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Test System Configuration And Benchmarks

System Builder Marathon, Q1 2014: The $750 Gaming PC
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The following tables give you a more in-depth look at the specifications of this quarter's System Builder Marathon configuration, along with the modest overclock I achieved with its graphics card, along with the same information from my previous two SBM builds. At the very bottom, you'll find all of the programs and games used for benchmarking.

Current $750 PC System Test Configuration
Component Base Settings Overclock Setting
CPUIntel Core i3-4130 (Haswell): 3.4 GHz, 3 MB shared L3 cache, Power-saving features enabledUnchanged
CPU CoolerIntel boxed heat sink and fanUnchanged
MotherboardAsus H81M-K, LGA 1150, Intel H81 Express, BIOS: v.0304 (08-23-13)Unchanged
RAM8 GB (2 x 4 GB) Adata DDR3-1600 kit, CL 9-9-9-24 XMP at 1.5 VUnchanged
GraphicsZotac ZT-70301-10P GeForce GTX 770 2 GB GDDR5, 1059 MHz (1111 MHz GPU Boost, 1150 MHz maximum) GPU, 1.2 V, 1753 MHz (7010 MT/s) memory1283 MHz (Maximum GPU Boost), 1903 MHz (7610 MT/s) GDDR5 Memory, (+12 mV, 106% power, Custom fan profile)
Hard DriveWestern Digital Blue WD10EZEX 1 TB, 7200 RPM, 64 MB CacheUnchanged
SoundIntegrated eight-channel HD AudioUnchanged
NetworkIntegrated GbE networkingUnchanged
PowerRosewill Capstone-450-M 450 W ATXUnchanged
OpticalAsus 24x DVD burner DRW-24B1ST/BLK/B/AS
Unchanged
 Software and Drivers
Operating SystemWindows 8 Professional x64Unchanged
Graphics DriverNvidia GeForce 332.21 WHQLUnchanged
Platform DriverIntel Inf. v. 9.4.0.1017Unchanged

And here's last quarter's configuration.

Q4 2013 $800 PC System Test Configuration
Component Base Settings Overclock Setting
CPUIntel Core i5-3470 (Ivy Bridge): 3.2 GHz Base Clock Rate, 3.6 GHz Turbo Boost, 6 MB Shared L3 Cache, Power-saving features enabled3.8 - 4.0 GHz (20 * 200), Power-saving features enabled
CPU CoolerIntel boxed heat sink and fanUnchanged
MotherboardASRock Z75 Pro3, LGA 1155, Intel Z75 Express, BIOS: v.P1.90 (07-12-13)Unchanged
RAM8 GB (2 x 4 GB)Team Vulcan DDR3-1600 kit, CL 9-9-9-24 XMP at 1.5 VUnchanged
GraphicsGigabyte GV-R928XOC-3GD Radeon R9 280X 3 GB GDDR5, 1100 MHz GPU, 1500 MHz (6000 MT/s) memory1115 MHz GPU, 1600 MHz (6400 MT/s) GDDR5 Memory
Hard DriveWestern Digital Blue WD10EZEX 1 TB, 7200 RPM, 64 MB CacheUnchanged
SoundIntegrated eight-channel HD AudioUnchanged
NetworkIntegrated GbE networkingUnchanged
PowerEVGA 500B 100-B1-0500-KR 500 W ATX12V v2.91Unchanged
OpticalLite-On 24x DVD burner SATA IHAS124-04Unchanged
 Software and Drivers
Operating SystemWindows 8 Professional x64Unchanged
Graphics DriverAMD Catalyst 13.11 Beta  9.4Unchanged
Platform DriverIntel Inf. v. 9.4.0.1017Unchanged

And finally, the $650 PC from six months ago.

Q3 2013 $650 Gaming PC System Test Configuration
Component Base Settings Overclock Setting
CPUAMD FX-6300 (Vishera), 3.5 GHz (4.1 GHz Turbo Core), Socket AM3+, 8 MB shared L3 cache, Turbo Core enabled, Power-saving features enabled4 GHz (20 * 200), stock 1.2625 V VID, Turbo Core disabled, Power-saving features disabled
CPU CoolerAMD retail boxed heat sink and fanUnchanged
MotherboardMSI 970A-G43, AMD 970 / SB950, BIOS: v.10.2 (02-04-13)Unchanged
RAM8 GB (2 x 4 GB)Kingston HyperX DDR3-1600 kit, CL 9-9-9-27 XMP at 1.650 VDDR3-1866, CL 9-10-10-28 1T at 1.65 V
GraphicsEVGA GeForce GTX 760 02G-P4-2760-KR2 GB GDDR5, 980 MHz (1033 GPU Boost, 1110 MHz maximum) GPU, 1502 MHz (6008 MT/s) memory1254 MHz (Maximum GPU Boost), 1801 MHz (7204 MT/s) GDDR5 memory, (110% power, +150 MHz GPU, +600 MHz memory, Auto Fan)
Hard DriveWestern Digital Blue WD10EZEX 1 TB, 7200 RPM, 64 MB CacheUnchanged
SoundIntegrated eight-channel HD AudioUnchanged
NetworkIntegrated GbE networkingUnchanged
PowerAntec VP-450 450 W ATX12V v2.3Unchanged
OpticalSamsung 24x DVD burner SATA Model SH-224DB/RSBSUnchanged
 Software and Drivers
Operating SystemWindows 8 Professional x64Unchanged
Graphics DriverNvidia ForceWare 320.49 WHQLUnchanged
Platform Driver
Unchanged

These are the System Builder Marathon benchmarks.

Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
Battlefield 3Version 1.6.0.0, DirectX 11, 90-sec. Fraps "Going Hunting"
Test Set 1: Medium Quality Preset, No AA, 4X AF, SSAO
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset,  4X MSAA, 16X AF, HBAO
The Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimVersion 1.9.32.08, 25-Sec. Fraps
Test Set 1: High Preset, No AA, 8x AF, FXAA Enabled
Test Set 2: Ultra Preset, 8x AA, 16x AF, FXAA Enabled
Far Cry 3V. 1.05, DirectX 11, 50-sec. Fraps "Amanaki Outpost"
Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA, Standard ATC., SSAO
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality, 4x MSAA, Enhanced ATC, HDAO AMD/ HBAO NVidia 
F1 2012Version 1.3.3.0, Direct X 11, Built-in Benchmark
Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality, 8x MSAA
Arma 3Version 1.08.113494, 30-Sec. Fraps "Infantry Showcase"
Test Set 1: Standard Preset, No AA, Standard AF
Test Set 2: Ultra Preset, 8x FSAA, Ultra AF
Battlefield 4Version 1.0.0.1, DirectX 11, 100-sec. Fraps "Tashgar"
Test Set 1: Medium Quality Preset, No AA, 4X AF, SSAO
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset,  4X MSAA, 16X AF, HBAO
Grid 2Version 1.0.85.8679, Direct X 11, Built-in Benchmark
Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality, 8x MSAA
Audio/Video Encoding
HandBrake CLIVersion: 0.99, Video: Video from Canon Eos 7D (1920x1080, 25 frames) 1 Minutes 22 Seconds, Audio: PCM-S16, 48,000 Hz, Two-Channel, to Video: AVC1 Audio: AAC (High Profile)
iTunesVersion 11.0.4.4 x64: Audio CD (Terminator II SE), 53 minutes, default AAC format 
LAME MP3Version 3.98.3: Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 min, convert WAV to MP3 audio format, Command: -b 160 --nores (160 Kb/s)
TotalCode Studio 2.5Version: 2.5.0.10677, MPEG-2 to H.264, MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG-2), Audio: MPEG-2 (44.1 kHz, Two-Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kb/s) Codec: H.264 Pro, Mode: PAL 50i (25 FPS), Profile: H.264 BD HDMV
Abobe Creative Suite
Adobe After Effects CS6Version 11.0.0.378 x64:Create Video, Three Streams, 210 Frames, Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously
Adobe Photoshop CS6Version 13 x64: Filter 15.7 MB TIF Image: Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Adobe Premiere Pro CS6Version 6.0.0.0, 6.61GB MXF Project to H.264 to H.264 Blu-ray, Output 1920x1080, Maximum Quality
Adobe Acrobat X ProVersion 11.0.0.379: Print PDF from 115 Page PowerPoint, 128-bit RC4 Encyption
Productivity
ABBYY FineReaderVersion 10.0.102.95: Read PDF save to Doc, Source: Political Economy (J. Broadhurst 1842) 111 Pages
Autodesk 3ds Max 2013Version 15.0 x64: Space Flyby Mentalray, 248 Frames, 1440x1080
BlenderVersion 2.67b, Cycles Engine, Syntax blender -b thg.blend -f 1, 1920x1080, 8x Anti-Aliasing, Render THG.blend frame 1
Visual StudioVersion 10.0, Compile Google Chrome, Scripted
Compression
7-ZipVersion 9.28, LZMA2, Syntax "a -t7z -r -m0=LZMA2 -mx=5"
Benchmark: THG-Workload-2012 (1.3 GB)
WinRARVersion 4.2, RAR, Syntax "winrar a -r -m3"
Benchmark: THG-Workload-2012 (1.3 GB)
WinZipVersion 17.0 Pro, Syntax "-a -ez -p -r"
Benchmark: THG-Workload-2012 (1.3 GB)
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark 11Version: 1.0.3, Performance Suite
3DMark ProfessionalVersion: 1.2.250.0, Fire Strike Standard and Extreme
SiSoftware Sandra 2013Version: 2013.01.19.50, Processor  Arithmetic,
Cryptography, Memory Bandwidth Benchmarks
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  • 1 Hide
    blackmagnum , March 26, 2014 12:14 AM
    This is the everyday Joe sort of gaming PC... cheap and workable. Why not Core i5 quad-core?
  • 3 Hide
    hmp_goose , March 26, 2014 12:46 AM
    "The games we just added are unquestionably less processor-bound." This sounds like a major oversight, I fear …
  • 1 Hide
    ingtar33 , March 26, 2014 1:01 AM
    nice build, and a good example of how even modern multi-threaded games are STILL at their heart primarily single or dual threaded games. We see this in BF4 most clearly, as the advantage of MOAR CORZ vanishes once you pass the 3rd core on the cpu... meaning a dual cored and hyperthreaded intel is still a viable gaming option; and though you can get an fx8320 for the same price as that i3, almost nothing truely makes use of 8 cores yet. I say yet, because the next gen game consoles will force games to become truly multithreaded in the future. Purhaps down the road the old piledriver chips will start to look like a great gaming value, but the situation today is still largely the same problem facing AMD 3 years ago... which is games simply don't really need MOAR CORZ. Not really anyway. I'm sure some people will have issues with using an i3, but really i think it was a fantastic read; and quite informative. Its important we keep things in perspective... and as things stand now you really don't need much more cpu power then a dual cored pentium or i3... or i guess quad core phenomII or piledriver fx.it all comes down to what you can afford to build around it.
  • -1 Hide
    lostgamer_03 , March 26, 2014 1:16 AM
    The i3 was a bad choice, why not get an i5-3330 which is about the same in price and it offers 2 more fully enabled cores, which really would help in applications and the 'newer' games.The MOBO would also be cheaper as it is last gen.
  • 2 Hide
    de5_Roy , March 26, 2014 1:34 AM
    the psu was a smart choice for the case, imo. modular cabling prevented the usual clutter seen in cases like these. the resulted unusually clean look of the inside. 80+ gold efficiency is also welcome. i don't think clean cable management can be measured in charts, but it's an added bonus.
  • 0 Hide
    pauldh , March 26, 2014 2:03 AM
    That's what I thought too de5_Roy. Modular and 80 PLUS Gold was well worth spending an extra $15.
  • 9 Hide
    bemused_fred , March 26, 2014 2:04 AM
    Quote:
    The i3 was a bad choice, why not get an i5-3330 which is about the same in price and it offers 2 more fully enabled cores, which really would help in applications and the 'newer' games.The MOBO would also be cheaper as it is last gen.


    When I first saw the parts list for this build, I expected myself to be in full agreement with you. I mean, can you imagine someone suggesting paring a GTX 680 with an I3? Ludicrous. They'd be laughed out the forums. However, looking at the benchmarks for the highest settings in 1920x1080 and 4800x900, I found there were 2 types of results

    1. Those where the I3 and the GTX 770 build beat, or were within a few FPS of the I5 and R9-280X build:
    Battlefield 3
    Battlefield 4
    Arma 3
    Far Cry 3
    2. Those where the I5 and R9-280X beat the I3 and GTX 770 build by a significant margin, but where all frame rates were well above 60FPS:
    F1 2012
    Grid 2
    Skyrim

    So, while overall performance percentage charts might put the I3 and GTX 770 behind the I5 and R9-280X behind in certain games, in a real-life setting, it seems that the I3 and GTX 770 is an equally good build. Which is really not what I was expecting.
    Quote:
    nalmost nothing truely makes use of 8 cores yet. I say yet, because the next gen game consoles will force games to become truly multithreaded in the future.


    Citations desperately needed. The XBOX 360 had 3 hyper-threaded CPUs and the PS3 had a 7-core cell CPU, but this didn't push PC games during this period beyond dual cores. Indeed, as late as January 2012, Tom's hardware was finding it impossible to recommend any Quad-core AMD processors over intel Dual-core processors and as late as December 2012, dual-core Intel pentiums were taking the low-end recommendations, as they were still better at gaming at this point than 4-core AMD processors. Indeed, it wasn't until February 2013 that they reversed this recommendation, so any assumption that consoles having more cores will result in P.C. games using more cores doesn't really stand up to scrutiny, I'm afraid.
  • 3 Hide
    pauldh , March 26, 2014 2:14 AM
    Quote:
    The i3 was a bad choice, why not get an i5-3330 which is about the same in price and it offers 2 more fully enabled cores, which really would help in applications and the 'newer' games.The MOBO would also be cheaper as it is last gen.

    As explained on page 1, the whole idea here with this build was to spend less on the platform, more-than covering the premiums on graphics, RAM, and ODD vs. our last purchase.

    Sure we'd go i5 if priced the same. But the -3330 is $60 more @ $190, just like the -3470 used last quarter. The -3350P saves $10 off that. H61 doesn't save much, starting $5-10 below H81, and then we'd give up capitalizing on the i5's limited overclocking.
  • 4 Hide
    pauldh , March 26, 2014 2:43 AM
    @bemused_fred - Yes, exactly! Good post.

    I was surprised to see i3 didn't yield any meaningful drop in minimum fps, at all! In fact, minimums often appeared GPU-bound, and the new GTX 770 rig won out, especially OC'ed. System bound at 70+ fps and up full-time in Skyrim or F1 2012 is hardly a loss, but an extra 3-8 fps consistently down low in ARMA III and Far Cry 3 could come in handy.
  • -3 Hide
    redgarl , March 26, 2014 2:59 AM
    CPU choice is really overated with a single graphic card. The conclusion proves it. I would even stretch to go AMD to cut some money to fetch up two 750ti-760 GTX or 2 R7 graphic card.CF or SLI of two low tier graphic cards provide really good performances for a budget.
  • 4 Hide
    vertexx , March 26, 2014 2:59 AM
    I give up. Trying to read this article on my HTC One is just ridiculous with all the pop-up and expanding ad's, making it completely unreadable - could not make it through. So I guess I'll have to wait to read this.
  • 1 Hide
    pauldh , March 26, 2014 3:01 AM
    Quote:
    "The games we just added are unquestionably less processor-bound." This sounds like a major oversight, I fear …


    Well, not really. While I favored keeping Skyrim around this long for popularity, truth is it and F1 2012 (both out and both CPU/system limited) were now a bit long in the tooth and unable to challenge our cheapest rigs for a while now. I expected ARMA III to be more processor bound than it is.

    Considering we do average in all resolutions, I think CPU-muscle is more than getting it's fair share of attention. What we lack I guess is a super-strenuous new CPU-bound game sequence able to exploit a weak CPU. Parts of Tomb Raider can do that actually, but not the in-game benchmark or our normal GPU-bound save-game. The TR test I use for CPUs is a bit tedious for SBM use. (EDIT: And actually some of the games we use like FC3 do exploit a WEAK CPU, it's just Core-i3 isn't weak.)

    Hey we are always open to suggestions though, but for SBMs have to scale back to four easily comparable & repeatable games. Unfortunately this typically rules out MP testing.
  • -1 Hide
    redgarl , March 26, 2014 3:31 AM
    pauldh...I totally disagree. The use of gaming bench here on tomshardware is ridiculous. Even if I like the fact the community is active and interesting, when it comes to benching graphic cards, you guys are not good. You making all this work to build machines but only test one or two games which provoke a huge false unbalance toward one card or the other.For example, hardwarecanucks, use at least 8 games... and lets not talk about anandtech making a bench for everything. It's always the same games! Where are the bench for the witcher 2 with ubersampling... just saying.
  • 2 Hide
    pauldh , March 26, 2014 3:47 AM
    One or two games? Don't most Tom's graphics reviews typically use at least 6-8? That's my norm for a game-related feature. I even double up on sequences at times to factor in the varied loads some games create on the system. See here: http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/ivy-bridge-wolfdale-yorkfield-comparison,3487.html

    SBMs we just can't pull off more than four games, ( I have tried. ;)  ) and we keep them around for a while to retain comparable data to the previous quarter. But it's just too time consuming, as coordinating these often become a time crunch as it is.

    Like I said, we are always open to benchmark suggestions. They'll need to be newer than the Witcher 2 though. =)
  • -1 Hide
    lostgamer_03 , March 26, 2014 4:49 AM
    This build is cheaper, faster and it has more headroom in terms of watts. I don't know why you praise the i3 so much, when it's possible to get better performance, while saving money. I just don't get it.

    CPU: Intel Core i5-3350P 3.1GHz Quad-Core Processor ($179.99 @ Newegg)
    Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-H61M-S1 Micro ATX LGA1155 Motherboard ($34.99 @ Newegg)
    Memory: Kingston HyperX Blu 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1333 Memory ($64.99 @ Newegg)
    Storage: Seagate Barracuda ES 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive
    Video Card: MSI GeForce GTX 770 2GB Video Card ($339.99 @ Newegg)
    Case: Corsair 200R ATX Mid Tower Case ($39.99 @ Newegg)
    Power Supply: Corsair Builder 500W 80+ Bronze Certified ATX Power Supply ($59.99 @ Newegg)
    Optical Drive: Samsung SH-224DB/BEBE DVD/CD Writer ($15.99 @ Newegg)
    Total: $735.93
    (Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)
    (Generated by PCPartPicker 2014-03-26 07:50 EDT-0400)
  • 1 Hide
    bemused_fred , March 26, 2014 5:00 AM
    Quote:
    This build is cheaper, faster and it has more headroom in terms of watts. I don't know why you praise the i3 so much, when it's possible to get better performance, while saving money. I just don't get it. CPU: Intel Core i5-3350P 3.1GHz Quad-Core Processor ($179.99 @ Newegg) Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-H61M-S1 Micro ATX LGA1155 Motherboard ($34.99 @ Newegg) Memory: Kingston HyperX Blu 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1333 Memory ($64.99 @ Newegg) Storage: Seagate Barracuda ES 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive Video Card: MSI GeForce GTX 770 2GB Video Card ($339.99 @ Newegg) Case: Corsair 200R ATX Mid Tower Case ($39.99 @ Newegg) Power Supply: Corsair Builder 500W 80+ Bronze Certified ATX Power Supply ($59.99 @ Newegg) Optical Drive: Samsung SH-224DB/BEBE DVD/CD Writer ($15.99 @ Newegg) Total: $735.93(Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)(Generated by PCPartPicker 2014-03-26 07:50 EDT-0400)
    Hey, guess what I found on page one of the article?
    Quote:
    Nailing down my ideal list of components required an almost comical amount of tuning to hit $750. Significant fluctuations in pricing and availability stymied my efforts throughout the day our orders were to be placed. In fact, every single component I selected, aside from the Core i3, was eventually swapped out (in some cases, multiple times), including no less than four different GeForce GTX 770s at $330. When it came time to submit, I lucked out and snagged Zotac's offering for $20 less than any of the competing cards.
  • 1 Hide
    de5_Roy , March 26, 2014 5:27 AM
    @lostgamer03's build - the hdd price isn't included in the final tally. and the corsair 200r costs $60 on newegg.
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811139018
    the msi gfx card is $20 more than paul's selected zotac now.

    and... non modular, cwt-built, 80+ bronze (not even silver) cx500 is a better choice than superflower-built rosewill capstone.. how?
  • 5 Hide
    vertexx , March 26, 2014 5:40 AM
    Overall really good information between the 3 builds. The i3 has been my go-to processor for budget builds ever since the AMD Phenom II X4 965 left the scene. You can save a ton of money by going with a lower-end motherboard, lower capacity PSU, and no CPU cooler and apply that toward higher quality components or even an SSD.

    The one thing these charts don't reveal, however, is the real impact of some of the productivity activities. Many of the single-threaded apps really don't take that long, so the overall impact of a lower performing CPU in that case is felt less by the user.

    Contrast that to some of the multi-threaded apps. Try transcoding a 2 hour blu-ray movie or 7zipping a backup of a 20GB Skyrim Data folder. The difference in wait times between the i3 and i5 for the Skyrim Data folder zip would be over 13 minutes and for the blu-ray transcoding can take as much as an hour longer. These time differences have serious impact, and more cores/threads will definitely be appreciated in these situations.

    So overall I agree with the results. The i3 is a great budget-build CPU, and this article shows you can stretch that all the way up to a GTX 770 - nice! But it's also easy to lose sight of the impacts some of the other activities can have on the time away from gaming.
  • 2 Hide
    pauldh , March 26, 2014 5:49 AM
    @ lostgamer_03 - I think you are missing the point. We just tested Core i5 last quarter. And if you are going to use that $35 (after $10 rebate) H61, you could still save $60 (or $70 factoring the current instant promo code) going with i3-3240. No matter how you slice it, we are paying that much more to outfit Core i5. Only special combo-prices would impact this.
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