System Builder Marathon, December 2011: 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). And remember, these systems are all being given away at the end of the marathon.
To enter the giveaway, please fill out this SurveyGizmo form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!
Day 1: The $2400 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1200 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $600 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected
Our past two System Builder Marathon gaming rigs weighed in a few percentage points over our intended budget. Generally, about one-quarter of the build price was spent on a capable CPU. The angle we took two quarters ago centered on the stock performance, efficiency, and gaming alacrity of Intel’s locked-down Core i3-2100. Although it was quite a successful gaming solution, the machine’s overall value was deflated by the 3.1 GHz dual-core processor’s lackluster performance in our benchmark suite's threaded tests.
September's return to an emphasis on overclocking squeezed 3.8 GHz out of AMD’s Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition and bundled cooler. Performance in threaded applications increased substantially thanks to a quartet of physical processing cores. Furthermore, we capitalized on the plummeting prices of system memory to buy a more powerful graphics card, enabling better native resolution gaming at higher quality settings. While that system also served its purpose well, application performance still paled in comparison to the more expensive rigs, and its overclocked AMD processor was a clear limiting factor through a number of our gaming tests.
So, my goal for this quarter was to seek out a processor capable of overcoming the weaknesses encountered as we pieced together past $500 gaming systems. With an additional $100 approved, the decision was an easy one. Nothing less than a Sandy Bridge-based processor with four physical cores would suffice.
There are those of you who probably hoped for a Socket AM3+ platform in our cheapest rig, considering the Bulldozer architecture's entry-level manifestation as FX-4100 and the previous-generation's competitiveness at value-oriented prices. But AMD was pretty much out of the question for this build. The Phenom II failed to compete at 3.8 GHz, so there was little use dumping extra funds into that architecture. And while the FX-4100 sounded promising, it was simply unavailable during our window for placing orders. The FX-6100 was available, but inflated to the same exact $190 as Intel's Core i5-2400. No, if I was going to blow nearly one-third of the budget on a processor, it was most definitely going to be on a second-generation Intel Core i5.
The rest of the parts should look pretty familiar, as there simply wasn't much room to deviate from our past formula of necessities. Despite falling prices on the Radeon HD 6850, it was more important that we maintain this machine's gaming performance, compelling us to stick with the higher-end Radeon HD 6870.
|$600 Gaming PC System Components|
|CPU||Intel Core i5-2400||$190|
|CPU Cooler||Intel Boxed Heat Sink and Fan||$0|
|RAM||Wintec AMPO 4 GB (2 x 2 GB) DDR3-1333 3AMD31333-4G2K-NHR||$25|
|Graphics||Sapphire 100314-3L Radeon HD 6870 1 GB||$180|
|Hard Drive||Seagate Barracuda ST3500413AS 500 GB SATA 6Gb/s||$50|
|Case||Xigmatek Asgard II B/B CPC-T45UC-U01||$30|
|Power||Antec EarthWatts Green EA430D 430 W||$45|
|Optical||Samsung 22x DVD Burner SATA Model SH-222AB||$17|
The table above doesn't reflect a $10 promo code on the graphics card, bringing the actual system just under our budget at $597, although shipping charges would add nine of those dollars back onto the cost. A $20 mail-in rebate from Sapphire was (and still is) available for those disciplined enough to pursue such offers. We don't count it here, though.
Unfortunately, we can not predict future pricing when components are ordered a month ahead of time; all we can do is shop as you would for the best prices on that given day. Some fluctuation is inevitable by the time the systems are built, tested, and written about. Usually, the discrepancies are quite small and can be overcome by a parallel substitution or two in hardware. This month was an exaggeration of the norm though, as disastrous flooding in Thailand kicked off the spike we’ve seen in hard drive prices. This same drive recently peaked at $115, dropping over a few days to $90. The other components are also bouncing around on a daily basis, leaving the total system between $645-700, depending on when you look. This is worth mentioning, because the increase is significant.