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System Builder Marathon, Q1 2013: $1,600 Alternative PC

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March 7, 2013 3:00:03 AM

Informed buyers are always looking for more information, and we were fortunate enough to plan for some of those requests. Today’s build adds quietness, storage capacity, and extra gaming finesse to the parts found in our “high-end-on-a budget” PC.

System Builder Marathon, Q1 2013: $1,600 Alternative PC : Read more
March 7, 2013 3:06:40 AM

Aren't the 7870 myst only $240 a piece?
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March 7, 2013 3:10:33 AM

Azn CrackerAren't the 7870 myst only $240 a piece?
See This?
Article TextThe prices in that table were what we paid when the parts were ordered, and a lot of them changed over the last six weeks. For example, the PowerColor card is $20 less, per board. Other prices are up. All told, then, the total cost of buying our machine and replicating the build is within $20 of our original invoice.
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March 7, 2013 3:14:30 AM

Please call the graphics cards 7870 LE from the start, like this:
"Video Cards: 2 x 7870 LE - PowerColor PCS+ AX7870 Myst Edition"
After all, it is much more than a standard 7870.
I had no idea it was the LE until I got to the third page.
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March 7, 2013 3:24:23 AM

mikenygmailPlease call the graphics cards 7870 LE from the start, like this:"Video Cards: 2 x 7870 LE - PowerColor PCS+ AX7870 Myst Edition"After all, it is much more than a standard 7870.I had no idea it was the LE until I got to the third page.
In AMD/ATI model lingo, LE stands for a cut-down part. So a Tahiti-LE wouldn't be a 7870 LE, it would be a 7950 LE. The fact that it carries the 7870 model number is unfortunate, but the article attempts to make it clear that this is indeed a Tahiti-LE
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March 7, 2013 4:10:41 AM

Why not the 7870XT like Sapphire calls it?
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March 7, 2013 4:39:39 AM

StickmansamWhy not the 7870XT like Sapphire calls it?
That's fine, please tell AMD to do the re-brand!
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March 7, 2013 4:40:06 AM

"a board damaged a processor that in turn damaged every board it touched, which in turn would damage every processor it touched" and ram damaging a CPU?

I think I'm a bit afraid to build computers now. If either of those situations would have happened to my $600 build, I would have cried and given up...
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March 7, 2013 5:03:23 AM

I like that build better.. :D 
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March 7, 2013 5:11:26 AM

pyro226"a board damaged a processor that in turn damaged every board it touched, which in turn would damage every processor it touched" and ram damaging a CPU?I think I'm a bit afraid to build computers now. If either of those situations would have happened to my $600 build, I would have cried and given up...


That sort of thing happens once in a blue moon. Don't let it bother you.

I guess Tom's tale of woe summarizes why Intel recommends against higher than 1.575 volts on the memory controller of Ivy/Sandy:

http://www.intel.com/support/processors/sb/CS-029913.ht...
IntelWhat are the Intel® Core™ i7 desktop processor DDR3 memory voltage limitations?
Intel® recommends using memory that adheres to the Jedec memory specification for DDR3 memory which is 1.5 volts, plus or minus 5%. Anything more than this voltage can damage the processor or significantly reduce the processor life span.


In any case, the performance benefits of overclocking memory on a Sandy/Ivy platform seem so miniscule that it's scarcely even worth considering. Buy memory capable of an appropriate speed @ 1.5V, and leave it be.

(I know Tom mentions Intel's position on memory voltage on the last page of the article, but I wanted to re-emphasize it because I've seen literally hundreds of people dismiss Intel's statement on various hardware forums. When sites like Tom's Hardware push limits, even for questionable performance gains, we all benefit -- but when someone who's on a budget and might not know any better pushes limits on his own, hard-earned hardware, the results might be tragic. Tom's experiments with this stuff so we don't have to.)
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March 7, 2013 5:12:20 AM

pyro226"a board damaged a processor that in turn damaged every board it touched, which in turn would damage every processor it touched" and ram damaging a CPU?I think I'm a bit afraid to build computers now. If either of those situations would have happened to my $600 build, I would have cried and given up...
I told Chris the system was cursed, but he refused to let the project go after the seventh day. Three more days rescued the content, if not the hardware...
FulgurantThat sort of thing happens once in a blue moon. Don't let it bother you.
Once every 12 years is twice in 13 years too often...
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March 7, 2013 5:16:01 AM

CrashmanOnce every 12 years is twice in 13 years too often...

Heh, by that I didn't mean to dismiss your hardship. Sorry to hear it, definitely!

And thanks for all the hard work. Excellent article.
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March 7, 2013 5:26:09 AM

Okay, so you talk about the Ballistix RAM being your secondary.

I have a serious question for you. Does Tom's know about the overclocker's secret when it comes to RAM? I've been amazed that you guys don't use it in your enthusiast builds, ever. It's pretty much the most overclockable ram ever seen, is low profile, and only costs $50 for 8GB.

I don't want to spoil the name and tell everyone, but, well... it's the only ddr 3 ram out there that uses a 22nm process.
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March 7, 2013 5:58:00 AM

DarkSable...overclocker's secret...most overclockable...low profile...only costs $50 for 8GB.
The problem is that we've seen these claims dozens of times concerning many versions of Samsung's RAM over the past TWO YEARS and, every time we test these claims, they turn out to be exaggerations. This is the first memory set we've tested to exceed the wild expectations set forth by blusterers.
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March 7, 2013 7:24:14 AM

i anticipated an extra build. but boy it exceeded my expectiations and then some. :) 
really appreciate the hard work and the excellent, interesting article.

i liked the gigabyte board choice, better than asrock extreme4.

one question - do the recent events related to asrock extreme4 change your recommendations, especially with heavy air coolers? how about other motherboards (incl. asrock) that seem to offer better features in exchange for pcb strength?

imo mid/mini/tower cases should include some kind of standardized, customizable suspension support(from the case ceiling) for heavy air coolers. the suspension could be made from wire or metal/plastic (resizable) rods etc. or make more cases like cooler master haf xb lan box. aio coolers like nzxt kraken x40 may be an alternative.
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March 7, 2013 7:48:36 AM

Interesting comparison. One critique though. I have read dozens of tests on the NH-D14 and I own the NH-D14 and nearly all professional reviewers rave about how easy it is to install. I installed mine in a little over five minutes with zero problems. I doubt it was the mounting bracket of the D14 that caused your problems. You can overtighten the mounting screws on the D14 but you would have to be a klutz to do it. They are engineered to stop at the right tension and I found that the mounting system worked perfectly for me.

My system is an I-7 2600K CPU and so maybe with the larger mounting surface of the 3570 CPU there may be other considerations. But if that was true, we would read about this problem in the Newegg reviews and we simply don't see the problem that you mention. You may want to look at your installation method.
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March 7, 2013 7:51:46 AM

de5_Royone question - do the recent events related to asrock extreme4 change your recommendations, especially with heavy air coolers? how about other motherboards (incl. asrock) that seem to offer better features in exchange for pcb strength?imo mid/mini/tower cases should include some kind of standardized, customizable suspension support(from the case ceiling) for heavy air coolers.
The funny thing is that both boards appear equally stiff, and both boards appear to be 4-layer boards. I have no clue why the Extreme4 didn't agree with the cooler this time, but I can at least recommend against this motherboard/cooler combination.

You know what would be better still? Through bolts to the motherboard tray, like we see on SSI-CEB boards.

But Intel tried that with BTX, and nobody bought it. I personally blame Intel for not making BTX an extension of ATX, since cross-compatibility could have helped the cooler support mechanism and cooling tunnel survive market resistance.
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March 7, 2013 7:52:45 AM

When people said the NH-D14 was a heavy bastard, I didn't actually think it could warp the board so much that it caused system-wide instability. Damn. If heatsinks get any heavier we're gonna need 4mm thick motherboard PCBs just to mitigate the flexing.
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March 7, 2013 8:11:39 AM

Crashman on reply overdrive :lol: 
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March 7, 2013 8:26:39 AM

Very interesting. One of the reasons that I prefer closed loop coolers (CLCs) to the big heatsinks is because of the stress they place on the motherboards. The torque is constantly present whether or not you move the machine, Even if you lay the tower on its side it still causes stress. The stresses involved with a CLC is negligible compared to the huge heatsinks of air coolers.

I think that this is one of the reasons that Intel decided to go with CLCs for Sandybridge-e CPUs. When I had to RMA a CPU (i5 2500K) last year the tech at Intel was aghast at my not using their standard cooler. When I told him that I knew that Intel was using CLCs for their SB-e line and couldn't object, he laughed and approved the RMA.

I agree with Crashman about the cooler OEMs supplying a stiffening motherboard tray, that distributes the torque, if they are using oversized heatsinks.

I was actually more interested in this article than in the normal evaluations of systems because of your story of tribulations with the motherboard and CPU. I'm glad to know that you pursued the problem to its end because I would have had problems affording 4 mobos and 3 CPUs.

And I am sticking to CLCs in my gaming builds and recommendations in the fora. A CLC may be a bit more expensive and a little less efficient that an air cooler, but I have had yet to see one crack a motherboard and the cascading problems you experienced.
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March 7, 2013 11:02:15 AM

In the light of Intel's warning (1.5v +/- 5%), is it unsafe to use low-voltage DDR3? Like 1.25 and 1.35v? A lot of those models are popular and have 5 stars and good reviews on newegg...
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March 7, 2013 11:17:10 AM

ojasIn the light of Intel's warning (1.5v +/- 5%), is it unsafe to use low-voltage DDR3? Like 1.25 and 1.35v? A lot of those models are popular and have 5 stars and good reviews on newegg...

"Unsafe?"... good question. As with 1.65V, tons of folks are doing it. But yes it is out of spec according to Intel's data sheets, and I suspect (based past response to their community), they'd start by clarifying these mem controllers are designed specifically for 1.5V only, and outside of that problems may arise.
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March 7, 2013 12:08:38 PM

So, the culprit is partly the Noctua cooler that has the moniker "Best of Toms". Interesting.
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March 7, 2013 12:14:00 PM

nice surprise, thanks
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March 7, 2013 12:26:04 PM

CrashmanThe funny thing is that both boards appear equally stiff, and both boards appear to be 4-layer boards. I have no clue why the Extreme4 didn't agree with the cooler this time, but I can at least recommend against this motherboard/cooler combination.You know what would be better still? Through bolts to the motherboard tray, like we see on SSI-CEB boards.But Intel tried that with BTX, and nobody bought it. I personally blame Intel for not making BTX an extension of ATX, since cross-compatibility could have helped the cooler support mechanism and cooling tunnel survive market resistance.


The BTX style of cooler mounting flexed the motherboard. When you combine that with the high heat from the terrible Pentium 4/ Pentium D processors, you get a failed motherboard. As great as you and everyone thinks the NH-D14 is, it isn't a cooler I could trust to stand the test of time in a computer that I'm responsible for the warranty on simply because it is too heavy to be suspended by the motherboard.

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March 7, 2013 12:44:08 PM

nate1492So, the culprit is partly the Noctua cooler that has the moniker "Best of Toms". Interesting.
Tom's never had a problem with that cooler before and its a top performer. Tom's never had a problem with that motherboard before and its a top overclocker. Put the two together, and bad things can happen.
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March 7, 2013 12:45:37 PM

Your charts show the wrong resolution. In the text it says 5760X1080 then on the chart is says 5760x1600
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March 7, 2013 1:05:15 PM

Chesteracorgi, you raise a very valid point concerning the reduced weight of CLC's.
At what point, however, do we say "Stop the Madness!" and just accept the clock rates that inexpensive but still decent, mid-weight 120mm (or smaller) coolers allow?

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March 7, 2013 1:11:24 PM

This build is much more representative of what I want to see in a affordable high end gaming system.

The intangibles that dont really contribute much to the value/performance charts make all the difference to me.

I would choose this build 10/10 times over this quarters $1000 build.
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March 7, 2013 1:17:54 PM

No problems with 1.65vdimm on 2 SB machines now of mine (and many other people have had the same success).

The issue here is you had a budget motherboard (ASRock) with a ridiculously cheap and thin PCB design. You exacerbated this by using a heavy cooler which caused even more flexing than the board already has to deal with. If you have any doubt, look at any pictures of the board itself from the side (typically these are the rear IO panel pictures that people have taken) and compare the BEND in that area to a board from a Asus or Gigabyte.
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March 7, 2013 1:39:40 PM

zero2dashNo problems with 1.65vdimm on 2 SB machines now of mine (and many other people have had the same success).The issue here is you had a budget motherboard (ASRock) with a ridiculously cheap and thin PCB design. You exacerbated this by using a heavy cooler which caused even more flexing than the board already has to deal with. If you have any doubt, look at any pictures of the board itself from the side (typically these are the rear IO panel pictures that people have taken) and compare the BEND in that area to a board from a Asus or Gigabyte.

Just an FYI. Do you have any idea how many motherboards Thomas has touched through the years? He doesn't need to look at photos. For me, it would be in the hundreds, and I don't even review motherboards. He does! :) 
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March 7, 2013 1:59:33 PM

pauldhJust an FYI. Do you have any idea how many motherboards Thomas has touched through the years? He doesn't need to look at photos. For me, it would be in the hundreds, and I don't even review motherboards. He does!

I think z2d's suggestion to review photos was for the benefit of other Tom's readers.
I too have noticed that some of the ASRock boards I've bought are rather thin and flexible. So far I haven't had any failures, but I'm as careful with them as possible, and I haven't put huge coolers on any of them.

I have a question about the case...does it have a HDD activity LED, or is it absent, such as on my Fractal Designs Define Mini? I am considering using a LED fan on the top of mine, and use the front power LED as a HDD activity LED instead.
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March 7, 2013 2:00:25 PM

mayankleoboy1Crashman on reply overdrive


I own the NH-D14 and I have experienced ZERO problems with it "flexing the motherboard." If you have a lan computer that you are hauling around then MAYBE it might be a consideration. The D-14 is big but it is not that big. My unit has nearly 900 reviews on Newegg and it has an 87% five-star approval rating. There are very few products on Newegg that even approach that kind of customer satisfaction.

Unless you are constantly carrying your computer around to lan parties, I doubt the weight of the D-14 is worth considering. Even if you do, I doubt it would be a problem but I cannot speak from experience because I do not go to lan parties.
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March 7, 2013 2:04:16 PM

This build is much higher in quality than the $1000 build. The Corsair PSU and NH-D14 cooler really make it top quality. The mystery is why 1600 RAM was chosen when much faster RAM is available for $75 or less. This would have added 1-3% in overall speed. Not a lot but for the money it would be worth it.
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March 7, 2013 3:00:25 PM

cknobmanThis build is much more representative of what I want to see in a affordable high end gaming system. The intangibles that dont really contribute much to the value/performance charts make all the difference to me.I would choose this build 10/10 times over this quarters $1000 build.

I completely agree on the "intangibles" as you put it. Having a decent case to put all your nice gear in rather than a cheap pile of junk is worth the extra $50-80. Likewise, a power supply is a place I'm ok spending more, because if you get a quality one it will last for a number of builds. The Noctua is just too big for my taste, but I also appreciate having a quality cooler on there for overclocking. I understand these are the first things to go when you are building a budget build to maximize performance, but it's nice to see them be more in line with what a "real world" build would have.
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March 7, 2013 3:02:04 PM

IMHO, the $1000 PC excels @ 1080p. The $1600 PC is built for gaming @ 5760x1080. Each build achieves its target.
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March 7, 2013 3:20:08 PM

The build lists Crucial Ballistix, but the picture D14 installation pictures showed G.Skill Ares being used, am I missing something here? :heink: 
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March 7, 2013 3:24:09 PM

I remember reading a post in a different article warning you about 1.6v ram. This seems to be a trend developing where manufacturers over volt a little to achieve higher results.

Question for you crash, any way you can test this with a amd combo I am thinking the amd memory controller is much more forgiving than the intel one but it would be nice to know for sure.

Regarding board warp, when you dig around the bottom like i am, you learn really quick how to use rubber standoffs under the board just in case this happens. I expect it on ecs/biostar board but not on top of the line models.
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March 7, 2013 3:27:09 PM

pauldh said:
Just an FYI. Do you have any idea how many motherboards Thomas has touched through the years? He doesn't need to look at photos. For me, it would be in the hundreds, and I don't even review motherboards. He does! :) 


paul are you not at least a little curious how the crossfired 7870 le's would fare your 600 build.
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March 7, 2013 3:47:46 PM

Is this system being given away too?
I would love to win this one, mostly for those "intangibles." It would be a nice "bigger brother" to the Fractal Design Define Mini I'm using for my other Intel build. For now, I'd pull one of the graphics cards since I only play at 1920x1080, and I might use a smaller cooler, but this is a very nice machine.

I remember years ago with all the issues the P35 chipset had with non-standard RAM, I was a loud advocate for standard voltage on RAM. This build reinforces my attitudes on that subject.
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March 7, 2013 4:26:28 PM

I have a question. So are 2 7870 XT cards worth it or do they fall short when it comes to performance per dollar? Would one GTX 680 or HD 7970 still be a more worth while, long term purchase? Assuming X2 7870 XT's = $480 approx. and I'll just round it to $500.
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March 7, 2013 4:30:38 PM

hhhmmm..this makes me think twice about BIG AIR coolers. Overall I like this build. Well done.
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March 7, 2013 4:32:23 PM

g-unit1111 said:
The build lists Crucial Ballistix, but the picture D14 installation pictures showed G.Skill Ares being used, am I missing something here? :heink: 

Apparently you missed actually reading the article. Tom notes that very exception right below that picture and goes into pages of detail of having parts fail and swapping stuff out until the system works.
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March 7, 2013 5:05:37 PM

This is off topic, but is everyone having issues with the forums?
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March 7, 2013 5:29:59 PM

zooted said:
This is off topic, but is everyone having issues with the forums?

I noticed the site in general was down for about an hour. I kept getting DNS errors.
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March 7, 2013 6:18:38 PM

I don't see how someone can look at the last three builds and see how this one is a step in the right direction. I feel like this series should be called, 'How to build with the AMD 7870'. What do they say is the definition of insanity?
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March 7, 2013 6:20:35 PM

OnusIs this system being given away too?I would love to win this one, mostly for those "intangibles." It would be a nice "bigger brother" to the Fractal Design Define Mini I'm using for my other Intel build. For now, I'd pull one of the graphics cards since I only play at 1920x1080, and I might use a smaller cooler, but this is a very nice machine.I remember years ago with all the issues the P35 chipset had with non-standard RAM, I was a loud advocate for standard voltage on RAM. This build reinforces my attitudes on that subject.

Yes, we're giving this one away, too.
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March 7, 2013 6:27:43 PM

zootedThis is off topic, but is everyone having issues with the forums?


Yes, seem to get DNS errors every now and then.
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March 7, 2013 6:31:50 PM

I always like reading the build articles but this was was the most interesting one yet for me. It is nice to know that crappy stuff happens even to the pro builders.
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March 7, 2013 6:46:57 PM

Crashman said:
The problem is that we've seen these claims dozens of times concerning many versions of Samsung's RAM over the past TWO YEARS and, every time we test these claims, they turn out to be exaggerations. This is the first memory set we've tested to exceed the wild expectations set forth by blusterers.


That's... odd. Perhaps it's a large gamble as to what you get?
Because I have my rig personally running at 1833 Mhz, Cas 7, and the computer I built for my best friend is running it at 2000 Mhz with a Cas of 11.
I'll happily upload a CPU-z validation, should you wish; I'm not simply a blusterer, just apparently someone who'se gotten lucky.
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