range it would be worth it.
    Reply
  • L1qu1d
    Yeah because I kno in certain games tri and quad scale better. Age of Conan, COD4 are some examples:)
    Reply
  • mr roboto
    WaspyI think that'll be the next power-gamer's rig without dropping the extra $500 on the 2x GTX280 and the extra $300 on a 1wK PSU...although I'm sure this 850W could handle it. I'm going to be running GTX260s on a 750W quality PSU...I predict absolutely no problems.
    Are you high? 2 GTX's on an 850w or even a 1KW PSU? With all the other peripherals installed, no way. Asus's new top of the line ARES rig uses 2 1KW PSU's for three GTX 280's. So GTX 260 SLI rig will need a minimum 1KW.
    Reply
  • neodude007
    Nice article guys. Its funny that a $1,200 could beat that $4,000 rig in a lot of games/benchies. My E8400 @ 3.8GHz and SLI 8800GT get around 18,000 3dMark06
    Can't wait to see how the other test builds are going to perform.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    9458565 said:
    Nice article guys. Its funny that a $1,200 could beat that $4,000 rig in a lot of games/benchies. My E8400 @ 3.8GHz and SLI 8800GT get around 18,000 3dMark06
    Can't wait to see how the other test builds are going to perform.

    Of course it beats it in some things, it's overclocked. All the systems will get overclocked on Monday.
    Reply
  • Waspy
    Mr RobotoAre you high? 2 GTX's on an 850w or even a 1KW PSU? With all the other peripherals installed, no way. Asus's new top of the line AREShttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ares rig uses 2 1KW PSU's for three GTX 280's. So GTX 260 SLI rig will need a minimum 1KW.
    Well I was using an instanced case...I'm not going to be running mad-donkey peripherals. Plan is 4 HDDs, 1 DVD burner, 2x GTX260, E8400, bunch of fans and LEDs but those are tiny draws.

    Dude anyways, no, 1kW is overkill. Look at this build! A quality 850W for a water-cooling rig with a QX9650 and 2x 9800GX2s! The GTX260 draws like 10W or more LESS than the 9800GX2, plus I won't be running a quad core OR water cooling. 750W is completely sound. My plan is for this rig to last me until Nehalem so I don't think I'll be going quad core on it etc.
    Reply
  • The_Blood_Raven
    I am shocked, I must give Tom's a hand for this build it was well thought out and they picked the right parts. Only thing I do not like is the TJ09 case, that case does not cooler very well, an Antec 900 beats it with all fans on low, sad. They need to drop the TJ09, I had one and returned it, because it's cooling performance was not great, for a $4k gaming rig you need GREAT cooling. The Cosmos S is not much better, but there are so many other cases on the market that could fit that cooling system in that are a lot better and much cheaper. Oh well, besides the case GOOD JOB THW!
    Reply