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System Builder Marathon: Performance And Value Compared

Test Settings

Base And Overclocked Performance Settings
Component$600 PC$1,300 PC$2,500 PC
CPUIntel Pentium E5200Intel Core i7 920Intel Core i7 920
2.50 GHz, FSB-8002.66 GHz, BCLK 133 MHz2.66 GHz, BCLK 133 MHz
CPU Overclock3.5 GHz (10.5x 333.3 MHz)3.44 GHz (20 x 172 MHz)3.25 GHz ( 21 x 155 MHz)
FSB-1333, 1.224 V Core1.296 V Core1.0375 V Core
RAMG.Skill F2-6400CL4D-4GBHKG.Skill 10666CL7T-6GBPKMushkin 998679 (6.0 GB Kit)
DDR2-800, 4-4-4-12, 1.80 VDDR3-1333, 8-8-8-19, 1.56 VDDR3-1600, 7-8-7-20, 1.65 V
RAM OverclockDDR2-800, 4-4-4-12, 1.80 VDDR3-1378, 8-8-8-19, 1.56 VDDR3-1550, 7-7-6-14, 1.65 V
MotherboardASRock G41M-LEDFI LANParty Jr X58-T3H6DFI LANParty Jr X58-T3H6
GraphicsXFX GeForce GTX 260-2162 x BFG GeForce GTX 2602 x EVGA GeForce GTX 295
576 Mhz GPU, GDDR3-2000590 MHz GPU, GDDR3-2000576 MHz GPU, GDDR3-2000
Graphics Overclock633 MHz GPU, GDDR3-2000600 MHz GPU, GDDR3-2060652 MHz GPU, GDDR3-2444
PowerOCZ Fatal1ty OCZ550FTYPC Power & Cooling S75QBCorsair CMPSU-1000HX
Hard DrivesSeagate 7200.12 500 GBWD Caviar Black 640 GB2 x Western Digital RE3 500 GB
SoundIntegrated HD AudioIntegrated HD AudioIntegrated HD Audio
NetworkingIntegrated Gigabit LANIntegrated Gigabit LANIntegrated Gigabit LAN

Further overclocking details can be found in the build article of each system.

Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
CrysisPatch 1.2.1, DirectX 10, 64-bit executable, benchmark tool
Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA
Test Set 2: Very High Quality, No AA
Far Cry 2DirectX 10, in-game benchmark
Test Set 1: Very High Quality, No AA
Test Set 2: Ultra High Quality, 4x AA
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear SkyAverage of 4 segments "A-Tested Object"
Test Set 1: High Preset, DirectX 10, EFDL, no MSAA
Test Set 2: High Preset, DirectX 10, EFDL, 4x MSAA
World In ConflictPatch 1009, DirectX 10, timedemo
Test 1: Very High Details, No AA / No AF
Test 2: Very High Details 4x AA / 16x AF
Audio/Video Encoding
iTunes 8Version: 8.1.0.52 (x64)
Audio CD ("Terminator II" SE), 53 min.
Default format AAC
Lame MP3Version: 3.98 64-bit (07-04-2008)
Audio CD "Terminator II" SE, 53 min.
.wav to MP3
TMPGEnc 4.6Version: 4.6.3.268
Import File: "Terminator 2" SE DVD (5 Minutes)
Resolution: 720x576 (PAL) 16:9
DivX 6.8.5Encoding mode: Insane Quality
Enhanced multithreading enabled using SSE4
Quarter-pixel search
Xvid 1.2.1Display encoding status = off
Mainconcept Reference 1.6.1MPEG2 to MPEG2 (H.264), Mainconcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG2), Audio: MPEG2 (44.1 kHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kb/s), Mode: PAL (25 FPS)
Productivity
Autodesk 3ds Max 2009Version: 11.0, Rendering Dragon Image at 1920x1080 (HDTV)
Grisoft AVG Anti-Virus 8.5Version: 8.5.287, Virus database 2094, Benchmark: Scan 334 MB Folder of ZIP/RAR compressed files
WinRAR 3.80Version 3.80, WinZip Command line Version 3.0, Compression = Best, Dictionary = 4,096 KB, Benchmark: THG-Workload (334 MB)
WinZip 12Version 12.0, Compression = Best, Benchmark: THG-Workload (139 MB)
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark VantageVersion: 1.02, GPU and CPU scores
PCMark VantageVersion: 1.00, System, Memory, Hard Disk Drive benchmarks, Windows Media Player 10.00.00.3646
SiSoftware Sandra 2009 SP3Version 2009.4.15.92, CPU Test = CPU Arithmetic / Multimedia, Memory Test = Bandwidth Benchmark
  • IzzyCraft
    Watt consumption on the 2.5k build is scary i wouldn't make that build just out of fear of my electric bill :) ofc if i'm slapping down just 2.5k on the computer nothing on things like monitors maybe i could afford the $400 dollar electric bill a month i'd imaged.
    Reply
  • IronRyan21
    Thus, while some users will demand that we put the most powerful graphics solution in our most powerful system, this author is seriously considering dropping it from our next SBM. Your thoughts are welcome.

    Yeah, I wonder if this is a fluke? or reality with these kind of expensive builds. This article really opens my eyes to how powerful any1 can make a budget gamer pc really perform. I still wouldnt mind winnng the 2,500 build. I'll just get a new case and pop on a real cpu cooler.
    Reply
  • Proximon
    Noted :) With the clear performance superiority I can no longer complain about the cramped space of the $1300 build. Can I still worry about longevity? I'd like to know the PSU exhaust temps on these guys too. I know there have been a lot of complaints about the choices in this series, but we've explored some new territory and it's been a good ride.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    IronRyan21Yeah, I wonder if this is a fluke? or reality with these kind of expensive builds. This article really opens my eyes to how powerful any1 can make a budget gamer pc really perform. I still wouldnt mind winnng the 2,500 build. I'll just get a new case and pop on a real cpu cooler.
    It really looks like a bunch of graphics tests were CPU bound with the $2500 PC, and you see that start to go away at higher resolutions and graphics details. But if the competition doesn't include 2560x1600, it seems almost pointless to build for that resolution.

    The worst part is that the bulk of improvements to the $2500 PC are the graphics, and the bigger power supply needed for those graphics cards.

    Other losses for the $2500 PC were caused by its lack of overclocking capability. The two problems there are a case with limitted space around the CPU, and a CPU cooler that was too small. Also, the power supply pulls against the CPU fan, but replacing it with a straight-through flow power supply eliminates most of the ventilation around the CPU socket.

    What we really learned here is that, lacking any special cooler to get the heat away from the CPU area, the case was too small for the CPU. We thought it would be "barely big enough" for that CPU and had already accepted that going small would limit overclocking capability.

    One might also learn from this is that comparing a mid-sized Micro ATX mini-tower ($1300 PC) and a small Micro ATX micro tower ($2500 PC) is apples-to-oranges. Tom's already knew that, but its builders weren't going to fight over it.
    Reply
  • SpadeM
    Well the core i7 does live up to it's name and price tag, it sure is a true quadcore, with a memory controller, etc ... but with it's performance per clock similar to that of a wolfdale chip (see itunes) I must give credit to Intel and it's marketing department. They do a better job selling similar performance with the past generation, for top dollar, then Steve Jobs selling iphones. The moral of the article in my opinion is:

    1. DON'T buy or USE an i7 or high end graphics in a SFF case unless u plan ahead and check clearance issues with your components so u won't have to chop and mutilate your newly bought case. (That is not case modding)
    2. If u're poor, great news! Buy a Q9550 and you'll have the same performance in most applications as a i7 for less $
    3. The AMD issue ... u know, who cares anyways. At the end of the day this SBM is a guide of some sorts, we can choose to pay attention to it or not if we consider we know what's best. Even if Intel paid bribes to Tom's or didn't, who cares, even a trained monkey can compare benchmark scores from other sites and see the truth for themselves.

    Cudos for this months SBM, it was interesting. My only suggestion is ... if u want to include case modding, start with a cheap ass case and a low priced computer.
    Reply
  • presidenteody
    Blue river all the way, down with the green field?
    Reply
  • Crashman
    SpadeMWell the core i7 does live up to it's name and price tag, it sure is a true quadcore, with a memory controller, etc ... but with it's performance per clock similar to that of a wolfdale chip (see itunes) I must give credit to Intel and it's marketing department. They do a better job selling similar performance with the past generation, for top dollar, then Steve Jobs selling iphones. The moral of the article in my opinion is:1. DON'T buy or USE an i7 or high end graphics in a SFF case unless u plan ahead and check clearance issues with your components so u won't have to chop and mutilate your newly bought case. (That is not case modding)2. If u're poor, great news! Buy a Q9550 and you'll have the same performance in most applications as a i7 for less $3. The AMD issue ... u know, who cares anyways. At the end of the day this SBM is a guide of some sorts, we can choose to pay attention to it or not if we consider we know what's best. Even if Intel paid bribes to Tom's or didn't, who cares, even a trained monkey can compare benchmark scores from other sites and see the truth for themselves.Cudos for this months SBM, it was interesting. My only suggestion is ... if u want to include case modding, start with a cheap ass case and a low priced computer.
    Ah, you make it sound so simple, but here's an SFF PC with Core i7 and high-end graphics that works well:

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/overclocking-guide-part-1,1379.html

    It was even retested with a GTX 295 at the end, just to make sure it would support it.

    Of course, that's because SFF systems have special CPU coolers that increase airflow while ridding the system of that hot pocket of air that normally surrounds the CPU.

    So, SFF supports Core i7 and high-end graphics better than Micro ATX based mini-pc's.
    Reply
  • DjEaZy
    ... the 2,5k system seems to be a waste of money... not just, that there is no big difference in performance from 1,25k system, but the cost of ownership... the electrical bill must be sky high...
    Reply
  • Sihastru
    "...we were shocked to find that the $2,500 system’s case didn’t provide enough ventilation..."

    How can you be shocked? You have the PSU blocking the air from a boxed cooler. Not to mention FOUR GT200's spilling most of the hot air inside the case. There are ventilation holes, but this doesn't mean all the air escapes through them. It's like a nuclear reactor on meltdown sequence. ;)
    Reply
  • anamaniac
    Thanks for the read Tom.

    I think a i7 will still work in a SFF, but a dual-slot card(s) may not.
    A single gtx 195 may have been suited better. Though possibly 2x 285 may have done better, allowing budget for water cooling also to compensate for the lack of space for a CPU cooler.

    That c2d build looks mighty tempting, it really blazed through for something portable.
    Reply