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System Builder Marathon, June 2012: System Value Compared

System Builder Marathon, June 2012: System Value Compared
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System Builder Marathon, June 2012: 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 $2000 Performance PC
Day 2: The $1000 Enthusiast PC
Day 3: The $500 Gaming PC
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

Introduction

In the PC world, the point of diminishing returns is where you throw increasing amounts of money at hardware for smaller performance increases. This happens for a number of reasons. To begin, top-binned components are some of the most scarce, so supply is limited, making them more expensive. Also, bottlenecks start surfacing more prominently at the bleeding edge, preventing the same great scaling we often see in the mid-range space. Unfortunately, there’s also a floor at which certain parts cannot be manufactured any less expensively while still retaining their core capabilities. When we start comparing prices to performance, we always end up finding a point in the middle that we call the best value.

With a budget the comes closest to that point of diminishing returns, builder Paul Henningsen’s low-cost machines usually end up at or near the top of our performance per dollar charts. At the same time, when we drill into the numbers his machines generate, an argument can be made that they're sometimes inadequate for the most discerning power users, despite their value proposition. Don Woligroski's efforts, on the other hand, involve spending more money, often result in a less impressive finish when we compare performance to cost, but are better able to satisfy more of our audience. That makes the $1000+ machine easier for us to recommend.

This month’s austerity measures undercut Paul’s build completely, forcing him to choose between creating a capable graphics-oriented platform over a better-balanced combination of parts. No doubt, that was a hard choice to make, but given his gaming focus, he clearly did the best he could with a $500 ceiling.

And with that compromise in mind, we're set up for one of the rare occasions where a machine other than the lowest-priced build could end up topping the value charts.

Q2 2012 $2000 PC Components
 $500 Gaming PC$1000 Enthusiast PC$2000 Performance PC
ProcessorIntel Celeron G530: 2.4 GHz, LGA 1155, 2 MB CacheIntel Core i5-2400: 3.1-3.4 GHz, LGA 1155, 6 MB CacheIntel Core i7-3770K: 3.5-3.9GHz, LGA 1155, 8 MB Cache
GraphicsECS NGT560TI-1GPI-F1 GeForce GTX 560 TiSapphire 11197-01-40G: Radeon HD 7970 (Factory O/C)
Asus GTX680-DC2T-2GD5: GeForce GTX 680 (Factory O/C)
MotherboardGigabyte GA-H61MA-D3V: LGA 1155, Intel H61 ExpressGigabyte P67X-UD3-B3: LGA 1155, Intel P67 ExpressASRock Z77 Extreme6: LGA 1155, Intel Z77 Express
MemoryPareema MD313C80809L2: DDR3-1333 C9, 2 GB x 2 (4 GB)Patriot AP38G1608U2K: DDR3-1600 C8, 2 GB x 2 (4 GB)G.Skill F3-1600C8D-8GAB: DDR3-1600 C8, 4 GB x 2 (8 GB)
System DriveWestern Digital WD3200AAKX: 320 GB, 7200 RPM HDDSeagate Barracuda ST3750525AS: 750 GB, 7200 RPM HDDMushkin MKNSSDCR120GB-MX: 120 GB, SATA 6Gb/s SSD
Storage DriveUses System DriveUses System DriveSeagate Barracuda Green ST2000DL003: 2 TB, 5900 RPM HDD
OpticalLG GH22NS90B: 22x DVD±R, 8x DVD±R DLLG GH22NS90B: 22x DVD±R, 8x DVD±R DLLite-On iHAS124-04: 24x DVD±R, 12x DVD±R DL
CaseRosewill R101-P-BKLogisys Optimus IIAntec Nine Hundred w/USB 3.0
PowerAntec VP-450: 450 W, ATX V2.3Corsair CX600 V2: 600 W, ATX12V V2.3, 80 PLUS-CertifiedSeasonic X750 Gold SS-750KM: ATX12V V2.3, 80 PLUS Gold
CPU CoolerIntel Boxed CoolerIntel Boxed CoolerZalman CNPS12X
Total Price$500 $1034 $1741


But a trio of factors combine to make a compelling case for our high-end build. First, I scored one of Nvidia’s hard-to-find GeForce GTX 680s for just a few dollars more than the Radeon HD 7970 used in Don's $1000 build. Second, the processor I picked accommodates overclocking, which is something the Tom's Hardware audience favors for adding value, in spite of the expensive cooling apparatus often required. And third, I decided to forgo most of the parts that haven’t contributed to the overall performance of previous builds, leaving the savings off of the balance sheet altogether. Could this be our first three-way performance-per-dollar tie?

Display all 58 comments.
Top Comments
  • 12 Hide
    Crashman , June 8, 2012 5:30 AM
    mayankleoboy1toms, y u no include Quicksync benchies?
    Because it would be mean to the lower-cost PC builders? The truth is that the two applications that use it didn't appear all that popular with our readers.
Other Comments
  • -9 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , June 8, 2012 4:53 AM
  • -8 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , June 8, 2012 4:57 AM
    toms, y u no include Quicksync benchies?
  • 12 Hide
    Crashman , June 8, 2012 5:30 AM
    mayankleoboy1toms, y u no include Quicksync benchies?
    Because it would be mean to the lower-cost PC builders? The truth is that the two applications that use it didn't appear all that popular with our readers.
  • 1 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , June 8, 2012 6:08 AM
    the only reason i see to buy a IB over a SB is better quicksync. Rest, they are same.
  • 2 Hide
    blazorthon , June 8, 2012 6:35 AM
    mayankleoboy1the only reason i see to buy a IB over a SB is better quicksync. Rest, they are same.


    Replace the paste under the IHS on Ivy Bridge and those 3570Ks and 3770Ks overclock better than their Sandy counterparts. The IGP is also good for more than Quick-Sync.
  • 9 Hide
    weedeater , June 8, 2012 6:41 AM
    I would enjoy gaming with a $1100 Enthusiast PC.
  • 9 Hide
    Crashman , June 8, 2012 6:45 AM
    blazorthonReplace the paste under the IHS on Ivy Bridge and those 3570Ks and 3770Ks overclock better than their Sandy counterparts. The IGP is also good for more than Quick-Sync.
    And even with the stock IHS implementation, the power savings of Ivy at 1.25V looks good compared to Sandy at 1.35V (assuming both voltage levels get you to 4.6 GHz, which is approximately true).
  • 5 Hide
    blazorthon , June 8, 2012 6:50 AM
    CrashmanAnd even with the stock IHS implementation, the power savings of Ivy at 1.25V looks good compared to Sandy at 1.35V (assuming both voltage levels get you to 4.6 GHz, which is approximately true).


    Yes, thanks. I forgot to mention the improved power efficiency from the new process node.
  • 7 Hide
    jestersage , June 8, 2012 6:57 AM
    As I indicated in the Gaming PC comments, I'm good with Paul's $500 experiment. But an Enthusiast PC at $1100? I figure you'll want to alter all those parts that got Don those un-edifying comments, then yeah! Bring it on!

    Aside from the 2500k, stick a GTX 670 in that thing I'll bet we'll have a real winner (depends on Tom's rules, I guess, since that part wasn't available at the time the SBM purchases were originally made).

    Or step down to a 7870 and stick an SSD in it - for all those clamoring that a $1000 PC should have an SSD.
  • 4 Hide
    blazorthon , June 8, 2012 7:25 AM
    jestersageAs I indicated in the Gaming PC comments, I'm good with Paul's $500 experiment. But an Enthusiast PC at $1100? I figure you'll want to alter all those parts that got Don those un-edifying comments, then yeah! Bring it on! Aside from the 2500k, stick a GTX 670 in that thing I'll bet we'll have a real winner (depends on Tom's rules, I guess, since that part wasn't available at the time the SBM purchases were originally made). Or step down to a 7870 and stick an SSD in it - for all those clamoring that a $1000 PC should have an SSD.


    670 or 7970... Not much of a difference there. The two are effectively on-par with each other, trading blows depending on the game, resolution, and settings. Why not step down to a 7950, get a cheap SandForce SSD, and then up the CPU to the 2500K, all without even sacrificing graphics performance when overclocked? 7950s and 7970s that share a PCB and cooler have pretty much identical overclocking performance with the 7970s having an in-perceptively small advantage at the same frequency and the 7950 able to hit slightly higher frequencies.
  • 3 Hide
    Crashman , June 8, 2012 8:42 AM
    jestersageAs I indicated in the Gaming PC comments, I'm good with Paul's $500 experiment. But an Enthusiast PC at $1100? I figure you'll want to alter all those parts that got Don those un-edifying comments, then yeah! Bring it on! Aside from the 2500k, stick a GTX 670 in that thing I'll bet we'll have a real winner (depends on Tom's rules, I guess, since that part wasn't available at the time the SBM purchases were originally made). Or step down to a 7870 and stick an SSD in it - for all those clamoring that a $1000 PC should have an SSD.
    Agreed, using the 670 to get similar performance without going over-budget was part of an alternative version of the conclusion. But as you said, the 670 wasn't available at the time of the order, and the thought of giving the most irate readers more ammo...
  • 3 Hide
    jaquith , June 8, 2012 9:29 AM
    If you're going to have a $2000 System then have a $2000 system otherwise have a $1700 system. Instead you lose consistency and none of this or prior comparisons make any sense.

    Maybe one of these days you'll actually have a system that I could recommend to 'anyone' and something that's Balanced i.e. makes any sense to build. You guys get so caught-up with a few folks that bitch about FPS that some of these systems become mutated into something CrAzY.

    I know damn well none of you would build any of this for yourselves 90% of the time, and to say otherwise would be a lie.

    Bottom-line = Consistency, if you're going to have 'Tom's Hardware Recommended' MOBO's, GPUs, CPUs, RAM, SSDs, HDDs, etc in prior Articles then please use them in the all of Builds! To do otherwise IMO looks really odd.
  • -1 Hide
    ojas , June 8, 2012 9:55 AM
    blazorthon670 or 7970... Not much of a difference there. The two are effectively on-par with each other, trading blows depending on the game, resolution, and settings. Why not step down to a 7950, get a cheap SandForce SSD, and then up the CPU to the 2500K, all without even sacrificing graphics performance when overclocked?

    All true, but the 670 also costs much less, and iirc after an OC it can catch the 680. Could have cut $60-80 in the $1000 build if it were available then. That could have gone into a better case, and a 2500K. Might not have left room for an SSD though, seeing that they were already over by $34...but yeah $1100 could get you that as well...
  • 2 Hide
    Crashman , June 8, 2012 10:19 AM
    jaquithBottom-line = Consistency, if you're going to have 'Tom's Hardware Recommended' MOBO's, GPUs, CPUs, RAM, SSDs, HDDs, etc in prior Articles then please use them in the all of Builds! To do otherwise IMO looks really odd.
    Check out the latest Z77 roundup and see for yourself that a recommended board was used.
  • 3 Hide
    jaquith , June 8, 2012 10:26 AM
    CrashmanCheck out the latest Z77 roundup and see for yourself that a recommended board was used.

    1 out of how many? You know exactly what I mean here, and it's something that been needed for some period to be corrected. In the forum's what do you point/link to the Build or the Recommended?! Then say never mind what TH recommends (there) they meant this over (here).

    Also, if a system is ±$100 with Quality then no one cares if you go over/under if it's the smart thing to do to keep the integrity of the system in line with the more important issue of a balanced system. Prices change daily!

    Think about what I'm saying then next think about what TH Recommended means...what it 'should' mean?

    Most importantly, this is not a complaint to you 'Personally' it's a much needed 'Policy' to help Tom's Hardware. I like you personally, I like TH, and I'd LOVE for Tom's Hardware to be the best!
  • 3 Hide
    Crashman , June 8, 2012 11:21 AM
    jaquithit's a much needed 'Policy' to help Tom's Hardware.
    The problem is that we don't cover every board made, and it's usually the cheapest ones that companies aren't interested in promoting. I generally use recommended motherboards and often use recommended cases. I can't really complain about parts being used that fall outside the coverage, because Don and Paul are really trying to cut costs below much of the component coverage.

    What you really need is for me to get out of other types of articles and focus exclusively on covering all motherboards, then for TH to hire a dedicated case reviewer, etc. But we're already pushing five articles a week, so I don't think the added coverage would even fit the publishing schedule.
  • -4 Hide
    envolva , June 8, 2012 12:20 PM
    ArticleWith a couple of little alterations (and a slightly higher cost) we end up asking: would anyone like a $1100 Enthusiast PC?

    I don't want to see a $1100 enthusiast pc. Not one gearing for value while missing a ssd anyway. Still a balanced $1000 pc with windows, monitor, mouse and keyboard included in price would be nice. Don't have to buy those, just select the models and save the money from the total.
  • 1 Hide
    A Bad Day , June 8, 2012 12:24 PM
    ojasAll true, but the 670 also costs much less, and iirc after an OC it can catch the 680. Could have cut $60-80 in the $1000 build if it were available then. That could have gone into a better case, and a 2500K. Might not have left room for an SSD though, seeing that they were already over by $34...but yeah $1100 could get you that as well...


    The only issue is that the 670 is very rare. AMD would drop the price of their 7900's GPUs, if Nividia boost their supply, which isn't happening anytime soon.
  • 1 Hide
    Onus , June 8, 2012 12:29 PM
    The $1700 PC was a nice machine. Perhaps a little more heavily focused on gaming than I'd like to see, still none of its parts raised eyebrows. It was a "safe" build, even if a little boring in some ways. If I won it, I'd probably build it as-is, although I'd likely end up selling the GTX680 because my games just don't need that power.
    The $1000 machine used a nightmarish case and made a few uncomfortable compromises. If I win it, I will sell the graphics card to buy a SSD, 8GB of RAM, and a considerably weaker graphics card, and build it for my non-gamer wife in her Antec Sonata III.
    The $500 PC was a remarkable experiment. At its specific target, it seems to do quite well, but for anyone who isn't playing games 100% of the time, it would be an exercise in frustration. Should I win it, I will probably sell the graphics card and CPU for an I5-2400, get 8GB of RAM, and build it for my non-gamer father using his HD6670 as a substantial upgrade over his E6750.

    Similar to what another poster suggested, I'd like to see one of two notable "requirements" in these builds. They must either be something that a real user would actually build, in its entirely (last quarter's $2.6K build was a perfect example, this quarter's $2K build might have made it if the remaining $259 in the budget had been used), OR, it must be an experimental build purely intended to test something legitimate. It might be nothing someone would build, but maybe only because they'd never thought about it. This quarter's $500 build clearly qualifies, and I hope it is remembered as fondly as that quad Crossfire HD4850 build that a few of us have mentioned. With that latter in mind, some ideas might include physically constrained builds (must fit in carry-on luggage, or be suitable for a dorm room) or machines that must achieve certain minimums in a real-world benchmark (not necessarily a game).
    And although I do prefer firm budgets, jaquith has a very good point. $25 here, $50 there, adds up (and where do you stop?), but a single carefully justified $25-$50 "bump," representing perhaps another week of waiting and/or saving, seems reasonable. After all, just think what the $500 PC could have been like with a $100 CPU. It might even be appropriate to allow a "do-over" for a part, such as to avoid a fiasco like the Logisys case, or last quarter's defective motherboard. Afterall, an experimental build could become a total waste due to a single botched part.
  • 1 Hide
    SinisterSalad , June 8, 2012 1:27 PM
    Quote:
    Anyone who thinks that Battlefield 3's single-player campaign might be slightly CPU-bound needs only look at our Medium quality results to find differently. At the most CPU-dependent settings, the frequency-deficient $1000 build nearly catches the sub-$2000 PC.


    I think that most everyone here knows that it's true the single player in BF3 is not very CPU heavy. Multiplayer is a different animal, though. A stronger quad-core can make a huge difference in that realm. I went from a Phenom II 945 to a 2500k, and my FPS jumped 15% with the same GPU setup.
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