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System Builder Marathon, Dec. 2011: System Value Compared

Wait, Bigger Isn’t Always Better?

System Builder Marathon, December 2011: 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 fill out this SurveyGizmo form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: The $2400 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1200 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $600 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected


Bigger budgets make room for better hardware. Bigger cases facilitate more cooling. Bigger motherboards allow more cards to be installed.

And yet, somewhere along the way this quarter, that concept went horribly wrong. We ended up with a $1200 PC that underperformed its $1000 predecessor, a $600 PC that went way over budget, and a $2400 full-sized PC that never lived up to the high-expectations set by the microATX build upon which its hardware choices were based.

We're perhaps most sympathetic to the $600 gaming machine's budge woes, since its builder was most vulnerable to recent price surges. Those same price surges also hit the high-capacity drives used in the larger machines, but they weren't as disruptive as an overall percentage of the budgets. Besides, it’s hard to feel sorry for an over-achiever (Ed.: Haters gonna hate?).

Q4 2011 System Builder Marathon PC Components
 $2400 Perfomance PC  $1200 Enthusiast PC  $600 Gaming PC 
ProcessorIntel Core i7-2600K 3.4 - 3.8 GHz, 8 MB L3 CacheAMD FX-6100 3.3 - 3.9 GHz, 8 MB L3 CacheIntel Core i5-2400 3.1 - 3.4 GHz, 6 MB L3 Cache
MotherboardMSI Z68A-GD55 (G3) LGA 1155, Intel Z68 ExpressBiostar TA990FXE Socket AM3+, AMD 990FXMSI PH61A-P35 LGA-1155, Intel H61 Express
GraphicsPNY VCGGTX580XPB-LC-CPU PNY VCGGTX580XPB-LC (SLI)2 x Gigabyte GV-R695OC-1GD Radeon HD 6950 1 GBSapphire 100314-3L Radeon HD 6870 1 GB
MemoryCorsair CMZ8GX3M2A1600C8R DDR3-1600 C8, 4 GB x2 (8 GB)Mushkin Redline 997013 DDR3-1600 C7, 2 GB x2 (4 GB)Wintec 3AMD31333-4G2K-NHR DDR3-1333 C9, 2 GB x2 (4 GB)
System DriveCrucial M4 CT128M4SSD2 128 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSDOCZ OCZSSD2-1VTXPL60G 60 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSDSeagate ST3500413AS 500 GB, 7200 RPM HDD
Storage DriveWD Caviar Green WD15EARS 1.5 TB, 7200 RPM HDDWD Caviar Black WD7501AALS 750 GB, 7200 RPM HDDUses System Drive
OpticalLG WH12LS38 BD-RE 12x BD-R, 16x DVD±RLite-On iHAS124-04 DVD±R/W 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-RSamsung SH-222AB DVD±R/W 22x DVD±R, 48x CD-R
CaseFractal Design Arc MidiRosewill Challenger-U3Xigmatek Asgard II
PowerMushkin Joule MKNPSJL1000 1000 W, 80 PLUS GoldCorsair CMPSU-650TXV2 650 W, 80 PLUS BronzeAntec EarthWatts EA430D 430 W, 80 PLUS Bronze
Heat SinkPNY XLR8 / Asetek Integrated Liquid CoolingXigmatek Gaia SD1283Intel Boxed Cooler
Total Cost$2325$1267$654

Concern about the fact that Paul Henningsen’s $600 PC wouldn't overclock at all was quickly squelched by its clean sweep in benchmark performance over the previous System Builder Marathon's overclocked $500 machine.

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