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How We Tested Our Mainstream Enthusiast System

System Builder Marathon, Q2 2014: Our Enthusiast PC
By

The following tables include the stock and overclocked settings for this quarter's mainstream enthusiast system, followed by the configuration we put together earlier this year, which serves as our comparison point.

At the very bottom, you’ll find the programs and games used for benchmarking.

Q2 2014 Enthusiast PC Test Settings: $986 of Performance Hardware
 Default Configuration
Overclocked
MotherboardASRock Z97 Pro3, LGA 1150, Intel Z97 ExpressUnchanged
ProcessorIntel Core i5-4670K (Haswell): 3.4 GHz (3.8 GHz max. Turbo Boost), 6 MB Shared L3 Cache
4.3 GHz (43 * 100 MHz), 1.285 V (Load)
Memory8 GB Team Group Vulcan (2 x 4 GB) TLYD38G1600HC9DC01, 1333 MT/s, CAS 9-9-9-24-1T1600 MT/s, 9-9-9-24-2T, 1.5 V
GraphicsPowerColor TurboDuo Radeon R9 290 4 GB, 975 MHz max. core clock rate, GDDR5-5000 1100 MHz max. core clock rate, GDDR5-5600
HardDriveWD Blue WD10EZEX 1 TB, 7200 RPM, 64 MB Cache, SATA 6Gb/sUnchanged
OpticalLG GH24NSB0: DVD BurnerUnchanged
CaseApevia X-Hermes ATX Mid-Tower Computer CaseUnchanged
PowerCorsair CX750 750 W ATX12V v2.3 80 PLUS Bronze-Certified PSUUnchanged
Q1 2014 Enthusiast PC Test Settings: $1459 of Performance Hardware
 Default Configuration
Overclocked
MotherboardASRock Z87 Pro3 LGA 1150, Intel Z87 Express
Unchanged
ProcessorIntel Core i7-4770K (Haswell): 3.5 GHz (3.9 GHz max. Turbo Boost), 8 MB Shared L3 Cache4.4 GHz (44 * 100 MHz), 1.2 V (Load)
Memory8 GB Corsair Vengeance LP (2 x 4 GB) CML8GX3M2A1866C9B, 1333 MT/s, CAS 9-9-9-24-1T1866 MT/s, 9-10-9-27 2T, 1.5 V
GraphicsGalaxy GeForce GTX 780 Ti 3 GB, 875/928 MHz base/typical GPU Boost, GDDR5-7000
+150 MHz GPU, GDDR5-7400
System Drive
Samsung 840 EVO MZ-7TE120BW 128 GB SATA 6Gb/s SSDUnchanged
Storage DriveWD Black 500 GB, 7200 RPM, 64 MB Cache, SATA 6Gb/sUnchanged
OpticalLG Black WH14NS40, 4 MB Cache SATA BDXL Blu-ray BurnerUnchanged
CaseNZXT Phantom 410 Computer CaseUnchanged
PowerCorsair 650TX 650 W ATX12V v2.3 80 PLUS Bronze Modular PSUUnchanged

And here are the benchmark details:

Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
Arma 3
V. 1.20 Current PC, V.1.08 Q1 PC
30-sec. Fraps "Infantry Showcase"
Test Set 1: Standard Preset, No AA, Standard AF
Test Set 2: Ultra Preset, 8x FSAA, Ultra AF
Battlefield 4Version 1.0.0.1, DirectX 11, 100-sec. Fraps "Tashgar"
Test Set 1: Medium Quality Preset, No AA, 4x AF, SSAO
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality Preset, 4x MSAA, 16x AF, HBAO
Far Cry 3V. 1.05, DirectX 11, 50-sec. Fraps "Amanaki Outpost"
Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA, Standard ATC, SSAO
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality, 4x MSAA, Enhanced ATC, HDAO AMD/ HBAO NVidia 
Grid 2Version 1.0.85.8679, Direct X 11, Built-in Benchmark
Test Set 1: High Quality, No AA
Test Set 2: Ultra Quality, 8x MSAA
Audio/Video Encoding
HandBrake CLIVersion: 0.99, Video: Video from Canon EOS 7D (1920x1080, 25 frames) 1 Minutes 22 Seconds, Audio: PCM-S16, 48,000 Hz, Two-channel, to Video: AVC1 Audio: AAC (High Profile)
iTunesVersion 11.0.4.4 x64: Audio CD (Terminator II SE), 53 minutes, default AAC format 
LAME MP3Version 3.98.3: Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 min, convert WAV to MP3 audio format, Command: -b 160 --nores (160 Kb/s)
TotalCode Studio 2.5Version: 2.5.0.10677, MPEG2 to H.264, MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG-2), Audio: MPEG-2 (44.1 kHz, Two-channel, 16-bit, 224 Kb/s) Codec: H.264 Pro, Mode: PAL 50i (25 FPS), Profile: H.264 BD HDMV
Adobe Creative Suite
Adobe After Effects CCVersion 12.0.0.404: Create Video, 3 Streams, 210 Frames, Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously
Adobe Photoshop CCVersion 14 x64: Filter 15.7 MB TIF Image: Radial Blur, Shape Blur, Median, Polar Coordinates
Adobe Premiere Pro CS6Version 6.0.0.0, 6.61 GB MXF Project to H.264 to H.264 Blu-ray, Output 1920x1080, Maximum Quality
Adobe Acrobat XIVersion 11.0.0: Print PDF from 115 Page PowerPoint, 128-bit RC4 Encyption
Productivity
ABBYY FineReaderVersion 10.0.102.95: Read PDF save to Doc, Source: Political Economy (J. Broadhurst 1842) 111 Pages
Autodesk 3ds Max 2013Version 15.0 x64: Space Flyby Mentalray, 248 Frames, 1440x1080
BlenderVersion 2.68a, Cycles Engine, Syntax blender -b thg.blend -f 1, 1920x1080, 8x Anti-Aliasing, Render THG.blend frame 1
Visual StudioVersion 10.0, Compile Google Chrome, Scripted
Compression
7-ZipVersion 9.30 alpha, LZMA2, Syntax "a -t7z -r -m0=LZMA2 -mx=5"
Benchmark: THG-Workload-2012 (1.3 GB)
WinRARVersion 5.0, RAR, Syntax "winrar a -r -m3"
Benchmark: THG-Workload-2012 (1.3 GB)
WinZipVersion 18.0 Pro, Syntax "-a -ez -p -r"
Benchmark: THG-Workload-2012 (1.3 GB)
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark ProfessionalVersion: 1.2.250.0, Fire Strike Standard and Extreme
PCMark 8Version: 1.0.0 x64 Full Test
SiSoftware Sandra 2014Version: 2014.02.20.10, Processor Arithmetic, Cryptography, Memory Bandwidth Benchmarks
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Top Comments
  • 12 Hide
    Crashman , June 25, 2014 2:00 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    @BilinearCheese. I believe all parts for these toms' builds have to be from Newegg. So, try building that way.


    How is this the best suggested build for the money if you're only locking it to one retailer? That's...kinda silly
    Because if we get all our parts from Newegg, it's Newegg's money? Because, when Newegg pays for the parts, we can afford to give the entire systems away?
    :p 
Other Comments
  • 0 Hide
    BilinearCheese , June 25, 2014 12:32 AM
    I have to say guys, that enthusiast level build is terrible. Apevia case? Turbo Duo 290? NO SSD? Come on. For 16 bucks less I put together a system WITH an SSD, a decent case, a much better 290, and a better motherboard/cpu cooler. Hell, I even managed to get a color scheme together for it as well:

    http://pcpartpicker.com/p/FRyNgs

    [Answer by Cleeve:]

    "Terrible" = same CPU, cooler, graphics card, and equal benchmark performance?

    The case we chose really doesn't matter, as the first page of article points out. Case/optical drive is completely subjective. That's exactly why we've separated the performance parts price from case/optical/OS.
    By the way, are you just assuming Apevia its bad because you prefer other well-known brands? It did a fantastic job for the purposes of this article, so other than brand, what's your issue with it? Is brand the same problem you have with the 290? Because it's cooler is quite good.
    Speaking of coolers, the Hyper 212 EVO is virtually the 212 plus with a different fan. Is this really the huge difference you're implying it is?

    You're also specing it out two months after we did, with lower prices. An SSD would have been great, but two months ago when we ordered there was no room in the budget, and we weren't willing to sacrifice the 290.

    Bottom line, you're being a little sensationalist about picking nits.
  • 0 Hide
    itzsnypah , June 25, 2014 1:14 AM
    When overclocking the CPU are you leaving the uncore coupled to the core multiplier or uncoupled and set at x34/36? You averaging nearly 1.3v for only 4.3Ghz is very poor.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , June 25, 2014 1:15 AM
    I have to question the need for Z97 mobo. If you go with the Haswell and not the Haswell update and you do not include M.2 SSD, then why go with Z97? If you are choosing the Z97 to have a upgrade path, you should also go for the Devil's Canyon cpu. Budget-wise it is a really bad idea to even think about going for D.C. Haswell chip later on.

    The ssd gives you an easily felt sensation of speed every time you boot. Just got an ssd myself like 2 months ago. Any other go-fast parts come secondary. Ditch the Z97 and the ODD and you could squeeze in a SSD.
  • 0 Hide
    envy14tpe , June 25, 2014 1:28 AM
    @BilinearCheese. I believe all parts for these toms' builds have to be from Newegg. So, try building that way.
  • -7 Hide
    BilinearCheese , June 25, 2014 1:46 AM
    Quote:
    @BilinearCheese. I believe all parts for these toms' builds have to be from Newegg. So, try building that way.


    How is this the best suggested build for the money if you're only locking it to one retailer? That's...kinda silly
  • 12 Hide
    Crashman , June 25, 2014 2:00 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    @BilinearCheese. I believe all parts for these toms' builds have to be from Newegg. So, try building that way.


    How is this the best suggested build for the money if you're only locking it to one retailer? That's...kinda silly
    Because if we get all our parts from Newegg, it's Newegg's money? Because, when Newegg pays for the parts, we can afford to give the entire systems away?
    :p 
  • 2 Hide
    envy14tpe , June 25, 2014 2:15 AM
    Quote:
    Because if we get all our parts from Newegg, it's Newegg's money? Because, when Newegg pays for the parts, we can afford to give the entire systems away?
    :p 


    No one will ever question your parts selection ever again!! Maybe add a side note on price page that all parts are from/ must be bought on Newegg.
  • -6 Hide
    BilinearCheese , June 25, 2014 2:17 AM
    Quote:
    Because if we get all our parts from Newegg, it's Newegg's money? Because, when Newegg pays for the parts, we can afford to give the entire systems away?
    :p 


    All newegg, still cheaper with better components:

    http://pcpartpicker.com/p/pj7bCJ

    What's the next rule, no rebates?
  • 7 Hide
    Crashman , June 25, 2014 2:21 AM
    Quote:

    All newegg, still cheaper with better components:

    http://pcpartpicker.com/p/pj7bCJ

    What's the next rule, no rebates?


    No mail-in rebates because they usually disappear before we can publish and, because when you have $100 you can't buy a $149 part that has a $50 MIR :) 

    Instant rebates and sales are fine because when the discount on one part disappears, the discount on another part appears.

    BTW, I like the look of your case. I never understood what the deal was with don and ugly cases, but he's Canadian so I know better than to ask.
  • -3 Hide
    BilinearCheese , June 25, 2014 2:26 AM
    Quote:
    No mail-in rebates because they usually disappear before we can publish and, because when you have $100 you can't buy a $149 part that has a $50 MIR :) 

    Instant rebates and sales are fine because when the discount on one part disappears, the discount on another part appears.


    Even with that in mind, my second build without rebates totals 1178. Changing the motherboard to a z87 Extreme3 (because z97 isn't a benefit if you're not going for haswell refresh or an ssd) and it's 3 bucks more than the build listed.
  • 3 Hide
    Crashman , June 25, 2014 2:31 AM
    Quote:
    Even with that in mind, my second build without rebates totals 1178. Changing the motherboard to a z87 Extreme3 (because z97 isn't a benefit if you're not going for haswell refresh or an ssd) and it's 3 bucks more than the build listed.
    I like the Z87. I'm the guy who said that Z97 isn't a new chipset, it's at best a new stepping of Z87.

  • -4 Hide
    BilinearCheese , June 25, 2014 2:38 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    Even with that in mind, my second build without rebates totals 1178. Changing the motherboard to a z87 Extreme3 (because z97 isn't a benefit if you're not going for haswell refresh or an ssd) and it's 3 bucks more than the build listed.
    I like the Z87. I'm the guy who said that Z97 isn't a new chipset, it's at best a new stepping of Z87.



    The chipset isn't my concern to be honest. It's the idea that it's a sub par 290, no SSD, and a weaker cooler than you could fit into that budget.
  • 0 Hide
    mapesdhs , June 25, 2014 2:52 AM
    There does appear to be one additional advantage of Z97, at least in the
    UK anyway, namely pricing for equivalents boards seems to be slightly
    lower. Recently, before the Z97 launch, I was looking into options for a
    combined HTPC/mini-gaming build; the ASUS board I found (forget the
    model offhand) was about 130 UKP. The 'replacement' Z97 equivalent
    (Z97I-Plus) is about 15 cheaper. A small saving one might say, but
    often these amounts are cited as being critical in these SBMs.

    Ian.

  • -3 Hide
    alexandrosgr , June 25, 2014 3:16 AM
    I may have missed something but why are this quarter's builds weaker than the ones from the last quarter?
  • 3 Hide
    envy14tpe , June 25, 2014 4:25 AM
    Quote:
    I may have missed something but why are this quarter's builds weaker than the ones from the last quarter?


    You need to read the article. This current build Q2 2014 cost $986/$1166 whereas the Q1 2014 one had a higher budget of $1450/$1713. This new build is $460 less.
  • 2 Hide
    alexandrosgr , June 25, 2014 4:35 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    I may have missed something but why are this quarter's builds weaker than the ones from the last quarter?


    You need to read the article. This current build Q2 2014 cost $986/$1166 whereas the Q1 2014 one had a higher budget of $1450/$1713. This new build is $460 less.


    Wow, I'm surprised I missed that. Thanks !
  • -2 Hide
    Adroid , June 25, 2014 5:40 AM
    Sorry I'm gonna have to argue the methodology here a little. The Enthusiast build is always my favorite read of the trio of Tom's Sys Builder marathons for the following reasons:

    The entry level machine is never worth the money due to lack of future proofing, and the high-end system is past the point of reason, which I personally wouldn't waste money on even if I had an extra couple thousand laying around.

    My critiques :

    * Running memory at 1333 is an obvious bottleneck, even if it's small, it's measurable enough to be significant. I can't understand what you stand to prove by bottlenecking the system with the RAM. It's well understood that 1600 mhz DDR3 is the "entry" level for i5 systems.
    * The change in dollar value was unwarranted haha. This is just my one opinion, but an extra 200-500$ goes a long way at this sector, because the 1200$ price point allows more into the GPU/CPU which makes a huge performance bump.

    I'm just trying to give my constructive criticism because it's an exciting article to read and see what selection of core components for the 1200-1500 range can win out. This article you shaved 500$ off the build and the article suffers as a result because it has no chance to compete with last quarter's build, and thereby defeats the purpose of the article (I speak for myself).
  • 3 Hide
    Traciatim , June 25, 2014 6:33 AM
    Quote:

    I'm just trying to give my constructive criticism because it's an exciting article to read and see what selection of core components for the 1200-1500 range can win out. This article you shaved 500$ off the build and the article suffers as a result because it has no chance to compete with last quarter's build, and thereby defeats the purpose of the article (I speak for myself).


    No one will argue against a 1500 dollar machine will perform better than a 1000 dollar machine and the budgets for these builds was getting pretty crazy.

    For example, an SSD is really just a luxury item that doesn't actually change the performance of applications or games all that much once they are loaded, so it's probably one of the bests value items to cut out if you are on a budget and want the best performance per dollar. It's also one of the best things to spend extra money on to make your machine feel snappy because things start when you click on them.

    For the last round the mid range PC came in at $1459, but it was a 4770k and a 780ti. That's pretty much the top stuff you can possibly buy at the time without getting in to specialized situations. How is that in any way challenging to design a mid range system... or in fact, how is it even a mid range system?
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , June 25, 2014 6:38 AM
    I'm not going to niggle specific pricing, because that always varies, month to month. If a "better" R9 290 was available for less now, it may not have been then.
    But...
    Apevia is on my personal "Do Not Buy" list. What was your impression of the material quality on this one? To me it looked garish; that side panel has "cheesy" all over it. The one Apevia case I bought years ago was a great design (fit/finish was good too), but the material quality and QC on it were so bad I ended up tossing it into the grabbage after a couple months of fighting with a front panel grounding issue. While not as bad as the Chokemax case you tried a year or so ago, this is the second time you've gone with a cheap case, and I understand the ire it has provoked.
    The specific models have varied over the months and years, but I have never been unable to find a 120mm tower cooler offering similar performance to the Hyper212 EVO that was not notably cheaper (e.g. $8-$15); I might lose 1C on cooling, but gain a notch up somewhere else that will make a bigger difference. I'm not saying it is a bad cooler (I accept that it is not), but I don't know why so many people parrot a model that is such a bang/buck Loser.
    Even un-stressed, IMHO the Corsair "CX" with its inferior Samxon capacitors is not a valid choice for an enthusiast build.
    I hope this lays to rest the idea that an "enthusiast" build can skip the SSD.
    I like the pricing calculation changes, and the lowered budgets. Insofar as it affects cooling though, I think it would be good to include the case in the "Performance Parts" category, and count it against the "Performance" budget.

    *smashes head against desk* Hit wrong button; this should be two votes higher than it is. - SS
  • 0 Hide
    elbert , June 25, 2014 6:43 AM
    Every time I read these I have a desire to find the last quarters parts list. Could you please add last quarters spec's with this quarters parts list. Thanks!
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