System Builder Marathon, Q2 2014: Our Enthusiast PC

System Builder Marathon, Q2 2014: 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 Budget Gaming PC
Day 2: Our Mainstream Enthusiast System
Day 3: The Balanced High-End Build
Day 4: Performance And Value, Dissected

Introduction

As you may have read yesterday in Paul's introductory piece, we're doing things a little differently in the System Builder Marathon. Our approach to pricing is changing, largely based on your feedback, to improve our analysis of value. First, we're focusing specifically on the prices of components that affect performance, leaving the parts that don't impact benchmark results out of the equation. This means that the case, optical drive, and operating system have no bearing on our price/performance calculations. We call this the "Price of Performance Hardware". In this way, we're freeing ourselves to experiment with more premium enclosures and include add-ons like Blu-ray drives without the negative impact that these subjectively-selected components have on comparative value. Some of our readers are happy with a $20 DVD burner and $40 case, while others feel that a $200 Blu-ray drive and $150 enclosure are necessities. We get that.

Of course, we will continue to provide the total price of all components, now including the operating system, in a final "Price As Tested". With this information, in addition to the "Price of Performance Hardware", we hope to address everyone's concerns and paint a clearer picture with our value discourse, while acknowledging the personal nature of cases, optical drives, and even the OS.

Last quarter, my enthusiast-oriented build included a Core i7-4770K processor and GeForce GTX 780 Ti. That was a potent, high-end combination of parts, which contributed to an almost-$1500 price tag on the performance-oriented parts alone. This time around, I'm shooting for something competitive without spending as much money. Is such a feat even possible with $950 to spend on go-fast gear?

Enthusiast System Components
MotherboardASRock Z97 Pro3, LGA 1150, Intel Z97 Express
$100
ProcessorIntel Core i5-4670K: 3.4 GHz Base Clock Rate, 3.8 GHz Maximum Turbo Boost, 6 MB Shared L3 Cache
$240
Heat Sink
Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus
$30
Memory8 GB Team Group Vulcan (2 x 4 GB) DDR3-1600 TLYD38G1600HC9DC01$66
GraphicsPowerColor TurboDuo Radeon R9 290 4 GB
$400
Hard Drive
Western Digital Blue WD10EZEX 1 TB$60
PowerCorsair CX Series CX750 750 W 80 PLUS Bronze PSU
$90
Price of Performance Hardware$986
Case
Apevia X-Hermes Red Trim Computer Case$60
Optical
LG Internal Super Multi Drive GH24NSB0$20
OS
Microsoft Windows 8.1 64-bit, OEM$100
Price As Tested$1166

Notice that my $986 performance parts list lands $36 over the $950 target. That's mostly because PowerColor's TurboDuo Radeon R9 290 went from $380 back when we ordered it up to $480, and then back down to $430. But even this price is temporary. It includes a 250 GB Samsung 840 EVO through the end of the month, after which we're told it'll settle down at $400 for the card on its own. The end of June is a few days away, so we're using $400 as our official valuation.

I settled for Intel's venerable Core i5-4670K to save some cash compared to the Core i7-4770K from last quarter. Additionally, the SSD is gone. That was the only way for me to squeeze in under $950. Solid-state storage doesn't affect our benchmarks much, but my decision will still undoubtedly cause some controversy. Indeed, I was reminded how long it takes to boot from a mechanical disk, and I didn't like it. You may wish to sacrifice some graphics performance in your own build to accommodate an SSD. Or, snag the PowerColor card immediately for an extra $30 and get the 840 EVO as part of your bundle.

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    Top Comments
  • 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
    13
  • Other Comments
  • 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
  • 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.
    0
  • 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.
    1
  • @BilinearCheese. I believe all parts for these toms' builds have to be from Newegg. So, try building that way.
    0
  • 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
    -7
  • 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
    13
  • 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.
    2
  • 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?
    -6
  • 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.
    7
  • 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
  • 1696704 said:
    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.
    3
  • Quote:
    1696704 said:
    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.
    -4
  • 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.
    0
  • I may have missed something but why are this quarter's builds weaker than the ones from the last quarter?
    -3
  • 1457150 said:
    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.
    3
  • 699111 said:
    1457150 said:
    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
  • 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).
    -2
  • 261161 said:
    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?
    3
  • 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
  • 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!
    0