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System Builder Marathon: The $4,500 Super PC

Why Limit Yourself?

System Builder Marathon, October 2008 : 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).

We’re certain a few readers will ask why we even bothered to set a budget for such an expensive system. If a buyer has $4,500 to spend on a PC, why not just go all the way and say the sky’s the limit ? The answer is really quite simple : going “all the way” wouldn’t give us much of a performance advantage and setting a ceiling on the price allows us to chose parts that still have some value.

Today’s system sets the high-mark by which our thriftier System Builder Marathon machines will be compared, but it could also be easily compared to the $6,000 gaming machines from boutique builders such as Falcon Northwest. Of course, we didn’t base our selections on those of any other builder, so here’s a quick look at how we spent our money :

ComponentModelPrice (USD)
CPUIntel Core 2 Quad Q9650550
CPU CoolerZalman LQ1000 Integrated0
MotherboardAsus P5E3 Premium WiFi-AP320
RAM2x OCZ PC3-12800 Platinum Edition OCZ3P16004GK (8.0 GB)640
Graphics2x MSI HD 4870 X2 (R4870X2-T2D2G-OC )1,120
Hard Drives4x Samsung Spinpoint F1 1.0 TB480
SoundAsus Xonar DX PCI Express90
NetworkIntegrated Gigabit Networking0
CaseZalman Z-Machine LQ1000800
PowerCorsair HX1000W Modular260
Total Price$4,500

Similarities to components of the Falcon Northwest system we tested a couple of weeks ago reflect well on Falcon’s choices, since we picked our configuration far in advance of receiving Falcon’s sample. A closer look will show a few other advantages of our selections.

Falcon, of course, had to include an OEM-licensed operating system ($140 value) and warranty, while we reused our old retail OS and had to provide our own support. Buyers who have the time and skill to build and service their own machines will appreciate the idea of money better spent, and probably already own all the software they want. Anyone who thinks we should have added the cost of software to our price list must remember that a build is a combination of hardware, not software, and that buyers are welcome to choose any number of operating systems and productivity suites. On the other hand, anyone comparing our total component cost to the price of a custom-built machine must also account for the software selected.

Ed.—You’ll notice that we’ve taken a slightly different angle for this System Builder Marathon, other than the new price targets. We’ve also teamed up with NewEgg in order to get unfettered access to whichever hardware components we deem best for our three builds—something that’s not always possible when dealing with the manufacturers themselves. In the pages that follow, you’ll see our pieces of choice with links to the corresponding NewEgg customer reviews, which should complement our own evaluations of the hardware.

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