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Where's The Value Sweet Spot?

System Builder Marathon, Q1 2013: System Value Compared
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Based on our past experience, the cheapest system doesn’t always prevail in this price-per-performance paradigm. We've even seen a $1,000 machine top the value standings in our past three System Builder Marathons. But those competitions were based on budgets between $500 and $2,000. This time around, we went in search of the best possible value and narrowed that range from $600 to $1,000. Don's $800 machine fills the middle spot where I've traditionally found the best value.

This time around, my $1,000 machine only tops the value chart when we make our comparison at stock clock rates. Unfortunately, I don't pick up enough performance from overclocking to maintain a lead. The most likely explanation is that the SSD in my system does plenty to boost baseline performance, but cannot be overclocked. So, its impact tapers off when we overclock. When it comes right down to tweaking, the $600 machine offers a value lead of 1%.

A lead that small won’t matter to anyone who wants to game at high resolutions, and the extra memory capacity available in both the $800 and $1,000 machines is probably more important in a real-world, multi-tasked environment, even if it has little impact on our benchmarks.

However, anyone in the market for a big monitor probably won't be shopping around for a $600 PC. Furthermore, anyone looking for a gaming PC priced at $600 should be willing to give up a little productivity-oriented performance in the interest of spending as much of the budget as possible on a competent CPU and GPU. Paul Henningsen deserves full credit for a win that breaks the mid-priced PC’s winning streak.

Anyone who can afford a big monitor probably expected to see the $800 and $1,000 machines, which coincidentally employ similar hardware, achieve similar performance, giving the less expensive build a better gaming value outcome. Really, though, that's only true if you're able to tolerate slower boot-up, shutdown, and level load times.

Paul's $600 machine wins the value contest by a small margin when it's overclocked, the $800 box becomes a far more compelling value proposition when you're gaming at high resolutions, and my $1,000 system becomes the best overall value among the three stock configurations. Aside from rejecting the notion of value superiority at $800, today's results don't get us any closer to finding a performance per dollar sweet spot. It now appears to be somewhere around $600 for PCs without SSDs and $1,000 for more enthusiast-oriented setups with solid-state storage, though there’s enough flexibility between all three builds to come up with an SSD-equipped $750 machine that could turn our findings upside-down.

With this many options available, we’ll leave it to you to decide whether the next System Builder Marathon should return to the broad budget ranges of our previous efforts, center around the $600 price point, center around the $1000 price point, or...?

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