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System Builder Marathon: Performance & Value


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).

The biggest change to this month’s System Builder Marathon was that we purchased all of our components one online vendor—NewEgg, as mentioned in the very first piece. Purchasing retail parts ensures that everything in our build is available on the open market, and that overclockers could have a realistic expectation of achieving similar performance gains. But perhaps the most important reason for buying our parts was to eliminate delays that typically accompany public relations department inquiries. Everything we ordered was in stock and speedy shipping reduced the possibility that any component we chose would be outdated by the time this project was published.

Of course, large projects are rarely completed without overcoming unexpected obstacles. After a small data entry error caused our account to be frozen, it took several days to figure out which parts of the order had been shipped, which parts had been canceled, and which parts were still pending approval. We were then faced with selecting substitutes for components that were no longer in stock and again waiting for shipping. The good news is that even while this series uses a six-week-old shopping list, technology has changed so little during that time that every one of our builds is still completely up-to-date, even if some of the exact models are no longer available from our friends at NewEgg. Let’s take a closer look.

Component$4,500 PC$1,500 PC$500 PC
CPUIntel Core 2 Quad Q9650 (3.00 GHz)Overclocked to 4.14 GHz, FSB-1840Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 2.40 GHzOverclocked to 3.46 GHz, FSB-1536Intel Pentium E2180 (2.00 GHz)Overclocked to 3.20 GHz, FSB-1600
CPU CoolerZalman LQ1000 IntegratedSwiftech H20-220 Apex GTCooler Master Hyper TX2
MotherboardAsus P5E3 Premium WiFi-APDFI Lanparty DK X38-T2RBGigabyte GA-EP35-DS3L
RAM4x 2GB OCZ PC3-12800 Platinum EditionUnderclocked to DDR3-1533, CAS 82x 2 GB Patriot Viper PC2-6400 CAS 4Underclocked to DDR2-768 CAS 52x 1 GB Wintec AMPO PC2-6400 CAS 5at DDR2-800 CAS 5 (Stock)
Graphics2x MSI HD 4870 X2 CrossfireXOverclocked to 782 MHz GPU, GDDR5-36002x ASUS Radeon 4850 TOP CrossfireOverclocked to 700 MHz GPU, GDDR3-2140PNY GeForce 8800 GT 512 MBOverclocked to 738 MHz GPU, GDDR3-2106
Hard Drives4x 1.0 TB Samsung Spinpoint F1 (RAID0)2x 500 GB SeagateBarracuda 7200.10 (RAID 0)Seagate Barracuda 7200.10ST3400620AS 400 GB
SoundAsus Xonar DX 7.1ch Audio CardIntegratedIntegrated 8-Channel HD Audio
NetworkIntegrated Gigabit NetworkingIntegrated Gigabit NetworkingIntegrated Gigabit Networking
CaseZalman Z-Machine LQ1000CoolerMaster Cosmos 1000Antec NSK4480B
PowerCorsair CMPSU-1000HX 1000WCORSAIR CMPSU-750TX 750 WEarthwatts 380 W Included w/Case
Total Price$4,500$1,482$499

Like so many custom-ordered “boutique builder” systems, each of our System Builder Marathon machines uses overclocking to maximize performance and value. Even the least of these builds reached a CPU clock speed of 3.2 GHz CPU, a fact that will certainly make it difficult for many builders to justify a more expensive configuration. Yet all the overclocking in the world isn’t enough to impress buyers who really need one of the higher-priced configurations .

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