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System Builder Marathon, Q4 2013: $800 Gaming PC

System Builder Marathon, Q4 2013: $800 Gaming PC
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System Builder Marathon, Q4 2013: The Articles

Here are links to each of the four articles in this quarter’s System Builder Marathon (we’ll update them as each story is published). And remember, these systems are all being given away at the end of the marathon.

To enter the giveaway, please fill out this SurveyGizmo form, and be sure to read the complete rules before entering!

Day 1: The $800 Gaming PC
Day 2: The $1600 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $2400 Performance PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

Introduction

In the weeks leading up to our last System Builder Marathon of the year, graphics card pricing kept us on our toes. Because of the latest GPU launches, price dips, and subsequent increases on the AMD side, Thomas, Don, and I decided to focus our efforts on the PC gaming experience, specifically. Of course, it didn't hurt that Sony and Microsoft just launched their latest consoles, cramming in a ton of good technology that we wanted to counter. 

My $650 build from the last quarter paired a six-core AMD FX-6300 processor with GeForce GTX 760 graphics, which proved to be a potent combination in both general-purpose applications and games. By the time our series went live, the Radeon HD 7950 was selling for a more attractive price. But when it came time to order this quarter, the toned-down Tahiti-based board was selling for more than Nvidia's GeForce GTX 760. 

So, would I build pretty much the same $650 Gaming PC and watch it coast through the benchmarks as it did the quarter before? The $10 I'd save on a GeForce GTX 760 would have been chewed up by pricier storage. I could have switched over to a Core i3, but that would have only left room for parallel substitutions, and no notable improvements. None of that sounded very exciting.

Stepping down to AMD's Radeon R9 270X for $200 didn't sound very exciting either. I would rather have grabbed the Tahiti LE-based PowerColor HD 7870 Myst, which was priced amazingly at $170 back then (and bundled with free games). Unfortunately, those sold out before we placed our orders. And considering the other guys were also targeting gaming performance, I wasn’t about to go cheap on graphics processing. Even worse, taunting me from just out of reach was the perfect solution: AMD's Radeon R9 280X at its attractive $300 launch price. That was the card I really wanted. But with a $650 budget, I couldn't get the rest of my build up to snuff. Even dropping to an Athlon X4 750K required omitting a DVD burner and using a $60 motherboard.

So, I approached the rest of the team and asked for the money to jump up to the R9 280X or to reset back to $500 for the whole system. Both ideas sounded better than recreating the same concept at $650. The higher-ups were feeling generous this holiday season, and we decided to explore the improvements enabled by more expensive systems.

Of course, then the whole Litecoin rush hit and pushed my 280X from $300 up to $420. I meant well, at least.

Back when we ordered, Gigabyte's Radeon R9 280X was one of the least expensive and highest-clocked models. The only downside was a voltage lock on the GPU, ultimately limiting overclocking headroom. The next step was picking a solid platform. I configured two totally different options: a tweakable AMD FX-6300 and a more restricted build packing Intel’s potent Core i5. The cooler and motherboard I would have relied on to take the Vishera design close to 4.5 GHz actually made the AMD option $10 to $20 more expensive, violating the budget. The enthusiast in me favored that option, but my inner-realist knew that we could inevitably pull higher frame rates from Core i5. ASRock's affordable Z75 Pro3 motherboard could get the most out of the -3470’s limited headroom, and Intel's bundled cooler would get the job done at no extra cost.

Component Model  Purchase Price
CPUIntel Core i5-3470 (Ivy Bridge)$190
CPU CoolerIntel Boxed Heat Sink and Fan0
MotherboardASRock Z75 Pro3: LGA 1155, Intel Z75 Express$77
RAMTeam Vulcan 8 GB (2 x 4 GB) DDR3 1600 TLBD38G1600HC9DC01$54
GraphicsGigabyte Radeon R9 280X GV-R928XOC-3GD$300
Hard DriveWestern Digital Blue WD10EZEX 1 TB$70
CaseXigmatek Asgard Pro USB 3.0 CCC-AE37BS-U02$45
PowerEVGA 500 B 100-B1-0500-KR 500 W ATX12V v2.91$45
OpticalLite-On 24x DVD Burner SATA iHAS124-04$18

Total Price
$799

Although it cost me $13 more for a 1 TB hard drive, I didn't think that an $800 PC should be limited to 500 GB of capacity. Of course, you couldn't even configure this same setup today. There's the issue of AMD's pricing, first off. Also, though, my Xigmatek Asgard appears to be discontinued altogether. Looks like whoever wins this quarter's Gaming PC will get more value than originally intended.

Display 59 Comments.
  • 2 Hide
    khaledegy200 , December 26, 2013 12:06 AM
    is there a huge different between i5 3470 and i5 3550p? if not then why don't save money?
  • -3 Hide
    Drejeck , December 26, 2013 1:19 AM
    i5 3550p is kind of a rare beast, when available, it could be a winner, provided you don't need quick sync. Even 750K and 760K BE are just salvaged chips so their availability is not guaranteed. Anyway this are good ways to save money. One thing I don't understand is why build a system with a DVD burner? The last time used it was in 2007, since then I went for USB boot on new systems and I bought an Asus BD writer usb3 12x just to watch BD movies. All I got is coming from digital distribution, I live in Italy, and I have a 10Mbit/s ADSL. I really hate discs right now, obsolete, slow and still used after 27 years. Consoles please go back to cartridge/flash roms, 1 to 5 seconds loading screens and no PC challenge.
  • 5 Hide
    chimera201 , December 26, 2013 2:51 AM
    Quote:
    i5 3550p is kind of a rare beast, when available, it could be a winner, provided you don't need quick sync. Even 750K and 760K BE are just salvaged chips so their availability is not guaranteed. Anyway this are good ways to save money. One thing I don't understand is why build a system with a DVD burner? The last time used it was in 2007, since then I went for USB boot on new systems and I bought an Asus BD writer usb3 12x just to watch BD movies. All I got is coming from digital distribution, I live in Italy, and I have a 10Mbit/s ADSL. I really hate discs right now, obsolete, slow and still used after 27 years. Consoles please go back to cartridge/flash roms, 1 to 5 seconds loading screens and no PC challenge.


    Not all countries have good internet infrastructure. If that wasn't the case Microsoft wouldn't have to reverse its policies on the X1. Another thing is retail game DVDs costs very less in my country. For example, Bioshock Infinite costs only 15.97$ at launch date. If I were to buy it through Steam at launch date it would have cost me 59.99$

  • 4 Hide
    bemused_fred , December 26, 2013 2:57 AM
    Quote:
    is there a huge different between i5 3470 and i5 3550p? if not then why don't save money?


    I know that the writers of "best CPUs" for the money always make a huge fuss about how "oh, you save 7W (or however much it is) by not having the on-board graphics", but I still think it's worth keeping, for if your discrete card gives out on you. My PC buggered up installing my graphics drivers once, and if it weren't for my intel "backup" GPU, my rig would have been bricked.
  • 3 Hide
    pauldh , December 26, 2013 5:56 AM
    Quote:
    is there a huge different between i5 3470 and i5 3550p? if not then why don't save money?


    For us, both were available from Newegg at a $10 difference. Either is fine. I chose the -3350P back for the Q1 $600 Gaming PC, and it's OC was limited to 3.5-3.7 GHz with this same Z75 Pro3 mobo. But I actually prefer the -3470 at these prices for reasons stated in the text (higher clocks and backup HD 2500 graphics). It fit in under budget, and its higher Turbo limit provide a 300 MHz boost across the board (3.8-4.0 GHz) when overclocking. That right there is worth $10 in an SBM where value equals a straight bang for buck calculation.

  • 1 Hide
    Onus , December 26, 2013 6:01 AM
    As I believe I said I would in a past SBM article, I have deleted a string of off-topic posts. If an alternate build doesn't follow the rules of the SBM (e.g. all Newegg) it is OFF TOPIC in SBM discussions. Please be aware that discussions of pricing, while not off topic, do need to account for what was available at the time the SBM build was ordered.
    ----
    My own thoughts on this one are mixed. I like to see the challenge of a lower budget. This $800 PC was quite good, however. With the focus on gaming this SBM cycle, this one looks like a shoe-in for value winner. I don't see what two or three times the budget will buy that can offer similar multiples of performance, especially that will be visible in actual use.
    That said, for my own uses, I'd take the "High" to "Max" settings in my games that a GTX650Ti Boost would offer, and put the balance into a SSD.

  • 1 Hide
    Amdlova , December 26, 2013 7:13 AM
    mine 3470 is running at 4.0ghz 4 cores 2 cores at 4.2ghz 3470 is a good cpu ;)  maximum fsb i get on that cpu before freezes is 109.
  • 0 Hide
    raede , December 26, 2013 7:21 AM
    I am always glad to see a budget gaming machine build with my definition of budget being in the $750 area. However, most do not include an O.S cost which could easily add $100 to the mix unless you are going with an open source model.
    I currently just built a "budget" machine for my son which ended up close to $850. That build was using an Asus M5A78L-M/USB3 Micro ATX AM3+ motherboard, AMD FX-6300 3.5GHz to (O.C. to 4.3GHz @ 38 C), w/ an Enermax ETS-T40-TB 86.7 CFM CPU Cooler.
    What I wanted had to be tempered with what I could squeeze into the budget so a new Asus Radeon R7 260X 2GB Video Card was put in for now. A WD Caviar (Blue) 1TB drive was put in for storage, G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory and a Corsair CX 500W 80+ Bronze Certified Semi-Modular ATX Power Supply to make it all run. Windows 8.1 was installed and the case is a nice looking Corsair 350D case.
    My working theory is this rig will run well now and a new video card, better CPU cooler with a faster stronger CPU and an SSD down the road are all manageable upgrades that could keep this machine running good, playable frame rates for several years down the road.
    There is always more than one way to skin a cat and to me this was the least amount I would build with.
  • -3 Hide
    AMD Radeon , December 26, 2013 7:35 AM
    i believe i5 haswell at the same price will make 5-10% performance boost
  • 0 Hide
    khaledegy200 , December 26, 2013 7:57 AM
    Thanks for all the info guys.
  • 5 Hide
    pauldh , December 26, 2013 8:03 AM
    Quote:
    i believe i5 haswell at the same price will make 5-10% performance boost


    It was considered, but a Z87 Express mobo costs more, so the platform as a whole isn't the same price.

  • -1 Hide
    Onus , December 26, 2013 8:20 AM
    Why Z87? In a non-OC build, the comment on Haswell makes some sense. Would a H87 or even H81 board have fit? Unlike their IB (or SB) counterparts, you would not have given up SATA 6Gb/s ports or USB3.0 with those lesser boards.
  • 0 Hide
    icemunk , December 26, 2013 8:26 AM
    Nice little system, but honestly... good luck finding the 280X for $300 right now.
  • 2 Hide
    rolli59 , December 26, 2013 8:47 AM
    Nice build and really sad how AMD's GPU prices are getting jacked up!
  • -1 Hide
    de5_Roy , December 26, 2013 9:03 AM
    a haswell alternative could be with an asrock or msi non-z chipset motherboard with 4670k or lower with a downgraded bios to facilitate overclocking. or, with something like this:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813128674
    http://www.guru3d.com/articles_pages/gigabyte_g1_sniper_b5_review,9.html
    it's probably as high end as non-z o.c. gets. unfortunately it only became available recently.

    as for the current build, i admit that the parts are very well-chosen.
    i woulda tried to fit a corsair 200r or nzxt tempest and i5 4440/4570 on a b85 board or asrock fatal1ty z87 killer and gtx 760/770 and a seasonic ssr360 gp or s12ii 520 bronze psu.
  • -1 Hide
    akhr , December 26, 2013 9:05 AM
    this was a question actually.......will i get better frame rates if i used gtx 770??
  • 1 Hide
    pauldh , December 26, 2013 9:08 AM
    Very true Onus, you can't even change the base clock on those. So the chipset argument alone only stands for K's or enthusiast-minded folk. I'd definitely prefer and enthusiast-class mobo anyway if building a forward-thinking rig.

    But this is an SBM, and we always value overclocking. Ivy -3470 was chosen because it can reach 4.0 GHz with a sub-$80 mobo. What can we extract more from? Stock -4430 to - 4570, or a -3470 running 3.8-4.0 GHz?


  • 0 Hide
    Onus , December 26, 2013 9:14 AM
    That sounds like a worthwhile experiment while you're looking for things to do in your spare time :-).
  • 1 Hide
    pauldh , December 26, 2013 9:30 AM
    Yes it does. Spare time though, you must be thinking of someone else. :( 

    And I'd be curious just to hear feedback on which platform folks would rather own if building a new rig they intend to keep/upgrade over the next 3 years or so.

    For an SBM, although I'd assume more folks value the stock performance, I'm always a bit miffed if I can't OC at all. I can live with it if/when the machine remains a clear top choice anyway.

    For my own gaming rig, I'd always used to consider the processor I can afford now (in this case a locked i5) may end up in another spare rig and it's possible I'd move up later (say to an i7K). Upgrading our best rig and cycling parts down was my practice for a long time. Nowadays I have more spare parts than free time and station space.
  • 0 Hide
    ojas , December 26, 2013 10:17 AM
    Quote:

    And I'd be curious just to hear feedback on which platform folks would rather own if building a new rig they intend to keep/upgrade over the next 3 years or so.

    I'd go with Z87, simply because it's more feature rich...
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