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System Builder Marathon, Q4 2013: A $2400 PC That Costs $2700

System Builder Marathon, Q4 2013: A $2400 PC That Costs $2700
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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

Picking a top-performing build for the last System Builder Marathon of 2013 was as easy as looking to the triumphs and tribulations of the previous quarter's configuration. My very first issue was that, if I hoped to compete on the basis of value, I was spending too much money.

Unfortunately, that's the way it always seems to go for me. Any high-end PC I put together costs too much once I blow past the value sweet spot, which previous analysis has shown to be under $1000. But rather than toss out the idea of a high-end build in its entirety, we decided to compromise this quarter, spending three (rather than four) times as much as the lowest-price model.

My last stab at the crown benefited from the Sandy Bridge-E architecture's extra cores, but didn’t overclock very well. Today, the Ivy Bridge-E design takes its place. Our motherboard of choice wasn't very tweakable last time around, so it gets replaced with an award-winning alternative from a past round-up. And I had to fight my DDR3 memory back in Q3 too. So, I went back to using tried-and-true modules from a different manufacturer.

I also revisited my awards list for a closed-loop liquid cooler, and a new case was picked to support the oversized cooler. Now I was pretty confident that I could bolster the productivity-oriented tests. Time to move on to the games...

Although they were powerful, the three GeForce GTX 760s I used didn't give me the scaling I was hoping for. To explore this further, I went back and wrote SLI Scaling: Can Three GeForce GTX 760s Beat Two 780s? The problem was that the two 780s I would have wanted instead were overpriced. AMD forced Nvidia’s hand by dropping its $400 Radeon R9 290 into the market, making the GK110-based board more tenable. That left us to choose between the second-fastest cards from both companies.

Q4 2013 $2400 Performance PC Components
ComponentModel NameOriginal PriceCurrent Price
ProcessorIntel Core i7-4930K: 3.4 to 3.9 GHz, Six Core, 12 MB Shared L3 Cache$580 $580
Graphics2 x Asus R9290-4GD5 Radeon R9 290 4 GB (CrossFire)$800 $1060
MotherboardASRock X79 Extreme4: LGA 2011, Intel X79 Express$230 $220
MemoryG.Skill Ripjaws X F3-14900CL9Q-16GBXL: DDR3-1600 C9, 16 GB (4 x 4 GB) $139 $180
System DriveSanDisk Ultra Plus SDSSDHP-256G-G25: 256 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD$175 $170
Storage DriveWestern Digital Green WD20EZRX: 2 TB, SATA 6Gb/s Hard Drive
$90 $90
OpticalPioneer BDR-208DBK: 15x BD-R, 16x DVD±R$70 $60
CaseFractal Design Define R4 Black Pearl$110 $100
PowerSeasonic M12II SS-850AM: 850 W Semi-Modular, ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUS Bronze$120 $135
CPU CoolerThermaltake CLW0217 Water 2.0 Extreme$95 $95
PWM FanAntec Spot Cool Blue LED Fan $11
  Total Cost $2409 $2701

The choice was made easier by the fact that R9 290s sold for $400, while the GeForce GTX 780 still went for $500. The caveat, of course, is that AMD's reference cooler isn't the most highly regarded thermal solution around. Chris and I have an ongoing rivalry concerning these things, as I’m primarily concerned about case heat, while he’s easily annoyed by noise.

My configuration was priced at $2409 when I placed my order from Newegg. However, some of the parts are a lot more expensive today. Let's talk about those components first.

Display all 94 comments.
Top Comments
  • 10 Hide
    Vorador2 , December 30, 2013 12:19 AM
    "It’s a shame that a digital gold rush is taking these out of the hands of so many gamers."

    Seeing that it is impossible to break even doing bitcoin mining with GPUs, i expect sooner than later a flood of barely used cards will hit the used market.
Other Comments
  • 10 Hide
    Vorador2 , December 30, 2013 12:19 AM
    "It’s a shame that a digital gold rush is taking these out of the hands of so many gamers."

    Seeing that it is impossible to break even doing bitcoin mining with GPUs, i expect sooner than later a flood of barely used cards will hit the used market.
  • 1 Hide
    swordrage , December 30, 2013 12:43 AM
    Amen to that
  • 0 Hide
    khaledegy200 , December 30, 2013 1:13 AM
    Damn you amd >.<
  • 7 Hide
    Durandul , December 30, 2013 1:29 AM
    Picking up a used 290 for $300 would be very, very nice.
  • -1 Hide
    spentshells , December 30, 2013 4:41 AM
    Alright guys terminator the terminator 2 cd has been in the program since like 2003 let's retire it shall we? Maybe use meatloaf bat out of hell.
  • -1 Hide
    SessouXFX , December 30, 2013 4:54 AM
    We'll see how this all ends up with the Litecoin and bitcoin miners. Either they were smart for getting ahead of the game, or they were idiots for believing they could make more than they spent.

    But in the case of the Bitcoiners, there's a better method to mine, why bother with the GPUs? Seems to me they lose out no matter how they end up.
  • 8 Hide
    Crashman , December 30, 2013 5:21 AM
    Quote:
    We'll see how this all ends up with the Litecoin and bitcoin miners. Either they were smart for getting ahead of the game, or they were idiots for believing they could make more than they spent.

    But in the case of the Bitcoiners, there's a better method to mine, why bother with the GPUs? Seems to me they lose out no matter how they end up.
    You can't break even due to power bills, let alone hardware prices. But wait, there's more!
    Forum members often call a machine that burns far too much energy for the amount of useful work we get out of it a "space heater". But if you compare THIS machine to an ACTUAL space heater, you can clearly see the benefit of using THIS machine RATHER than an actual space heater to heat your workspace. Let mining pools pay a portion of this winter's heating bill!

    I'm completely against the CONCEPT of crypto-currency mining because they produce no USEFUL data. We're producing GARBAGE data of increasing difficulty generation-by-generation and wasting all those resources to do it. It's worse than raising cattle for the leather and throwing away the meat. It's more akin to raising cattle for photographs of the cow and throwing away the cow!

    These machines might actually benefit society if they were using a program like F@H, and we'd at least have a solid argument between their cost to society and their benefit to society. Someone should have beat the bitcoin guy to the punch and developed F@H coins.

    Or take a look at cloud servers. Large companies are renting out their excess computing resources during low-traffic periods. Now look at PC-based, self-serving distributed computing platforms like Skype. The per-user cost is low but the number of users is high, so hosting the program across those same "clients" makes sense.

    Why don't we have companies knocking down our doors begging for our excess data resources? Someone with a great marketing plan AND excellent technical knowledge should set up a distributed computing platform that pays individuals for their contributions. Environmentalists should praise that move as reducing the number of data centers needed world-wide, but me?

    I'm just trying to reduce waste. I even collect my small bits of scrap metal (broken car parts, etc) and give them away to scrap metal collectors because it costs more to take these in than these are worth. Those guys collect enough small batches to make it worth the 15-mile trip. And you don't need to be a tree hugger to see that everyone benefits from that type of effort.
  • -4 Hide
    realibrad , December 30, 2013 6:24 AM
    While it is true that most miners wont break even do to electricity cost, it does not mean that a profit wont be made. One big draw of crypto currency is the black market. Silk road was and is huge. If you want to launder money, then crypto mining is a great way to go. If the current return on laundering money is a 75% return, and trypto mining is 85% then why not? Further more, its safer than keeping piles of cash around in a safe house. For the avg. user mining wont make a return, but for others, it can better than other alternatives.
  • -2 Hide
    RazberyBandit , December 30, 2013 7:03 AM
    Crash, you forgot your soapbox! :) 

    If we're to believe what we're told and crypto-currency mining is to blame for retailer spikes in the highest-tier AMD cards, then I expect to see AMD make some changes in its next generation of cards, especially if AMD isn't cashing in on the rush for its cards and the price hikes are solely due to merchant mark-ups. Considering AMD's business concerns over recent years, I don't expect AMD to make any such profitability mistake ever again. Instead, I think AMD will follow nVidia's example.

    When nVidia capped GPGPU performance on the majority of its cards, then went on to produce the Titan and Tesla cards without such GPGPU restriction at higher prices, I was OK with that. It meant gamers could buy cards built for gaming at a reasonable price, people who used their cards for both gaming and GPGPU-related tasks could buy a card built for both for a premium, and researchers could buy cards that were fully-optimized for GPGPU use for an even higher premium. If AMD had done that with the R9-series, we'd have quite a few more gamers sporting brand new AMD cards this holiday season.

    And back to the article... Heckuva build! It's an improvement over the previous build in just about every way, with the exception of its current cost.
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , December 30, 2013 7:43 AM
    Quote:
    Crash, you forgot your soapbox! :) 

    If we're to believe what we're told and crypto-currency mining is to blame for retailer spikes in the highest-tier AMD cards, then I expect to see AMD make some changes in its next generation of cards, especially if AMD isn't cashing in on the rush for its cards and the price hikes are solely due to merchant mark-ups. Considering AMD's business concerns over recent years, I don't expect AMD to make any such profitability mistake ever again. Instead, I think AMD will follow nVidia's example.

    When nVidia capped GPGPU performance on the majority of its cards, then went on to produce the Titan and Tesla cards without such GPGPU restriction at higher prices, I was OK with that. It meant gamers could buy cards built for gaming at a reasonable price, people who used their cards for both gaming and GPGPU-related tasks could buy a card built for both for a premium, and researchers could buy cards that were fully-optimized for GPGPU use for an even higher premium. If AMD had done that with the R9-series, we'd have quite a few more gamers sporting brand new AMD cards this holiday season.

    And back to the article... Heckuva build! It's an improvement over the previous build in just about every way, with the exception of its current cost.
    The article's my "soap box". At any rate, I've given AMD's options a few considerations too. It's made a commitment to end users and the only way to profiteer without having people call you out on it is to sell these through a "back channel". The other problem is supply and demand: They can't ramp up production very quickly, and who's to say that this expanded market wouldn't evaporate before they had the extra cards to fill it? The BEST thing for AMD to do is stick to its guns and let retailers take the blame for profiteering.

    I figure there will be a flood of used cards on the market in three months as it gets more difficult to mine the most profitable currencies. But someone mentioned that before I responded. It would be REALLY REALLY bad for AMD to spend 6-weeks increasing production volume, only to see a flood of cheap used cards knock the market out from under their new card sales. Once again, AMD is probably doing best to stick to its plans. Nobody remembers when Intel blamed overproduction by AMD for the CPU market collapse of 1999..in fact those news articles were buried within three months. But I remember :) 

  • -5 Hide
    Christopher Shaffer , December 30, 2013 8:21 AM
    I think we're all forgetting that there are FAR more digital currencies out there than Bitcoin, and almost all of them have a hash algorithm and mining method that prevents ASIC mining rigs from having an advantage. Litecoin is a popular one right now because the exchange rate is low, the total number of possible LC is significantly higher than the BC max, and it's optimized for APU/GPU mining.

    That said, I think this build really missed the mark. My current build would come fairly close to your BF3 numbers and yet my system can easily be had for around the $1300 range. While it might not compete on some of the other compute tasks, it still does pretty damn good.

    Give me $2400 and I'm sure I could smoke this rig. I'd expect more from Tom's.
  • 5 Hide
    Crashman , December 30, 2013 8:25 AM
    Quote:
    Give me $2400 and I'm sure I could smoke this rig. I'd expect more from Tom's.
    And I'm sure you couldn't. Next?

  • 1 Hide
    philly27 , December 30, 2013 8:27 AM
    I think excessive heat and noise should be taken into account of overall performance/$. The Antec solution in this build borders on ridiculous IMO @ this price point. GPU fans reaching normal conversation decibel levels would also kill it for me. I have a close set up with same case sli 770,p/p h220 so I know how quiet this setup could be. I understand the initial 780vs290 argument, hopefully vender coolers will improve the 290 cooling considerably and prices will settle back down.

    There is a heat/power/efficiency section but In the conclusion I would just like to see Qx vs Qy dbl and system temp along side the % performance gain for a more big picture view. Anyone else ideas on this?
  • 0 Hide
    shellls45 , December 30, 2013 8:29 AM
    To all the people who say mining with gpus is unprofitable. I make $400 dollars profit per month with 4 6950s.
  • 1 Hide
    rokit , December 30, 2013 8:31 AM
    @Crashman
    "When nVidia capped GPGPU performance on the majority of its cards... It meant gamers could buy cards built for gaming at a reasonable price"
    Uhm, what? Noone got a price drop, gamer cards didn't become cheaper. Reduce in power consumption ? yes, cheaper ? no.
  • 1 Hide
    shellls45 , December 30, 2013 8:32 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    We'll see how this all ends up with the Litecoin and bitcoin miners. Either they were smart for getting ahead of the game, or they were idiots for believing they could make more than they spent.

    But in the case of the Bitcoiners, there's a better method to mine, why bother with the GPUs? Seems to me they lose out no matter how they end up.
    You can't break even due to power bills, let alone hardware prices. But wait, there's more!
    Forum members often call a machine that burns far too much energy for the amount of useful work we get out of it a "space heater". But if you compare THIS machine to an ACTUAL space heater, you can clearly see the benefit of using THIS machine RATHER than an actual space heater to heat your workspace. Let mining pools pay a portion of this winter's heating bill!

    I'm completely against the CONCEPT of crypto-currency mining because they produce no USEFUL data. We're producing GARBAGE data of increasing difficulty generation-by-generation and wasting all those resources to do it. It's worse than raising cattle for the leather and throwing away the meat. It's more akin to raising cattle for photographs of the cow and throwing away the cow!

    These machines might actually benefit society if they were using a program like F@H, and we'd at least have a solid argument between their cost to society and their benefit to society. Someone should have beat the bitcoin guy to the punch and developed F@H coins.

    Or take a look at cloud servers. Large companies are renting out their excess computing resources during low-traffic periods. Now look at PC-based, self-serving distributed computing platforms like Skype. The per-user cost is low but the number of users is high, so hosting the program across those same "clients" makes sense.

    Why don't we have companies knocking down our doors begging for our excess data resources? Someone with a great marketing plan AND excellent technical knowledge should set up a distributed computing platform that pays individuals for their contributions. Environmentalists should praise that move as reducing the number of data centers needed world-wide, but me?

    I'm just trying to reduce waste. I even collect my small bits of scrap metal (broken car parts, etc) and give them away to scrap metal collectors because it costs more to take these in than these are worth. Those guys collect enough small batches to make it worth the 15-mile trip. And you don't need to be a tree hugger to see that everyone benefits from that type of effort.


    Protein Folding Coins do exist.
  • -4 Hide
    rokit , December 30, 2013 8:41 AM
    ..............
  • 1 Hide
    major-error , December 30, 2013 8:42 AM
    I have to wonder how much of the system noise is really attributable to the PSU...

    I have a similar-model Seasonic PSU, an i3570K (stock) and a pair of the Superclocked EVGA GTX 570 in an old InWin Q500 case--I've experimented with the various fan speeds once the system had been on for a while, and the PSU fan was (subjectively) the nosiest *by far*. Even setting both blowers and the case/CPU fans to max (when the system was cold) didn't generate nearly as much noise as the PSU alone...
  • -5 Hide
    duramax08 , December 30, 2013 9:06 AM
    Wow
    Such mad
    So Angry
    Wow

    Now excuse us as we head towards the moon.
  • 0 Hide
    gsxrme , December 30, 2013 9:19 AM
    Should have been a 4770k at 5GHz and not a 6core at lower clock rates. I've seen this over and over. 4770k disable HyperJunk and clock the bastard to 5GHz and watch it eat any other CPU for lunch at gaming. Simple as that. If you want threads then you can get the 2011 Socket. But for gaming the 4770k Wins. Come on Toms, You just wrote that wa 2 months ago?
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