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Summarizing The Performance Of Three Gaming Builds

System Builder Marathon, Q1 2014: The $750 Gaming PC
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That was a ton of data spanning six months worth of benchmarking. So, let's finish up by comparing three gaming-oriented builds to each other.

Given the ongoing relevancy of the $650 machine, I'll use that as our baseline and factor in only the four titles tested throughout 2013's System Builder Marathons.

Tallying average frame rates using every resolution puts a big emphasis on CPU performance. The Q1 2014 PC drops its processor budget by almost one-third, which would seem scary. And yet it still serves up at least 90% of the Core i5-equipped rig’s frame rates in three titles. It only trails further behind in F1 2012.

The more affordable $650 PC takes a hit in CPU- and GPU-limited scenarios, but its Achilles heel is The Elders Scrolls V: Skyrim. You just have to keep in mind that it was still going strong using the Ultra preset, never dropping below 50 FPS at 1920x1080.

But nobody builds a machine this strong to game at 1280x720 with low-quality details and jagged edges. So why even run those benchmarks, which mess with the averages? The data points do serve a purpose; they let us identify bottlenecks and gauge the potential of other subsystems. We can factor them out of our calculations, though, and draw conclusions about the resolutions and settings that matter most to gamers.

Cranking up the eye candy at 1920x1080 obviously shifts demands over to graphics hardware, and once we overclock the GeForce GTX 770, this quarter's PC trades blows with the more expensive rig. If we dropped F1 2012, which never dropped below 72 FPS anyway, today's effort actually matches the $800 build’s overall frame rate measurements in stock and tuned form. Performance across three panels is pretty darned strong, too.

Remember, even the $650 box survived 1920x1080 in all four games at Ultra details. The respectable overclocking headroom of its GeForce GTX 760 gave us higher GPU Boost clock rates when we needed them. But when it came to 4800x900, quality had to suffer in the name of smooth game play.

Sandwiched between the two previous machines in cost, my Q1 2014 setup delivers great frame rates in most modern titles. Of course, that was the goal all along; my hardware choices reflect the tough decisions needed to push 1920x1080 and taxing image quality options.

But the System Builder Marathon tends to illustrate overall system performance with a ton of other tests, too.

In threaded workloads, AMD's six-core FX-6300 is more capable. But the Haswell architecture's ability to get more work done per clock cycle, along with the GeForce card's solid OpenCL compute performance, means today's platform is roughly on par...at least until overclocking is taken into consideration, too.

These are gaming machines, first and foremost. So I weigh their overall performance accordingly, rather than using the same formulas Thomas will use tomorrow. On Day 4, my PC is undoubtedly going to struggle. Its gaming aptitude will only account for 20% of its overall rating. And although it doesn't quite hang with the $800 machine in today's evaluation, it slides in ahead of the cheaper system.

The two Intel-based PCs are between 56% and 71% more efficient. Overclocking both GeForce cards reduces overall efficiency compared to the stock configurations, too. While our current PC is the overall winner, we can't forget that it's driven by a pricier 80 PLUS Gold-certified power supply.

Value: Is There A Winner?

I only chart value when it’s difficult to pick a bang-for-the-buck winner through an easy calculation. This time, I have to admit that true value gets more subjective, depending on your specific needs. Even picking the right price to use in a comparison is tough, since the numbers are changing on a daily basis. We paid $300 for a Radeon R9 280X last quarter, which then shot up to $420 by the time my story went live. When it came time to order the parts for today's PC, 280Xes were still going for $420 and up. Now, the cheapest 280X in stock is $340. And the Zotac GeForce GTX 770 I used is bouncing up and down between $330 and $350.

My three PCs originally cost us $650, $799, and $773. Now, with some minor substitutions accounting for in-stock alternatively, they're closer to $685, $857, and $779. But I can almost guarantee they'll change again depending on the day you read this. Any attempt to lock in a price is futile.

I'll gauge value on two factors, then. First, the original purchase price of the components, which was set in stone, and then based on an adjusted platform price. All three builds were outfitted with 8 GB of affordable DDR3-1600 and the same 1 TB hard drive. Every time, I grabbed the most affordable DVD burner I could find and relied on bundled CPU heat sinks. All three machines could get by with the same case and power supply, which typically sold for about $45 each. Those parts are a matter of personal preference, so a fixed $235 covers the basic memory, power, storage, and case. From there, I add the cost of what really separates the platforms: processor, motherboard, and graphics. The adjusted prices come in at $675, $842, and $745.

Using only the 2013 test suite, I originally got the most value from the $800 PC in stock and overclocked form. The $650 build even slightly edges out today's effort. Of course, we can't forget that the current machine is penalized by $55 in mark-ups from the RAM, storage, optical drive, and chassis that I picked.

When we use current pricing and level out the playing field with complementary components, the current Core i3 and GeForce GTX 770 combination secures a narrow value victory right out of the box. However, all three builds are within 2% of each other once I overclock them. I don't think we can pin down a definitive winner; this is as close as you can get.

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