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Crowning A Value Winner

System Builder Marathon, June 2012: System Value Compared

The lowest-cost build usually wins our performance-per-dollar comparison, though we typically have to flag it with a caveat that most performance seekers probably won't be satisfied with its speed.

This time could be different, though, since a boost in the little machine's GPU performance came at a serious cost: its CPU budget. Might the $1000 system, or even (cough) my $2000 build win this race?

For the fist time in recent memory, the mid-priced build tops our value charts. The only configuration to fall behind is the $2000 at its stock settings; overclocking is required to justify its added expense. Fortunately, I picked an overclockable CPU, which responded well to tuning.

The $1000 PC performed so well and presented so much value that I'm almost ready to give its parts list a mass recommendation. The one shortfall holding me back is that its case was simply garbage. Fortunately,  a suitable replacement shouldn’t be very difficult to find near its $42 price.

The $1000 PC’s other shortcoming is one that, if fixed, could have boosted its value score. The unlocked Core i5-2500K would have added only $30 to the system, and a more adequate cooler another $20 or so. CPU overclocking is a time-proven way to bolster performance at minimal cost, so a roughly 5% budget increase might have returned a two to threefold increase in benchmark performance.

As for the $500 build's second-place value finish, even its builder admitted that the machine would be woefully inadequate for anything beyond the scope of gaming. While it’s hard for many of us to recommend a machine exclusively for that purpose, some folks do nothing but game and surf the Web on their PCs. For them, the entry-level system's limitations aren't debilitating at all.

Finally, there’s the matter of gaming at high resolutions. This is typically where the most expensive configuration shines. But the $1000 build’s Radeon HD 7970 performed amazingly well in spite of the system’s low memory capacity and moderate CPU frequency:

This chart almost shows that a high-end gaming-oriented PC is overkill (at least at the resolutions we're using for testing). We paid much more for a higher-end PC with lots of memory, but without a corresponding return on our investment. There’s also the expense of an SSD, which improves game loading times, but hasn't had much of an effect in-game since we stopped testing the original Crysis.

And so, the almost-excellent $1000 build almost gets our recommendation. With a couple of little alterations (and a slightly higher cost) we end up asking: would anyone like a $1100 Enthusiast PC?

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