System Builder Marathon, May '09: $1,300 Enthusiast PC

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I dislike going for SLI straight away in a new rig unless you have unlimited money. What I like about SLI is how one can upgrade the current hardware with very little extra cash.

When I build new PCs I get an SLI motherboard and just one card. Then a few months later when that card has dropped in price and my bank account is a little more filled up I get a second one.

I know this is marathon to get the best price/performance but, in my opinion, it should be a recommendation for the readers and using SLI straight away is a waste.
 

cleeve

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[citation][nom]scooterlibby[/nom]In terms of gaming only, I see little reason to blow $200+ on an Core i7 rather than purchase a pumped Core 2 Duo. If you do a bunch of multi-threaded stuff, have at it, but, by and large, dual is still where it's at gaming-wise.[/citation]

I absolutely agree. But everyone is failing to notice, we ran all sorts of application bencmarks on the machine as well.

If this was a gaming contest only, then I'd also probably have gone with a Phenom II and a couple of 4890's or a couple 275s. But it's not, the SBM has three sections: applications, games, and overclocking. With those criteria, I think the i7 perfroms better than the Phenom II.
 

esquire468

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For all those complaining about AMD being left out of the Performance and Enthusiast PC builds, can someone please recommend an alternative AMD mATX motherboard solution that has two PCIe 2.0 slots running at 16x/16x in either SLI or CFX configurations? Wait, there are none? Of course there aren't. There are no AMD mATX mobos with 2 PCIe 2.0 slots that support SLI, and the only AMD mATX mobo with 2 PCIe 2.0 slots, the 790GX, only supports CFX in 8x/8x mode, which to me sort of defeats the purpose, especially when using two 4870s or higher.

However the X58 Intel mobos suport true 16x/16x modes, whether in SLI or CFX. So if you don't like the GTX 295 or GTX 260, simply swap them out for either 4870X2s or 4870s, respectively.

The ATI fanboys need to think first before griping about AMD being left out, or at the very least, pose some viable alternatives that can perform, pound for pound, at the same level as the systems built here, rather than simply disparaging those taking their hard time to build these pcs, benchmark and review them, and write these articles.
 

cleeve

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[citation][nom]p4l1ndr0m3[/nom]Usually I wouldn't say anything but these two articles have been a freaking joke...

...in all of your pics, the top graphics card is BENT! I'll give that card a week at those temps before you get artifacts no matter what clocks or temps you are getting. [/citation]

Here's another joke for you, eagle-eye: the only thing that's 'bent' is the sticker on the top GeForce GTX 260. The card itself is quite straight. ;)
 

bill gates is your daddy

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$34.99 GIGABYTE GZ-X5BPD-500 Black SECC Steel Case
$169.99 MSI 790FX-GD70 AM3 Motherboard
$299.97 ASUS EAH4770 x3
$134.49 CORSAIR CMPSU-850TX
$245.00 AMD Phenom II X4 955 BE
$67.99 MUSHKIN 4GB DDR3 1333
$139.98 WD Caviar Black 640GB 7200 RPM x2 RAID 0
$62.48 COOLER MASTER V8 RR-UV8-XBU1-GP
$23.99 LG 22X DVD±R DVD Burner with LightScribe

$1,178.88

$120 less than the $1300 price point and I would gladly place it up against the Intel/Nvidia build any day of the week. Build both and see which one comes out on top.
 

Crashman

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Editor
[citation][nom]bill gates is your daddy[/nom]$120 less than the $1300 price point and I would gladly place it up against the Intel/Nvidia build any day of the week. Build both and see which one comes out on top.[/citation]

I don't see a Micro ATX motherboard or case here. Does the X4 955 BE stand up to the Core i7 920 when both are fully overclocked? And about those 4770's...

ABOUT THOSE 4770'S...

er, about those NON-EXISTENT 4770s...

How do you propose buying them from Newegg if they're all out of stock?
 

dirtmountain

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As you've pointed out numerous times Crashman, they bought the parts a month or so ago, not NOW. The 4770s were available when they put these builds together. Don't claim one thing in a SBM article, then turn around and claim something different just because it's convenient.
 

Crashman

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[citation][nom]dirtmountain[/nom]As you've pointed out numerous times Crashman, they bought the parts a month or so ago, not NOW. The 4770s were available when they put these builds together. Don't claim one thing in a SBM article, then turn around and claim something different just because it's convenient.[/citation]

According to Chris they were out of stock a month ago when the parts were ordered.
 

Regulas

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We all have to agree, any serious gamer builds his own rigs, correct me if I am wrong? It is a fun hobby. Fallout 3 rocks at 1920 x 1200
I did see a little icon stating this was sponsored by Newegg. I have nothing but good things to say about Newegg. Have built all my rigs through them, mine and friends. Time to brag a little, here is my current rig, Upgraded once but the X38 MOBO still kicks, all from Newegg for under $2,000. Used the old parts to make other rig and sold it to pay for upgrade.
I have allot of ram but I loaded it up while it was on sale and wanted all the pairs to match. Afraid they may drop the line so I loaded up.

Lian Li Mid Tower
Carsair 630W Power Supply
Gigabyte MOBO
Gskill 4x2Gb 1066 DDR2
Q9650 Quad Core, 3.0Ghz
XFX GTX 285
Samsung 24"
 

Crashman

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[citation][nom]Regulas[/nom]We all have to agree, any serious gamer builds his own rigs, correct me if I am wrong? It is a fun hobby. Fallout 3 rocks at 1920 x 1200I did see a little icon stating this was sponsored by Newegg. I have nothing but good things to say about Newegg. Have built all my rigs through them, mine and friends. Time to brag a little, here is my current rig, Upgraded once but the X38 MOBO still kicks, all from Newegg for under $2,000. Used the old parts to make other rig and sold it to pay for upgrade.I have allot of ram but I loaded it up while it was on sale and wanted all the pairs to match. Afraid they may drop the line so I loaded up.Lian Li Mid TowerCarsair 630W Power SupplyGigabyte MOBOGskill 4x2Gb 1066 DDR2Q9650 Quad Core, 3.0GhzXFX GTX 285Samsung 24"[/citation]

Before Tom's partnered its SBM with Newegg, builders were recycling parts from previous reviews, asking for new ones from the manufacturers, occasionally getting "ringer" parts, sometimes getting "vaporware" parts, etc. Tom's wanted to make sure every part it used was available to the reader, or at least that it had been available when the system was built.

Newegg is great for that because it has such a wide variety of parts, often at the best, or close to the best, prices we could have found anyway.

Thanks to Newegg, readers will soon be able to enter a contest and win the machines. That means Newegg doesn't have to restock the parts, and the contest promotion is good for both entities. Look for the contest to emerge tomorrow or Friday.
 

NucDsgr

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[citation][nom]Crashman[/nom]Can you back that up with something BESIDES generalizations?
And if you're about to provide a list of lame generalizations again, don't bother. As I've already said, few people need more than four expansion slots, and few people need to support more than two or three hard drives. Any other differences in today's cases are not a fault of Micro ATX, they're design features used to make the systems smaller and more portable.[/citation]

I have been building or servicing micro-ATX PC's for close to 15 years as a hobby. Within that period, I have seen power supplies increase in capacity from 150W to 400W in micro-ATX systems as more demands are placed on them. I never saw a power supply greater than 400W in
a micro-ATX system. That's a fact. Most are 250W to 300W. And Crashman, there is a generally good reason for this.

It's not a falsehood or "lame generalization" to state that the form factor specification for Micro-ATX was originally written with office/business computers in mind to save material and operating costs, while enhancing interchangability of components with the larger ATX form factor. Yes, micro-ATX motherboards are smaller with 4 PCI slots. There are no specific power limitations for a micro-ATX board within the published specifications. Until recently, most were engineered with onboard power supplies that could handle at most 100-130W for the CPU. Micro-ATX boards are generally not designed for enthusiast overclocking. They are designed for low-power business computing. This is a fact. Also case manufacturers anticipate the lower power requirements of micro-ATX systems and provide micro-ATX cases with case fans that can handle at most 400W internal load before case thermal management becomes a problem. That is a fact.

I never said that the micro-ATX specification INTENDED all micro-ATX motherboards have onboard graphics. The micro-ATX specification never required this. However, most mirco-ATX boards (98%) sold on the market today do have onboard graphics because of the intended business and home markets. Yes, this is a generalization. It's also rooted in fact. Most micro-ATX motherboards (90%) have a single AGP or 16-lane PCI-X slot for an optional graphics card when business needs require this. These graphics cards are not very powerful and get all of there power from the slot. That's a fact too. Businesses and homeowners like to keep their computers for awhile. Overclocking is generally discouraged and most micro-atx motherboard BIOS have limited overclocking capabilities. This is another generality which happens to be fact.

The DFI LANPARTY JR X58-T3H6 or ASUS Rampage II GENE motherboards are a very expensive exceptions to the general rule of micro-ATX motherboards. Unfortunately, there are not many micro-ATX cases that can handle their thermal loads. That's a factual observation.

Crashman there are a superabundance of generalizations that are operative in business, politics, engineering and science which describe normative behavior or situations. Some of these generalizations are well rooted in fact. Get use to it Crashman. Sometimes they are called principles, norms, laws. If you find this reality uncomfortable then this is most unfortunate.

If a 750W enthusiast system were operated in a midtower ATX case there are going to be problems cooling the system unless the case fans can move a lot of air through it, or use liquid cooling. If you doubt me then go ask any enthusiast who has ever built and operated such a PC requiring a true 750W load. He/she who know what they are doing will attest this is a real problem. The case this system will be housed in will most likely have 3-4 fans if air cooling is relied upon. Crashman, I direct your attention to the Antec 900 which has 3 120mm and 1 250mm fans as an example of a popular enthusiast case. This case can move a lot of air and can control a 750W thermal load.

If you put this very same load in a smaller micro-ATX case, such at the TJ08, with 2 120mm fans optimized for a thermal load of 400W at 55cfm, there are going to real problems with thermal management. Especially when filled with so much stuff (a large pedestel heatsink, heatsink fan blowing against the case flow, dual SLI, excess cabling) case air mass flow is diminished relative to that of the larger ATX. With a micro-ATX system, you want to minimize the clutter. Small cases mean higher air resistence for a given flow. Cashman, I do not care about the exceptions you may bring up or imagine for the sake of arguement. I simply do not care. Let's talk about the TJ08 which has a high air mass flow for a micro-ATX case and has proved inadequate. Let's talk facts: 750W in a smaller micro-ATX case means higher power density and lower air flow that will defeat any CPU or GPU heatsink unless the case fans can remove the thermal load.

This is a fundamental problem with this absurd i720 SLI build. It's Dark Knight S1283 CPU heatsink and GPU heatsinks were ineffectual because the TJ08 cannot move the hot air out of the case fast enough. This build really belongs in a ATX case of larger internal volume and sufficient fans that can handle the thermal load. The only mitigation is to install higher volume case fans, a single 4870 X2 graphics card with unobstructed air intake at the cool intake of the case blowing its exhaust out the back, a heatsink that blows down on the power circuitry and northbridge actually doing some useful cooling rather than blowing against the case flow, and a SEASONIC 700W power supply with a bottom 120mm fan and modular cables. These changes might control the thermal load of this absurd i720 micro-ATX build.

If you want an enthusiast system in a micro-atx case, you are going have to do this with a power budget at most 500W using two 120mm fans moving the most air in series (~90cfm), with a single graphics card exhausting through the rear of the case. Above that, the case and its components are going to cook. That's a fact.

Some enthusiasts will not tolerate such a "paltry" 500W constraint on their high-end SLI/Cross-fire graphics, Raptor RAID arrays, Overclocked Quad Cores (like the i720), 12 GB of overclocked memory, etc, ad-nauseum. They want to operate well in excess of 500W. This will not work very well in a micro-ATX case.

Do you understand why Crashman?

That's why I maintain an true enthusiast micro-atx build is an oxymoron. Its not realistic considering the expectations of the enthusiast community. And the i720 build featured in this marathon sadly proves it. I do not think this rig would last three weeks with the thermal performance it exhibited. Even the most deranged of enthusiasts expect better longetivity than that.

Crashman, don't ever speak to me this way again about my speaking "lame generalities" of the problems of this micro-ATX build. You have failed to grasp the technical issues of this build. If you do not like these "lame generalities", you do not have to read my posts.

 

scatrdfew

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When I saw the picture of the "assembled" PC, I threw up in my mouth a little bit... the Horror.

The TH System Builder's clear loyalty to the Intel/Nvidia brands causing anyone else to lose interest in this series?? Guys, a little variety, please! On that note, the Micro-ATX box idea is a departure from the norm we've seen in the SMB articles... but clearly a bad idea.
 

Crashman

Polypheme
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[citation][nom]NucDsgr[/nom]You have failed to grasp the technical issues of this build. If you do not like these "lame generalities", you do not have to read my posts.[/citation]

Nope, no failure to grasp anything. Unlike most people, I'm an engineering design graduate. Which is probably why I grasp the problem of the Dark Knight S1283 cooler.

It's not the case
It's not the motherboard

The S1283 cooler was designed improperly. A properly-designed cooler should have it's heat-pipes contained within the "circle" that all motherboards leave open for the stock cooler.Once you get above the height of memory modules, you can have the fins stick out much farther.

The DFI Northbridge sink doesn't protrode into the cooler's "circle" and doesn't stand taller than memory module. So if a cooler hits it, it's a cooler design probem. As a designer, I'd certainly take the blame if I did something like that.

So, I tried a Thermalright 120mm sink. It fits the little DFI motherboard just fine. Great in fact.

The cooler orientation can have a big effect on how well it functions, and the S1283 had to be laid "wrong-ways" to fit because the spread of the heat pipes was too wide at the sink.

Going up your response to the 750W power supply arguement: I've built many systems with 600-800W loads Funny thing about power supplies is that they remove more heat from a warm case than they put into it. How? If you had no intake fans, the power supply fan would pull air into the case by pulling air into itself.

So, jumping down to what could cause the case to get hot when it's actually consuming 680W or thereabouts: An overclocked Core i7 CPU will pull around 150-300W, that's not enough to overwhelm the cooling effect of a large exhaust fan so the case temp should only rise a few degrees beyond what it would be with a 50-100W CPU.

Then there's graphics. Some graphics cards blow air back into the case, others don't.

Granted the TJ08 isn't the best-cooled Micro ATX case on the market, but it's not horrible. The bulk of this build's heat problems were that the sink didn't fit the right way (design problem with the sink) and the graphics cards were factory-overclocked models running default, pre-set fan speeds.

The builder could have further decreased temperatures by using a power supply with lid-mounted fan, since the lid faces downward and lid-mounted fans pull air into the power supply. That might have even helped him overcome problems caused by having the CPU cooler installed the wrong way, but then you're only trying to compensate for a defective design.

I'd do both, change the power supply and cooler. But I couldn't have known about the cooler's design defect until after the part arrived. So, if you're interested in what I would have suggested before the system was built, I always suggest using a power supply with lid-mounted fan.

And none of that is an indictment of Micro ATX. We've seen many companies over the years produce high-end Micro ATX boards, only to meet with a mediocre reception by people you've told to not buy Micro ATX. It's a viscous circle of you telling people that Micro ATX isn't good enough, them not buying, and good parts never becoming popular enough to maintain the market. The Micro ATX performance market can't take off in such negativity.

As a mini-tower, the TJ08 should be around an inch deeper, to support long power supplies and long optical drives simultaniously. That's not an indictment of Micro ATX either, just a problem with the TJ08.

Like I said, there's nothing wrong with Micro ATX as a design concept, not even for high-performance PC's, but the Micro ATX performance PC market must be maintained if you want manufacturers to cater their designs towards it.
 

magicandy

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Since when is 40 fps in Crysis "on the verge of playable"? 40 fps is smooth as butter in Crysis. Anything above 25 fps in that game is pretty smooth, definitely smooth enough to play and have a good time.

Good article though as I'll be installing my rig into a micro atx case pretty soon. It would have been nice to see you couple that lan party mobo with a proper case meant for lan parties (complete with a carry handle on top), but at least I now have confirmation that GPU heat at that level can be handled by a mATX case. I won't feel iffy about slapping my GTX 280 into one now :)
 

cleeve

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[citation][nom]scatrdfew[/nom]The TH System Builder's clear loyalty to the Intel/Nvidia brands causing anyone else to lose interest in this series?? [/citation]

Our loyalty is to building the best price/performance we can, to hell with brand loyalty.

If what you guys want is an AMD box, regardless of whether or not it can perform the best in the SBM apps/games/overclocking criteria for it's price, then make your voice known in the forums when we ask feedback while spec'ing it out.
 

zodiacfml

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what's with you people....
i love what tom's did this time, building a micro-atx system which is compact and challenging to build.
regarding NucDsgr's comment about system's 750W heat output, to manage it in a small case, one simply has do direct heat immediately outside the case. in this build, the problem has to do with the heatsink not pointing the exhaust fan therefore dumping heat inside, worsening, all temps. another problem with the PSU which should at least have an intake from it's bottom part.
i'm looking forward of the author's idea using a basic and compact watercooling kit for micro-atx systems.
 

DXRick

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Given all the cooling problems you encountered, I think you should have tried other parts BEFORE publishing this. What good does it do anyone to say that changing the PSU and CPU heatsink may solve the problem with the GPUs creating too much heat?

We look to THG to this kind of testing for us!
 

Tnias

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Though the Intel cooling fan that comes with the CPU is not a great one, it seems like it would be far better than using the option you have chosen here. Using the UPU cooler you chosemakes that cooler fail to work effectively, so it does not seem like it is of any advantage and using it to blow the heat from the CPU into the GPUs seems like a fool's move.
Using the factory Intel cooler would have allowed the case to cool the way it is designed to and it would have allowed cool air to come in from the front of the case directly to your GPUs.

The bottom line is your choice of CPU cooler sucks on this build and make a reader question your motivation for using such an obviously wrong choice.

The first thing the winner of this system needs to do is get rid on the CPU cooler and get one that cools the CPU and directs the air through the CPU cooler and out the back of the case. Perhaps something like the ZALMAN CNPS9900LED.

 

cleeve

Illustrious
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[citation][nom]Tnias[/nom]The bottom line is your choice of CPU cooler sucks on this build and make a reader question your motivation for using such an obviously wrong choice.[/citation]

Not sure what you mean by that. Our motivation was to pick the best parts in the budget; how would we know the cooler wouldn't be compatible until we tried it? And what possible impact does that have on our motivation? I think you're being a little sensationalist here.
 

Crashman

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[citation][nom]Cleeve[/nom]Our motivation was to pick the best parts in the budget; how would we know the cooler wouldn't be compatible until we tried it?[/citation]

I'm behind Cleeve on that. Nobody knew about the Xigamtek cooler design flaw until it was actually tested on a board that matched the minimum space required by Intel.
 
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