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System Builder Marathon, Sept. 2010: $2000 Performance PC


Determined to fit a six-core processor into this month’s $2000 PC with no sacrifice in GPU muscle, we tried AMD’s Phenom II X6 1055T…and failed. Even at 4 GHz, the system couldn’t keep up with June’s Core i7 quad-core chip, a system that was also “handicapped” by its lower-priced graphics cards.

What did we learn from all this? Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so quick to cross Intel’s $900 Core i7-970 from our list. After all, it could have fit within budget, had we economized in a few other places.

A $900 processor would have required around $40 more for the motherboard, and leaving out a graphics card would have still left us $214 over budget. Yet we could have easily saved $60 by using a 6 GB triple-channel kit on that board, rather than this system’s 8 GB dual-channel kit. Reduced cooling needs could have allowed a $100 savings on the case, while lower power consumption would have allowed another $65 savings. That $1989 alternative build would have still fit within today's budget and boosted program performance significantly, without wasting half of our GPU power to CPU-based frame rate bottlenecks. It’s too bad we didn’t know the CPU limitation would be so severe prior to our recent evaluation.

The phrase “Hindsight is 20/20” has been repeated so often, and for so long, that nobody knows its origins with any certainty. What we do know for sure is that two GeForce GTX 480 graphics cards are a poor value choice for a benchmark comparison at resolutions below 2560x1600. But even if we had advanced knowledge of today’s results, we still wouldn’t have chosen a single GeForce GTX 480/Core i7-970 alternative. The reason, of course, is that we already knew that two GeForce GTX 460 graphics cards outperform a single GeForce GTX 480 for the same price, in spite of CPU limitations.

Had it been complemented by dual GeForce GTX 460s, the Core i7-based $1989 alternative would have likely placed far better in our upcoming value comparison by generating far higher benchmark results. We know that many readers would complain about that configuration’s lack of 3-way SLI upgrade capabilities, but this builder does like winning on occasion. Our apologies to the AMD faithful for the misuse of a high-value product in a high-performance machine. The 1055T's price is telling. It's really a mainstream part, after all.

Thomas Soderstrom
Thomas Soderstrom is a Senior Staff Editor at Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews cases, cooling, memory and motherboards.
  • IzzyCraft
    Love the case choice everything else is pretty much can't really hate it or love it, but i mean you can't really hate any of the parts when they cost that much as they are all good but some just not right for some jobs.
    I do not care for AMD and SLI just because you'll be using an nvidia chipset and my past experiences with them have been poor.
    I also do not care for 6 cores for games although i mostly use my computer for other things which may like those 6 cores, but i don't find too many uses for 2 480's outside of gaming.

    Hopefully the next one will be one i can't help but agree with, A i5-750/760 with 2 460's in sli :D
  • Tamz_msc
    This month's SBM is forgettable.It confirms that AMD+SLI = BIG fail.
  • Tamz_msc
    A better option( without sacrificing GTX 480 SLI) in my opinion is:
    Core i7 950 (add 100$)
    GIGABYTE GA-X58A-UD3R (add 50$)
    GSkill 6GB RAM(subtract 70$)
  • proofhitter
    Big CPU fail. I love your honesty, good one Tom's! Nice try nevertheless. Keep it up!
  • jrharbort
    The lesson here? AMD hexacores are still the best value on the market, but is still unable to keep up with the i7 in overall performance clock for clock. It's sadly not the best choice in high end systems, but it still wont stop me from recomending it to friends interested in sub-$1000 systems.
  • sassan_88
    I dont like systems Based on AMD's chipset
  • jj463rd
    With Sandybridge and Bulldozer just right around the corner I don't think that it makes any sense to build right now with current (especially CPU + motherboard)components.
  • Crashman
    jj463rdWith Sandybridge and Bulldozer just right around the corner I don't think that it makes any sense to build right now with current (especially CPU + motherboard)components.Maybe not...this system was built a couple months ago.
  • makwy2
    Love the honesty. I think this is just shows that a MUCH cheaper AMD chip ($700 less) is close but not quite in true competition with the top of the line Intel chip. I'll stick to my AMD chips because I am not made of money.

    Again, I love the honesty and straight talk TH brings with these bi-monthly features that give system builders a real idea about performance and cost-effective parts.
  • aaron92
    I really do value the AMD Hex vs Intel, 6 cores is already cutting edge and 12 threads is going beyond a desktop computer for this year atleast.