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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.
  • cjdavis7
    So, how many times can they drop NewEgg's name in one article?
  • Duncan NZ
    I'd drop Neweggs name lots if they gave me a $4500 system
  • cangelini
    cjdavis7So, how many times can they drop NewEgg's name in one article?
    The reason we partnered up with NewEgg on this was to have access to a much wider range of hardware then we'd otherwise have. My hope is that this is an asset to our readers and does not interfere editorially.
  • cangelini
    Duncan NZI'd drop Neweggs name lots if they gave me a $4500 system
    Just to clarify, all of the hardware goes straight back to NewEgg once the story is done. The arrangement simply gives us access to the hardware, straight from e-tail, to build, benchmark, and write about. It's good for us because we're saved the effort of finding manufacturers who want to send out their hardware and we think it's good for our readers because we can construct the systems we'd *really* build on these budgets. =)
  • master9716
    4500 . Why would anyone spend 800 on a case? I dont really see a point to the article but oh well . New egg does have the best prices out there but mwave does beat it sometimes.
  • cangelini
    master97164500 . Why would anyone spend 800 on a case? I dont really see a point to the article but oh well . New egg does have the best prices out there but mwave does beat it sometimes.
    Why would anyone spend $500 on a video card or $1,000 on a processor? ;-)

    This is why we do three stories with a trio of price targets--something for everyone!
  • neiroatopelcc
    Anyone more concerned with looks and styling than just function would spend more than a few bucks on a case.
    ie. Anyone who'd pick an alfa romeo or a lexus over an ordinary honda accord would want a more expensive case.
  • neiroatopelcc
    We should also note that the on-board Intel controller is capable of excellent RAID 5 performancePerhaps I'm mistaken, but I am not thrilled by the intel raid controller. Perhaps the ich10 is better than the ich9 in this regard, but I only scored about 90mb/sec max read speed in raid5 (5x500gb) on my p35. That's the same speed as my 3x 35gb raptors in raid 0 on my secondary system, so it's okay. But still. A single new spinpoint is faster than the raid 5, so I'm quite sure my ich9r controller is requiring too many resources to work properly fast. Or it's my oc that causes it to slow down somehow. Dunno yet.
    Anyway, my experience with intel software raid running raid5 isn't that it's speedy.

    ps. wouldn't it have made sense to save a few bucks on storage (2x1,5tb or something) and added memory cooling blocks to go with the water cooled chassis?
  • randomizer
    Memory doesn't get hot enough to justify losing 2TB of storage just so you can add some fancy cooling blocks to it. 4TB does sound pretty sweet, but I don't know how I'd fill up 500GB let alone 8x that. E-peen I guess.
  • neiroatopelcc
    "2.) The Cooler Master CMPSU-1000HX power supply has ferrite rings on the flat, removable PCI Express power cables that prevented them from being run between cards. We had to use the soldered-on "round" cables for the top card."

    it's still a corsair psu according to the picture. (page 6)

    @ randomizer : If you'd replace the 4 drives with 2 bigger ones you'd only lose 1tb of storage, and half your theoretical read/write speed (and slightly improve your seek time). Anyway, if memory is running hot I would definetly want some cooling for it. My first choice would be to throw away the sound card and see if 90 bucks was enough for a decent cooler (onboard sound is excellent really), but since toms is rather happy about the sound, I think storage is the best place to compromise.

    Anyway, my point is - add a cooler to the modules! actually ocz already have models out there with watercooling built in - since they picked ocz they could've gotten those if newegg had em.