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.
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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|
|Component||Model Name||Original Price||Current Price|
|Processor||Intel Core i7-4930K: 3.4 to 3.9 GHz, Six Core, 12 MB Shared L3 Cache||$580||$580|
|Graphics||2 x Asus R9290-4GD5 Radeon R9 290 4 GB (CrossFire)||$800||$1060|
|Motherboard||ASRock X79 Extreme4: LGA 2011, Intel X79 Express||$230||$220|
|Memory||G.Skill Ripjaws X F3-14900CL9Q-16GBXL: DDR3-1600 C9, 16 GB (4 x 4 GB)||$139||$180|
|System Drive||SanDisk Ultra Plus SDSSDHP-256G-G25: 256 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD||$175||$170|
|Storage Drive||Western Digital Green WD20EZRX: 2 TB, SATA 6Gb/s Hard Drive||$90||$90|
|Optical||Pioneer BDR-208DBK: 15x BD-R, 16x DVD±R||$70||$60|
|Case||Fractal Design Define R4 Black Pearl||$110||$100|
|Power||Seasonic M12II SS-850AM: 850 W Semi-Modular, ATX12V v2.3, 80 PLUS Bronze||$120||$135|
|CPU Cooler||Thermaltake CLW0217 Water 2.0 Extreme||$95||$95|
|PWM Fan||Antec Spot Cool Blue LED Fan||$11|
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.
- Making Tough Choices In Volatile Markets
- Graphics, Memory, And CPU
- Motherboard, CPU Cooling And Case
- Power Supply, SSD, Hard Drive, And Optical Drive
- Radiator Installation
- Finishing The Build
- Overclocking Through Firmware
- Final Touches
- Benchmarking Configurations
- Results: 3DMark And PCMark
- Results: SiSoftware Sandra
- Results: Battlefield 3 And Far Cry 3
- Results: F1 2012 And Skyrim
- Results: Audio And Video Encoding
- Results: Adobe Creative Suite
- Results: Productivity
- Results: File Compression
- Power, Heat, And Efficiency
- Value Conclusion