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When Does $800 Buy You More Than $1000?

System Builder Marathon, Q1 2013: $800 Enthusiast PC

When we compare this quarter's $800 machine with last quarter's pricier configuration, we come away with differences that are so familiar they now seem cliche. The FX-8350 does really well in threaded software, but cannot overclock as well on air. Thus, when it's put up against an overclockable Intel chip (even a quad-core model without Hyper-Threading), the FX falls behind. Compounding the performance story, FX-8350 uses more power every step of the way. None of that is news, though. We've seen it happen time and time again.

As such, our mid-range CPU recommendations remain the same. If you're not overclocking and you don't care about power consumption, the FX remains a solid option in an affordable workstation tasked with running content creation or media-oriented applications. Unfortunately, for the market AMD is targeting, overclocking is popular. If you're down to tweak and tune, Intel's Core i5 can be made to run faster, even while using less power. Overclocked or not, though, the Ivy Bridge-based chip is faster in lightly-threaded workloads.

How about gaming, though? Let's zero in on performance at 1920x1080 for a moment:

These results fall fairly close together, considering they're completely dissimilar platforms. The high detail settings and 1920x1080 resolution help put an emphasis on graphics performance. Remember, though, that the AMD processor benefits from Nvidia's GeForce GTX 670, while Intel's Core i5 plays host to a slower Radeon HD 7870 powered by AMD's Tahiti LE GPU. This quarter's machine achieves better performance with Core i5 working its magic to push that Radeon card out in front of the GeForce. Overclocked, the combination really shines.

What did dropping our budget teach us? Nothing that we couldn't have guessed before we started: losing the SSD only quantifiably hurt our storage benchmarks, less money for graphics hurt our gaming performance a bit, and Intel's Core i5, overclocked, is the way to go if you can afford it. We'll have a lot more context tomorrow when Thomas hits us with a $1,000 work of art. Stay tuned!

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