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CPU, Graphics, And Memory

System Builder Marathon, Q2 2014: A Balanced High-End Build

CPU: Intel Core i7-4770K

Based primarily on reader requests not to use another six-core CPU, last quarter’s high-end build still featured Intel’s revered Core i7-4770K overclocked to 4.50 GHz.

It was the fastest unlocked CPU in Intel’s LGA 1150 arsenal back when we placed our orders for this quarter, and nothing less than the best would approach that machine's compelling performance. Of course, in the time between then and now, Intel introduced the Core i7-4790K. But it's only supposed to hit availability today.

Read Customer Reviews of Intel's Core i7-4770K CPU

For now, we make do with the -4770K. Hyper-Threading will help in a few of our tests, and top-end processors tend to enjoy the best binning. But the conspiracy theorist in me is suspicious that maybe Intel was setting aside its best quad-core Haswell dies for Devil's Canyon way back when this Core i7 was manufactured (Ed.: Are you trying to foreshadow something, Thomas?).

Graphics Card: PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X 4GBD5-PPDHE

Last quarter, I struggled and failed to fit two GeForce GTX 780 Tis into my budget, settling instead for two vanilla 780s.

This quarter’s budget is a lot tighter. I don't even have the money for one 780 Ti, let alone two slightly cheaper 780s.

Read Customer Reviews of PowerColor PCS+ AXR9 290X 4GBD5-PPDHE Graphics Card

Given a choice between a single GeForce GTX 780 or a single Radeon R9 290X, most of us are going to go the AMD route. Selling for about $30 more than the noisy reference design on the day we placed our order, PowerColor’s PCS+ comes with a big quiet cooler and a small factory overclock. That kind of value is good enough to earn it an award.

Since we made our purchase, the cheapest Radeon R9 290X cards dropped by $20 while the PCS+ went up by $90 and back down to $570 with the 250 GB Samsung 840 EVO. According to PowerColor, this sale will end in days. So, we're using the original and eventual $530 price point for our calculations.

Memory: 8 GB G.Skill DDR3-1866 CAS 8

At least one of our benchmarks speeds up dramatically when we add more than 8 GB of RAM, but the price of a 16 GB kit would have a detrimental impact on value. Limited to a pair of 4 GB modules, we at least needed a good set.

Read Customer Reviews of G.Skill's 8 GB DDR3-1866 CAS 8 RAM

I’ve reviewed enough DRAM to notice that G.Skill uses the same ICs at various frequencies and latencies under a variety of part numbers. Maybe the company bins these differently? While searching for a set that I know would contain the “good stuff” (DDR3-1600 C8, DDR3-1866 C9, DDR3-2133 C10), I found a great deal on a kit that might have been binned a little higher: G.Skill's Ripjaws X F3-14900CL8D-8GBXM DDR3-1866 CAS 8.

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  • 0 Hide
    de5_Roy , June 26, 2014 2:37 AM
    thermaltake nic L32 doesn't seem well suited for the cpu for stock operations. at stock settings, the cpu's load temp is 57c over ambient according to the temp. chart. the q1 $1600 pc has a hyper 212 evo and it ran the stock i7 4770k under 40c over ambient. from the looks, the tt nic cooler seemed a better performer than the hyper 212 evo.
    was multicore enhancement enabled for both the q1 $1600(asrock z87 pro3) and this quarter's high end pc(asus z97-a)? did it affect the heat output? asus keeps m.c.e. enabled by default. i can't see any other factors atm.

    all 3 builds look very well-performing this quarter. looking forward to the perf-value analysis.
  • 5 Hide
    Taintedskittles , June 26, 2014 3:07 AM
    Reading the reviews on newegg about that PowerColor 290x you chose was hilarious. So whoever win's this thing can look forward to many many rma's in the future. Apparently its plagued with artifacts, bad fans, bios issues, & performance degradation. I would have chosen another brand at the very least.
  • 3 Hide
    pauldh , June 26, 2014 3:32 AM
    To be fair though, look at the dates of those negative Newegg reviews. All but one of the complaints appeared after this system was ordered mid-May. Prior available feedback WAS almost all positive. And a manufacturer rep jumped in to resolve that one.
  • 9 Hide
    Crashman , June 26, 2014 4:07 AM
    Only 8GB RAM for a high end PC? Just plain too much money spent on graphics card. Also, too much money spent on "yuppie" power supply/case
    A yuppie power supply...OK...

    kidding me, hdd and windows 8, pls, read up on hardware toms hardware.....and software.
    The last time I checked the "Samsung 840 EVO MZ-7TE250BW" wasn't an HDD, and nobody wanted us to run OS/2 on a modern gaming system. Please read the charts, wabba

  • 4 Hide
    crisan_tiberiu , June 26, 2014 4:25 AM
    Make this "competition" global please... :(  You have "Tom's Hardware" in every major region in the world... :)  Also FedEx and DHL ships everywehere in the world :)  make all readers happy :)  Our traffic is good for your site, but we never get something special :( (
  • 2 Hide
    rush21hit , June 26, 2014 4:38 AM
    If I had a specs like this, I don't want it to be encased. I'd stick it to my wall even if it means I had to figure out how to do it.
  • 2 Hide
    SessouXFX , June 26, 2014 4:41 AM
    If aesthetics doesn't play a role, this is a pretty damn good build...
  • 4 Hide
    Realist9 , June 26, 2014 5:20 AM
    I think the author hit his mark for the intent of the build/article based on the budget limit and provides a good starting point for us. However, if I was actually building and buying for myself, I would make some changes to add headroom and compatibility.

    I would go with 16 GB of memory for $85 more, since that’s only $85/$1600=5% more cost. I’d also go ahead and get the Asus 780 for $520. (Side note: I disagree that most would go AMD in a 780 vs 290x, but I know better than to open that can of worms). SLI was mentioned but not used, and I also would not get SLI unless I KNEW it worked with the game I was most interested in. The posts on various forums about SLI causing problems in most games, along with SLI “issues” dating back to 3dFX Voodoo2 cards, keeps me away from SLI.

    I also would stay away from “generally stable, but usually not stable in the games I want to play most” (not quoting the author here) overclocking of the system/video card. It’s nice to see it in the charts, but I read about way too many problems in games caused by overclocking for me to rely on it to get my ‘value’.

    Lastly, I think the pendulum has swung too far towards “value” for the high end build. I suggest tweaking that a little for future high end builds (eg..780Ti, 16 GB memory, 500GB SSD, but continue to stay away from $1000 CPU, $1200 SLI, etc).
  • 2 Hide
    Onus , June 26, 2014 6:04 AM
    I'm a little curious why a Crossfire / SLI build wasn't used; I'd expect a pair of $260 cards to beat a single $520 card in many things, and where the pair of cards didn't work too well, even one such card would still allow "decent" settings for an enjoyable experience. That's not a criticism; it is a genuine curiosity. Note that I am generally not a fan of multi-card setups, but then I don't see paying almost as much for one graphics card as for an entire system.
    The big lesson here though, is that people should NOT rely on the silicon lottery to meet their performance needs. Overclocking is NOT a sure thing. I seem to recall this happening before in the SBM; it's a lesson that needs to stick.
    I might have made some different choices, but I'm not going to fault the ones that were made here (the head-scratching is left over from Don's choices yesterday of an Apevia case and a Corsair "CX"). I might be curious about the single-card choice, but I don't think I have grounds for criticism of the build in general.
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , June 26, 2014 6:52 AM
    Alternate builds that do not follow the well-established rules of the SBM (e.g. parts from alternate sources) will be moderated out of existence. When mentioning pricing, keep in mind the LONG lead times for the series, and prices will almost certainly be different now from what they were then.
  • 1 Hide
    zooted , June 26, 2014 7:24 AM
    Yikes, give that gpu some support! Seriously though, how heavy is that thing?
  • 1 Hide
    MachineMan , June 26, 2014 7:26 AM
    I am so confused. Are the different builds in a SBM compared against each other or are Q2 builds compared against Q1?

    If the Q2 builds are compared against each other on day 4, then the price categories should be comparable. Please compare the way WB 1T is placed in "Enthusiast" build vs "High-End" build. Different categories, if I understand correctly. And the high-end build DOES include the SSD in the Platform cost. Anyway, the price categories are named differently , so I cannot compare the builds directly.

    I dont know if I made myself clear... The prices are divided in these sections Platform-TotalHardware-CompleteSystem, but Enthusiast build is divided differently.
  • 4 Hide
    de5_Roy , June 26, 2014 7:53 AM

    The big lesson here though, is that people should NOT rely on the silicon lottery to meet their performance needs. Overclocking is NOT a sure thing.

  • 2 Hide
    Crashman , June 26, 2014 8:45 AM
    I'm a little curious why a Crossfire / SLI build wasn't used
    For the same reason I used a 750W power supply: I wanted the owner to have a CrossFire upgrade option. The board practically supports only two cards, the third slot is...x1 as I recall.

    Yikes, give that gpu some support! Seriously though, how heavy is that thing?
    Nah, it's nice and light. Unlike a lot of similar-looking cards, the cooler on this one is mostly air. That's mentioned in the card's review too.

  • 7 Hide
    firefoxx04 , June 26, 2014 9:23 AM
    I'd rather have 8gb and a better gpu than 16gb that I won't using

    And these giveaways might not be allowed to be global due to United States laws. They don't just ignore international viewers
  • 4 Hide
    DSzymborski , June 26, 2014 10:02 AM
    Newegg reviews also rave about craptastic Logisys and other horrid power supplies. Random consumer reviews and a sack is worth the sack.
  • -8 Hide
    Xeres Forteen , June 26, 2014 10:03 AM
    Windows 8? Next, please.
  • -6 Hide
    lp231 , June 26, 2014 11:56 AM
    At $90 for a case, I would have gone with a Full Tower one, so that it can support E-ATX boards and not only that, you get more room to work with.
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