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System Builder Marathon, Q4 2012: System Value Compared

New Challenges, New Challengers

System Builder Marathon, December 2012: The Articles

Here are links to each of the four articles in this quarter’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 $500 Gaming PC
Day 2: The $1,000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $2,000 Performance PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

Introduction

Most people learn from experience, and a consistent benchmark suite makes it easy for the three builders who participate in our SBM every quarter to figure out where they're going to get the best bang for their buck. Call it gaming the system, if you will. Since most of our benchmarks favor the same types of hardware, we typically end up with three builds that reflect a trio of budgets, but employ the same technologies. Our builds became mostly predictable over the past year, with occasional deviations coming up short in both performance and value.

Windows 8 and its impact on the performance of AMD's Bulldozer proved to be underwhelming, but AMD timed the introduction of more capable hardware to coincide with Microsoft latest, giving us Piledriver-based FX CPUs that do help the company's performance story.

We're also adding a number of new threaded benchmarks this time around. So, the CPUs best able to handle taxing workloads are going to rise to the top, naturally. Could Don's FX-8350 upset the balance of this often-familiar retrospective with eight integer cores in a sub-$1000 system, will my Core i7-3770K-based build brute-force its way through the benchmarks, or will the addition of a Radeon HD 7850 help catapult Paul's $500 build to the top of our value charts?

Q4 2012 System Builder Marathon PC Components
$500 Gaming PC$1,000 Enthusiast PC$2,000 Performance PC
ProcessorIntel Pentium G850: 2.9 GHz, 3 MB Shared L3 CacheAMD FX-8350: 4.0 GHz - 4.2 GHz, 8 MB Shared L3 CacheIntel Core i7-3770K: 3.5 GHz - 3.9 GHz, 8 MB Shared L3 Cache
GraphicsPowerColor AX7850 1GBD5-DH: Radeon HD 7850 1 GBGigabyte GV-N670OC-2GD: GeForce GTX 670 2 GB2 x MSI R7970-2PMD3GD5/OC: Radeon HD 7970 3 GB, CrossFire
MotherboardASRock H77 Pro4/MVP: LGA 1155, Intel H77 ExpressGigabyte GA-970A-D3: Socket AM3+, AMD 970/SB950Gigabyte GA-Z77X-D3H: LGA 1155, Intel Z77 Express
MemoryG.Skill F3-10600CL9D-8GBNT: DDR3-1333 C9, 2 x 4 GB (8 GB)Mushkin Blackline 997043: DDR3-1600 C8, 2 x 4 GB (8 GB)G.Skill F3-1600C8D-8GAB: DDR3-1600 C8, 2 x 4 GB (8 GB)
System DriveWestern Digital WD3200AAKX: 320 GB, 7,200 RPM HDDOCZ AGT3-25SAT3-60G: 60 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSDMushkin MKNSSDCR240GB-DX: 240 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD
Storage DriveUses System DriveHitachi Deskstar 7K1000.C: 1 TB 7,200 RPM Hard DriveSeagate Barracuda 7200.11 ST31500341AS: 1.5 TB, 7,200 RPM Hard Drive
OpticalLG GH24NS90: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-RLG GH24NS90: 24x DVD±R, 48x CD-RAsus BW-12B1ST: 12x BD-R, 16x DVD±R, 2x BD-RE
CaseRosewill BlackboneHEC BlitzCooler Master Storm Enforcer SGC-1000-KWN1
PowerAntec VP-450: 450 W, ATX 12V v2.3Corsair CX600 V2: 600 W,  ATX12V v2.3,  80 PLUSCorsair HX750: ATX12V V2.3 80 PLUS Gold
CPU CoolerIntel Boxed Heat Sink and FanXigamtek Loki SD963Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo RR-212E-20PK-R2
Total Cost$501 $1,009 $1,900
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.