System Builder Marathon, June 2011: $2000 Performance PC

Here are links to each of the five 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 Google form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: The $2000 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $500 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected
Day 5: Tom's Hand-Picked SuperCombo

While last year’s systems often focused on the expandability of high-end platforms, those platforms (largely based on Intel's X58 Express chipset) no longer support the fastest CPUs for our applications. Even enthusiasts must live with the reality that most programs can use no more than four CPU cores, and the fastest four-core processors have used decidedly mainstream chipsets since January. Those are the parts on which our most recent $2000 builds have centered.

Intel’s compelling upgrade for its mainstream processor interface turned the market on its head by adding ultra-fast video transcoding that could not be matched even by today’s fastest discrete GPUs, let alone an ultra-expensive six-core CPU. We've already seen what Quick Sync can do. With that said, none of the tests in our System Builder Marathon suite are optimized to exploit it; perhaps that's something we'll change going into next quarter's comparison. The real question is: should we even bother to upgrade?

Of course, the answer is yes. We've shown via extensive testing that Intel's Z68 Express platform loses nothing by way of overclocking or performance compared to the P67-based boards previously included in this series. These motherboards do cost a little more, which means today’s system takes a small hit in the value calculations, especially given that our transcoding-oriented benchmarks are processor-bound, and not able to enjoy the speed-up enabled through Quick Sync. Still, we had to follow our hearts on this one and think of what we’d build if these were our own machines. At the end of the day, Z68's additional functionality is really worthwhile.

Oh yes, and we ditched the often-favored Antec Three Hundred Illusion for something with a little more flash and twice the cost. With the same CPU, GPUs, and SSDs carried over from our most recent $2000 build, we're leaning hard on our partner's Newegg's recent price drops to retain the high-end value score of our former build.

MotherboardASRock Z68 Extreme4: LGA 1155, Intel Z68 ExpressGraphics2x MSI R6970-2PM2D2GD5: Radeon HD 6970 2 GB, CrossFireProcessorIntel Core i7-2600K: 3.4 GHz-3.8 GHz, 8 MB CacheMemoryG.Skill F3-12800CL8D-8GBXM: DDR3-1600 C8, 4 GB x2 (8 GB)System Drive2x A-Data S599 64 GB, SATA 3Gb/s SSDStorage DriveSamsung F3 HD103SJ 1 TB, 7200 RPM HDDOpticalLG WH10LS30 BD-RE: 10x BD-R, 16x DVD±RPowerSeasonic SS-850HT: 850W, ATX12V v2.31, 80-Plus Silver

Yet, value can’t completely be quantified by our scoring system. For example, how would a real-world user feel about having only 128 GB of storage? We added a 1 TB drive for that, along with a BD-RE for backups. This month’s disc burner is also cheaper than that of our previous build, which helps to offset the cost of that gorgeous case. Many of our readers have, after all, voiced concern that one of the things they value is the look on their friends’ faces when they show off their latest creation!

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